Monday, July 19, 2010

Vladimir Popov replies on China

[A Guest Post by Vladimir Popov, New Economic School, Moscow, vpopov@NES.RU,]

I am very grateful to everyone who commented on my post of 24 May on the Uniqueness of Chinese Capitalism. Here are some brief replies that I hope might promote further debate.

Mario stresses the prohibition of trades unions and strikes in today’s China. Well, trade unions formally exist, but the right to strike is really not guaranteed by Deng’s constitution, although it was guaranteed by Mao’s constitution. (By the way, the relative popularity of Mao and Deng in China today could be measured by observing the numbers at the memorial site where people can go and put virtual flowers to personalities they like: Since 2009 and until July 8, 2010, Mao got over 2 million bouquets of flowers, Deng – only 33,000, less than Zhou Enlai (nearly 200,000) and Norman Bethume, a Canadian doctor helping Republicans in Spain in 1936-39 and Communists in China during the Anti-Japanese and Civil Wars (over 37,000)).

Mario questions my statement that all developed countries had authoritarian regimes in the past. “Including England, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, the United States? If you said "many developed countries had before" nobody could argue, but all? You might say more about this presumably universal authoritarianism”. Well, I would stick to what I said – there was life before democracy, which emerged at a very late stage of human history. In ancient Greece neither women nor slaves had voting rights. In France in 1815-30 voters amounted to only 0.25-0.3 per cent of the population, and about 0.6 per cent in 1830-48. In England suffrage was extended by the Reform Act of 1832. Nevertheless, voting rights were received by 14-18 per cent of men only. Universal male suffrage was introduced only in 1928. In Germany, Italy, Belgium women were not given voting rights until after the Second World War. Rich countries were generally late in introduction of universal suffrage: it was granted in 1965 in the USA, in 1970 - in Canada, in 1971 - in Switzerland. (Polterovich, Popov, 2007).

Mario writes: “Mao's contribution to filling state coffers is fine, but did he really contribute to building state institutions? I thought Maoism had been fairly destructive rather than constructive in this respect?”

I referred to the fact that Mao created the “vertical of power” that not only Putin, but Qin Shihuangdi (the first emperor that unified China in 3rd century B.C.) could not have dreamt of. I gave the data on shadow economy and murders. I said that party cells were created in every village, so for the first time in China’s history the central government in Beijing could enforce decisions taken in the capital all across the country. And I explained that government for the first time in Chinese history started to collect reasonable revenues (always a problem in developing countries).

A couple of examples can be enlightening. In Mao’s days policemen used to be unarmed like most British Bobbies. Bank officials collected cash from retail shops at the end of the business day and carried it back to the bank on a bike or via public transport (and unarmed, of course). Today, the same procedure is different – armoured vehicles, bullet proof jackets, helmets, machine guns…

Another good indicator of the ability to maintain social order and the magnitude of non-compliance with existing regulations is the incarceration rate – the number of inmates per capita. It is 120 per 100,000 against 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 population in the US and 151 in the UK. Which is the “land of freedom” and which is the “prison state”?

Anonymous comments that the lower Chinese murder rate does not account for “capital punishment and the silent massacre of female babies along with the number of suicides directly or indirectly induced by Chinese state repression and rule of force”. It does account for capital punishment; Amnesty International estimates that “Legal murders” – executions (1000-2000 a year) account for about 5% of total murders.

“The silent massacre of female babies” is probably a reference to Berlusconi statement that “under Mao's China they didn't eat babies, but they boiled them to fertilise the fields” (Berlusconi, 2006). There is a debate, whether China has sex-selective abortions (although it is illegal for doctors in China to reveal the gender of the foetus) because China has one of the highest gender imbalances for the newborns. But “silent massacre of female babies” is as probable as “boiling them to fertilize the fields”.

And on “suicides directly or indirectly induced by Chinese state repression and rule of force”: the total number of suicides in China is 21 per 100,000, quite high by international standards, but less than in Japan and Finland, and way less than in Estonia and Hungary.

Alberto’s comment that “authoritarian types of mixed capitalist economy with an important steering role for the state have thrived in South-East Asia, from Japan to Singapore, to South Korea and Taiwan, without any communist connotations, leading those countries to development and prosperity” is missing the point. All the countries mentioned were supported by the US during the Cold War as counterweights to global communism, some even call this “development by invitation”. Not only did they receive Western assistance, but also, and most important, got access to US markets. In addition in Japan and Korea the agricultural reform was carried by the US occupation authorities and in Taiwan it took place under pressure from the US.

In a sense, Alberto writes, “over the long haul Chiang Kai-shek has triumphed over Mao. (An analogous consideration could be made with respect to Vietnam, where after a long bloody civil war the vanquished appear to have triumphed over the victors.)”. I would dispute that. Chiang Kai-shek, as the puppet South Vietnamese government, had the time to carry reforms and produce an economic miracle but failed to do so. There was no growth and no peace in China in 1928-48, when Chiang Kai-shek was the leader. When Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan (even after the so called “golden decade of the 1930s”), he left China with GDP per capita of $500 (Maddison, 2008), same as in 1500, and a life expectancy of 35 years.

To put it differently, to produce an economic miracle in Taiwan Chang Kai-shek had to be defeated and learn from his defeat and from the communists (and to carry out agrarian reform on the island that he never carried out in China) and to get a support from the US (access to the US market).

“…Maoism left the Chinese economy and society in such a bad shape that simply the demolition of Maoism produced the economic miracle”, says Alberto. This is wrong again. The catch-up development of China since 1949 was extremely impressive: not only were growth rates in China higher than elsewhere after the reforms (1979 onward), but even before the reforms (1949-79), despite temporary declines during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, Chinese development was quite successful. According to Maddison (2008), Chinese per-capita GDP was about 70 percent of India’s in 1950, rose to about 100 percent by 1958-59, fell during the Great Leap Forward, rose again to 100 percent of the Indian level by 1966, fell during the first years of the Cultural Revolution, and rose again to 100 percent by 1978. By 2006, it was more than twice the Indian per capita GDP. World Bank estimates, however, suggest that since 1960, Chinese growth rates (five-year moving averages) were always higher than Indian growth rates. Life expectancy in China in 1950 was only 35 years but by the end of the 1970s rose to 65 years—thirteen years higher than in India. Today, it is seventy-three years—seven years higher than in Russia and India. Some charts below (from Popov, 2009).