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March 9, 2010

no coincidence, comrade

In China, the Communist Party has held supreme power since 1949. Its original ideology was Marxist and anti-capitalist. Today, the Communist Party is strongly opposed to independent trade unions and favorable to corporate interests. The Communists appoint a leader for Hong Kong who opposes strong labor reforms and supports big business against the wishes of the more popular parties, which are to his left. The poorest 20% of the whole nation's population collects less than 6% of national income (just about the same as in the United States).

From 1974-88, the only legal party in Burma was the Burma Socialist Programme Party. The military seized power in 1989 and took "socialism" out of the country's name, but the same ruling class continues to govern. Today, children age 10 and 11 work 84 hours/week for $6/month, and the junta has jailed at least 30 trade unionists as political prisoners. The junta is now selling national assets to allies in the private sector.

In Vietnam, the only legal party is Communist, and its official ideology is Marxist-Leninist. Yet the country saw the second-fastest GDP growth in the world through much of the 1990s and 2000s, due to heavy foreign private investment and privatization. All workers are enrolled in state labor unions, and the government decides when strikes are legal. The poorest 20 percent of the population gets 7% of income, and almost all of that group are below the poverty line of $1.25/day.

These cases reinforce a general and important lesson. It doesn't matter what the original leaders of a political movement say. It doesn't even matter what those leaders privately think and want. What matters is the incentive structure that they create. The communist revolutions monopolized power, and monopoly creates incentives for private exploitation. Justice requires pluralism. That lesson can be hard for people to swallow because we align with the explicit values of one institution (such as the state, the market, or the law), and we don't fully accept the legitimacy of the others. But balance is essential even if that means preserving the power of sectors you don't much like.

March 9, 2010 10:52 AM | category: none



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