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China: The Third Red Scare?

Anyone who has listened to President Obama lately has heard all about the high speed rail system in China. The Chinese have invested billions of dollars in creating more than 5,000 miles of rail lines with cars moving at speeds of up to 220 mph that provide passengers with an alternative to the airplane in terms of long distance travel. In theory, the rail system was supposed to provide a cheaper alternative to working class Chinese citizens.

Liberal forces in America, including the President have pushed for billions of dollars in investment from Congress to create similar structures in America. The stimulus package included over $8 billion to build structures in Florida, California, Washington and parts of the northeast and midwest. Why? Because we need to compete with the Chinese.

But does that even make sense? We already have a rail based mass transit system called Amtrak. The US government directly subsidizes Amtrak by $1 billion a year. Amtrak also has the highest profit margin of any public transportation in the country according to a 2006 study by USDOT, making almost three times the profit per passenger mile than privately owned airlines. Yet despite the generous subsidy and the high rate of return, Amtrak manages to lose money. A lot of money. The Pew charitable trust released a 2009 study showing that Amtrak is losing $32 per passenger. Amtrak's own President thinks that's a low number and puts it closer to $40. Obviously, rail in the US, has not been a winning commodity. Yet many on the left, including the President, argue that if we would just compete with the Chinese and make the investment that we would see better results spawn from superior infrastructure. This would lead you to believe the Chinese system is working well wouldn't it? Well, it's not doing much better than Amtrak.

In China, the price of these high speed rail systems has become unsustainable. As a result, the government has been forced to raise the prices to such rates that the common citizen, for whom the system was supposed to benefit most, has now been priced out of the market. Recently a mob of angry citizens came out to the rail station to revolt by showing up in their undergarments as prices on a one-way ticket home have risen as high as 400 US Dollars. In October of 2010 the Chinese Academy of Sciences told the government that the levels of debt accrued by high speed rail projects was unsustainable and recommended that future investments be halted. In November, the Chinese government did halt most of it's schedules rail plans including one from Shanghai to Hangzhou. The Chinese are now rumored to be hoping that rise of it's middle class will provide enough ridership to justify it's high speed rail programs.

All of which, leads back to my original point: why do we want to copy that!? If a communist country can't even afford to subsidize it's plans and can't make a social argument for getting the cost threshold under that of commercial airlines, why would Americans, who live in far more expansive cities think thatreplicatingthis is a good idea? Copying a bad idea for the sake of worldwide competition doesn't make it a good idea. It's a failed program and instead of being in a rush to copy the Chinese, we should take this as an opportunity to thank the Chinese for investing billions of their dollars into teaching us that this is one program that just doesn't work even with outrageous subsidies.

This example is indicative of the larger issue. Americans continue to talk about competing with China in all the wrong places. Why should America compete with China to see who can turn out the cheapest trinkets in Wal-Mart? Instead, America should be focused on creating advanced jobs in new fields leading the way in production of microchips, technology and high quality goods and services. If the Chinese want to sell us the cheap goods, let them and let us sell them back the luxury goods that their emerging middle class is looking for. American exceptionalism should have spawned this kind of mentality, but it has not. Instead, we seem fixated on a need to compete with a poor nation of a billion people to see who can kick out the most cheap goods. It's the wrong battle. It's one we simply won't win.

This same mentality has come to dominate fields such as education. A newfound fixation on increasing the amount of post secondary education degrees has emerged. In Arizona, the three university presidents have actively agreed to a "20-20 plan to double the amount of college degrees by the year 2020. On several occasions these presidents and the board of regents have cited a need to compete with China as compelling reason to increase the quantity of the degrees. My argument has always been about quality. We are not going to produce more post secondary degrees than the Chinese. That's just a mathematical fact. Instead of trying to produce massive quantity for the sake of quantity alone, the universities should be excessively focused on quality. Our graduates should be producing the next google, microsoft, intel, facebook, etc. Instead we are producing waves of "educated" individuals who are flooding the marketplace with mediocre preparation and lackluster achievement. Surely, this is not American exceptionalism.

As the fear of the Chinese takeover continues, what we see is not a rise to American excellence, but a misguided attempt to "compete" for the sake of competition alone. Do we need to invest in American infrastructure? Of course we do. More than people realize. We have $1.1 trillion, beyond the stimulus allotment, worth of repairs to do just to bring our roads, bridges, and damns up to "good condition." However, instead of putting our full energies into this, we are allocating billions to expand Amtrak in an artificial race to see who can lose money on public transportation the fastest. Instead of fixing our horrendous educational system, we are investing billions into making sure more students get a piece of paper denoting their achievement of having graduated from our mediocre schools. We have lost our sense of self in a race to compete for sub-standard achievement out of fear of a nation that has not even threatened us. We have become a sad lot. Our fears govern our actions and our actions become irrational, expensive and unproductive.

Still worse, we have not only failed by wasting billions on bad infrastructure and educational programs, but we have sold our national soul to our entitlement programs. We voted to commit trillions of dollars to ourselves from future generations. Each generation putting the next further and further into debt. While the rest of the world is truly competing for excellence and the economic achievements we have already accomplished, we continue to vote to give ourselves healthcare, retirement and other entitlements at rates so high that the coming generation will not be able to afford them. We have lied to the people of this generation telling them to plan on benefits that simply will not be there and we have robbed from those who have not yet had a vote. As a result we have had to borrow money from who else, but the Chinese. It is the one area of legitimate fear we should have about their rise: that we are paying for it and we will continue to until we get serious about government spending.

In the end, we don't need to fear the Chinese, we need to fear ourselves. Our government, from both parties, has lied to us and stolen from the future. Our greatest challenge is not competing with foreign entities, it is with perfecting ourselves. We have to regain our sense of American exceptionalism and become convinced of the need to be the best in everything: sports, education, healthcare, math, science,manufacturing, technology, etc. The only red scare we should fear is the one that comes from a red lettered bottom line.

Posted in Newspaper Post Date 11/18/2017


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