I really like The Spectator. The quality of writing is so high, so clear, so lucid, compared with the ideological contortions of the New Statesman or Guardian. This alone demonstrates the superiority of free markets.
Which is why its wobble over the People’s Republic of China is curious, if not disturbing. The article How The West Got China Wrong suggests that the fusion of communist dictatorship and free markets is a success which calls into question the political models of Western democracy to deliver growth and prosperity. The conclusion from all this is that we might be better off to abandon our political freedoms. Instead of a future with a boot stamping on a face for ever, it will be living in a gilded cage while receiving all of the bounties of an affluent technological society.
This ignores certain inconvenient truths about the rise of the People’s Republic of China as an economic superpower.
Put to one side the hecatombs of the 20th Century that communism brought to the world, the piles of corpses that form the foundations of modern China. The People’s Republic now has private companies of one kind or another. However the panda in the room is the corruption and dishonesty that is endemic in all dictatorships. While there may be widespread and expanding prosperity in the one-party state, this is granted only at the whim of the leadership. With no sophisticated laws protecting private property or indeed private life, this wealth remains in effect state property, to be withdrawn by arbitrary diktat at any time.
Two examples serve to illustrate the routine nature of state corruption. A few years back there was a bus crash in which 36 people were killed. A safety official aroused popular anger when he visited the scene of the carnage and was photographed smiling. What made Chinese Internet users incandescent was the expensive gold watch he was sporting. The official, not shy of using publicity to further his career, had several images posted which showed he possessed a large number of watches that were well beyond his salary. The state made an example of him and stripped him of his position. The fate of his watch collection was unclear.
The case of Bo Xilai is well-known here, due to the suspicious death of a British businessman with close connections to the politburo member. The fallout of the affair was that Bo was purged for corruption. His wife escaped execution for the murder but was sentenced to life in a Chinese prison. Bo was a man tipped to become President. Today he is an unperson.
China also benefits from its widespread thefts of intellectual property and disregard of copyrights. This does mean that China is not playing by the accepted rules of commerce and leverages its now-immense economy to secure advantage.
Another benefit the communist dictatorship enjoys is the abundance of cheap labour. Millions of manufacturing jobs have been imported into the People’s Republic from the West because of this. Workers’ rights and rewards, and thus the cost of employment, are a fraction of what they are in the West. Management practices by Western standards verge on the criminal, backed by corrupt officials. Ironically, few, if any, confirmed socialists in the UK object to their smartphones being manufactured by oppressed workers.
The People’s Republic has an unenviable reputation for industrial accidents. China is the world’s number one polluter. Industries are not hampered by costly anti-pollution measures or ‘elf ‘n’ safety’ red tape, and major cities are regularly smog-ridden. There are no climate-change levies to be imposed, making a mockery of those imposed by comparatively smaller countries such as ours, that hobble our industries by statute and reduce our ability to compete in global markets. Our relatively small steel industry is being killed off by so-called planet-saving regulations while the massive Chinese industry ignores these rules and is only restricted on price by tariff.
Capitalism is built on honest competition, with the state intervening to ensure safety and fair play as part of its primary duty to protect the public. Businesses in China have grown based on cheating, graft, and environmental disregard with any objectors having the potential of finding themselves at the mercy of a state security apparatus with a vicious reputation and notorious body-count.
China is growing to be the world’s largest economic power. This is based on a massive internal market with a demand that has not been sated. The corruption associated with unaccountable government can only produce contradictions that will cause dislocation and collapse. The Chinese have not found the Marxist sweet-spot. Their Chernobyl moment has yet to come. Discontent cannot always be put down by tank regiments.
It is said that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. However in this case, to do so would be to abandon all the values we have developed and standards we have struggled for in the West. We need to promote them more and demonstrate that West is Best.