Two Great Roads: Infrastructure in the USA & China
As the end of 2017 approached, the Chinese Ministry of Transportation announced its plan for the next year. In 2018, China intends to build over 200,000 kilometers (124274.238 miles) of new roads in rural areas. The result will be to connect 5,000 rural villages to asphalt roadways and bus services. Furthermore, the Transport Ministry intends to renovate 180,000 kilometers (111846.815 miles) of roads, as well as restoring 2,500 bridges. In the last five years, China has constructed 1.275 million kilometers (776713.9903 miles) of news roads.
Meanwhile, in the United States, the opposite is taking place. According to Wired Magazine, municipalities across the country are un-paving roads due to budgetary concerns. In order to save money, rural towns in 27 different states have removed asphalt and restored dirt roads. For example, the city of Montpelier in Vermont, saved $120,000 by removing asphalt from a number of its roads. The process involves a machine called a “reclaimer” that pulverizes the asphalt and spreads it evenly across the roadway.
This stark contrast, with still-developing China building new roads at great speed as the long-developed USA un-paves them, is a culmination of two trends. Politics and economics are closely tied, and the government policies of China and the United States have both evolved over the past decades, leading to the current situation.
“We Walk On The Great Road”
In 2018, as China is engaged in huge amounts of construction, both domestically and around the world an old patriotic Communist song is returning to popularity. The song is entitled “We Walk On The Great Road.” The lyrics translate roughly to:
“We walk in the road,
Holding our red flag to the sun,
Chairman Mao leads the revolutionary ranks,
Overcoming all obstacles in front of us.
The irresistible torrent of revolution,
In the direction of victory.”
The song was performed by a choir at a gathering of the MinMetal corporation, a US-based subsidiary of the Chinese state-controlled metal supplier in 2016. Event organizers said the song was selected for the ceremony because “The song expressed the great ambition of those from Minmetals who are striding forward with high spirit under the guidance of the “One Belt and One Road” initiative.”
Why is so much construction taking place in China?
For the first half of the 20th century China was a deeply poor country. The British had waged the infamous “Opium Wars” and forced China to function as a captive market. US troops were deployed to China in 1901 to suppress the nationalist Boxer rebellion. Dr. Sun Yat Sen led a revolution in 1911 for the purpose of asserting China’s economic and political independence, but after his death, Chiang Kai Shek came to power and halted progressive efforts. The Communist Party was forced to take up arms in the countryside in order to defend the peasantry, and press ahead with the goal of creating a new China, free from poverty and foreign domination.
By 1949, the force that had been championing the rights of peasants and fighting the Japanese invaders, the Communist Party, came to power on the mainland. In the first years of the People’s Republic during the 1950s, China was able to do a limited amount of construction with Soviet assistance. In 1961 aid from Moscow was cut off and the Soviet technicians who had been assisting construction were recalled.
From 1961 to 1976 China presented itself as a bastion of global communist revolution, accusing the Soviet leaders of being “revisionists” and “betrayers” of Marxist-Leninist ideals. After the fall of Lin Biao in 1969, the infamous “Gang of Four” took the reigns of power in China. The Gang of Four thrived in persecuting people. They made punishment and humiliation a routine part of everyday life, and forcibly relocated youth to the countryside. Production was slowed by constant efforts to remain ideologically “pure” and weed out all who strayed from the “true line.”
After the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, Deng Xiaoping emerged. Deng Xiaoping argued against the “poverty socialism” of the Gang of Four, and adapted China’s economic model, while actively seeking foreign investment. The system of “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” involves a tightly controlled economy, in which foreign investors and capitalists are able to make profits, but the party keeps a tight grip on society, forcing the economy to work for public good.
Today, China’s socialist economy is the second largest economy in the entire world. It produces more steel than any other country in the world. 700 million people have been lifted out of poverty. In 2017, the Chinese Communist Party held a national congress and reiterated its goals of building a prosperous, modern socialist society.
USA Marches Toward A Low Wage Police State
Why is so much deconstruction and decay taking place in the United States?
During the 1930s, the US government was led by a populist and reformer named Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt was pushed in a radical direction due to the many attempts to remove him by big business and industrial capitalists. The popular President aligned himself with anti-fascists and labor unions and passed a number of progressive reforms. In 1935, Roosevelt hired millions of unemployed Americans into the Works Progress Administration. Roosevelt’s “boys in green” built highways, bridges, airports, post offices, and other infrastructure across the USA. Beloved landmarks like LaGuardia Airport and Key West Highway were constructed during this time.
During the Second World War, Roosevelt asserted tight military control over domestic industries for the purpose of coordinating efforts to defeat Germany, Italy, and Japan. Roosevelt aligned the USA with the Soviet Union and the Chinese revolutionaries, despite many wealthy people such as Henry Ford having a positive attitude toward the Nazis and Japanese imperialists.
Roosevelt died in 1945 as the war was ending, and was replaced with Harry Truman, a figure from a rival wing of the Democratic Party. The US alliance with the Soviet Union was terminated, and the Cold War was launched with his “Truman Doctrine.” In the process, Truman actively purged the Democratic Party of the left-wing activists who had worked with it in many urban areas. Truman also unleashed the FBI and Justice Department to suppress the Communist Party.
In 1948, the Taft-Hartley Anti-Labor law was passed, preventing American workers from unionizing without the oversight and approval of the National Labor Relations Board. The law also allowed the President to order strikers back to work for a “cooling off” period, and outlawed solidarity strikes in support of other unions. As a result of this legislation, the ability of organized labor to protect working families and influence the US political process has been greatly reduced.
In the 1950s, just after the foreign policy and labor laws were dramatically adjusted, a huge public relations campaign was waged to convince Americans that free market capitalism was an essential part of their identity. The writings of Ayn Rand, condemning empathy and compassion and supporting “the virtue of selfishness” were widely distributed and promoted in US media. By 1968, the free market extremist Milton Friedman was working in the Nixon White House. Later, Ayn Rand’s protégé Alan Greenspan was emerging to lead the Federal Reserve and the Council on Foreign Relations.
While Adam Smith and other defenders of capitalism had always believed that a state sector of the economy was necessary for the market to function, the “neoliberals” like Greenspan and Friedman disagreed. They argued for a kind of utopian capitalism, and stated that functions normally taken on by the state should be delegated to for-profit entities. The result has been private military contractors existing parallel to the army, private prisons, charter schools, and the constant de-funding of anything considered to be public property in the United States, other than the military and policing agencies.
Market extremism was standard in the Republican Party by the 1970s, but it soon expanded across the isle. After the rise of the Clintons’ Democratic Leadership Council in the late 1980s, talk about a “balanced budget” and “bureaucratic red tape” dominated both major parties in the United States. The free market ideology has been so inculcated, that the minimal reforms of Obamacare were met by some with the alarm bells of armageddon. The right-wing apparatus convinced a large percentage of the population who had been so inculcated in free market ideology, that even the minimal reforms within the Affordable Care Act would result in a totalitarian state.
Neoliberalism has almost complete ideological dominance in the United States, despite its obvious links to the financial crash of 2008. The welfare state of the USA is very small in comparison to almost every other western country, yet many Americans have become convinced that the USA doesn’t have “real capitalism” and that the government needs to be even less involved in overseeing the economy.
With corporations already paying minimal taxes, and the income of the population decreasing amid declining wages, many municipalities can no longer afford to carry out basic functions like maintaining paved roads.
This isn’t the only symptom of neoliberal mismanagement. In Flint, Michigan, disrepair of the water system resulted in lead contamination, causing brain damage to thousands of children. Bridges across the USA are not secure. Highways are crumbling. Amtrak accidents are becoming more frequent. The quality of service of public transportation in cities like Washington DC and New York City continues to decline.
Neoliberalism marches onward, as essential infrastructure in the United States falls apart. To the neoliberal fanatics, fixing it up would be “socialism” because “government is never the answer.”
International corporations, tied into a global financial network, have a tight grip on the political process and willfully allow the USA to fall into further disrepair. In the global, low wage economy, a continuing decline in the standard of living for the domestic US population is not a big concern for the billionaires at the center of a global empire. The USA is getting poorer, but their profits continue to increase.
Is America on the Road to Damascus? A New “Great Awakening?”
Between 1949 and today, the Peoples Republic of China has often adjusted its economic system. It has gone from construction with Soviet aid, to independent socialist construction. When independent socialist construction ran into big problems with the Gang of Four, China adjusted its policy again, adopting Market Socialism. Now, despite the success of Market Socialism, a huge amount of corruption has emerged, so Xi Jinping is now adjusting China’s economic model once again, in order to correct this problem.
While China has been constantly adjusting its socialist system in order to more effectively achieve its goal for building a prosperous society, the USA has been in roughly the same trajectory since the death of Roosevelt in 1945. Neoliberalism and fanatical anti-communism have continued to result in de-industrialization, a drop in the standard of living, and other big social problems. As China has continued adjusting for success, the USA continues on the same death march toward a low wage police state.
However, we should remember, as the year of 2018 begins, that “great turnarounds” are not foreign to the American psyche.
The Christian religion, which is dear to many Americans tells of the conversion of the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. The Bible tells that Paul (then called Saul) was working to persecute and arrest the followers of Christ, before suddenly being knocked to the ground on the road to Damascus, and confronted by the image of Jesus demanding to know “Why do you persecute me?” The Book of Acts says: “The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.” (Acts 9:3–9) After being confronted on the road to Damascus, the Christian tradition tells that Paul went on to become one of the principal leaders of the early Christian church, which he had previously been repressing.
The beloved American gospel song, “Amazing Grace” was written in 1799 by John Newton, a slave trader who, in the midsts of a journey to Africa, became convinced that the practice of selling and owning human beings violated Christian teachings. Newton’s anthem about drastically reforming himself and abandoning the slave trade became a definitive battlecry of a widespread movement of religious fervor in the early United States. The “Second Great Awakening” gave birth to Mormonism, Seventh Day Adventism, tent revivalism, and many other aspects of American religious culture, which have deeply imprinted the country’s consciousness and understanding. The “Second Great Awakening” was also key in helping launch the abolitionist movement, which played a pivotal role in the eventual defeat of slavery.
Americans seems to strongly believe that if one is on a dangerous trajectory, it is possible to completely change course. One wonders if Americans will be able to stop marching down the road to a low wage police state, and once again assert the right of communities to have paved roads, and for working families to have good paying jobs, decent housing, and quality education.
It is not beyond the American people to reject the path of neoliberalism, as they did during the 1930s, under the administration of the still beloved President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This concept of reawakening and radically turning from one’s old ways is deeply embedded among evangelical Christians, many of which live in the regions most severely affected by the policies of free market insanity.
As America’s millennials get involved in politics and engage in protests, with a large percentage of them expressing a lack of opposition to “socialism,” one wonders if the USA is now on its own road to Damascus. Is it possible that due to the widespread societal decay, the American psyche could be preparing itself for some kind of 21st century “great awakening” to challenge the lies of capitalism?
Originally Published in New Eastern Outlook