The ugly consequences of having only a weak state in the face of opportunistic behavior by producers are exemplified in a news story reported in today's NYT. David Barboza, a business writer for the Times, reports how he was detained for nine hours in a Chinese factory supplying the Thomas & Friends train sets.
“You’ve intruded on our property,” one factory boss shouted at me. “Tell me, what exactly is the purpose of this visit?” When I answered that I had come to meet the maker of a toy that had recently been recalled in the United States because it contained lead paint, he suggested I was really a commercial spy intent on stealing the secrets to the factory’s toy manufacturing process.
“How do I know you’re really from The New York Times?” he said. “Anyone can fake a name card.”
Thus began our interrogation, which was followed by hours of negotiations, the partial closing of the factory complex and the arrival of several police cars, a handful of helmet-wearing security officers and some government officials, all trying to free an American journalist and his colleagues from a toy factory.
Factory bosses, I would discover, can overrule the police, and Chinese government officials are not as powerful as you might suspect in a country addicted to foreign investment.
Read the last sentence again and again.
What is striking is not that this kind of thing happens, but that it happens in a place like China, which is still nominally a socialist country.