Showing and telling

The current ambassador to China, Gary Locke, is teaching the Chinese some useful stuff without a word of preaching or assertion, mainly by carrying his own bags and flying economy, and being seen to do so.  The German for ambassador is botschafter, which means message carrier, and Locke’s story nicely enlarges our idea of how a message can most effectively be embodied.

I really like this story, including the inept, hamhanded response of the Chinese élites. Locke is giving the usual speeches as well, of course; I especially like this bit:

“I’ve sometimes asked myself: ‘How did the Locke family go in just two generations from living in a small rural village in China to the governor’s mansion?’ ” Locke said in a Sept. 9 speech to students at Beijing Foreign Studies University. “The answer is American openness — building and sustaining an open economy and an open society.”

“Our family’s story is the story of America,” Locke said. And, in a subtle challenge to China to become more open, he added, “we believe these values are independent of any particular political system. They are universal, and universally beneficial to societal advance.”

What the story doesn’t say is that Locke’s attribution of his status to a whole system and not to his own personal merit is also a subtle challenge to our own 1%, who seem to think everything they own was value they created alone, and are busily sawing the rungs out of the ladder.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

8 thoughts on “Showing and telling”

  1. Your last paragraph reminds me of Ann Richards’ comment about George H. W. Bush: “He was born on third base and thought he hit a triple.” [Of course, his son was also born on third base, but was picked off trying to steal second.]

  2. ” is teaching the Chinese some useful stuff ”

    He IS teaching the Chinese, or he (and the US) WANT TO BELIEVE he is teaching the Chinese?
    Just how stupid do we imagine the Chinese are? You think they don’t know about OWS? About the way the great bailout of 2008 stopped as soon as the money made it into the banks? About how every damn political argument in America is about the rich saying they deserve more money and lower taxes? About how LOW social mobility in the US is?

    This strikes me as exactly the same as the US imagining it could woo the third world in the 50s. Go abroad, tell them how wonderful the US is, and imagine they don’t know about Jim Crow, legal segregation, and the way the US REALLY feels about their kind of humans.

    When someone comes telling me a story that is a lie, that I know is a lie, that he knows is a lie, and that he (if he has a brain in his head) knows I know is a lie, I have to wonder about what is going on — what compels a country to lie in such a stupid and obvious way?
    The whole thing strikes me as very reminiscent of the last chapter of Henry Kissinger’s recent book On China. After spending the entire book talking about realpolitik and suchlike, he suddenly tells us that the US and China should form all sorts of alliances and treaties and deals to work together. I’ve no idea what he though the message was, but the message I took from it was “sure, sure, the US has insisted on doing things its own way for 60+ years, but now we’re running scared, and we want political deals sewn up with China NOW, while we’re still in the driving seat and with some chance of being able to force things to go our way”.

  3. I was recently talking to a friend about their 18 year old boy. She’s about ready to pull her hair out at his behavior. I visualize the US-China relation like an 18 year old to his grandparents. We’re a precocious adolescent who thinks we knows it all.

    1. “We’re a precocious adolescent who thinks we knows it all.”
      Is this “we” as in Barack Obama and his administration, or is it “we” as in Michelle Bachmann who thinks China is part of a new axis of evil, and Rick Perry who thinks our relationship to China is like the one we had with the USSR in 1980 during a worsening of the Cold War and a widespread conviction that we were in a struggle for survival with that country?

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