Bachmann Needs a Comparative Politics Class (and Some History and Logic, too)

Apparently, we should be more like China. Or something.

From this weekend’s debate comes this gem from Representative Michelle Bachmann in answer to a question about how she would reduce the debt:

I think, really, what I would wanna do is be able to go back and take a look at Lyndon Baines Johnson’s The Great Society.

The Great Society has not worked, and it’s put us into the modern welfare state. If you look at China, they don’t have food stamps. If you look at China, they’re in a very different situ– they save for their own retirement security. They don’t have pay FDC. They don’t have the modern welfare state. And China’s growing. And so what I would do is look at the programs that LBJ gave us with The Great Society, and they’d be gone.

This is one of those statements that makes it difficult to know where to begin, but here it goes, in list form:

1.  Points for HonestyIt is clear that a lot of conservatives simply want to do away with the welfare state altogether as their means of addressing fiscal issues, so I guess she should get points for honesty, although the China stuff just creates a world of weirdness.

2.  China is an Authoritarian State.  So here’s the Comparative Politics 101 part of the tale. While it is true that China has liberalized in a number of ways in the last couple of decades, it does remains an authoritarian state run by (in case we have forgotten) the Chinese Communist Party.  So Bachmann is saying that her desire to shrink the central government is to emulate the structure of state power in China?  Trying to grasp the cognitive dissonance required to come to this conclusion makes my brain hurt.

What is especially amusing is that folks of Bachmann’s ilk will frequently rant about the horrors of Europeans social democracy (socialism!) and yet here she is singing the praise of the People’s Republic of China?

3.  China has a Welfare State.  While I am not well versed in the intricacies of Chinese welfare policies and do not know what taxes are paid, I am stunned the Bachmann simply asserts, our of thin air it would seem, that there are no welfare policies in China.  This is not the case.  I can’t say, for example, if there is a Chinese equivalent to Food Stamps, but it is not a Randian anarcho-capitalist paradise, either.  She seems not to understand the power and significance of the Chinese state and the fact that a substantial amount of the economy is in government hands.

4.  Correlation and Causality.  Beyond making up things about Chinese welfare policy, the notion that somehow Chinese growth is linked to a lack of a food stamp program makes no sense.  It is most rudimentary of logic errors (i.e., blithely asserting that correlation is causation).  There is no logical reason, at least based on observable data, to suggest that presence of welfare policies means that an economy cannot grow.

5.  A Basic History Lesson.  The Great Society was put into place in the 1960s.  The US economy has grown since that time (and quite steadily, too, not to mention at times fabulously well) including good times in the 1980s and especially the 1990s.  So, the notion that the existence of Food Stamps and the like hampers growth doesn’t make sense on its face.

6.  A Bit o’ Economics.  Also, while it is true that China has experienced a period of sustained economic growth, the fact of the matter remains that it started from a highly underdeveloped condition.  Further, even after all that growth, the GDP per capita in China is $7,600 and the US’s is $47,000.  (See here for more discussion of such figures).

All of this leads to the question of whether Bachmann has any idea what she is talking about and how in the world could she consider China to be some paragon worthy of emulation?

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Politics 101, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. All of this leads to the question of whether Bachmann has any idea what she is talking about

    No, she does not.

  2. Vast Variety says:

    I think there is a group of conservatives, and Bachman is a part of that group, that would love to institute an authoritarian type government in the US, and a theological one at that.

  3. Ben Wolf says:

    There are Chinese food subsidies to the poor, subsidies for education and yes, a Chinese social security program. So Bachmann wants us to dismantle our welfare state and build one that looks a lot like the one we just got rid of?

  4. Ben Wolf says:

    Newt Gingrich made the same mistake last year when he claimed China’s lack of a capital gains tax was the secret of its growth, and that the U.S. could replicate it.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Here’s a pretty fair history and status report of China’s system of social insurance. It’s in, well, a state of evolution.

  6. Kylopod says:

    I think there is a group of conservatives, and Bachman is a part of that group, that would love to institute an authoritarian type government in the US, and a theological one at that.

    Wanting to model a theocratic state after a communist one makes even less sense than invoking China to attack welfare-statism.

  7. reid says:

    She’s obviously an utter fool. A normal human would be embarrassed to be so publicly ignorant.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    All of this leads to the question of whether Bachmann has any idea what she is talking about

    Asked and clearly answered.

  9. Liberty60 says:

    @Vast Variety:

    I think there is a group of conservatives, and Bachman is a part of that group, that would love to institute an authoritarian type government in the US, and a theological one at that.

    Those people are now known as “Republicans”.

  10. RWB says:

    I am also unfamiliar with the internals of the Chinese welfare state, but I have read quite a bit over the last few years about the demographic problem caused by the one child policy as it relates to providing pension funds for the aging population. They definitely are dependent on their “Social Security” and not their personal savings.

  11. ponce says:

    A few goals from China’s current 5 year plan:

    Livelihood

    — Population to be no larger than 1.39 billion;

    — Life span per person to increase by one year;

    — Pension schemes to cover all rural residents and 357 million urban residents;

    — Construction and Renovation of 36 million apartments for low-income families;

    — Minimum wage standard to increase by no less than 13 percent on average each year;

    http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/china/2011-03/05/c_13762230.htm

  12. Barry says:

    Yes, but Obama said that there were 57 states

    Yes, but Obama bowed before the Japanese prime minister

    Yes, but Obama increased the national debt

    Yes, but Obama was a community organizer unlike George W. Bush who was an incredibly successful business tycoon and self made millionaire

    Yes, but it was the Republicans who passed the civil rights act to protect their blacks from LBJ, HHH and Earl Warren

    Yes, but Bill Clinton 100% responsible for the terrorist attacks that happened two months into his Presidency and 9 months after he left office

    Yes, but Jimmy Carter forced Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make loans and Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush were absolutely powerless to stop him

    Yes, but look at the school houses we painted in Iraq

    Yes, but Rush Liimbaugh and Ann Coulter and Dick Cheney all say waterboarding is not torture

    Yes, but if you forget about 9/11, Bush kept us safe

    Yes, but Ronald Reagan was very careful to only provide arms and training to those terrorists who were for tax cuts and school vouchers

  13. Dr. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Trying to grasp the cognitive dissonance required to come to this conclusion makes my brain hurt.

    Take two aspirin, turn off the TV, and call me in the morning. And for God’s sake, do not ever again watch a Republican debate. Without cognitive dissonance, there would be no debate.

  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    God you people are weak.

    I say,

    Without cognitive dissonance, there would be no debate.

    and not one of you says,”Without cognitive dissonance, it would be a Democratic debate.”

    What is up with you people? I open the door and you….. Look at it.

  15. Barry says:

    @Kylopod: “Wanting to model a theocratic state after a communist one makes even less sense than invoking China to attack welfare-statism. ”

    It makes a lot of sense. Substitute GOPgelicalism for the CCP, destroy civil liberties (except for the well-connected), stomp minorities and dissidents, and it’s a GOP wet dream.