May 26, 2012

Mao Yushi

Earlier this month, the Cato Institute awarded Chinese economist Mao Yushi with the biennial Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty, named after Nobel laureate Milton Friedman (1912-2006). This award is bestowed upon individuals who have made significant contributions to advancing liberty. You can watch Mao and his granddaughter speak at the dinner where the award was presented on May 4th at the Washington Hilton in Washington D.C. at the end of this post.

Mao has become an important figure in the Chinese transition from a planned economy to a market-based economy. He has used education and private charity as ways to ease this process. Mao has become an advocate for individual liberty and a market economy in China, a nation who's recent history has been devoid of both for decades.

Mao Yushi began as railway engineer during Mao Zedong's Anti-Rightist Campaign. He was identified as a rightist for his beliefs in 1960 and sent to a reeducation camp in Shandong Province where his punishment of forced manual labor was carried out. While there, he witnessed the deaths of hundreds of people who starved to death due to the conditions. Mao suffered because of his beliefs yet again when the Red Guard confiscated all of his family's property during the Cultural Revolution.

In 1978 Mao, now an economist, began educating people in the concept of free markets and personal responsibility. This later led him to found the Unirule Institute of Economics, an independent think tank dedicated to the growth of a market economy and Chinese government reform. He later established the Fuping Development Institute, a private organization dedicated to teaching the poor micro-credit skills and other skills needed to help themselves.

However, Mao's work has not been appreciated by everyone. Last year he wrote an article, "Returning Mao Zedong to Human Form," where he discussed the effect of the Chairman Mao's Communist policies in terms of loss of human life and decrease in per capita GDP. This was not well received by many in China where the Chairman still has many followers. 50,000 signatures were gathered against Mao Yushi because of his article. The signatures petitioned for his execution for treason. The essay was removed from Chinese websites. When asked by Forbes Magazine about the public outcry, Mao answered, "It’s totally beyond my expectations. I think all my points in the article should be agreed [upon]. It’s all based on facts. But Mao’s theory is very attractive, especially for the poor.… All over the world there is always a pursuit of equality, and this will always be a damaging force."

Mao has also authored 15 books including the best seller, "Economics in Everyday Life," where he explains market economics in terms that people who don't have formal knowledge on the subject can understand. A collection of his essays is being prepared for publication in English in 2013. He focuses his writing on trying to ease the Chinese government's transition from a planned economy to a market economy. Mao has been named one of China's 50 most distinguished intellectuals by Southern People Weekly and named one of China's most influential intellectuals of the decade by China Newsweek.

Mao argues that growing awareness of market forces have helped China move towards a different future. His work is focused on increasing that awareness. Mao says that "the more income an individual earns the more freedom an individual has." He has also called for freedom of speech in China. Mao says that this is an important step because it will give people the power to oversee the government, thus making it easier to reform it. The 83-year-old economist is likely to be remembered as one of the key voices that helped Communist China transition into a market-based economy.