How many times have you heard U.S. business leaders complain about too much government? How many times have you heard them say the best thing government can do is just get out of the way? Indeed, one of the two or three biggest lobbyists in Washington is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In the just completed U.S. Presidential election campaign it spent tens of millions of dollars in support of Republican Party candidates who all promised to cut back government spending and to get rid of big government.
Well, don't believe a word of it. They don't mean it. At dinner last night, I learned that the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai regularly organizes what it calls "Government Appreciation" dinners at which the China based executives of U.S. and other non-Chinese corporations have the opportunity to meet with and express their appreciation for the multitude of Chinese government leaders of all stripes with whom they must do business.
No, I'm not kidding. The really call them "Government Appreciation" dinners. Try to imagine that in the United States. Can't you just see U.S. Chamber President Tom Donahue thanking the U.S. trade representative and the secretaries of Commerce and Energy along with the head of the Environmental Protection Agency and the senators on the U.S. Senate Banking Committee and many others for all they do and for their passion and commitment to their jobs? Can't you just see him and his Board of Directors of CEOs meeting with governors and mayors from around the country and blessing them for all the local regulations they have to follow and for all the documents they have to complete and permission slips they have to obtain?
Think about it this way. A friend of mine from New Zealand just arrived in Shanghai a few days ago. He changed some money at the airport upon arrival, but that was not enough to fund his wife's shopping tour several days later. So to get cash for her he went back to the bank. He's a bit of an eccentric and always fights to get the best exchange rate. The first bank he visited offered him a rate of RMB 6.015 per U.S. dollar. The second bank offered RMB 6.0175, and the third bank offered 6.200. I think he finally managed to get 6.205. But that's not the point. The important thing to know is that all these banks had different affiliations. They weren't all branches of the same bank. Yet each bank knew where he had been and what he had done in terms of currency transactions before he visited that particular bank.
Obviously his movements and transactions were being reported centrally and made known across the banking network. As another friend explained, the PSB (Public Security Bureau) is the all seeing eye of China. He emphasized the importance of Government Appreciation Day by noting that the pervasive extent of the role of government in the Chinese economy and in Chinese society more broadly cannot be over-emphasized. Nothing , he said, happens in China without the government touching it in some way.
Since global business CEOs often speak of how wonderful it is to do business in China, I began to wonder if government in the United States should imitate the pervasiveness of that of China as a way of gaining greater appreciation.
Clyde Prestowitz is the president of the Economic Strategy Institute and writes on the global economy for FP.