Four days ago on FB, The Economist was plugging its latest attack on Beijing.
Click on the image to go to the Facebook post and ensuing comment
That capitalists are subordinate to state policy is horrifying to the Economist. To me it gives a modicum of hope. The subordination of state to big capital in the West is driving us to the abyss.
To give one example. China is far from having the world’s biggest carbon footprint once we factor in, as any rational assessment should, per capita emissions. More importantly, its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 is more plausible than anything the West aims for precisely because of state dictating to capital rather than capital to state.
(The latter beneath an illusory ‘democracy’ which disguises rule by and for the few as rule by and for the many.)
To give another, a savvy child would see that the demonising of China on all fronts is precisely because a US-led West, from which our understandings of the world derive, is terrified that its economic rise challenges dollar hegemony – threatening an end to centuries of Western plunder of the global south. This demonising is reckless beyond measure.
Which prompted one Joel Almas to write …
There is no difference, Philip Roddis, only scale. You don’t think the IMF and world bank’s main objective is development? 1 Development means more markets to sell stuff, and more industries to buy stuff from. The debt traps are a commonality to both china and the west. Posting propaganda like that makes you look very naive, china is a one party system and dissent is not encouraged.
… and me to reply:
Joel Almas posting comments like this makes you look very ignorant. Why not read and address the arguments made in the piece I link?
There’s abundant evidence of the IMF debt trap forcing states in the global south to institute ‘market reforms’ which see fire sales of state-owned sectors snapped up by Western investors. See this from the horses mouth in the shape of a 2004 IMF Paper
Governments [with low] credit ratings in emerging economies, are … forced to privatize initially at discounted prices to attract investors, given the time needed for investors to gain confidence that governments are credibly committed to pro-market reforms.
Now you might think this pretty damning stuff. But you’d be making the grave error of looking at it from the perspective of a normal human being with a functioning heart and brain. What is needed here, to grasp where the paper’s three authors are headed, is the glassy eyed stare of a born-again Chicago Schooler:
… international financial institutions (IFIs) may play a pivotal role. Both IMF and World Bank provide loans to developing countries, but stipulate conditions. Since governments in developing countries often need IFI financing to stabilize their economies or fund their development programs, conditionality may generate credible commitments to the IFIs’ agendas …
For the lazy-minded – and I’m as likely to encounter smug indolence in ultra-leftist critics of China 2 as in the so-called mainstream – it goes without saying that China is “just as bad”. Or as Joel Almas puts it:
The debt traps are a commonality to both china and the west.
His evidence? None whatsoever. His oft repeated fallacy has been roundly refuted on empirical grounds by Deborah Brautigam, Professor of International Political Economy in the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins. (She also heads up the China Africa Research Initiative at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.)
Also worth reading is Michael Hudson, a global debt specialist described by Paul Craig Roberts as the world’s greatest living economist. (PCR being the one-time Reagan appointee at the US Treasury who long ago joined the growing ranks of gamekeepers turned poacher: ambassadors, CIA operatives, senior government analysts, senators, economists and a few more walks of life I can’t right now call to mind – disgusted at the abuses of ‘democratic’ power.) Try this meeting with another important commentator on China, the Brazilian analyst Pepe Escobar.
But in a follow-up comment – made before I’d read and responded to his first – Joel Almas has other criticisms to make:
You honestly think China doesn’t plunder the global south? What’s difference between the rich having power and unelected bureaucrats having immense power? Same boot different legs. At least in the west there’s some semblance of free elections and freedom from the state is a societal value.
I’ve written often on the myth of Western democracy; less so on that of totalitarianism in China. (Its citizens rate their government considerably more highly than Americans rate theirs.) Now is not the time: though I finish my reply to Mr Almas with a link to one of my “China reads”, back in April, which explores in some detail how China’s citizens are involved in policy formulation and evaluation.
Here’s my second reply to Mr Almas:
Imperialist plunder takes a very precise form: the export of monopoly capital from global north to global south, and repatriation of profits from south to north. (This is systemic and it is why, incidentally, Trump was never going to be able to deliver on his “bringing US jobs back home” rhetoric.) As with the direct rule of colonialism, which preceded and has not been entirely eclipsed by it, imperialism is backed in the final analysis by armed force. America, at war for more than 220 of its 243 years of existence, has looted and plundered and in this century alone brought death and misery, chaos and terrorism, to state after state beneath a fig leaf of bringing ‘democracy’.
If you say China is ‘just as bad’ the onus is on you to show empirically your reasons. On what grounds do you bring such a charge? Or is this just the generalised and typically half-baked nonsense that comes from consuming the daily propaganda of the West’s (US in particular) vast propaganda machine?
Incidentally, as [another commenter on the thread] points out, grass roots involvement in China’s policy formulation is far greater than our twice-a-decade pilgrimages to the polling station permit. Even for that once every four or five year trip, we are pummelled with media propaganda, their business models – Chomsky’s “large corporations selling privileged audiences to other large corporations” – ensuring that on matters of critical importance to our rulers, their first allegiance is not to truth but to power.
The tsunami of Sinophobic propaganda on every front, with no corporate outlet in the West dissenting, shows not that they must be speaking true. It shows that the economic challenge of China rising has rattled the big investors who rule the West to the core. On the basis of these media you say anyone who expresses the slightest approval for China must be “posting propaganda”.
And then that it’s me who looks naive?!? 4
* * *
- Answering Joel Almas’s question – “You don’t think the IMF and world bank’s main objective is development?” – would have extended my reply more than I cared for. The short answer is that IMF and World Bank do want those states to ‘develop’, but on imperialist terms. What has been happening since WW2, accelerating in the final decade of the last century and first decade of this one, is that relations of production damningly described and theorised by Marx went international as monopoly capital in the Global North was drawn by low wages – held that way by ‘business friendly’ regimes and immigration controls the planetary equivalent of apartheid South Africa’s Pass Laws – in Asia especially. (Africa’s exploitation is more about assets. As, though the results could hardly look more different, is the Middle East’s; with Latin America’s different again.) The Capital-Labour dialectic is now, to a high degree, a North-South affair. This, incidentally, is why Trump could not possibly deliver on “bringing US jobs home”. One burning question now is what will happen to the workers, white and blue collar both, who can’t be absorbed by the West’s highly automated consumer ‘value-added’ gig economy? (And what to the already weak bargaining power of those, their skill sets made obsolete by that same automation, who are absorbed but may at any moment lose that status?) Joel Almas is not the only person, even on the Left, who fails to grasp – too shocking to take in? – the truly totalitarian nature of capitalism with the brakes off. It is precisely China’s insistence on retaining the power to apply the brakes which so horrifies The Economist.
- I’ve yet to hear those ultra-leftist critics of China even attempt to answer one very simple question. In the here and now – not in the sunlit uplands of life as lived after the workers of the world have united under their brilliant leadership to throw off the yoke of international capitalism – how would they have achieved what even the US directed World Bank concedes: that China has lifted, in a single generation, hundreds of millions of its citizens from extreme poverty?
- The Brautigam piece (co-written with Professor Meg Rithmire of the Harvard Business School) really does warrant reading in full. Joel Almas cited Sri Lanka – as an instance of China’s “debt trap” machinations – in a manner suggesting not only that what he knows can be written on the back of a stamp but that he has imbibed uncritically the campaign trail demonisings of the Mike Pences of this world. Brautigam and Rithmire cite a Malaysian politician’s irritation at assumptions of credulity in the global south: “Can’t the U.S. State Department tell the difference between campaign rhetoric that our opponents are slaves to China and actually being slaves to China?” This closely argued piece, scrupulously evidenced at every turn, is well worth reading – twenty minutes, tops – as yet another example of how ill served we in the West are, on China as on so much else, by ‘our’ media and politicians.
- My discussions with Joel Almas continued a few hours after posting this, since he is on US time. I’ve said as much as I need to but those with an appetite for more may follow our further exchanges on the FB thread. (Update 22/11/21. Mr Almas appears to have removed his comments, causing my replies to disappear with them. I’ve encountered this before when initially bullish FB interlocutors, belatedly realising they are out of their depth, cut their losses and hide the evidence. I have copies of my own comments but not his. No great loss, but it’s wryly satisfying, in a glum kind of way, to get such corroboration of how evidence-lite, evidence-defiant and plain know-nothing ignorant are the arguments of so many keyboard warriors who’ve imbibed dominant narratives on China. Yet another case of “weak opinions strongly held”.)