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Silent Cal, they called him, but as with so many other popular political legends, there wasn't much of a basis for the sobriquet. For that president actually had a great deal to say, and much of it remains relevant today. As he noted back in 1925:

"The chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world."

Commerce is not only friendship but a chief pillar of civilization, which has a way of springing up in the economy's tracks.

"Wealth," as Mr. Coolidge noted, "is the product of industry, ambition, character and untiring effort. In all experience, the accumulation of wealth means the multiplication of schools, the increase of knowledge, the dissemination of intelligence, the encouragement of science, the broadening of outlook, the expansion of liberties, the widening of culture."

Any questions? Just ask the Chinese, who today must leap over a variety of hurdles erected by their nominally Communist overlords in hopes of thwarting the kind of economic development that might challenge the Party's monopoly of political and economic power. For every step forward, Chinese bureaucrats look for ways to take two steps back, lest Chinese entrepreneurs like Li Kang outwit them and make progress despite all the restrictive measures imposed upon them. "The higher-ups have measures," he notes. "Those lower down have counter-measures." And they take them in an unending campaign to outwit those who would be their masters.

Here's how the game is played: An official construction crew was dispatched to confront him at his Jian Guo bar, which specializes in making its own prized beers, to seal up the bar's front door. So after the construction crew left the premises, Li Kang put up wooden steps outside under a window facing the street so his patrons would know how to get into his place of business. It turns out that not even the full weight of a top-heavy bureaucracy can keep a good man down. When Li Kang was told to get rid of the steps into his bar, complete with the detailed instructions of how to find and use them, he dutifully obeyed. Outwardly. But he quietly took the precaution of replacing them with two wooden stools and a simple table. "It's a bit of an issue when customers get drunk," he says, but they can always lie down on a couch inside the joint to sleep it off. He's nothing if not an obliging host.

At a jazz bar called Modernista, which also got its entrance bricked up, patrons have to walk through the dining room, a couple of lounges and a door to reach the balcony that overlooks the stage. To get closer, guests take a spiral staircase that drops them at tables next to the bandstand. No speakeasy in 1920s Chicago ever had to devise sneakier ways for a man to get a drink, a good meal and a musical treat.

Other entrepreneurs--like Zhang Chuanxing--resort to ever more ingenious tactics to attract customers. He put up a light bulb next to a piece of scrap lumber and scribbled Eatery on it by the old sealed off entrance. He could only hope that potential patrons would have the persistence to find him.

"It's harder to find us," he explained, "but we have no choice. This is the country's policy." However short-sighted it may be. For however clever these Chinese may be, what they could really use would be their own Calvin Coolidge.

Recommended reading: Jay Cost's article "Unexpected Dividend" in the Feb. 26 issue of the Weekly Standard, and "Want a Drink at Mr. Li's Bar? Please Climb Through the Window" by Chao Deng in the Feb. 27 issue of the Wall Street Journal.

Editorial on 03/05/2018

Print Headline: Clever people

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