What value, then, a human life?
On July 8, 2014, the People’s Republic of China’s General Office of the State Administration of Taxation issued a new law. Here are the first two sentences of that decree:
“The State Council issued the Planning Outline of Social Credit System Construction (2014-2020) to accelerate the construction of social credit system and create the honest and trustworthy economic and social environment. Tax credit is an essential part of this first special planning of national social credit system construction in China.”
Let’s break this down:
First, a “social credit system” will create an “honest and trustworthy economic and social environment.”
Second, tax credit is first and foremost on the To-Do List when planning a “social credit” system.
Is it logical to conclude that the Chinese government equates society, not with services, but with revenue?
Although the stated purpose of this new rating system is to increase “trustworthiness” in personal and business transactions, the Chinese aren’t the only nation who correlate human life with market value rather than, say, artistic contribution or inventive genius – vocations where relative impoverishment is not uncommon.
According to a Time article – somewhat dated now, from May 2008 – “In theory, a year of human life is priceless. In reality, it’s worth $50,000. That’s the international standard most private and government-run health insurance plans worldwide use to determine whether to cover a new medical procedure.” That amount would be adjusted for 2017.
Other institutions place a much higher value on an American’s life, as reported by The Wall Street Journal:
“The EPA values a life at around $9.7 million. The DOT puts its figure at around $9.4 million. And the FDA values a life at about $9.3 million.”
Although insurance carriers and federal agencies have assigned dollar values on a person’s life, Wikipedia says “there is no standard concept for the value of a specific human life in economics.”
Yet, this is what the Chinese have not only proposed, but are doing with their new social credit program.
Now see how this next sentence from the Chinese State Council decree sits with you:
“Lately, the State Administration of Taxation (‘SAT’) issued the Administrative Measures for Taxpayer Credit and the Measures for Publishing the Information on Serious Tax Cases in a bid to create the incentive mechanism for honest taxpayers and the penalty mechanism for dishonest taxpayers and to develop the upgraded version of tax credit system construction.”
Yes, you read rightly: Chinese Big Brother will use rewards and punishments to exercise their will, which is to rate a citizen’s social contribution by income and bill-paying history.
But here is the most chilling part of the 2014 Chinese legislation:
“The taxpayer credit management involves collecting, evaluating, determining, publishing and utilizing the taxpayer credit information. The tax organ[ization]s will collect a wide range of indicators, assess taxpayer’s credit rating, and upgrade or downgrade taxpayer credit in accordance with actual conditions.”
This amounts, in the US, to putting the top credit reporting agencies – TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax (they just got hacked, remember? – in charge of “grading” us taxpayers.
And not just credit history is considered: the Chinese government will inspect social interactions, based on financial and online activities.
An article from earlier this month titled “A Citizen Score in China” adds:
“A citizen’s score affects their eligibility for a number of services, including the kinds of jobs or mortgages they can get, and it also impacts what schools their children qualify for.”
Is there a chill in here?
That’s a lot of personal consumer data to collect and assess. Just how can this be done, on a practical, technical level?
BBC’s Celia Hatton wrote, in October 2015:
“By 2020, everyone in China will be enrolled in a vast national database that compiles fiscal and government information, including minor traffic violations, and distills it into a single number ranking each citizen.”
Does the phrase “vast national database” rings any bells with you – or is that you, Santa Claus?
“Saint NSA” continues to bring holiday comfort and joy with their national spying program. It sounds like the same concept as the Chinese, which is to use “metadata” (basically, all your online behavior or cyber footprints) to evaluate threat levels to national security.
The Chinese have used the tactic of naming and shaming as an integral part of other social reform programs. Consider, for example, the one-child/one-family program (1979-2015), where tax incentives and pressure from visiting local grandmothers-cum-family planning workers were used to reduce China’s population.
The Citizen Lab published these “Key Findings” about another dimension of the new Chinese social credit system, that of a cashless society:
- “The Chinese government has approved pilot testing of a social credit system that draws upon citizens’ personal data to assign unofficial credit scores, which come with benefits and penalties that private companies and government bureaus manage.
- “The five dimensions of credit score data are users’ credit history, behavioral habits, ability to pay off debts, personal information, and social networks.
- “The algorithms that derive the credit scores are trade secrets, prohibiting forms of testing that can determine how they work.
- “Government blacklists of debtors are being shared with private and public credit scoring services to prohibit individuals from making certain transactions.”
How New World Order does that sounds to you?
Making your credit score the prime indicator of a person’s potential contribution to society doesn’t sound all that appealing, does it?
Be on the alert if a local federal government near you tries to foist a “social rating system” with a cashless society and meta-data analysis on Us the People.
“I am not a number. I am a free man!”
– The Prisoner, a 1960s British TV show