Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Reflecting on the Comparative Wealth of Political Leaders in China and the U.S.

British philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke said that reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting. Let's read and reflect on the comparative wealth of U.S. and Chinese politicians and what it suggests about our American future.

Are China's Politicians the Richest in the World? provides a most interesting contrast between the wealth of Chinese and American politicians. Here's what it has to say:

"Congress has come under increasing attack for its wealth. But U.S. Congresspeople are poor, compared with China’s political leaders.

According to the Hurun Report, as cited by Bloomberg, the 70 richest delegates in China’s National People’s Congress have a combined net worth of 565.8 billion yuan or $89.8 billion. That’s more than 10 times the combined net worths of all the members of Congress, the Supreme Court and the President. (Their collective riches are only $7.5 billion.) . . . .

For those who think this growing wealth reflects a rising tide that’s lifting all Chinese boats, consider this: Per capita annual income in China is still about $2,425. . . .

The question is whether this skyrocketing “princeling” wealth will touch off social unrest or real protests. A kind of “Occupy the Great Hall” movement.

Many Western China watchers point out that as long as the overall economy keeps growing and generating jobs, China won’t erupt in class warfare. What’s more, government officials are currently making a huge show of cracking down on corruption, and they maintain tight control over communications and the media.

Yet China seems to support an old adage: In the U.S. people get rich to get into politics. In other countries, they get into politics to get rich."

Reflecting on the above "old adage" about the U.S., it's indeed true that George Washington, Ben Franklin and other founding fathers' wealth preceded service to their country. They certainly didn't enhance their personal finances by entering the political sphere. They were public servants performing public service. Today career politicians have taken their place, and that's too bad.

Somewhere along the way, American leaders began to acquire their wealth after entering public service. So things have changed in the U.S., and we have now begun to follow other countries. That is, political power now often represents, among other things, the way to achieve personal wealth.

As a result, now we're becoming a follower of countries like China where the political class rules.

You say that's not possible. Well, let's take the recent occupants of the U.S. presidency as an example. My guess is that a big part of the wealth of the Bush family, and for sure the Clintons and Obamas, will have come from their "public service" careers. And that they will acquire a great deal of wealth along the way.

But it's worse that that. Much worse, in fact.

Today a fat cat from the private sector would be crazy to enter the political process as an office seeker. Who needs it? In fact, it's generally a huge negative when people with wealth from private sector success decide to run for elected office. Meg Whitman of eBay recently ran for Governor of California and lost to career politician Jerry Brown. Mitt Romney is always having to defend his private sector success and is unlikely to be elected as president in 2012.

Somehow successful private sector players who try to become public servants are now seen as the bad guys while the career politicians opposing them are viewed as the good guys. Reflect on that one, if you will.

In addition, the fat cats from the private sector are blasted for not playing by the rules and paying their "fair share" by those career politicians who made the rules. Go figure.

In the end, the Clintons and Obamas will end up being quite rich as a result of their political achievements and will rake in lots of money writing books and making speeches after their days of "public service" have ended.

So We the People conclude that Romney is a bad guy fat cat who doesn't pay his fair share of taxes, and Obama is a good guy fighting on behalf of the middle class. Reflect on that one, too.

Summing Up

So upon reflection, I say what's the big deal about communist China having lots of its politicians having achieved great wealth as a result of being Chinese political leaders? We're headed that way, too.

The Chinese political leaders are just more experienced at this game. That's probably why they have much more per capita wealth than do our U.S politicians. It ain't over 'til it's over, so maybe we should wait and see how much U.S. public servants like the Clintons and Obamas have at the end of their personal road to riches. In fact, it very well could end up a horse race.

But upon reflection, does it really matter that politics pays so well? I think it does, and that there's something very wrong about all this. But that's just my opinion.

All that said, there remains one huge difference between the Chinese political process and ours. Unlike the Chinese, We the People have the power to change things in America if we so choose to do so. But first, we must decide to do just that.

Maybe acquiring wealth through hard work in the private sector before entering politics shouldn't be seen as such a bad thing in the U.S. today. I really wonder why it seems to be a disqualifier.

I'll reflect on that one. You may wish to as well.

Thanks. Bob.

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