Justin’s note: Imagine not being able to board a plane because you forgot to pay your water bill… or being denied access to a train because you jaywalked.
It sounds like something ripped from the pages of George Orwell’s 1984. But this will soon become reality for people living in China. That’s because the Chinese government is getting ready to roll out a social credit system.
Basically, the Chinese government will soon prevent people from accessing everyday services if they aren’t deemed “good citizens.”
It’s one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever read. Still, most readers won’t care about this. That’s because “this sort of thing could never happen in America!”
Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth. As you’re about to see, the United States could soon adopt its own social credit system. So be sure to read today’s interview closely…
Justin: Doug, I have a lot of questions I want to ask you today. But can you first tell me what a social credit system is?
Doug: Well, Americans are familiar with credit ratings that they get from companies like Experian. These ratings judge one’s ability to get credit, pay bills and such.
China is rolling out something similar, but vastly more comprehensive, and on a national scale. They’ll judge much more than your financial capabilities. It rates people based on where they live, what kind of car they drive, what they say or do on social media, their educational background, their political views, their friends. You name it. Social engineers are quite devious about these things.
And it’s fiendishly clever for the Chinese government to do this. A high social score gives a citizen lots of benefits and privileges. A low score penalizes you in many ways. People will start competing to be good little lambs. It gives them complete control over who can do what.
Justin: How can people defend themselves from this? Is there any way to opt out?
Doug: You could decide to not have an electronic presence, of course. You could disconnect, or go off the grid as they say. But that’s the equivalent of becoming a non-person. You’d be branded as antisocial, suspicious, and a possible enemy of the state. It might bring all sorts of disadvantages, like not being able to get a passport or even a driver’s license.
Justin: Yeah, not being able to board a plane or train due to a bad social credit rating is already terrifying. But I’m wondering how far China’s government will take this.
Doug: Well, I haven’t been to China in several years. So, I’m relying on press reports. But they’re saying that there are already millions of people involved in China’s social credit system, and it’s quite believable. This is happening already—it’s not science fiction.
And neither is it surprising. China’s very computerized; most people now use their smartphones, not credit cards or—god forbid, cash—to pay for things. Just as in the US, where many people Google others to find out about them, so do the Chinese.
This is a computer-driven phenomenon, and therefore advancing at the rate of Moore’s Law. The phenomenon will get much bigger. And not just in China.
It will impact whether people get jobs or promotions. It will quickly find its way into online dating. People with low social credit ratings will be looked upon as deadbeats. Others will disconnect from them, because having a link with someone of low rank will reduce your own rank.
In brief, this is a very big deal. I recommend the episode “Nosedive” on the series Black Mirror, where we see what happens to a woman who gets caught in a downward spiral for her social credit score.
Justin: Will other countries adopt their own social credit systems?
Doug: I have no doubt that the United States and most other countries will do this. It’s a fantastic tool for controlling the masses—they’ll control each other. Much more effective than having secret police, although every government either has, or will have them. And cheaper, too. If you’re the kind of person that fancies himself as a rugged individual it’s a scary prospect. Most people won’t care, though. They won’t mind living in a Dystopia, as long as it’s reasonably comfortable.
Justin: How could this happen in the States? Will the US government herd people into this system? Or will the average person check themselves into this digital prison?
Doug: Well, I must say that the US government doesn’t have the same control over its people as the Chinese government, although it’s moving in that direction. The TSA will likely subject you to more, or less, screening based on your score. The IRS more, or less, scrutiny of your finances. The same with the police, prosecutors, and what-have-you, right down to your local DMV.
It could take longer for them to roll out something like this. But the US government loves this idea. It’s the best idea since everyone got a Social Security number—for them.
We’re already seeing indications of this. For example, if you have Global Entry, your hassle while traveling is reduced. But they interview you and look at your records before granting it, allowing you to come and go from the US with less aggravation than the average person.
I think Americans will jump into this for the same reason that they opt for frequent flyer programs. They love their smartphones; they practically live on the damn things. Having a high social credit rating will be a prestige thing. It will offer benefits in the way having a high credit rating with Experian helps you secure a lower interest rate on your mortgage—but much, much more so.
This is the wave of the future. Personally, I don’t like it at all. Not because I have something to hide. I’m sympathetic to the Randite motto: “Judge, and prepare to be judged.” But I prefer to determine my own criteria—not have some bureaucrats do it for me. And enforce that on society.
Justin: I imagine that corporate America will also be in favor of a social credit system. After all, it sounds like the ultimate marriage between big business and big government.
Doug: Absolutely. It relates to our recent conversation about Facebook and the other tech giants. The government loves these companies, and they’re hooked up with the government. The Deep State really exists.
I dislike Facebook intensely, and don’t use it. Only idiots do. But you know what’s interesting? I set up my Facebook account years ago; it seemed like a good way for old pals to get back in touch. And in the beginning, I would get friend requests from a lot of strangers—I didn’t know who these people were. But neither did I care. So I said “yes” to just about everyone’s “friend request.”
I probably got around 4,000 Facebook friends. I know almost none of them. But, when I check, I only get about four a month now. I’m not sure why. As I said last time, not only are people suspicious of it, but kids think it’s clunky, dumb, and unhip. And they’re right. Only the NSA, FBI, and CIA actually like Facebook.
Anyway, is the drop-off in friend requests because everyone who wants to be my friend is already my friend on Facebook? I doubt it, because I still get about 50 friend requests every week on LinkedIn. Which I’m also not crazy about, but at least business might come out of it.
Justin: Maybe your Facebook social credit rating has fallen… Or maybe you said something in one of our recent interviews that ticked off Zuckerberg.
Doug: Who knows? It’s a black box to me. But I’m one of those people who won’t fit in well to the brave new world that’s evolving.
Justin: So, what can Americans do to protect themselves from this coming social credit system? Should they start by deleting their Facebook accounts? Should they relocate like you and I have? Or do they need to disconnect completely?
Doug: Well, they could do that. But it’s suspicious if you disconnect and delete your Facebook. The Authorities might think you’re about to get rabbit fever. You become a non-person, and that’s almost as bad or possibly even worse than being a suspected bad guy. So, I don’t think that’s the answer.
Instead, I suspect a lot of people will put up false personas. They’ll pretend to be something they aren’t on social media. They’ll put on a public face and act like a good little lamb, but they’ll try to keep it separate from real life. Like Batman and Bruce Wayne, or Superman and Clark Kent, or Zorro and Don Diego.
The whole thing will become very, very dysfunctional. It’s likely to resemble the world in the novels Neuromancer or Snow Crash, both of which I highly recommend, incidentally. If there’s any way to throw sand into the system’s gears, I would certainly do so.
Of course, just saying that will ding my score. But frankly, I don’t give a damn. Which will result in another downgrade…
Justin: So, you think people’s social credit ratings will be based entirely on their digital footprints? Or will these social credit systems incorporate physical surveillance like video cameras?
I ask because some of the so-called offenses that will hurt your credit rating in China include things like jaywalking. That’s a petty offense. People do this every day, and I imagine these “crimes” are recorded or archived.
So, I wonder if the Chinese plan to incorporate video surveillance into their system.
Doug: It wouldn’t surprise me. There are already cameras everywhere. And many of them apparently already have facial recognition systems with artificial intelligence (AI). They’re highly sophisticated, and can recognize your face and correlate that with your height and walk, which is unique to each person. They can already do these things. And, as we know, AI is advancing at the rate of Moore’s Law.
Soon, these cameras will be everywhere. When that time comes, the government will pretty much know where you are at all times.
So, you can pretty much let your imagination run wild. In fact, I just read about a man in the United Kingdom who got 20 hours of community service for loudly singing an alleged anti-lesbian song in his own home. The people living below him are lesbians.
That seems like the type of thing that would ding your social credit rating.
Justin: That’s insane.
Doug: Yeah, it’s like a thought crime.
At this point, I don’t know if the world more resembles George Orwell’s 1984 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Or perhaps the movie Brazil. Maybe it’s a combination of the three. Anyway, it makes me want to spend more time in a backward country where this sort of thing isn’t happening as quickly, if only because officials are more interested in larceny than social engineering.
Justin: That’s all I have for today, Doug. Thanks for taking the time to speak to me, as always.
Doug: No problem.
Reprinted with permission from Casey Research.