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China Censors Bad Economic News Amid Signs of Slower Growth (nytimes.com)
205 points by CPAhem 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 107 comments



This should really terrify us all.

The Chinese economy is not just inflated, it's now an enormous chunk of the world economy. Throw in their really wild housing bubble [0] and it's a time bomb. Globalization has made everything cheaper, but it's tied us all together in many ways. They won't fall over alone.

Hiding news that the economy isn't doing well distorts incentives. Those with political connections will know what's really happening and take full advantage. Those without will make poor choices. Like buying a 4th unfinished condo as an investment.

[0]https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-06-24/why-china...


Absolutely this. For all of the benefits that come along with globalization, there is very little talk about all of the risks that come along with it. And you can see this on many scales---when European nations "globalized" to include all of their neighbors, they exponentially increased the risk that they would undergo economic stress. They let go of their tight control over their own economy and their ability to quickly and sharply respond to problems.

I went to college for economics during the recovery from 2008, and one of my professors was a very well respected economist managing large funds. One conversation I had with her stuck with me. We had to read the Wall Street Journal for some assignments, and I asked her why it seemed that Quantitative Easing wasn't have anywhere near the result we expected it to have. She said she thought it was because everyone was doing it. I remember reading articles about concerns that Japan was also doing QE and that it might belittle the efforts of the Fed over here.

I think globalization is a huge step forward and really beneficial overall, but it's not a panacea and it does come with some drawbacks.


Actually, before the trade gone bad, many local governments in China already installed some limits on the housing bubble. For example, in some place, you can only buy house, but unable to sell it. This will limit how many money can flood back to the economy.

So far, that policy is effective. After all, nobody want to play the Japanese character during what's after the "Japanese economic miracle"[0]. And the housing bubble thing is like textbook example of "How not do your economy".

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_economic_miracle


This has always been true though. The government basically controls the real estate companies, and they won’t list/show your house beneath a certain price. When prices weaken, volume simply plummets as no one can sell because the real estate companies won’t allow for discounting. That isn’t a really a new thing, it has been going on for at least a decade.

In many cases, what we have in China is much worse than japan since artificial intervention is much deeper and prolonged.


> what we have in China is much worse than japan since artificial intervention is much deeper and prolonged

I think it's the question of whether or not it's going to pop.

If the housing bubble did popped, then we are screwed a big time, worse than what Japanese once had. But if it didn't, then the leverage is still there and economy maybe low at worse, but stable.

I don't think everything is concluded at this point, because SSE 000001[0] is showing sign of very slow recover. And the censorship on economic news in my opinion is rather one effort to preventing domino effect.

[0] https://www.google.com/search?ei=P3KzW_6LF4fUwQKM77uYAg&btnG...


If the property bubble doesn’t pop, you are more screwed as the asset and real economies further diverge. China can’t be world competitive if a 70sqm apartment goes for a million bucks, people/companies will start relocating to cheaper places like say San Francisco.

A lot of economic potential is directed toward real estate and away from more productive endeavors. I remember the shops outside of my old office in zhongguancun all concerting to real estate offices. Cafes, restaurants, stores can’t compete.

If China wants to take the next step in their economic development, they have to give up on this bubble. It will suppress a lot more economic activity than it stimulates, even if capital is preserved it isn’t doing anything useful.


> China can’t be world competitive if a 70sqm apartment goes for a million bucks, people/companies will start relocating to cheaper places like say San Francisco.

"China is Now More Expensive than the USA": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32t8d2eQJAA

Almost everyone laughs when I say they should get some of their news from people who actually live in China rather than thinking something needs to be printed in the newspaper before it is true.


From the comment section of that very video, I quote:

> Freda Du: are you guys comparing one of the most expensive chinese cities with the average american (suburban/rural) rent? And comparing fine western dining (cuz apparently you think the $2 chinese meals will kill westerners..) with dollar menu? I lived in Shanghai, LA and NYC, let's make a major city to major city comparison here.. a single metro ride is $0.5 in shanghai vs. $2.75 in NY and $1.75 in LA (which goes nowhere); cellphone bill costs $10 in China and $40+ in the US; you can get food as cheap as $2 in a sit-down restaurant in China, but at least $10+tax&tips in America; have you guys just been living in China for too long and forgot how damn expensive america can be? the small Chinese cities can be dirt cheap too but you guys think it's too inconvenient for people who refuse to speak Chinese. so there you go.

For your reference, I'm living in a small city in China, where ¥15 can supply my diet-mode food for a week, for better diet, that's ¥22 ($3.2 dollar) (Just to clarify, If however I don't want to diet, then that's ¥50~80 or $12 a week). That's even when I buy most of my foods from supermarket[0].

The key point is, you CAN live an expensive life in China if you want to, but you don't HAVE to.

[0] https://i.imgur.com/X9Gm4Zl.jpg


Reality is what it is regardless of your or my opinion, and it seems to be human nature for individuals to have a tendency to want to paint it in one way or another (for example: "cuz apparently you think the $2 Chinese meals will kill westerners" - purely a figment of that person's imagination, regardless of it's accuracy).

If you're serious about trying to discern the reality of this situation as accurately as possible, the most useful metric I know of to look at is the affordability ratio, assuming you can find a source with genuinely honest, unmassaged data.

To me, the fundamentally important question seems to be: has the ability for the average person to own/rent the average shelter increased, decreased, or stayed constant over time? My opinion on the matter would be the whatever the answer to that question is. I don't happen to know the correct answer but I think a related question, how broadly is wealth distributed throughout the population (completely ignoring the "righteousness" of it), would be helpful in making a good guess at it.


Let me guess. Did you just been triggered by the $2 a week diet thing? Then don't be, I'm actually not very proud of it.

I did it from time to time for about few weeks so I can quickly lose my belly fat. And I don't like it at all let alone recommending it.

> the most useful metric I know of to look at is the affordability ratio

Of course. I just searched a bit, the DPI seems to be ¥7,815 or $1,137 for the first quarter.

However, I don't have any information other than that, and dig the information needed is too hard for me :(


> Let me guess. Did you just been triggered by the $2 a week diet thing?

Not at all, my point was more referring to the human tendency to take one example and use it as a representation of the norm, according to the internal desires of how one thinks the world is, or "should be".

> Then don't be, I'm actually not very proud of it.

I can't think of too many countries that could feel more righteously "proud" of themselves than China, considering what they've accomplished in the last 20 years, I don't think anyone comes close to touching this progress in the history of the world.

> Of course. I just searched a bit, the DPI seems to be ¥7,815 or $1,137 for the first quarter.

I'm not familiar with this term (Dynamic Price Index?), but I can't think of a single number that would be an accurate representation for "China", considering how large of a country it is, with incredibly high variances of wealth and living expenses.


China is not expensive. Rent is actually cheap: that place on the market in beijing for $1 million USD will rent for less than $2k/month, for example. Food can be cheap, not as cheap as 22 RMB/week (heck, even in Chenzhou I'm not sure who could do that), but $5/person for a decent meal out and cheaper if cooking in.

Cars are super expensive compared to the states, so is gas. Real estate prices are insane, but again rents are much cheaper because most of that run up is imaginary and unsustainable. Education is super expensive if you don't have a hukou (which foreigners will never get). Clean air is impossible to buy.


Chenzhou: Population (2001): 4,559,600; GDP (2015): ¥201 billion. For comparison, Our city: Population (2017): 1,700,000; GDP(2017): less than ¥120b.

I've searched the price of fast food restaurants in your city, the result: https://t.dianping.com/list/chenzhou-category_189

Base on that, I can see the average price is ranging from ¥13 to ¥45 ($2~7) per person. So I guess $5 is really pretty decent.

However, I have lived in few other cities in China, I know that live in another city other than your hometown is expensive, let alone when that city is in another country. Simply too many extra costs (like Rent and education).

Speak of educational cost,

> Education is super expensive if you don't have a hukou (which foreigners will never get).

It's actually location depended. You may want to talk with local schools or departments see if they can help you with it or at least give you a direction. It likely results a cold shoulder but you won't get warm one if you don't try. Plus, ask them directly is better than complaining online.

Also keep in mind, not many Chinese teacher can speak English. So.


That population number is for the entire county, the urban city will be much smaller (about 1 million). I’m not sure what you are counting for yours. Note we live in the states these days, just my wife has hukou in Chenzhou.


Then I'm glad you have escaped from all those problems :)

BTW: The population is the total number.


Note that was a hypothetical: a 70 sqm apartment in Beijing ATM is around $500k, but if the prices keep rising. That is still more expensive than most places in the states, but not more than SF (if you could find such a thing). Beijing isn’t even the most expensive market in China.


I think what the government is trying to do is to increase people's income, so it can match the level of housing bubble.

Many people think it's a goal that is to hard to reach in time (year 2025 or so), but the overall direction is about right.

However, all of that is before the trade war thing. So what does the future actually holds is a bigger unknown by now.


That makes no sense and would be much worse than just popping the bubble: either China will be extremely uncompetitive with the rest of the world, or they will deprecate the RMB like crazy.

The property bubble really isn’t worth preserving.


Not only in China.

In 2010, the US Securities and Exchange Commission restricted the ability to sell shares short if the share price has declined more than 10%.

https://www.sec.gov/news/press/2010/2010-26.htm

Curious how there is no equivalent restriction on purchases if the share price has increased by 10%.


It’s a very temporary restriction not at all comparable. It applies only until the next uptick and is essentially a strengthening of the circuit breaker rules.

These rules are designed to slow trading down on the order of minutes to hours so market participants can catch up and make rational decisions. This is completely different than broad market distortions pervasive in both Japan and China - both in intent and effect.


> These rules are designed to slow trading down

If this were true, then there would be a symmetric rule to restrict purchases when prices increase.

Since the rule only restricts sales and not purchases, its purpose must be to prevent price declines, not to regulate the velocity of trading.


Unlike with upswings, down swings come with margin calls which can cause downward spirals. The market can certainly get irrational on the upswing as well but the feedback mechanisms are more muted and slower.


China also has a circuit breaker against movements of 10% (they can't grow/shrink more than 10% a day). China also doesn't really allow for shorting of shares so I'm not sure what you are trying to show here?


selling shares short is selling shares you dont own. There is no restriction on selling shares you dont own.

Short selling amplifies downturns because you dont have to own a share to sell it. There is no non option equivalent to short selling.


I hadn't heard about that, but it clarifies something. I've got in-laws in China, and many of them own older condos that they no longer live in. When I asked my wife why they don't sell, she just said there's zero resale value, which made no sense to me. But a law preventing the sale could explain it.


It's rather a regulation, not law. And I don't think it's apply to your case, because the regulation I mentioned above only limit recent transactions.

That is, if you brought a house, from the time of the purchase, you can't re-sell it within 2~5 years. After that, you're free to go.

If that old condos is not within the limited time, then maybe it is real that the house have no resale value. In that case, as far as I know, the only option is to wait until local government re-sell (re-develop) the land.

But don't take my word, I don't know every policy of every local government. If you really curious, ask the question on a Chinese website like zhihu.com, then maybe you can get some information that is more useful.


Please explain the nuance between a regulation and a law. I understand them to be different terms for government enforced actions. Is there a distinction in China I am not groking with my americentric bias?


Can Chinese citizens actually buy a house, or is the market still limited to long-term leases?


In a strict definition, yes, what Chinese called buy a property actually is buy the ownership for 70 years or lease it for 70 years. But if the whole market is in that way, there is no difference either call it lease or buy.


It makes a huge difference when comparing Chinese real estate valuation and affordability with other countries that do allow purchases.


What happens after the 70 years is up? How does one pass the property to one's children if it's a "lease"?


The property is yours but the land on which the property is built is leased for 70 years. After 70 years according to exiting Chinese law the lease is automatically renewed. There’s no limit on the total number of renewals.


"There is no question that China will have a difficult adjustment, but it is likely to take the form of a long process rather than a sudden crisis." -- Michael Pettis, professor of finance at Peking University https://carnegieendowment.org/chinafinancialmarkets/77178


From the original article:

"A government directive sent to journalists in China on Friday named six economic topics to be “managed,” according to a copy of the order that was reviewed by The New York Times."

From everything I've read, I would be extremely surprised if journalists are the only ones who receive implicit or explicit "suggestions" on what is acceptable to say, and what is not.

http://www.baldingsworld.com/2018/07/17/balding-out/ (It's an excellent article overall.)

I am leaving China. After nine years working for the HSBC Business School of Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School as a professor teaching international trade, negotiations, and ethics, I am leaving China. In early November 2017, the HSBC Business School informed me they would not renew my contract. In March 2018 they informed me they wished to sever all ties by April 1, 2018.

One of my biggest fears living in China has always been that I would be detained. Though I happily pointed out the absurdity of the rapidly encroaching authoritarianism, a fact which continues to elude so many experts not living in China, I tried to make sure I knew where the line was and did not cross it. There is a profound sense of relief to be leaving safely knowing others, Chinese or foreigners, who have had significantly greater difficulties than myself. There are many cases which resulted in significantly more problems for them. I know I am blessed to make it out.

I'd also be surprised if China is the only country where messaging "suggestions" are made by the government, although the degree and exactly how it is done is far more opaque some places than others. Of course it may be pure confirmation bias, but I've detected a distinct change in the nature of MSM China articles in the last 2 months or so in the US, as well as a change in public sentiment in social media and forums.


I wonder if thats why tons of chines are buying houses in the US and Canada since they know that China house bubble has actually burst and they need to move their money elsewhere. They know it's a timebomb, the news will someday come out, but hey that house you bought in Canada still got value, as it'll take time for those markets to correct, but if you've got the Jump you can sell it.


This was their plan all along, said the same 11 months ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15523954


This is the Opium Wars all over again.


The kind of "bad economic news" censored:

TABLE-China bond defaults rise over 56 pct from 2017 at $8.74 bln

https://www.reuters.com/article/china-economy-defaults/table...


how about not to selectively ignore the total market size? that is as bad as censorship.

$8.74 bln defaulted out of the $11 trillion market [1].

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-06-07/china-s-1...


also interesting is the debt graph's y axis does not start at 0 to make the effect more dramatic



> How about stopping the baseless accusations thrown at China?

Apologies, but all the links you posted are in chinese, and google translate just turns them into mostly garbage so Im struggling with the context of your comment.

But I'm not sure what this issue here is, the user above you pointed out "the kind of information being censored" as an example of what's being discussed in the parent article, and that seems unrelated to the argument "Stop throwing baseless accusations about X".

Is the problem with the accusation that China is censoring economic information, or is it that the default rate as used in this example is inaccurate?


The example is inaccurate, or rather false and misleading.


Welllllll I don't really think that was the point of the comment, rather it was showing an example of what content has been blocked.


I'm not sure where the misunderstanding is.

The article is about censoring economic news.

The top comment suggests an example of economic news that is censored.

Anyone reading the comments would assume that the example news is indeed censored.

However, that was not the case, as shown in the links I provided. (If they were censored, the pages would have been taken down retrospectively)

I'm pointing out that example is a false accusation of the content being censored.


What were the links posted? They were flagged and removed.



I interpreted OP's comment as meaning that this particular reuters link is censored, not necessarily all URLs with the same semantic content. Probably censors are not vigilant enough.


The context of the NYT article is that bad news in Chinese media is censored. GP already said "the kind of ...", which was not about a specific piece or a specific link, so it would be natural for me to interpret GP's comment as "the semantic content about defaults is censored in China", which is not true according to @paradite.


Right. I didn't see that you could interpret it that way. Apologies for not stating that assumption.


Can you explain in short what accusation you deem baseless? Is it the fact that censorship is going on or is it the specific item of "bad economic views" linked by the parent?

Unfortunately for most of us westerners the chinese web remains mostly opaque (and automated translation very mediocre) so I don't understand what your links are supposed to demonstrate. That's probably why you're getting downvoted too.


Apparently he linked several uncensored Chinese language articles that talk about that specific piece of news.


I vouched for your post because as far as I can tell, it's written in good faith and is not in violation of any HN guidelines. I'm not sure why your post got so rapidly killed - the posts you link to are clearly discussing bond defaults, so I'll take your word for it that they're discussing the same problem as the Reuter's article. And that would indeed seem to be prima facie evidence that this particular story is not being censored.


Censorship in China doesn't work like what Orwell would have told. The claim in the article about a "government directive" might as well be true because similar directives have been consistently leaked to Western media over the years and obviously they have credible inside sources for this kind of leaks. If you look at the detail of the directive it says "manage" which means content getting demoted, removed from front-page, retweets disappeared, anything but outright removal, so existence of content doesn't prove its popular visibility is not being manipulated. This is likely them learning to take a page from the book of Western media operation but you can still tell what amateurs they are when supposedly state secrets are leaked left and right like this.


I would agree with you that such techniques could be used, and in fact I suspect they are used. However, I wouldn't say they strictly qualifies as censorship, because you can still get the information if you know where to look at (go to specific websites legally and search for them).


If information that would typically be widespread was prevented from becoming widespread, then censorship has taken place and succeeded.

If a newsworthy event has taken place but is not reported on mainstream media because of government intervention, that is censorship.

The main purpose of censorship is not to completely stop all access to some information, it is to prevent that information from reaching a majority of its target audience.

This is what happened here. You're shrugging it off with 'ehhh but you can still find the information if you know to look for it in the first place, where most people would not look'. This apologist attitude is why you're being downvoted. You are using the Chinese government 'approved' definition of censorship with is contradictory to the definition outside of china.


> where most people would not look

He/She linked articles from sina.com and hexun, they are arguably the most popular online news outlets in China. Xinhua also have numerous news articles on the increasing defaults [1][2][3] -

May 2018 [1] http://www.xinhuanet.com/finance/2018-05/29/c_1122902212.htm

August 2018 [2] http://www.xinhuanet.com/tech/2018-08/04/c_1123221839.htm

July 2018 [3] http://www.xinhuanet.com/finance/2018-07/13/c_1123119356.htm

How about stop commenting on something you don't even understand?


If it's just because of different definitions of censorship, I would gladly take the downvotes. After all, people disagree on definitions and HN allows downvotes for disagreeing.

In fact I am happy that we found the root cause of our disagreement.

Edit: To be more clear, I would define censorship as denying legal means to access a piece of information.


"Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or "inconvenient" as determined by a government or private institution"

The definition is pretty clear, and TFA pretty clearly meets that definition. You're not being downvoted simply because people disagree with your point of view, you're being downvoted because you're using alternative party-approved language which subverts the discussion.

To put it really bluntly, your comments match the heuristic of what people would consider propaganda trolling.


> To put it really bluntly, your comments match the heuristic of what people would consider propaganda trolling.

I got downvoted to hell for pointing out that the article doesn't provide the total size of the bond market when talking about those $8 bln defaults. I provided a link to a recent bloomberg article showing the total size is $11 trillion.

Surely those downvotes are a good show of freedom of speech! Shame on you.


Paradite, I upvoted to give some balance. People might be quick to downvote in this case because they've encountered too many nationalist trolls from whichever country, not just China. Not saying that you are a nationalist troll! I imagine that if the topic were about, say, net neutrality or the Patriot Act in the US and I were to write, "Hey how about you guys cut it with the attacks on the US, OK?" I'd be (appropriately) downvoted. Is there anti-PRC bias at HN? I'm not sure and don't think it's easy to know. In any case the very great things the PRC government since Deng has done for the development of China, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty and into a strong position, must be viewed along side everything else, including censorship and importantly now the crackdowns on Uyghurs, I imagine you'd agree. I can't imagine that most members of the HN community would wish it any other way when it came to their own countries. I understand the desire to defend China and the PRC state, especially when people appear to jump to the wrong conclusions and there is anti-Chinese sentiment all around, but that also doesn't mean that the PRC is blameless.


Why would you have faith in HN in the first place? :)


If it's on the NY Times about a trade war and a country the USA is losing ground to economically, it's probably something relating to Chomsky's propaganda model.


The interesting thing for me here is a problem with all censorship: Those doing the censoring need to understand the issue to work effectively. So the censorship bulletins need to provide enough information that they become a source of truth. It gives investors an incentive to read them, because they are a factor in where the market moves.


I think it's partly censorship, and partly the secrecy around the creation of economic (and other) data. When people are incentivised to report inaccurate data and have the ability to do so, they will. This is an old problem. Emperor Kangxi developed a secret palace memorial system in the seventeenth century to learn from trusted eunuchs if the grain prices his senior officials were reporting were accurate, and if his son was a monster, and things like that.


Chinese "leaders" are in way over their head trying to direct the economy. Now they don't know what the people really know. Something tells me that clear and open information is the best choice but they have already gone down the rabbit hole.


Yes, and even if the are actually fully informed and very skilled, there are severe limitations on what "management" of press and psychology can do.

In an economy, an excess must eventually be corrected. The problems are that it's a dynamic super-multi-variable system and tends to overshoot in both directions. Ideally, an excess would self-correct soon and gently, but many information loops have too long a lag. Hence, the warning that "markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent".

In cases where the bubble is moderate, 'management' may well keep the psycology from falling too far and overcorrecting, buying time, so that the situation can correct without a crash.

However, it also continues the excess for far longer, and often allowing a far greater degree of excess. So, if the excess breaks through the management, the crash will be _much_ steeper and deeper, overshooting far on the downside.

I'm not sure if the PRC doesn't understand this risk, or if it does and is just in too deep to do anything else.

Either way, it is a seriously growing risk for them and globally.


They way to prevent irrational markets out running your solvency is to avoid easy lending/borrowing in the good times.


Of course, but the Chinese needed to do that a decade ago -- it is way too late for that now...

Usually the central banks serve that function by raising interest rates in better times as the economy heats up. China's? Not so much. Seems they might need to learn this lesson the hard way.


Cannot help but wonder if we are seeing, right here in this comment section here, people paid to counter any discussion of a bad Chinese economy. Of course, I'll probably never know for sure.


Chinese censorship doesn't appear to work that way: largely domestic, and focused on adding friction and distraction rather than criticism/rebuttal - https://qz.com/311832/hacked-emails-reveal-chinas-elaborate-... https://gking.harvard.edu/50c http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/gking/files/experiment_0.pd...


It would really have surprised me to hear that they didn't.

Though there seems to be some relevance to the government's numbers, otherwise the market would totally ignore them.


I wouldn't be surprised to read this kind of news about some of the Eastern Europe countries in the future.


I wouldn't be surprised to read this kind of news about Western European countries in the future !


East 2nd, East 2nd, at least this time.


I originally downvoted you, but now I think I see where you were going with this.

It is possible in at least one instance.


When your business is to run a regulated economy, neglecting to censor the bad news would be a bad sign for your investors.


I'm not particularly convinced this is much worse than what happens in the west, where people get their news from biased sources, be they Fox News, CNN, or Facebook. Sure, there's the theoretical difference, censorship is bad, etc., but practically speaking, the result does not feel that different...


Theoretical differences? People don't regularly go missing in the west for reeducation.

There is a difference between a biased news source and flat-out censorship. Equating us to China is disingenuous and loopy.


It is much worse, given that in the west biased reporting and cover ups can be publicly denounced, whether by other biased sources at the other end of the spectrum or in social media, whereas in China it is not allowed to disclose by any means that bad economic news is being suppressed.


Unless you are Alex Jones.


Last time I checked he was fully able to spit whatever nonsense he wanted out into the world without being send to any reeducation camps.


Whether anyone in the mainstream will encounter his message is another matter. Pointing out that no rights have been violated entirely misses/avoids the point.


I feel the strategy is just different.

In our culture there is no need to suppress the bad news, it can just be drowned down in a flurry of stupid news, contradictory statements and "why do you hate freedom" kind of finger pointing.

If random people speaking freely has close to no effect on the leading class, there is not much need to suppress free speech.


Sure, in the west there are constant attempts at gaming the system, and propaganda is as rife as in authoritarian regimes, and this often results in the masses (us) being misinformed. However, I still don't think it's the same as direct censorship, where it's pretty much game over, nor as damaging.

I mean, do you really believe that it's irrelevant that the conversation we are having now, without any fears, I assume, would be extremely risky in China?


Disclaimer: I don’t have any experience living in China.

With that in mind, from what I get anything political or touching the PRC will be heavily scrutinized, anything else nobody will bat an eye.

In that respect, the fact we can discuss this freely is nice. But I’d be cautious to declare we’re freer than them just on that fact alone. I just don’t know.

Compound to that, the fact that we went through series of very serious crisis (the banking crash 10 years ago comes to my mind) with almost no long lasting structural change of the same order as the crisis, despite people’s engagement.

This to me brings the question: how much impact does free public discussion have on the real world ? Does it even have a real impact on public opinion ? Or are we just set in a sandbox, toying with whatever we want, while everything else rolls around ?


It has an impact on public opinion. It's just that public opinion doesn't have an effect on the policy that is being implemented.


The very fact that I can say "Screw government Policy X" and "Trump is a liar" or "the NSA's surveillance policy is unAmerican" without fear of being arrested or reeducated, very clearly says we are more free than a citizen of China, without even delving into the threats to freedom faced by ethnic minorities in China.

Effecting change in government policy is a poor metric of personal freedom as there are a number of competing interests, each rooted in their personal freedom to try to effect change. Yes, many of us are disappointed in how things were handled since 2008, but clear policy solutions don't always exist, and I do not think the people clearly coalesced around any set of them and then failed to implement them. Why? Because the actions taken to effect a recovery were good enough that we didn't collectively starve. Revolutions and huge political upheavals take starvation (The Depression), death (Vietnam), or a clear solution to unfair suffering (Civil Rights Movement).


I totally agree with you that the aftermath of the financial crisis has been appaling.

Before the crisis both the right and the left had achieved their main political goal (capitalism and the welfare state, respectively), and both accepted the status quo.

It is astonishing that after a crisis that was caused by capitalist greed, it was the welfare state that was compromised.

This has damaged the establishment left, which is being replaced by populists that, although often branded as far-right, are big defenders of the welfare state and "the people".

The western liberal capitalist elites, which control the media, are struggling to contain these populists. So, although, in particular, the US media is under their control, they couldn't stop Trump, whose supporters in the fringe media had no trouble spreading their opinions.

Although a westerner, I have first-hand experience of life in an authoritarian country.

Of course, I will never claim that this makes me an expert, but an interesting observation that I have made is that educated people in dictatorships seem not to believe anything from their country's media.

So far so good. The interesting bit is that they seem to give enormous credibility to rumours and conspiracy theories, no matter how outlandish.

I have the suspicion that often these rumours originate from the opposition in the diaspora, who I believe are just as biased and self-serving as the officials.

I find this side-effect of censorship quite fascinating.

In fact, China recently cracked down on those spreading rumours. [1]

[1] https://www.scmp.com/news/china/poliitics/article/2162036/ch...


> The western liberal capitalist elites, which control the media, are struggling to contain these populists.

> Of course, I will never claim that this makes me an expert, but an interesting observation that I have made is that educated people in dictatorships seem not to believe anything from their country's media.

Just one example of these two points is Thomas Frank, whose type of message you will rarely see anywhere in the mainstream (or even elsewhere (whether intentional or not): "You're posting too fast. Please slow down. Thanks."), and therefore will likely have no influence on "informed" people in the US.

https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2018/01/thomas-frank-obama-c...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xPCMhwyHy0

But as you say, the message is getting to some people, and when people hear these types of messages and if they realize it isn't covered in the mainstream, and is "discouraged" on social media, and start putting two and two together, it can become a very potent political tool that can be leveraged by populists.


I'm not sure you understand how much is unknown about China: https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/03/21/nobody-knows-anything-a...

And don't forget that this lack of knowledge about the true state surely contributed to the famines that killed tens of millions of Chinese during the Great Leap Forward. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Chinese_Famine


In China you’re talking about those in power actively hiding important public information from those without power. If you are one of the ‘without’, then there’s very little you can do to challenge official viewpoints.

A Facebook bubble can be similarly truth-distorting, but your bubble is ultimately a reflection of your individual choices, and it barely takes a couple of clicks before you can find conflicting information or alternate opinions.


The ENORMOUS difference is that, in China, you only have sources with one bias - the one the government wants.

In the West, for all our defects, you can get all the points of view you want.


One of the great advantages of the West happens when biased sources do not overlap.

That is for example the CNN or NYT looking with microscope whatever Republicans do badly and ignoring what Hillary or Obama does wrong could be extremely valuable is there are "opposite biased media" that looks with microscope whatever Hillary does wrong.

This happens in multiple levels, there are financial interest that own media and will never criticize its masters.

The Churches also own media, the Unions own media, the military and farma industry own media. Google or Facebook ARE media.

People in power should be controlled, and that is one of the most realistic ways to control people in power. Wanting media to be unbiased is a dream. Most people are biased.


So basically, the west is a brave new world, China is 1984.


In the West there are biased sources (it's impossible to have unbiased sources because there's no consistent agreement on what "unbiased" could be) but there's actually a lot of diversity of content. It's pretty easy to find some articles arguing different sides and get a decent idea of the whole situation, which is obviously not true when the government censors content.


Trump does exactly the same. What's the difference.


That's nonsense. The economic parameters on which the US is not doing well are always reported in the media.


I guarantee that Trump has zero influence on how the NYT reports on the economy.


That's not true, if a piece of economic information would be damaging to Trump it would likely get even more coverage.


He's also gamed them a few times to accidentally cover good data. Most notably when he "leaked" the low jobs numbers and CNN/NYT covered it non stop


In certain media but in other media the opposite it true. The top cable news network for the last decade has been conservative (Fox obviously) and conservative media absolutely dominates talk radio and it also has a robust Internet presence.


Isn’t that the opposite of influence though?


Not if you know how to spin it. Like him or not, Trump is unquestionably good at getting 'bad' press to work in his favor. Any power, positive or negative, can be harnessed if you are clever enough. To what end, well, thats a different discussion.


Trump doesn't control the media.


I want to condemn this, but given the current state in western countries, I'd feel like a hypocrite.

We have so much light censorship and politicians get to lie without any consequences. The institutions who play along are rewarded and those who try to speak out about it are discredited.

There's illegal surveillance that we only get to know about from whistleblowers.

Political correctness is used to silence millions of people and invalidate opinions without having to debate anyone.

Elections are won through illegal social media campaigns.

If anything, China is copying us.


I agree with the general thesis that many different forms of censorship occur in the West. I agree that the Left tends to use political correctness as it’s means to make people fear being called a bigot. However no one illegally won an election from outside sources. The Russians paid about 100k in ads on Facebook. Doris spent millions. We have more to fear from internal threats than from external.

China is not copying us. Corruption is universal. It’s a question of degrees. The US has less corruption and more access to correct what does exist than the Chinese. What they learned from us, if anything, is how technology can control things. Given that they’ve had advanced tech on the past and did similar things to suppress inconvenient truth, I’d say they are pretty much doing what they’ve always done back to the days of the emperor.




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