Greg Clark says that cheating in China means that the “bourgeois virtues” I touted in the book of the same name (2006) aren’t the ticket. But cheating was rampant in England in the early seventeenth century, as it is in most poor countries. Look at the Bard’s obsession with dishonesty, in honest, honest Iago, say, or Falstaff’s robbery and exaggerations, or Shylock’s contract and Portia’s quibble. Late in the seventeenth century Quakers and other worthies drove dishonesty underground, and gave us the modern world. The very word “honesty” changed in meaning, from “aristocratically glorious” to “sober and truth-telling.”
To say that China is a counterexample because it “seems set soon to take its place among the developed countries” is strange. At a daily production of $13 a head (the United States now is at $130 a head), it’s going to be a long, long time before China looks “developed.” A German businessman told me that his company finally gave up trying to make a deal because the Chinese kept reopening the negotiations — after the signing. My prediction? Like Japan and Korea and the United States and England, a future China will get very rich when it gives up its rampant culture of “old fashioned greed” — about the same time it gives up its rampant culture of tyranny.