Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Chinese Communism, the Ultimate Stage of Capitalism?

Eric X. LI was giving a lecture today at the ASAN Institute. This successful venture capitalist is known for lauding the virtues of the Chinese model in audacious yet always "CPC correct" ways (Communist Party of China, that is), most notably through a couple of OpEds (NYT, FT), and a much debated TED talk.

© Stephane MOT 20130904
A cutely mischievous Eric X. LI about to spice up the debate at the ASAN Institute today 

In his presentation "Warring States - The Coming New World (Dis)Order"*, LI envisions a world where all nations will selfishly seek their own national interests, where the US will be forced to dump their costly dream of a universal Pax Americana if they want to remain a superpower, and where China will have no qualms continuing to thrive as a 'free rider', a new leader refusing to become the next Leviathan.

Eric LI is right to say that China has a more "central" than "universal" vision, but where does this pervasive "center" stop? And does that mean that China will not eventually take over as the next boss? As HAHM Chaibong, President of the ASAN Institute, rightly pointed out, at the beginning, the US themselves were more than reluctant to become a world leader.

I shot the first question from the audience: since LI depicted a rather cynical, amoral, and yes, imperialist China, shamelessly pushing go stones across Asian oceans, syphoning resources from North Korea, corrupting both camps in Zimbabwe to secure its interests, and somehow acting like the unbound monopoly it somehow is, doesn't it prove that somehow, Chinese communism is the highest stage of capitalism?

I know that's not very PC. I'm by no means a socialist but to me, free market ayatollahs insult economics as boldly as hard core Soviet marxists. History proves that Adam Smith's "invisible hand" doesn't work, that the ultimate stage of free market is the negation of the market, the negation of economics itself**. And to me, the Chinese model is no more sustainable than an overgrown conglomerate that would control a whole country and set its own rules and standards, the mother of all Standard Oils. Yes, a Politburo Standing Committee system does have its charms (e.g. board approach and ten year tenure more efficient for strategic vision and consistency...), but this pyramidal bureaucracy is simply not adapted to a network society, particularly in a nation counting 1,359,730,000 individuals (that's 715 Qatars). Tell me: does this look like the future, or a doomed Leviathan? It seems that China needs to evolve as urgently if not more than the US.

But all at denouncing simplistic ideologies, LI proposes his own simplistic views, failing to deliver a long term vision beyond the already well documented failures of existing systems... except the one 800 pound panda that has yet to receive its wake up call.

LI doesn't seem to know that Samuel P. Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations" is an imposture as caricatural and obsolete as Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History", that the post-Arab spring transition periods do not qualify as poster childs for democracy, that beyond the neocon alibi of spreading democracy, the invasion of Iraq was also a theocon project to spread fundamentalism across the world (and that in that sense, Fundamentalist in Chief W. could rightfully claim: "mission: accomplished"), that the world is already trying to move away from the old and failed ideologies of communism and free market, towards a more pragmatic and fair market***...

I'd better stop before spilling all my own simplistic views in this utterly biased excuse for a blog.

And I'm being very unfair to Eric X. LI, who is right about, among many other things, this evidence: in tricky transition times such as the one we're living in, nations would better try to evolve and adapt.

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* yes it rings a bell: "New World Disorder" was precisely the title of the recent 2013 ASAN Plenum
** "Le stade ultime du libéralisme, c'est la négation du marché (le déni d'économie continue)" ("The highest stage of free market is the negation of the market - denying economics, continued") / "This is not a financial crisis"

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