Monday, May 31, 2021

Apologists for Communism's Slaughter?

This funny little comic drove home a point I hadn't considered before.

I like to read the funnies everyday, and this one gave me a chuckle.  But then I realized that he was making a point - that Mao murdered more people than Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot combined, and yet today, no one really seems to care, and this important event isn't taught in school.  Why is this?

Well, for starters, China was sealed off from the West for decades, so what went on in China was not reported much.  Second, well, they were Chinese, and anti-Asian prejudice was and is still rampant.  Back in the day (the 1960's) we talked about the "Chinese Hoards" and America has been suspicious of the Chinese since nearly its founding.  The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in part because Americans were worried that a wave of Chinese immigration would simply overwhelm America, particularly its recently acquired Western provinces.

The sheer number of Chinese is also used as an excuse to ignore their plight.  It is akin to how the poor and minorities are treated in any country.  "There's so many of them!" people say, "They breed like rats!"  Or worse yet, "They don't feel pain like we do!"   When you can characterize a group of people as less than human than it is easier to slaughter them, or at the very least, ignore their being slaughtered.

An article in the Washington Post makes these points and a few more.  And one of them, sad to say, makes a lot of sense to me - that many in academia on the left (which is to say, academia) are apologists for Socialism and Communism and don't want to see leftist causes indicted by the excesses of those philosophies.   And yet, in nearly every Communist country, such atrocities abound.  When the state is all-powerful and owns everything (even you) then it will eventually go out of control.  Absolute power corrupts, absolutely:

But an even bigger factor in our relative neglect of the Great Leap Forward is that it is part of the general tendency to downplay crimes committed by communist regimes, as opposed to right-wing authoritarians. Unlike in the days of Mao, today very few western intellectuals actually sympathize with communism. But many are reluctant to fully accept what a great evil it was, fearful – perhaps – that other left-wing causes might be tainted by association.

. . .

In addition, our continuing historical blind spot about the crimes of Mao and other communist rulers, leads us to underestimate the horrors of such policies, and makes it more likely that they might be revived in the future. The horrendous history of China, the USSR, and their imitators, should have permanently discredited socialism as completely as fascism was discredited by the Nazis. But it has not – so far – fully done so.

Just recently, the socialist government of Venezuela imposed forced labor on much of its population. Yet most of the media coverage of this injustice fails to note the connection to socialism, or that the policy has parallels in the history of the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and other similar regimes. One analysis even claims that the real problem is not so much “socialism qua socialism,” but rather Venezuela’s “particular brand of socialism, which fuses bad economic ideas with a distinctive brand of strongman bullying,” and is prone to authoritarianism and “mismanagement.” The author simply ignores the fact that “strongman bullying” and “mismanagement” are typical of socialist states around the world. The Scandinavian nations – sometimes cited as examples of successful socialism- are not actually socialist at all, because they do not feature government ownership of the means of production, and in many ways have freer markets than most other western nations.
Communism sucks, let's face it.  But yet there are a hoard of people, mostly intellectuals, who have never had to run a business or hire people (and pay them with their own money), who argue that Communism or Socialism are the "answer" to a question no one is asking.  My own stinking Communist hippie brother used to excuse the excesses of Stalin, claiming that what was going on in Russia wasn't "true Communism" and if only we hadn't embargoed Cuba, the excesses of the regime there would not have occurred.  In other words, the excesses of Communism are all Capitalism's fault.

And with regard to China, this lame excuse could be applied as well.  Mao was forced to murder millions of people because we didn't recognize China at the United Nations and thus forced China into isolation and forced them to make radical changes to "catch up" to the West.   The reality was - and is - that centralized planning always backfires, every time, resulting in people starving to death, whether it is the famine in the Soviet Union, or Cambodia, or China.  When people lose all incentive to work (other than the threat of death or torture) they pretty much stop working.

It is an convenient excuse - blaming the West - and one that still goes on today.  Every third-world dictator uses "Yankee Imperialism" as an excuse for their own failures.  The Communist governments of Cuba and Venezuela justify their harsh treatment of their own people on the grounds that the West has forced them into a corner by refusing to trade with them.  Yet Venezuela was once one of the world's largest oil exporters, before Communists and "Central Planners" took over - and fired all the people actually running the oil business and replaced them with party lackeys.  Today, they secretly export oil (and gold bars) just to generate enough capital to keep the rulers in power - and in the lap of luxury.  It is the North Korean model of economics - starve an entire population so the fearless leader can have a new Ferrari.

Nixon went to China in 1972 and "opened up" the country to the West.  We recognized China in the UN, and Western businesses flocked to China to set up factories, hire people, and export goods.  Thanks to Capitalism, China went from a backward pre-industrialized country to a world powerhouse - slated to surpass the United States as the world's largest economy.   The standard of living for the average Chinese is higher than ever, and until recently, the amount of freedom was greater than ever as well.

But sadly, it seems China is destined to slip back into its old ways.  The Communist Party still controls China, and they see the writing on the wall.  An emerging middle-class and an emerging Capitalist class are a threat to its power structure.  People with real money and real power are all planting one foot in Canada or the USA, as they realize - and see - that anyone who poses a threat to the powers-that-be can be imprisoned or even executed for crimes against the State, even if their only crime is having too much money.

The Chinese are trotting out the same old paranoid excuses for their actions - that foreign powers are "meddling" in their affairs by protesting human rights abuses.  To even raise concern about the treatment of Muslim Uighurs can result in your business being shut down or your country's ambassadors being sent home.  Our support of Taiwan - an island nation a short distance from the coast of China - is deemed "interference" with national sovereignty.   Of course, Communist support of Cuba is an entirely different thing and donchuforgetit!

Sadly, this situation seems destined to get worse before it gets better.  As the central government consolidates power, more and more foreign enterprises may be squeezed out of China.  The Capitalist miracle of the Chinese economy may quickly become a thing of the past, as billionaire entrepreneurs are replaced, one by one, with party apparatchiks - with predictable results.

The big problem, as I see it, is that our economy is so intertwined with that of China.  We've gone all-in on cheap Chinese imports, and this could change dramatically in the next few years.   Even "American-made" products like pickup trucks (assembled in Mexico) rely on a number of microchips and other car parts made in Chinese factories.  Rising nationalism in China may make such arrangements difficult. Do we continue to import parts from China after they've nationalized the factories that Western countries have built?  Does GM continue to import car parts after China has squeezed out their Buick brand?

It could happen and is already happening.  The Swedish retailer H&M has faced boycotts and more, since issuing a statement expressing "concern" for reports of forced Uighur labor being used to harvest cotton.  Not only is the Communist party calling for a boycott of the retailer, mall owners are cancelling leases (illegally) on retail space leased by the company.  The rule of law in China - something so necessary to the working of a Capitalist economy - can be arbitrary and capricious.  The China market represents only 5% of H&M's business.  They can afford to walk away from China.  The closing of stores by landlords may be a blessing in disguise - H&M can walk away from multi-year lease agreements without penalty at this point.

On the other hand, China represents over 50% of General Motors' profits and a huge source of cheap parts for its American-made trucks and SUVs.  Not only that, GM has a huge investment in manufacturing infrastructure in China.   Can GM afford to walk away?  Stay tuned.

And so on down the line.  Apple makes record profits, selling iPhones for over $1000 that cost maybe $100 to make in Foxconn factories.  We are so in bed with China, that a major confrontation with the country could create a horrendous economic fallout.  It would take time to relocate factories and establish new supply chains.  And in the meantime, there would be shortages and huge price increases of everyday products.   Say, isn't that already happening?

The flip side is also true as well - Patriotic fervor in the US might cause some to boycott companies seen as too much "in bed" with the Communist government.   This might mean not only MAGA-hat wearing Republicans (whose anti-China feelings have been stoked by Trump) but folks on the left who are appalled by the treatment of minorities in China.  From the article above, this tidbit about Apple:
Other Western brands like Nike Inc. and Adidas AG have also drawn consumer ire for their pledges not to use Xinjiang cotton, but H&M appears to have suffered the brunt of the fallout after the statement was called out by the Communist Youth League and the People’s Liberation Army. Its outlets have also vanished on Apple Maps and Baidu Maps searches, making it hard for Chinese consumers to locate stores, and it’s been removed from Chinese e-commerce platforms.
Apple - and Google - as well as some airlines, have found themselves between a rock and a hard place, when it comes to China.  Even mentioning Taiwan as a "country" is sure to raise the ire of the Chinese Communist government.  According to the Chinese Communist government, Taiwan is a "Renegade Province" which is an interesting gambit.  How long before other nearby countries are deemed the same?  How long before China call us a "Renegade Province" that is rightfully theirs?  We threw Taiwan under the bus by recognizing China in the UN (and booting Taiwan out).  That decision will come back to haunt us.

The locations of H&M stores vanishing from Apple maps didn't happen without Apple consenting to this.  How can anyone claim to be progressive and liberal and own an Apple product?  It is an interesting thought.

If this trend continues, companies will eventually be forced to choose sides.  And this is not the first time this has happened to Corporate America.  IBM, Ford, and others, all did business with the Third Reich, until the outbreak of war forced them to stop - sort of.   IBM machines continued to operate during the war, tabulating each Jew murdered, on convenient punch cards.  After the war, IBM made sure Germany paid their lease fees for the use of those machines during the war era.  Hey, business is business, right?

Of course, maybe I am being alarmist.  Maybe the Chinese Communist party will back down and realize they will destroy the "Chinese [Capitalist] Economic Miracle" just as Mao destroyed the Chinese economy before them.  They will realize that negotiation is better than confrontation, and that being paranoid and reclusive has no real profit in it, if you'll pardon the pun.  No sense in turning into a giant North Korea, right?

Maybe, but I doubt it.  Kind of sad to see, too, as the ordinary Chinese people are decent and hardworking folks who deserve a lot better.