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China is making a big mistake. The country has begun surveilling its citizenry, keeping tabs on everybody, and figuring out who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. China has been doing these kinds of things for years, but it’s now beefed up its effort with a heavy dose of technology and a new Social Credit System. Due to take full effect next year, the System would rank all citizens and businesses on their economic and social reputations.

In the United States we have credit scores, put together by private companies that calculate credit reliability according to their proprietary algorithms and rank individuals according to what they calculate as credit reliability. If a person has a low score, it will be more difficult for him or her to get a loan.

China is getting ready take it up a notch. If a citizen scores high on the Social Credit System scale, he or she would be rewarded with more freedom and better jobs. If a person’s score is low, he or she would be punished, as would that person’s close associates, such as friends, co-workers and family members. Knowing that they could be branded with a poor social credit score by association, would be an incentive for those closest to a “bad social actor” to shun his company, isolate him, and pressure him to conform to the government’s dictate of good social behavior.

Details are still fuzzy, but the system would be backed by drones flying overhead, a network of cameras lining the street with face-recognition software, an army of retirees who spy on their neighbors and make notes of either good or bad behavior, and a computerized score card.

There apparently already exists a blacklist of people. At the end of last year, 5.4 million rail trips and 17 million flights were cancelled for people on the list. Exactly why those folks are on the list is not public knowledge.

So much for the trouble-makers. The main problem, of course, is that it’s the trouble-makers that move society forward. They are the men and women who give the finger to the common wisdom, the ones who are obsessed with new ideas and schemes. They are the ones who take off running, who crash and burn, and then get back up and try again.

Society needs those kind of people. It’s not the compliant folks who make the world better. It’s the uncompliant, stubborn, often nasty people who are willing to take an idea and turn it into something that benefits everyone, including themselves. They’re not always the nicest folks around, but without them, society and civilization stagnate.

That’s what the bureaucrats in China – and in every other developed country – don’t get and probably never will.

George Lee Cunningham

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