Issues & Insights

China’s Crackdown On Free-Market Economists Recalls Obama Tactics

The Unirule Institute of Economics in Beijing, called “China’s most prominent free-market think tank” by Bloomberg News, is a target of harassment from the Chinese government. Its economists are considered dissidents by President Xi Jinping’s regime. The story reminds us of the treatment the Obama WhiteHouse gave to Tea Party groups that dared challenge the administration.

In today’s China, after a period of liberalization, free-market economists are considered a threat to the ruling authority. Unirule’s offices have been invaded by government officials, who told the group it was “too loud for the neighbors . . . and should consider finding an alternative place of business,” even though, says Bloomberg, “it was an odd allegation to make against a group whose idea of a wild night out might include a vigorous discussion of Hayek’s minor works.”

That visit was no surprise to Unirule economists, because “for months, the organization had been harassed at its converted western Beijing apartment by a rotating cast of angry visitors: a landlord claiming it was violating the terms of its lease, tax collectors demanding to inspect financial records, bureaucrats citing violations of unspecified municipal regulations.”

There was also the afternoon when Unirule’s landlord, along with a property manager and construction workers, showed up with “power tools, a welding torch,
and a reinforced metal door.”

Initially, there was little concern, Bloomberg reported, because “security doors aren’t uncommon in Chinese residential buildings.” But then the unexpected happened.

“The workers began welding the door across the entrance to Unirule’s office, sealing” a number of staff members inside. Despite protests, the workers wouldn’t stop welding. The police were called and the Unirule staffers were eventually released. However, “when they returned the next day to collect their belongings, the metal door was secured in place again.”

The Obama administration never dispatched swarms of officers to intimidate limited-government, free market-oriented Tea Party groups. But the Internal Revenue Service under his watch stonewalled dozens of conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status so they could participate in the political debate as nonprofit institutions. Groups that had “tea party” and “patriot” in their names drew red flags at the IRS. It was not coincidental that these groups were also political opponents of the administration.

The federal government eventually settled with 100 groups, which were awarded a $3.5 million payout and an apology for the maltreatment.

Some left-of-center groups were also given added scrutiny when applying for tax-exempt status. But only about 30 percent of them were reviewed closely under a “touch-and-go” status. Meanwhile, every conservative group that applied drew a hotter spotlight, and was classified as a “rogue” organization and placed in the “be-on-the-lookout” list for a more thorough inquisition.

This hostile behavior — as well as Barack Obama’s encouraging supporters to get in Independents’ and Republicans’ faces, and calling opponents bitter clingers — has helped create the ugly political climate in which we live today. The political left is silencing speech it doesn’t agree with, kicking customers out of restaurants for their political associations, assaulting people for wearing the wrong hat, and in general behaving in an uncivilized manner.

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J. Frank Bullitt

J. Frank Bullitt has been writing professionally since 1986. After covering local news for years, and putting in some time in Washington, D.C., he began writing opinions in 1998, covering a wide variety of domestic and international topics from a limited-government point of view.

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