Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics: Discipline & Punish

Workers in China marched to work by police in 2001. China's state capitalism is starting to defeat American neoliberal capitalism.

News reports today that the U.S. lost nearly 1.5 million jobs between 1989 and 2003 because of increased trade with China, (according to the pro-labor Economic Policy Institute for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission). I think we all know of somebody who is unemployed or re-employed for lower pay. Other news this week reported that the sheer numbers of people who have stayed unemployed until their benefits ran out is now at the highest level in history. New jobs are not being created. When people run out of the maximum benefit period and/or finally give up actively looking for work, they are no longer counted as "unemployed" in official statistics cited by newspapers! The real numbers are always much higher.

The report blames currency exchange rates. This is no doubt yet another example of the "science" of economics gone reductive. The field of economists is one of the easiest to ridicule from without, yet it remains seemingly impervious to criticism from within-- especially its avoidance of issues regarding class conflict, ironically.

Not much analysis is needed to see that the flight of capitalist production from the U.S. and its corresponding rise in China is because of the degraded labor rights there, along with low taxes and virtually no enforcement of environmental protection. It's a capitalist haven: you can produce commodities without paying the workers much, with low overhead costs for land and buildings, while safety precautions and pollution controls are freely disregarded. The bottom line adds up to increased short term profit. Again, this is the dominant face of corporate globalization.

And as the photo above suggests, a capitalist can count on the State to police and discipline the workers, which is in fact what generally happens in China today. Union organizations are illegal -- since the Party represents the workers officially. Worker protests are violently put down. Organizers do hard time in prison. This is routine.

Workers are driven to the point of protest often enough due to hazardous and unsafe working conditions, low pay and sometimes even no pay for long periods, and corrupt mismanagement.

See further references below for details about lack of labor rights and environmental protection under China's state capitalism.

Zhi, Su, and others. "Occupational Health Hazards Facing China's Workers and Possible Remedies." World Bank Transition Newsletter (July-September 2002).
Available online at

"China's Growing Pains" from an issue of _National Geographic Magazine_.

That site contains a comment from a reporter:
" The peasants were visibly nervous when we arrived at their dusty village in the central China Plain. They feared at any moment that the police would enter the house and catch us discussing their case against the local bigwigs who were getting rich from running dozens of zinc-plating factories.
The factories were pumping their wastewater underground, polluting the water hundreds of thousands of farmers needed to drink and irrigate their crops. The villagers had been waging a long battle against the authorities to stop the pollution and to win some compensation. They were warned that if they spoke out, things would get much worse. Since so few foreigners ever go to such places, you have to move quickly before somebody spots you and informs the police. After much debate among themselves, they brought in people who told us horrifying stories of children who died and of miscarried pregnancies.
As we talked, Bob Sacha hurriedly took photographs of individuals with rashes and skin diseases. At this critical moment, a man wearing a green police uniform walked in. I froze, thinking we were caught. Instead, he just smiled. He was a security guard, not a policeman, and he solemnly asked us to help the villagers."


At 4:10 PM, Blogger COTrackGuy said...

"State Capitalism"... what a joke. Anyone who falls for believing that China is any more capitalist today than it was 20 years ago is a fool.

At 1:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone who does their homework in college, even a backwater college in Colorado, would be able to spot capitalism in China today.


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