Cronyism: From China to Washington


Excerpted from Bret Stephens writing in the WSJ:

In a remarkable piece of investigative journalism last week in the New York Times, reporter David Barboza identified assets worth $2.7 billion belonging to various members of the family of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, including his 90-year-old mother, a retired schoolteacher named Yang Zhiyun.

“The details of how Ms. Yang, a widow, accumulated such wealth are not known, or even if she was aware of the holdings in her name,” Mr. Barboza reports. “But it happened after her son was elevated to China’s ruling elite, first in 1998 as vice prime minister and then five years later as prime minister.”

….

All this is good to know as a reminder that China, so recently extolled as the very model of technocratic know-how, turns out to be a country heavily populated at the top by rent-seekers and kleptocrats. Should that be surprising? Not if you think that nothing else can come from the lucrative crossroads where politically directed capital and politically connected individuals meet.

This brings us to Al Gore.

Earlier this month the Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig reported that the former vice president’s wealth is today estimated at $100 million, up from less than $2 million when he left government service on a salary of $181,400. How did he make this kind of money? It wasn’t his share of the Nobel Peace Prize. Nor was it the book and movie proceeds from “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Instead, as Ms. Leonnig reports, “Fourteen green-tech firms in which Gore invested received or directly benefited from more than $2.5 billion in loans, grants and tax breaks, part of President Obama’s historic push to seed a U.S. renewable-energy industry with public money.”

That’s nice work if you can get it—at least if you’re on the investment-management end of the deal. But what if you’re on the worker-bee end?

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