The problem with Senator Joe McCarthy was not that he was an anti-communist (I’m also an anti-communist.) Instead, the problem with McCarthy was that he made all sorts of wild accusations that had no basis in fact. The same is true of the new McCarthyism. Here’s Bloomberg:

DeSantis, whose bid for the Republican nomination for president is struggling, has made getting tough on China part of his campaign to woo conservative voters. The Foreign Countries of Concern law, he says, blocks agents of China’s communist regime from buying property near US military bases to use for spying.

But that’s not the way the law is written:

Yet the law also bans most Chinese capital from being used to fund projects in Florida, choking off a relatively cheap source of financing for an engine of the state’s economy at a time of high interest rates and distress in commercial real estate. Firms with Chinese investors are barred from taking even small, non-controlling stakes in real estate deals under the statute.

There’s no explanation as to how this would prevent spying.  Are Chinese banned from renting buildings near military bases?   And what constitutes being near a military base?  Bloomberg provides a map of the law’s impact:

Are we to believe that virtually all of the populated region in South Florida is near a military base?  When you stay in a hotel in South Beach, do you feel close enough to spy on a US base?  And if the answer is yes, what’s to stop a Chinese spy from doing so?  It’s a ban on investment, not a law restricting the movement of spies.

In my view, even the federal government overstates the risks of Chinese spying.  But at least there’s a certain logic to restricting technology transfers.  These state level bans of Chinese investment in real estate make no sense at all:

More than two dozen states have either passed or proposed limits on Chinese property ownership, but Florida’s law is one of the most restrictive. The American Civil Liberties Union has challenged the law as discriminatory on behalf of a group of Chinese immigrants, and the US Department of Justice has said it’s unconstitutional. The law has complicated the buying and selling of homes by individuals, on top of its effects on investors and builders.

Hysterical overreaction to the threat posed by East Asians is a theme that runs throughout American history.  In the late 1800s, laws were passed banning immigration from China, at a time when immigration from Europe and South America was completely open.  In 1942, we put 80,000 American citizens of Japanese descent into concentration camps.  (But not American citizens of German descent.)  In the 1960s, we were told that a communist Vietnam was a threat to American national security.  (Ironically, today we try to encourage firms to invest in Vietnam rather than in China.)  Just this week, bipartisan opposition emerged to the proposed Nippon Steel takeover of US Steel.  (Imagine how the reaction would have been different if the acquiring firm were located in Canada or the UK.)  Chinese academics working in the US are being falsely accused of being spies.  The US government falsely claimed it had evidence that Covid emerged from a Chinese lab. 

And today, we are told that China is the biggest threat we face at a time when Putin’s Russia has launched the largest European war since Hitler and Stalin invaded Poland.

PS.  I was saddened to see the recent deaths of Charlie Munger (age 99) and Henry Kissinger (age 100), both of whom opposed the new McCarthyism.

PPS.  It’s not just politicians, influential think tanks are also engaging in these tactics.  This is from a Heritage Foundation document entitled Mandate for Leadership:

The President should issue an executive order making the HUD Secretary a member of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which will gain broader oversight authorities to address foreign threats, particularly from China with oversight of foreign ownership of real estate in both rental and ownership markets of single-family and multifamily housing,26 with trillions worth of real estate secured across HUD’s portfolio.

Remember when conservatives believed in the free market?  The Heritage Foundation also seems to support residential zoning:

Localities rather than the federal government must have the final say in zoning laws and regulations, and a conservative Administration should oppose any efforts to weaken single-family zoning.

Back in 2017, Heritage was still a free market think tank:

States and Congress should develop stronger laws to prohibit economic-development takings, including identifying ways to ensure that blight laws are not used as an end run around any prohibition on such takings. . . . Removing rent controls in combination with removing zoning laws that limit the construction of new housing is imperative. If municipalities took this course of action, individuals and families, including the poor, would have more housing options to meet their needs.

The few remaining neoliberals are like those Irish monks that kept learning alive during the long European Dark Ages.