Have you heard of the Orwellian, dystopian, authoritative system China is using to control its citizens: the Social Credit System.
What Is The Social Credit System?
China’s Social Credit System has been in the news lately and I’ve spoken to quite a few of my American friends about it. They all speak about it with a mixture of fear, for what it means for humanity, and pity for the Chinese people. However, when I ask them what exactly the Social Credit System is, their answers are remarkably similar and vague. They all say it’s bad but can’t identify any specific items or actions the Social Credit System implements other than ‘track’ and ‘rate’ people.
When I ask them how people are tracked and rated, no one seems to know.
Hence, I looked into it. I learned from my time living and working in China (2017 – 2018) that many Chinese were unaware of the Social Credit System. It may not be as pervasive as most people think.
Tracking And Rating Creditworthiness
A large part of the Social Credit System in China has to do with monitoring an individual’s personal finances. This includes how responsible or irresponsible people handle their loans and the amount of money in their bank account. The Social Credit System monitors private loans between individuals and banks, and individuals and retail outlets.
For example, if a person in China takes out a loan for a car or house or a loan from a store for furniture or electronics, the Social Credit System monitors the repayment of the loan. The system monitors timely payments, missed and late payments, and defaults.
This is the scary part, if someone does not pay on time, misses a payment, or defaults the Social Credit System steps in and makes it more difficult for that person to get a loan in the future. The system accomplishes this by increasing the interest rate or in extreme cases denying a loan. Similarly, if the individual does not maintain a minimum required account balance they could be denied the loan.
On the other hand, for individuals who have a track record of fiscal responsibility the Social Credit System makes it easier to obtain loans by lowering the interest rate.
Social Credit For Good Behavior
The Social Credit System also tracks and records an individual’s social behaviors, either rewarding or punishing people for particular actions. For example, punishment for individuals convicted of embezzlement or money laundering could include exclusion from jobs in the banking or financial industries.
Those who have engaged in lesser antisocial behavior such as theft or malicious mischief could be denied work at the employer’s discretion. Criminal records are available for the employer to view.
The government and companies associated with China’s national security can exclude people who engaged in anti-government or subversive political action from working in those companies.
Tracking Individual’s Purchases
It seems the Social Credit System monitors everything about Chinese life. This includes what people purchase on a day to day basis. Thus, if the Social Credit System records someone consistently purchasing a lot of, perhaps, potato chips and candy bars, the individual might receive health information with advice on a healthier diet.
This is quite different from the American system in which corporations monitor individual purchases on a day to day basis and, in the potato chip and candy bar example, send coupons to entice them to buy more.
The Social Credit System even monitors travel. If the system identifies a traveler frequenting countries considered undesirable, the government can place him or her on a ‘watch list’. If suspicious patterns or other negative indicators are identified individuals can be put on a ‘no-fly’ list.
I’ve placed ‘watch list’ and ‘no-fly’ list in quotes as I don’t know the Chinese terms. So I’ve used the American government terms for how they classify their citizens’ travel patterns.
The Chinese Social Credit System also includes travel rewards. Individuals who pay loans on time, obey the law, and display other positive actions are eligible for lower airfares. The reward side of the Chinese system is an interesting aspect that is absent from the American system.
Tracking Internet Usage
Similarly, internet searches and website visits are collected and analyzed. Individuals frequenting illegal sites are monitored by authorities. Those posting on or visiting anti-government sites are similarly singled out. This type of surveillance is also used by American authorities.
The Chinese Social Credit System And Americas Many Systems
At first glance, China’s Social Credit System appears to be eerily similar to America’s tracking system. However, there are two significant differences:
China’s Social Credit System is a single government system, whereas the American system is fragmented amongst government and private corporations:
- Credit agencies
- Marketing companies
- Data miners
- Social media sites
- Law enforcement agencies
- Government agencies
The American system has multiple goals. Law enforcement and the government use it to identify and track criminals, suspected criminal activity, and anti-government movements, in order to stop such activity. Corporations use it to identify and track customers’ creditworthiness and purchasing patterns in order to increase sales.
The Chinese system employs a more complex but noble aim. Their goal is to create a better and more harmonious society. Yes, the Chinese system also uses it to identify and track criminals, suspected criminal activity, and anti-government movements, however, it is a means to the end of a better society. The Social Credit System entices people to better themselves and Chinese society. It is a mixture of carrots and sticks.
The Great Society Through Social Credit
Both the Chinese and American systems track and classify their citizens. However, the intent of the two governments results in two completely different systems. The intent of the Chinese system is to create a Great Society. The United States attempted this in the 1960s under the Johnson administration. However, political action was the engine driving the Great Society in the U.S. It petered out over the next several administrations.
I think China will achieve the Great Society largely because their approach is behavioral rather than political.
I imagine I’ve just been put on the good list in China and the naughty list in America.