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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Life Under Communist Regimes

Once upon a time I lived in China, a communist country slowly permitting free-market principles to have enough growth to support their population. A friend of mine once lived in Bulgaria, a formerly Communist country. Here is what we learned.

In both countries, corruption and bribery were the unwritten law of the land. Getting what you wanted was all about greasing the wheel. Getting a good job was more about who you know or better yet - who you were related to. Housing was cheap and cheaply made. Think concrete blocks without insulation. The only fancy places to speak of were Communist Party headquarters. The only people with cars in China were the rich (making bank off of the more open markets). Most of the people with cars in Bulgaria were belonged to the mafia.

I've heard from a Chinese acquaintance that Mao sent his son to North Korean during the Korean War, where he was killed. This person surmised that had he not died, Mao would more than likely have passed the regime on to his son (as Kim Sung Il did), and the Chinese people would have continued as oppressed and impoverished and imprisoned as their North Korean allies are to this day. 

As it is, China grows more and more friendly to business and investment. Their people are still hard-working and enterprising, as they have been for millenia. While opportunities are not equal for all and only the privileged few can leave China or gain wealth, the poor can usually find work in the cities and they are willing to work hard to support their families in the country. The wealthy can afford good education for their children. The poor cannot. Everyone pays tuition for school in China. State-run health care usually means poor quality of care unless you have money and can travel as well.

Bulgaria stands a contrast here. The saying is that 500 years (or however many it was) of the Ottoman Empire didn't destroy Orthodox Christianity, but 50 years of communism did. Their population is shrinking, with the gypsy population poised to overtake the majority soon. That will be interesting- Bulgarians are quite racist against gypsies. Probably even more than they are racist they are bigoted against the Mormons. For some obscure reason they think that Mormons preach suicide and eat babies. (Say what!?)

I'd say that communism destroyed more than Bulgarian's faith - there still exists a lack of free enterprise. A story will illustrate. There was a pastry shop in some small city. This shop made certain numbers of different kinds of pastries each morning - the same numbers as prescribed by the communist leaders back in the day. Every day the chocolate pastries would sell out very quickly, and every day there would be many leftover pickle pastries. The Americans in town tried to explain, why don't you make more chocolate ones and fewer pickle ones? You'll make more money that way. These good socialists said they had always made this many of each kind and would continue to make that many of each kind. They couldn't understand that everyone would be better off if they switched. People would get to eat more chocolate pastries and they would earn more money!

This difference in attitudes may partially explain why China is an ascendent power while much of the Soviet Bloc remains in decline.

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