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The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers
The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers
by Richard McGregor
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent journalism, 21 Jan. 2013
The Chinese communist party itself has changed down the years. Where it once took the majority of its membership from rural peasantry, it now comes from wealthy entrepreneurs and star students. There is a large and spinning revolving door between the CEOs of Chinese enterprises, (which are both owned by the state and by private individuals private-public hybrids) and elite positions in the communist party.

The guiding wire of Communist Party policy is maintaining its control over the state. Of particular concern to the party is its control over the military, whose loyalty the head of the communist party never takes for granted. Successive Chinese Presidents have increased the army's budget. This may be partly to increase china's influence abroad, but it also serves to keep the military loyal to the party.

China's growth has been marked by a rising wealthy. A thin and highly connected class of billionaires and multi millionaires has emerged. This class are as uncomfortable with democratic politics (independent trade unions, Human rights groups, anonymous voting etc) as the communist party are.

Yet at the same time social unrest is rising. Protests are mounting chiefly regarding government land sales, pollution and working conditions. As China becomes more industrialised, strikes are becoming more frequent and wages as rising, as Marx would have predicted. However it seems unlikely that a powerful and class conscious working class will rise in China as it did in Europe in the early to mid 20th century.

It's not clear what exactly the force of law is in China. For example, nominally the state-private corporate hybrids have independent decision making powers. Their independence from Party coercion is codified in Chinese corporate law. Yet at the same time, one phone call from Xi Jinping and the CEO would do whatever he is told and the law would be put on hold.

Chinese growth has largely been fuelled by the state. Whilst hefty market reforms took place under Deng Xiaoping highest growth areas, such as Shanghai, have been correlated with huge government investment. It is estimated that as much of 80 of Shanghai's GDP was from the state.

It is hard to say what the Chinese thought/still think of Deng's market reforms. But the propaganda department were heavily involved in selling them to the ordinary Chinese in the 80s. Job security `the iron bowl' has disappeared. So too have job opportunities for women. Wages as a percentage of GDP has decreased. Chinese growth has left the majority of Chinese people behind.

The propaganda department is very powerful and very effective. It has borrowed corporate propaganda techniques (marketing, PR, corporate communications etc) from the West. The days of The Party simply killing its critics are gone. It is arguably this propaganda department that is the most effective instrument at keeping the general Chinese public off the throats of the powerful. (see Anne-Marie Brady, Marketing dictatorship)

It's hard to get very far in China without powerful parents. There is a `Princeling' class - the sons and daughters of China's communist elite. Whilst significant, being born into the right family is not everything and there are some dramatic counterexamples such as Hu Jintao who came from nothing.

Money worship seems to be the running culture amongst the Chinese middle and upper classes. Whether this is true of the rural regions and working classes it does not say.

McGregor's survey or the contemporary Chinese government is a gripping read. He vividly narrates the transformation of the world's largest bureaucracy. It is also exceptionally timely.

Dirty Money
Dirty Money
by Matthew Benns
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A good start to an important project, 21 Jan. 2013
This review is from: Dirty Money (Paperback)
Australia's mining companies have created a long trail of slime. The slime these companies ooze runs along three significant dimensions: propaganda to control the Australian public; lobbying to control the Australian government; and destructive pollution. So argues Matthew Benns in his important work "Dirty Money".

The mining industry spends large amounts on propaganda. The best example is the industry's claim they saved the country from the GFC. Polls show their propaganda on this front was successful, with the majority of Australian's believing that miners did in fact prevent Australia from being sucked down the vortex.

Yet this is complete nonsense, as Benns shows. At the onset of the GFC the mining industry started shedding jobs more rapidly than almost any other industry. Had every other Australian industry acted as the miners had, unemployment would have reached 15%. What is more, miners only employ 3% of the Australian workforce anyway.

The Australian public is not getting a fair deal on Australian resources. Australia's mineral resources are nationally owned. Miners extract them and pay corporate tax as well as resource tax and royalties. By OECD standards our taxes are very low. Compared to Norwegian government for instance which takes 95% of profits, we take less than half.

Making matters worse, there is a raft of other corporate welfare and government benefits the mining industry receives. This ranges from direct capital injections for exploration, to tax rebates on their fuel costs.

When Kevin Rudd came to power, he proposed a modest tax on the miners enormous profits. This made the miners furious, so they campaigned against him and ultimately got rid of him. When Gillard came to power she got rid of the super tax Rudd proposed. She also got rid of the royalties miners had to pay the states. This was a bonus for the miners.

As a result of the miners' campaign, Australia will lose $60 billion in lost revenue over the next decade. And yet the lobbying campaign, which brought down Rudd and installed Gillard, only cost the miners $22 million.

The Australian mining scene is dominated by oligarchic elites. The vanguard for this elite are Clive Palmer, Gina Rhinehart and Andrew Forrest. They all live highly litigious existences. The three have spent substantial amounts of time in and out of court.

Then there is the pollution. Mining is an incredibly polluting and an often toxic operation. This is particularly true of gold mining which normally uses cyanide. When this cyanide escapes the tailings dams, the result is an environmental holocaust. Witness the disaster at Ok Tedi.

There are countless other environmental dangers resulting from mining. Another such example is fracking, which involves high pressure drilling using water, sand and chemicals to extract LNG from coal. This can and has destroyed water supplies farmers and local communities depend on. The damage caused by fracking can take over 1000 years to repair.

Another is uranium mining which produces huge amounts of radioactive tailings. It also can produce radon gas, which has been linked to lung cancers.

Then there is the outright indifference to international law. The best example of this is Western Sahara, which is occupied by Morocco. Many mining companies continue to make a killing from doing business with occupied Western Sahara, despite the trades being condemned by the United Nations.

By all accounts, governments (state and federal) are failing to properly regulate mining companies. The failure to sufficiently regulate these companies is largely thanks to mining industry lobbying - with devastating consequences for the Australian public.

But the miners will have to be confronted. Australia is the world's largest coal exporter. The burning and mining of coal has enormous implications as our planet warms rapidly because of man-made climate change. Another significant and unavoidable problem is that a mining economy cannot last. Minerals are a finite resource. Once they are mined, they cannot come back.

Matthew Benns is a tabloid journalist in the best sense: he writes entertainingly and softly. The book can be read in one or two sittings. This book is a good start on what is a desperately necessary task: confronting Australia's mining hegemons.

End This Depression Now!
End This Depression Now!
by Paul Krugman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Clear and correct, but there is nothing new here, 21 Jan. 2013
There is a spectre spreading across the Northern Hemisphere, the spectre of Austerity. Western Europe and North America are recording record low growth rates. Unemployment is rising, particularly among the young. Corporations are sitting on huge piles of cash and not investing. The future is bleak.

All this is because - don't forget - of the Financial Crises in 2008-09.

Western governments are responding to these terrifying prospects by cutting back on government spending and cutting back on social programs. When governments do this, it is called `austerity'.

Krugman does not like austerity and thinks little of the politicians and economists who champion it - `Austerians'. He thinks they make matters worse because by austerity results in there being less `aggregate demand' in the economy. During a recession or an economic slump, private companies and individuals stop spending money. This means that unless governments make up for the difference, things will only get worse.

This is, of course the standard Keynsian argument. Close to a century ago now, the famous British economist John Maynard Keynes argued that `the boom not the slump' was when austerity should be pursued. Keynes thought policy makes should focus on lowering unemployment and that the way to do this was to increase aggregate demand. Krugman follows closely in Keynes footsteps, quoting him frequently.

Krugman is completely right of course. History shows unambiguously that cutting back on government during a recession only makes things worse. For example, witness Britain tip towards an historically unprecedented triple dip recession under the `Austerian' David Cameron.

Krugman's writing is clean and concise. He helpfully avoids any technical jargon and insofar as jargon occurs, it is explained. Yet for all the helpful explanations there is an almost total lack of original thinking. And anyone familiar with Keynes or Minsky will find there almost nothing new to discover between End This Depression Now!'s covers.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 17, 2014 12:49 AM GMT

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty
Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty
by Daron Acemoglu
Edition: Hardcover

14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Thin and unconvincing, 11 Aug. 2012
Acemoglu and Robinson argue that economic prosperity is an entirely political phenomenon. They argue that there are two kinds of political institutions: extractive and inclusive. The former are bad, the latter are good. The authors then claim that the entire economic history of virtually everywhere can be explained by any nation state's political institutions and to what extent they are inclusive as opposed to extractive.

There are strengths to this book. The authors warnings against economic analysis qua culture are well founded. So too are their warnings against appeals to geography. Their focus on politics is welcome as one tires of economists pretending their discipline is not directly political.

However, for my own part I found their thesis rather unconvincing. The authors never provide a detailed explanation of what exactly constitutes an 'extractive' or an 'inclusive' institution. The lack of clear definitions - more than anything else - is what allows Acemoglu and Robinson to slip every political institution in economic history under two simple categories.

Also their histories are loose in parts. For example, Acemoglu and Robinson attempt to trove through Roman history explaining Rome's various rises and falls with their two simple categories. Checking their references I found the authors had virtually ignored or failed to cite or mention all the of the most significant works on Roman history. To the extent that such works were mentioned, the mentions were slim.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 3, 2012 12:00 AM BST

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