Brief contextualization of conversation with cabbie (sept 3) about 利 (benefit) and good governance.
One of the classical references to why going after benefit is not good governance comes from Mencius:
Rough translation with my glosses (so yes, if you have questions, check out another translation):
Mencius met with King Hui of Wei. The King said, “I don’t think 1,000 miles is too far to go if it benefits my kingdom.”
Mencius replied, “Why does your Majesty mention 利 (li – benefit) when all that is needed is benevolence and righteousness? When the King speaks of what benefits the kingdom, then officials speak of what benefits their clans, and nobility and commoners speak of their personal gain. When superiors and inferiors are struggling to obtain 利 then the kingdom is endangered. It is the clan of 1,000 chariots that kills the king of a 10,000 chariot kingdom [because the king took too much and gave nothing back]. It is the clan of 100 chariots that kills the king of a 1,000 chariot kingdom [because the king took too much and gave nothing back]. Taking 1,000 from 10,000 or 100 from 1,000, neither can be considered negligible [when the king gives nothing back]. Thus, when gain comes before righteousness, then none are satisfied until they’ve wrested the gain for themselves. Only when benevolence is established are there [proper] families. Only when righteousness is established is there a [proper] king. Why speak of 利? [Why make benefit the reason for your government when it should be benevolence and righteousness?]
In other words, we (in both the US and China) find ourselves in a state of tea party hegemony. It’s not the poor who rebel – taxi drivers and farmers who are satisfied with enough to eat, but rather the upper middle class who thinks the government is taking too much in taxes and not giving enough in return. The fact that Sarah Palin and her ilk have missed the point of the Boston Tea Party (equitable representation in government in order to fairly allocate common goods) does not mean they haven’t touched a populist nerve: the people do feel overtaxed relative to the good (benevolence and righteousness) that the government administers.
All this to say, Shenzhen cabbies have a remarkably clear eye for what’s wrong with the US because they see what’s also wrong with China.