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China’s authoritarian capitalism a global trend?

Naomi Klein: "What I see is that China is becoming more like us, the West, in many ways, and we’re becoming more like China in many ways. And I wouldn’t say that we are the same society yet, but what we see are these sort of steady trends, and a kind of an odd sort of meeting in the middle, where they embrace the side of our society of extreme consumer capitalism, and our leaders start to embrace many of their tools of social control—indefinite detention, loss of civil liberties—that their leaders are embracing."

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to our series of interviews with Naomi Klein. Hi, Naomi.

NAOMI KLEIN: Hi.

JAY: So the argument, I think, if we were sitting down with some of the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, they might make is that what’s the alternative to this hard-centralized party? Look what happened to the Soviet Union. That if we didn’t have this kind of surveillance and this kind of strong leadership, what you would have is the falling apart of the country, the mafia-ization of the country; corruption would run rampant; China would break off into little fiefdoms. If they wanted to give a bit of a Marxist spin to the defense, they would say that Marx and Engels teach you need to exhaust capitalism before you get to socialism, so that’s what we’re doing. Of course, I never read in Marx and Engels that you should allow multimillionaires into the party. But, at any rate—.

KLEIN: And open Hooters bars in Shanghai, all on the road to socialism.

JAY: But what’s your answer to that, that without this, they’d be looking at a capitalist anarchy, rather than at least a planned capitalism.

KLEIN: I think it in many ways is where I think a lot of societies are leading, including Russia. I think that same argument was made by Putin in Russia and why Russia has steadily been becoming more authoritarian. And my feeling, when I was in the Pearl River Delta, which has always been the laboratory and always sort of further ahead. My feeling when I was in the Pearl River Delta, which has always been the laboratory for these ideas—this was where capitalism was allowed on a test basis in 1979 and where now probably half or three-quarters of everything we own is made.

JAY: So they would say the alternative is capitalism and anarchistic capitalism, rather than the planned capitalism. Number two, they might argue that you need to have this planned capitalism to sort of exhaust itself, and then you can transition in a planned way to some form of socialism, ’cause they still claim to have that as an objective.

KLEIN: Well, I don’t think they’re transitioning to any kind of socialism, and I think we should just sort of take that out of the discussion. I mean, they are the most successful capitalist economy in the world. And to me the question is: what are we willing to sacrifice in the name of efficiency and in the name of economic growth? Because by those measures, China is the most successful economy in the world right now by the measures that we use in our own countries. And so, to me, my interest in this model is that I see it as a warning. I see it as actually the global trend. I mean, you know, you’re talking about Russia, and it is true that Russia had a democratization, opening-up period and a very anarchic economic reform process. China’s response to that was, "We’re not going to have the democratization. We’re just going to ram through the reforms, and as brutally as we want." And the Tienanmen Square Massacre created a terrified population for many, many years, where they were able to socially re-engineer a communist country into a capitalist one, and have people just accept that because they had seen that this is a government that is willing to roll tanks over their elite university students. So imagine what they would do to factory workers.

JAY: And what you’re suggesting is, instead of Rupert Murdoch’s vision of his satellites and televisions bringing democracy to China, China’s in fact going to be exporting this what you called Web 2.0 communist capitalism to us.

KLEIN: Well, what I see is that China is becoming more like us, the West, in many ways, and we’re becoming more like China in many ways. And I wouldn’t say that we are the same society yet, but what we see are these sort of steady trends, and a kind of an odd sort of meeting in the middle, where they embrace the side of our society of extreme consumer capitalism, and our leaders start to embrace many of their tools of social control—indefinite detention, loss of civil liberties—that their leaders are embracing. And I think the more successful China is, the more persuasive this argument becomes. Absolutely. India gets beaten up all the time by business people who are working in China and India, and going, "Look, it’s a hell of a lot easier to do business in China." Well, it is. But the question is: what are we willing to sacrifice in the name of efficiency and growth?

JAY: One of the things that didn’t get exported in globalization and in the Chinese model that does exist in the United States, still, to some extent, was antitrust legislation. They used to do all these labor-free market reforms in these countries in Latin America, and in Mexico, I guess, is the best example, where you introduce all kinds of market reforms without any antitrust legislation. And I wonder if you think perhaps the Chinese model and some of these other models are going to put pressure on the North American model to weaken antitrust legislation, under the argument, "We need big, state-defended monopolies to compete with theirs."

KLEIN: On any standard we see that downward pressure—environmental standards, labor standards, antitrust. Absolutely. And it’s the story of globalization is multinational businesses being able to pit governments against each other or say, "We’ll relocate completely."