Saturday, February 05, 2011

News from All Over

Thank goodness Egypt is blowing up. Not from the standpoint of stability in the region, the diplomatic and security minefield that a new regime represents, nor what it has done and will do to the price of oil and the stock market. Rather, it gives us a chance to feel superior to yet another autocratic state that is grappling with societal upheaval that can only be placated by mobs in the street. More to the point, we needed a little bucking up on the heels of the state visit by our personal banker, President Jintao of China (Best line of the week: Dennis Miller's observation that President Jintao and House Speaker John Boehner used to tour together under the title of "Hu and Cry.")

As color commentary to the play-by-play of the president's visit, the press has been filled with stories this past week enumerating how China is eating our lunch, and will continue to do so in the coming century. Much of the cold hard statistical data is indeed worrying: a Chinese work force of 813.5 million vs. 154 million here, Chinese exports to the US of $296.4 billion vs. our exports to them of $69.5 billion, and estimated Chinese GDP growth of 9.6% in 2011 vs. 2.3% on these shores. These, of course, are offset by a governmental system called "Chinese Capitalism" which is dictatorial in design and communist in form. The bottom line, however is that whatever you call it, it is economically formidable.

But it wasn't just at the geopolitical level that we were getting smacked around by the most populous nation on earth. It was also the week that Amy Chua became the publishing sensation of the season with the release of "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom." In a neat bit of tightrope walking, she alternately validated the stereotype of the "success at all costs" Asian parent while simultaneously saying the book is about backing away from that model. No matter: she's become a lightning rod around parenting styles. In fact, while she was invited to Davos to the World Economic Forum to talk about her academic work on globalization, she wound up sparring on stage with Larry Summers about child rearing strategies. While not a billed as a proxy for the US vs. China debate, it was hard not to read some of that into the discussion. Or as noted by Gerry Baker in the Wall Street Journal, "The engaging Ms. Chua has captured in perfect synthesis the two things middle-age Americans now fear most - China, and their own children."

For boomers everywhere, it's a double whammy. At both the geopolitical and personal levels it's easy to see them as the villains and us as the good guys. Never mind the outcome: we can say that we are morally superior, even if we lose in energy produced or violin contests won. We are happier, more innovative, more flexible than they are or ever will be. Or as Summers pointed out in Davos, "Which two freshmen at Harvard have arguably been most transformative of the world in the last 25 years? You can make a reasonable case for Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, neither of whom graduated." If they had been the product of a Tiger Mom upbringing, he added, their mothers would not have been so happy. So there.

But then the Chinese go and do something that makes us aging baby boomers take pause. Not that we want to mandate personal behavior or anything, but in the immortal words of rock and roll, what about me? And that's why another piece of news from the across the Pacific muddies the waters. Under a proposal submitted by the Civil Affairs Ministry to China's State Council, adult children would be required by law to regularly visit elderly parents. If they do not, parents can sue them. Note that it doesn't require economic support, just visitation. And there is some clarification needed, such as what constitutes "regular" and how it would be monitored. While it does give new meaning to the term "nanny state," for those of us who defined our lives by our connection to our kids and now see a future without that, it doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

All that in one week from just one country. The Egyptians better get moving if they want to stay above the fold. Sure, we're all captivated by the pictures coming out of Cairo. But if all they got is a popular uprising, we're going to lose interest fast. Odds are we'll be on to the next Twitter revolution before you can say Tiger Mom.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is getting whiplash by all that is happening around the world. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, the Scarsdale Inquirer and online at 

No comments: