Monday, 1 December 1997
The Editors, Los Angeles Times
Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053
re: Commentary, "Asia Fights the Virus of the Capitalism Culture," William Pfaff, Monday, December 1, 1997
When William Pfaff ascribes the recent economic problems in Asian economies to the "imposition of a Western market model," he fails to explain why this does not seem to have been a problem in laissez-faire Hong Kong under the British, or for that matter in old Singapore and Malaya under the British, where whole economies were built by Chinese immigrants under circumstances that Pfaff now says are "unsustainable" and alien to their culture.
Pfaff provides the answer himself by identifying an "Asian" culture of "family and clan relations" that are "characterized by patron-client relationships." If this culture produces political corruption and government manipulation of monetary and financial markets, it is because of the same paternalistic and collectivist dynamic that kept the Chinese in China poor for centuries. The "Western market model," whether imposed by the British in Hong Kong or belatedly accepted, for some purposes, by the Communist Chinese, is just the opposite, not the basis, of that corruption. (Although, as Pfaff loftily says, this is only corrupt "by Western standards.")
Having begun with Asia, however, Pfaff turns to his evident true passion: despising American culture. (Perhaps this is why he lives in Paris.) The individualism and freedom of "self-realization" is now merely a "materialistic and hedonistic public culture." Indeed, Pfaff seems to have a kind word for the Robber Barons in comparison to the modern corporation, which ignores "claims on social justice." What the likes of John D. Rockefeller would have said of modern buzzwords like "stakeholders" and "social justice," which are all red flags for an ideology of government power and intervention, is left unstated.
When Pfaff speaks of morality and justice he seems to agree with the political paternalism, moralism, and authoritarianism of a place like Singapore, which aggressively promotes "Asian" cultural values. He evidently does not think it is moral or just that people should be left alone by government to do what they want, whether that is private profit or private charity. He misses the connection between the free market economics he despises (a "dumbed-down American inversion of Marxism") and the "edifying cause" of individual liberty and responsibility that was so well understood by the 19th Century thinkers he gives us to understand were morally superior to us.
In short, Pfaff is still looking for any stick with which to beat America, capitalism, and a system geared to what people want (shockingly hedonistic, materialistic stuff), not to what people like William Pfaff, out of Euro-socialist noblesse oblige, think they should want.
Kelley L. Ross
Department of Philosophy
Los Angeles Valley College