Social credit systems, a name for electronically maintained conformist ratings, are on the rise around the world–and no more so than in Chinese Communist Party controlled mainland China. The CCP is implementing experimental social credit systems in some of its cities, including Beijing and Hangzhou, in an effort to reward adherence to laws and political directives. Good behavior in the form of volunteering and participation in CCP-approved activities are to be rewarded with expedited privileges in transportation and certain government services. Bad behavior is to be punished with the opposite in services availability. Social credit scores are to be derived from data leached from the CCP’s extensive surveillance systems already in place, including facial recognition and online tracking.
Western countries already tolerate some social credit rankings in the form of financial credit scores and insurance actuarial practices. Credit scores and background information can prevent citizens from obtaining home and car loans and credit cards. Spotty driving records can prevent citizens from owning cars or operating them in the form of high insurance premiums. Progressive Insurance, an American vehicle insurance company, even promotes a tracking device to be plugged into a policy holder’s car that reports back behavior to the company–and rewards and penalizes the driver accordingly.
For the CCP, 21st Century surveillance systems have been seen to be a critical means to track down criminals and political undesirables in a country with about two billion inhabitants. But the Party wants more–they want to enforce groupthink and the Party line as a means of staying in power and to promote their objectives. Just removing undesirables from society is not enough. The CCP wants conformity.
To a certain extent the CCP has already achieve some conformity through the use of government controlled media to promote nationalism. Ignoring ethnic differences in the country itself, nationalism has been an effective tool in isolating the populace from the influence of foreign persons and countries. But the Party, ever worried about subversive behavior that could threaten the position of the current government, seeks longer term solutions to their paranoia.
Unfortunately, social credit systems–in spite of the superficial promise of socially responsible behavior–are a lurking evil that will undermine any country that uses them. It creates classes of haves and have-nots; a particular irony in any country that espouses a political system that is intended to abolish class such as in mainland China. And such systems are prone to corruption and abuse. As George Orwell famously said in the political satire novel Animal Farm (1945)–“all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. The CCP and other governments may find that social credit systems, rather than suppressing antisocial behavior, will institutionalize resentment and lead to more subversive behavior in the long run.