Opinion

David Rohde

What do we mean by “middle class”?

David Rohde
Dec 29, 2011 21:51 UTC

Update: My apologies. I cited the wrong Census data table when describing my definition of the middle class. A corrected version is below.

Are you middle class?

For decades, praising the middle class has been a staple of American politics. Candidates vow to defend the middle class and accuse their opponents of betraying it. But what, exactly, is the “middle class”?

Since I began writing this column three months ago, readers have asked for an exact definition of the middle class. The question is a legitimate and vital one. With studies showing the American middle class in decline, understanding which policies create, expand and protect the demographic is more important than ever. But definitions vary.

Despite the incessant political lip service paid to the middle class, there is no official American government definition of the group. The middle class has been intensively studied but no political consensus exists over how it was created or how to strengthen it. Liberals credit government programs with helping create a thriving American middle class after World War II. They cite the G.I. bill, home mortgage interest deduction and state university system as examples. Conservatives credit unbridled, American free market capitalism with the feat. I believe it was both.

Within weeks of taking office, the Obama administration’s launched its own effort to help the group. Chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, the “Middle Class Task Force” was launched in January 2009 and includes the secretaries of labor, health and human services, education and commerce.

China’s newest export: Internet censorship

David Rohde
Nov 17, 2011 23:29 UTC
BEIJING — This great city is the epicenter of a geopolitical battle over cyberspace, who controls it, and who defines its rights and freedoms. China’s 485 million web users are the world’s largest online population. And the Chinese government has developed the world’s most advanced Internet censorship and surveillance system to police their activity. 

Yet the days of Americans piously condemning China’s “Great Firewall” and hoping for a technological silver bullet that would pierce it are over. China’s system is a potent, vast and sophisticated network of computer, legal and human censorship. The Chinese model is spreading to other authoritarian regimes. And governments worldwide, including the United States, are aggressively trying to legislate the Internet.

“There is a growing trend toward Internet censorship in a range of countries,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, a prominent online democracy advocate and author of the forthcoming book “Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom.” “The same technology that helps secure your network from attack, that actually enables you to censor your network also.”

China’s cutting-edge authoritarianism

David Rohde
Nov 10, 2011 17:25 UTC

BEIJING–Just down the street from a faded Communist billboard declaring “art, harmony, joy, justice, peace,” dissident artist Ai Weiwei is trapped in a state-of-the-art authoritarian labyrinth.

To avoid prison time, the democracy-advocate known for his work on Beijing’s “Bird’s Nest” Olympic stadium can pay $2.4 million in back taxes and fines that he insists he does not owe. Or he can face a repeat of the 81-day secret detention he endured earlier this year. Either way, China’s all-powerful Communist party succeeds at smearing him.

“The police told me yesterday ‘if you pay, that means you admit the crime,” Ai said in an interview in his Beijing home and art studio. “It will justify that they arrest me.”

Will “Made in America” sell in China?

David Rohde
Nov 3, 2011 21:53 UTC

Update: My apologies. In the first version of this column, I confused two different Camaro models. A corrected version is below.

SHANGHAI –When the third film in Hollywood’s Transformers franchise debuted here in July, vast numbers of young Chinese flocked to movie theaters — and Chevrolet dealerships. Wealthy moviegoers wanted to buy one of the film’s half-car, half robot main characters, a bright yellow Chevrolet Camaro coupe called “Bumblebee.”

“Everyone knew Bumblebee,” said Richard Choi, the director of sales and marketing for Chevrolet in Shanghai. “I had to get the press guys to call it Camaro, not Bumblebee.”

Can Confucius save America’s middle class?

David Rohde
Oct 6, 2011 14:45 UTC

Update: Sorry, in the first version of this column I confused two different companies. The corrected version is below.

BOWLING GREEN, KENTUCKY–For decades, this bucolic corner of southwestern Kentucky depended on Corvette sales from the local GM plant for its economic life. Now, it’s trying something different.

Last year, the state university opened a “Confucius Institute” that offers nighttime Chinese language classes to local business people. An American auto parts company chose to create 280 new manufacturing jobs here instead of Mexico. And government officials brag about the 19 companies from India, Japan, Finland, Germany, Israel and other foreign countries that have invested locally.

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