Bo Xilai

A thick skin is a necessary prerequisite for every successful politician, at least in democratic societies. Love them or hate them, political satirists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are symbols of the deep-seated respect for freedom of opinion in the United States (as well as Americans’ love of a public roasting). In nondemocratic parts of the world, however, politicians are much less willing to become the butt of the joke.

When a New York Times columnist feels the need to tell his readers, “Don’t get me wrong—I am hardly advocating totalitarian government,” something has probably gone badly awry in his analysis.

Earlier this month, Chinese authorities were forced to temporarily suspend trading of shares in the online unit of the People’s Daily newspaper, the official mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party. The price had soared so rapidly since the website’s April debut on the Shanghai Stock Exchange—giving it a greater market value than the New York Times—that it triggered regulatory rules aimed at halting speculative manipulation. This development is just the sort of absurd extreme that comes shortly before an economic bubble bursts.

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