Choosing Freedom

Kevin Williamson writing at NRO has a great article on the fruits of economic freedom.  You should read it all twice.  He starts with some of the economic and technological wonders of the modern world and then the other side:

Perhaps you’ve had the experience of clicking a link to a video or a news story and taking a second to realize that what you’re seeing is real life — life as we knew it in 2018: horrifying hunger in Yemen and South Sudan; police-state repression in Venezuela and North Korea; migrants in Libya captured like animals and sold as slaves; monarchies that still take themselves seriously.

The world has made great strides in reducing poverty through economic freedom in the past few decades but when we look at the Heritage map of economic freedom there is much to be done.  Only six countries are classified as free and all are small in population so less than 60 million souls out of seven plus billion are free.  When we look at the list of countries with the largest populations, only one (US) of the top ten makes it on the Heritage list of mostly free.

How come?  Here is where we are not entirely in agreement with Kevin.  He notes that lots of rich folks from other countries come to the US and other places because the risk of staying at home is considerable.  He also pokes W’s statement about everybody wishing to be free.  Then he generalizes:

How proud is Pakistan, really? I guess they showed those Hindus a thing or two, maybe, but nobody gets up in the morning thinking: “I wish my country were more like Pakistan!” Not Pakistanis, surely. [Emphasis added]

We disagree.  We think the Pakistanis (not everyone but as a group) are satisfied with their country.  We admit that the limited political freedom there makes alternative hypotheses possible but we are convinced they are satisfied.

Sidebar: the negative net migrants for China, India, etc compared to the positive net for the US support Kevin’s point that some are voting with they feet but these are small percentages.  And why does mostly unfree Russia (#107 on the Heritage list) have positive net migrants?  End Sidebar.

It is not that Pakistanis wouldn’t like to be free and have the fruits of freedom but their priorities are elsewhere and Pakistan meets those other priorities.  We think W was in part right when he said that everyone yearns to be free but sometimes their first priority is to take away another’s freedom.  So we agree with Kevin’s critique of America (and everywhere else):

And it’s not like we don’t know what made us rich and blessed us with relative domestic tranquility. But we happy Americans are not immune from the darker desires. We have not been liberated from hatred, envy, or resentment, and we are just dumb enough to act on those impulses, politically, every now and then.

It is easy for envy and the rest to become a greater priority than freedom because freedom means everybody is free.  MWG and Kevin come to the same conclusion: It is always a time for choosing and we should choose freedom.  We should choose economic and political freedom.  That’s a good resolution for 2019.

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Let ‘Em Rot

And we have a winner.  Well, sort of.  We can’t say we have read every article on NRO but we think Elliot Abrams has authored the worst one of 2018: [The Donald] Should Veto MLB’s Foul Deal With Cuba.  Elliot is unhappy that MLB (that’s Major League Baseball) has negotiated a deal with Cuba where the government gets part of the deal in return for giving the player the right to leave Cuba.  Elliot is unhappy:

Instead, baseball owners have negotiated a deal with the FCB, the Cuban Baseball Federation, in which they bribe the Cuban regime with part of a player’s salary.  [Emphasis added]

We bolded instead because we wanted to note Elliot’s alternative:

The cure for that situation was simple: Change the rules so that any Cuban player who escapes to freedom can sign a contract.

So, as our title suggests, Elliot’s solution is to let ballplayers rot in the Communist hell-hole that is Cuba unless they escape or die trying.  To get folks out of Cuba safely you will need to give the government something because it is a police state.  Money is what they want and need so the deal is going to be players for money.  You can argue that we should let baseball players rot in Cuba because there are more important issues to consider.  It might be that leaving them there will make regime change more likely.  But that solution implies that some players will risk their lives to try to leave Cuba to play baseball elsewhere.

Elliot then disparages MLB owners.  We admit that this is great fun but it doesn’t have anything to do with the money for players proposal.  Here is what he says:

And let’s dispense with sympathy for the billionaire owners of MLB, who cast themselves here as motivated by humanitarian concern for the Cuban players. They’ve certainly never shown such concern before. Moreover, this deal with the Cuban regime has not been their only political move in 2018. The other was sneaking an amazing provision into the 2,232-page appropriations bill passed in March: the “Save America’s Pastime Act [SAPA],” a separate bill that could never have been passed on its own.

This leads Elliot to two odd conclusions for a conservative.  First, as conservatives we hope the the MLB owners are interested in their own well being.  We don’t want our beloved Red Sox to pay millions to set some nice Cubans free.  We want great Cuban players to win another World Series.  We hope that the owners are trying to improve their teams by importing Cuban players. Sure they can play the humanitarian card but we know what is going on.

Second, SAPA is about excluding minor league baseball from the minimum wage.  As conservatives who understand the nasty implications of the minimum wage we should be delighted minor league players are exempt but Elliot is not:

So minor-league players will not get overtime pay, and there will be no limit to the number of hours they can be forced to work. Minor-league players have no union, and their salaries are pitiful. Major-league players receive a minimum salary of $550,000 and an average salary of $4.4 million. Minor-leaguers receive a minimum wage of $1,100 per month, which is just above the poverty line. MLB says it needed this legislation because it just can’t pay more to minor-league players; doing so would put many teams out of business.

To try and counter MLB’s assertion Elliot tells us about MLB salaries and what MLB gross receipts were.  Most of the data suggests that MLB teams are mildly profitable at best, see Chart 1 in this.  We expect better from conservatives.  There are plausible reasons to oppose the deal but Elliot hasn’t found any of them.

Hunan Province

Our second stop in China was Hunan Province where we visited Changsha and Jishou.  Changsha is a city of about seven-and-a-half million souls.  Jishou is much smaller at around 300,000.  We want to tell you about stinky tofu, pollution, and the combination topography and roads in the province.

Stinky tofu is exactly what it says.  It is made of tofu and it stinks.  As the link explains, Hunan style is black.  One wag on our Facebook page asked if we were eating charcoal but it is soft and black not hard and black.  Stinky tofu is one example of the many types of street food available in China.  You could eat most of your meals standing up.  On the other hand, the mall we went to in Changsha was filled with luxury shops like Mont Blanc, expensive watches, and designer clothing and accessories.  Everywhere you go you see the many faces of  China from Mont Blanc stores to street food.  And once you have stinky tofu you will recognize the smell many times.

Pollution is a significant issue in China.  In Beijing, Changsha, Xian, and Chengdu it was a concern.  We use the Weather Channel app and it gives warnings like the one for Xi’an today: “Unhealthy Air Quality for Sensitive Groups.”  We think there is a more severe warning too.  If you are thinking of going to China we would suggest you monitor the cities you might visit so you know what to expect.  Our observation, from a small sample, was that Dali and Lijiang did not have the problems the others did.

We went West by car for the five-hour drive from Changsha to Jishou and were amazed by the topography and the roads.  It is a hilly area with heavy undergrowth.  The hills are fairly ordinary, at a rough guess less than 1000 vertical feet.  What is impressive is their persistence.  They are everywhere in all directions for the five hour drive at highway speeds, about 100 kph or 62 mph.  The toll roads we traveled were built in our 20-something driver’s memory.  He says it used to take three times as long to get many places.  Because the hills are everywhere it means that it is only a slight overstatement to say that the roads are mostly tunnels and bridges.  You can get the same view on train rides.  You will also get to see some terraced agriculture.  Either way it is worth the choice to take ground transportation to see what the Chinese government has built (roads and railways) recently and what the Chinese people have built over a much longer period.

More China Travel

Happy Boxing Day.  Since we are talking about China, it is not to be confused with the Boxer Rebellion over a century ago.  We will have a series of posts on our travels that discuss the joys of where we went and the challenges of travel in China.  We start with where we landed in Beijing and discuss the airport, rest rooms, and the masses.

The main terminal in the Beijing International Airport is Terminal Three.  Check your itinerary to see where you are landing and, if you are transferring, where you take off from.  There are also Terminal One and Two.  Terminals One and Two are smaller and connected to each other by a walk that takes less than ten minutes.  Terminal Three is a drive or bus ride from the other two.  It is the same airport but different sides.  If you put this [Beijing Capital International Airport Club, Shunyi, China] in Google Maps and manipulate it a bit you can see the terminals.  Our flight out was the next day after we landed.  Because all of the other folks from the hotel were going to Terminal Three, it became a big hairy deal to get to Terminal One and make it on-time for our flight.  Be sure to check your terminals.

We have encountered squat toilets in Asia before but they seem to be more numerous in China than in Korea or Japan.  Here is a tutorial.  All of our hotels had western toilets but many other places did not or only had a few with a waiting line.  It is more of a problem for women because urinals were almost everywhere and a squat toilet can be used as a low urinal.  There is also the issue of would you use the handicap toilet which is western.  We did.

There are about 1.4 billion people in China.  There are almost 22 million people in Beijing.  So we, like almost everyone, were unaccustomed to the crush of humanity that most Chinese take as a given.  It starts when you deplane.  There is much body contact.  Because the airport is expanding so fast you often ride a bus from the plane to the terminal because there are not enough jetports.  The bus is standing room only and very crowded.  The same is true of subways and sidewalks.  If you hear, “Excuse me,” the speaker is surely from the West.  The crush makes it difficult to protect your documents, valuables, and devices from pickpockets.  We wore a Scott vest and solved those worries and made airport security easier because we had nothing in our pockets.  We were still uncomfortable with the close quarters but unworried.  If you get a Scott vest we suggest you wear it at home to get used to using it and where you will put things.

Changsha is next.

China Travel Alerts

We have not been posting because we have been in China for three weeks.  The lack of postings is a combination of spotty Internet and a busy schedule.  Today we have four travel alerts for China visitors: Heating, driving, currency translation, and technology.

In any visit to a public space you should assume it is not heated and dress as you would for going outside.  It is just like eating in China.  Assume there are bones in the meat and you will be pleased when there are not.  By public place we mean places like hotel lobbies, restaurants, theaters, and even hotel hallways.  Some will be heated, others will be partially heated, and many will have no heat at all.  Dress for the outside and you can always shed a layer if necessary.  We were there in December and it was cold everywhere.  In the summer escaping the heat will be a challenge.

Should you plan to drive in China?  No.  We have driven in Canada, England, France, Germany, Korea, and Scotland.  We didn’t drive in China and we will not.  It is not the traffic, although that is pretty bad, but rather it is the traffic patterns, lack of signs, and good alternatives that lead to our decision.  Chinese drivers have great freedom of expression.  Cars, scooters, and motorcycle trucks go everywhere.  Watch for the last two when walking.  Scooters are electric so you won’t hear them coming.  Signs on the major roads are limited but most of the residential streets have none at all.  Given the taxis and ride sharing options in the city there is no reason to drive in the city.  The reliable busses, trains, and planes mean there is no reason for intercity driving.

Changing your home currency into Chinese currency is not as easy as Europe where ATMs are all over the place. You need currency because natives pay by a system linked to WeChat that only natives can use.  Credit cars are often but not always accepted.  We changed currency at our local bank, in the airport, in a  Chinese bank, and at a Chinese ATM.  We would recommend the first and the last.  Doing it at your local bank might take some lead time but most folks don’t go to China on a whim.  It is hard to carry lots of Chinese currency because the biggest note is 100 yuan or less than $15 currently.  Many banks have ATMs but other than really big tourist attractions we did not many others.  We found the Bank of China ATMs well marked and easy to use.  There are other devices that look like ATMs so pay attention and only insert your card when you are sure you are putting it into an ATM.  The bank and ATMs give you essentially the same return but the bank takes lots of time because of the forms and the challenge of translation while the ATMs are quick.  The airport options charge heavily for their availability so avoid them.

Technology is a challenge in China.  Our suggestions are that you become a member of WeChat and have translator app. WeChat allows you to communicate with your friends in and out of China.  It will translate posts to and from Chinese.  You need it because Western social media apps can be a challenge in China and Chinese are using WeChat.  Currently, only Chinese citizens can use the payment option on WeChat.  It is accepted almost everywhere.  You need a translator app.  We found the Baidu Translator app to be simple to use and accurate.  Put it on your phone and it will expedite many situations.

We had a great time in China.  You need to prepare way beyond this post but it is worth the trip.