At the end of 2009 Seamus Milne wrote a political round-up of the decade in which he claimed that ‘the rise of China’ was ‘the third vital change of the past 10 years’:
[China] has not only taken hundreds of millions out of poverty as the economic gap with the US has halved (China has in fact overtaken the US in domestic capital generation), but also begun to create a new centre of power in a multipolar world that should expand the freedom of manoeuvre for smaller states. Its blithe disregard for free market orthodoxy has only added to its success in riding out the west’s slump.
At that time I wondered if the far left was falling out of love with Islamic fundamentalism. The hammering that the parties of God have taken at the Middle Eastern ballot box plus a growing resistance movement in the world’s premier theocracy may well have given Milne some doubts about Islamism as a viable alternative to Western mixed economy systems. There has to be somewhere else to go and the notionally communist hyperpower in the east can seem an attractive proposition to someone in search of a tyrannical fatherland. I wondered if others on the anti-imperialist faction would follow his lead.
Paul Sagar reports from the recent Progressive London conference:
Ken Livingstone gave a speech in which he declared that the proof that government investment ends recessions lies in China’s staggering rates of state spending, and enormous correlate levels of growth.
Later, John Ross of Socialist Economic Bulletin (and Ken’s former economic adviser) took some time out from claiming that Britain’s national debt didn’t need to be repaid, that the triple-A rating is meaningless, and that all spending cuts are completely a choice and not imposed by brute economic circumstances, to cite China as proof-positive that government-led investment ends recessions. He waxed lyrical about China’s 9% growth in the last quarter, and how the Chinese government simply told banks to lend and – hey presto – they lent.
It is easy to criticise China, but much of the criticism doesn’t take into account the historical context of their development, and the urgent requirement for economic growth as a precondition for social justice and progress. Nor do the critics acknowledge the degree to which the Communist Party of China is self-aware of the difficulties and negative aspects of Chinese society – but there are often no easy answers to solve problems overnight.
At Liberal Conspiracy, Sagar asks the question that’s eluded Milne, Newman and Martin Jacques: how has the China regime achieved this staggering economic growth?
The answer, of course, is that it screws its workforce:
[L]et’s remember a key method by which China achieves its phenomenal growth: by systematically denying the civil and economic rights of its domestic population. Chinese workers have no meaningful union rights. They are paid pitifully low wages (averaging around $0.50 an hour in 2006), and have no hope of securing anything better. That’s a key way in which China’s export-manufacturing sector booms: low wages equal low costs, after all.
Another way China grows is by doing what I observed last summer: going to places like 1000-year old Yancheng, raising it to the ground, and erecting a city the size of Chicago in its place. And what do you think happened to the people living in Yancheng who didn’t want to have their homes demolished.
We have been here before on the left.