Coronavirus and Jethro’s Advice
While the world is waiting with bated breath to see how deadly and widespread the current coronavirus outbreak in China may be be, there are many who see some of the dangers as the result of China’s top-down, central command society.
Thus, the first doctor to identify the outbreak was forced to recant his warning (only to become among the first victims of the plague), while the Mayor of Wuhan was blocked in his effort to control the outbreak by the authorities in Peking. In the meantime, world media was being presented with the videos of a huge field hospital going up almost overnight, as proof of the superiority of the People’s Republic and the Communist Party to get the job done; it turns out to have been yet another Potemkin’s Village.
Chairman Xi and other world leaders who are enamored of top-down central control should take a lesson from an old tribal chieftain, the father-in-law of Moses, a Sinai Bedouin, Jethro. We can credit him with conceiving the virtue of devolution of power.
Jethro comes to greet his son-in-law, who has just successfully led his people out of Egyptian bondage. He sees Moses adjudicating every single issue by himself. Jethro is shocked, and warns Moses that if he tries to lead entirely form the top, both he, and the people,” Navol tivol”, will wither away.
This is his advice:
“You shall also seek out from among all the people capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, and let them judge the people at all times. Have them bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute themselves. Make it easier for yourself by letting them share the burden with you. “
Authoritarian government, where authority is vested in a “Il Duce” or a “ Caudillo”, as well as totalitarian government, in which power is vested in a claque of a few enlightened individuals, the sole bearers of understanding, are both afraid of free thought . All must pass a test of purity, so that while, in the short run, all social problems seem to disappear, in the long run, all hell must break loose.
“In 1928 and 1929, hundreds of members of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR were purged because they failed to follow the intellectual line of Marxist materialistic determinism. A classic example of political interference was the adoption of the theories of Trofim Lysenko, who insisted that traits forced on a living organism by environment could be inherited genetically. The results for Soviet agriculture were devastating. Noted physicist Andrei Sakharov denounced this position in 1964 to the Academy: “He is responsible for the shameful backwardness of Soviet biology and of genetics in particular for the dissemination of pseudo-scientific views, for adventurism, for the degradation of learning, and for the defamation, firing, arrest, and even death, of many genuine scientists.””
( Courage of the Spirit, p. 171)
Not one stone could be turned over without the approval of a Party supervisor. One time, my uncle observed that the process of preparing a batch of chemicals was going too slowly. The factory workers would pour the raw materials into a huge vat and then sit around while the chemical reactions took place on their own. He realized, quite simply, that each chemical ingredient was mired in its own level, and the necessary process was going exceedingly slowly. He called the workers back to the vat, fit them out with huge ladles, and ordered them to stir the batch. Indeed, the process took place in much less time, and the order was ready well before it was due.
The head of the factory called him in. My uncle was sure he would be congratulated on his success and initiative.
“How dare you!” the factory boss demanded. “How dare you do something like this without clearing it with the Party attaché!”
With all this ineptitude and duplicity, one may wonder how the Soviet system managed to function. In the early years of collectivization, millions died of starvation as the farmers had no incentive to raise crops. The great breadbasket of Europe, the Ukraine, had become a wasteland, and millions had died of starvation in the 1920s. For many years until the collapse of communism, the Soviets often had to import grain.
Eventually, my father explained, there was a robust economy—on the black market. Everyone was able to pull aside something, a few crops from the back yard that were much better than those grown by the collective or some factory goods that were spirited out. All was available, for a price, on the flourishing underground black market economy. Capitalism succeeded under the radar of communism.