Notes On The News
by Gwydion M Williams
No Need To Cut [Reject Austerity]
Prospects for Good Government [in developing countries]
No Need To Cut [Reject Austerity]
In 2008, it was clearly understood that the global financial system was suffering convulsions and needed help from governments to stop it coming apart. It was assumed that drastic reforms were going to happen.
By 2010, the blame had been shifted. Labour should have been much more militant about it being the banker’s fault and their damage to a healthy Real Economy. Instead New Labour compromised, got soft on the bankers and agreed that huge amounts of money should be removed from Public Services in order to appease the money markets.
The Coalition took the process much further. Had the Tories and Liberal-Democrats campaigned on the basis that much deeper cuts were needed, then Gordon Brown would still be Prime Minister. Instead they suggested that nothing much extra needed to be done, then ‘discovered’ the need for massive cuts once they had a firm coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Of course Nick Clegg was part of the ‘Orange Book’ faction that made a stand in 2004 for ‘Market Liberalism’, so it was largely what he had been wanting to do all along.
It’s an historic tragedy that the Social Democratic Party let itself be swallowed by the Liberals, the remnant of a corrupt old party, a remnant of the 19th century elite. Had the Social Democrats held fast to Old Labour values, they might have pushed the Liberals into oblivion and become significant in the longer term. Now it’s quite possible the Liberal Democrats will suffer disaster at the next election, even if they get Alternate Voting.
[A referendum on Alternate Voting was rejected two-to-one. As at 5th March 2015, the Liberal Democrats face a loss of seats but are almost certain to still be a necessary coalition partner.]
March For The Alternative
The TUC demonstration of the 26th March went quite well. The early talk had been of 100,000: on the day it was 250,000 according to the police and 500,000 according to the TUC.
Sadly, 90% of the publicity was grabbed by a few hundred fools who went for ‘direct action’. If they want to fight the police they should be Soccer Hooligans, or maybe just freelance hooligans. Rioters are parasitic on normal protests
Direct Action can succeed for a limited cause that a lot of people agree with. The Welsh Language Society scored a great success back in the 1960s, getting a Welsh language radio stations and road signs showing both Welsh and English versions of place-names. On Green issues there is also some scope, since a lot of people are worried. But the ‘March for the Alternative’ was all about persuading people that there are serious alternatives to the Coalition’s program. Just saying you don’t like it can sound childish and mostly is childish.
Plenty of people on the march were sounding just as foolish as the small number who acted. The Socialist Workers Party included references to Egypt on their banners – Tunisia would have been more sensible, since there are significant left forces in Tunisia and seem to be none in Egypt. But anyway we are opposing a government in Britain that the people chose, however foolishly. We are working within a political system that allows for radical changes, the left largely defeated itself in the 1970s by refusing to take what was on offer.
The rioters would undoubtedly have said they were for freedom, but there is nothing more authoritarian than irregular acts of violence. Not that I’d always reject them, I just try to figure the odds and they are not good. Anarchists and Trotskyists are too violent for useful protests within the existing system but not harsh enough or ruthless enough to be effective revolutionaries, and as a global movement of more than eight decades standing they have been a complete flop.
The New Right treat Big State as an anomaly: that has been the logic behind the cuts. But the real anomaly in modern society is the very large slice of life governed by commodity production, production escaped from normal social controls. History has shown that this busts whatever social system tries it.
The principle is Laissez-Faire, which is best translated as ‘Let Things Drift’. For the Coalition, the minor detail of their system having suffered shipwreck in 2008 is no reason to abandon ‘ Let Things Drift’. They resist any suggesting of returning to the older idea of plotting a course.
What we’ve got is an Overclass: they want your money, not your life. The former British Ruling Class lost its power and confidence in the 1940s, and saw its role reduced further in the 1960s. They appealed to people’s selfish interests in the 1980s, which gets them elected but limits what they can do. Instead of people returning to ‘normal’ conservative behaviour once the ‘abnormal’ state role is cut back, people get ever more unhappy, selfish, overweight and prone to binge-drinking and drug abuse. This naturally infuriates the US Republicans and UK Tories, “how dare reality be so at odds with our values?”. That they might be wrong is not something they can consider. The more they fail, the more the assert the doctrine. This is the norm for declining powers: Spain was never so fierce for Catholic piety as when it had lost the global struggle for dominance and was being overtaken by the French, Dutch and English, powers with ideas that were very radical compared to the European norm.
What worries me is the fact that declining powers seldom fall without a major war. So far, the violence of the decline has mostly been taken out on Arabs and Afghans. But things could easily get worse.
Nuclear Worries (real)
Radiation damage is like having a pin stuck in you: a few ‘hits’ are harmless but when there are lots, it gets serious. So far, only a few brave workers at the nuclear plants have been at risk, after a disaster that killed tens of thousands from the tsunami. But it is the nuclear risk that is getting all of the attention.
But how serious is it? The world has good reason to have nuclear fears: for some 40 years of Cold War we were always conscious that massive death from nuclear weapons might be just hours away. Nuclear power involves a different use of nuclear materials and it is not possible for a power plant to have a true nuclear explosion: the explosions that have happened have been conventional chemical explosions that are serious because they release nuclear isotopes. But it suffers by a confusion of the two things, nuclear bombs and nuclear power.
Fossil fuel has actually proved a much worse killer across the centuries, and this is still the case:
“A 2002 review by the IAE [International Energy Agency] put together existing studies to compare fatalities per unit of power produced for several leading energy sources. The agency examined the life cycle of each fuel from extraction to post-use and included deaths from accidents as well as long-term exposure to emissions or radiation. Nuclear came out best, and coal was the deadliest energy source.
“The explanation lies in the large number of deaths caused by pollution. ‘It’s the whole life cycle that leads to a trail of injuries, illness and death,’ says Paul Epstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. Fine particles from coal power plants kill an estimated 13,200 people each year in the US alone, according to the Boston-based Clean Air Task Force (The Toll from Coal, 2010). Additional fatalities come from mining and transporting coal, and other forms of pollution associated with coal. In contrast, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN estimate that the death toll from cancer following the 1986 meltdown at Chernobyl will reach around 9000.
“In fact, the numbers show that catastrophic events are not the leading cause of deaths associated with nuclear power. More than half of all deaths stem from uranium mining, says the IEA. But even when this is included, the overall toll remains significantly lower than for all other fuel sources.” [A]
Nuclear Worries (unreal)
The panic does also have a funny side. Radioactive iodine can be a real menace, because humans concentrate iodine in the thyroid gland and it can cause cancer there. Medical doses of iodine can fix this. But the idea that common salt could help somehow spread in China, which wasn’t anyway exposed to any threat from a reactor in Japan’s north-west. The Times of India reported one consequence of this:
“A Chinese man who bought 6.5 tonnes of salt, hoping to profit from panic buying spurred by fears of radiation from Japan, is now stuck with the $4,000 (2,480 pounds) worth of the condiment, state media reported on Friday.
“The man, surnamed Guo, bought the salt in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, when rumours spread across China last week that the iodine in salt could help ward off radiation sickness, the China Daily reported on Friday.
“Salt prices jumped on the rumours, and, acting on a tip that there would be a supply shortage lasting at least six months, Guo bough 260 bags of salt, which he took back to his apartment in three trucks…
“The newspaper said Guo can’t resell the goods, because he has no receipt and also because he was told it was illegal to do so. He also can’t take it to another province, as the government strictly controls salt transport.” [C]
Arabs Free To Choose
This magazine said about Iraq that once the repressive regime was removed, the West would find itself face to face with the things that had been repressed, most of which were much more alien than Saddam Hussein. The same is likely to happen in Egypt and Tunisia, and also in Libya if they manage to bring down Gaddafi.
“As the world’s spotlight remains trained on the carnage in Libya, tensions are mounting in nearby Tunisia, where the first of this year’s Arab dictator-dominoes fell….
“The secular left and the Islamists want deeper change. Along with the main trade union federation, they are displaying remarkable unity and recently formed a National Council for the Defence of the Revolution (NCDR). Far more people were driven into exile or imprisoned for long terms under the old regime than occurred under Hosni Mubarak’s rule in Egypt. Welcome parties still turn up at Tunis airport almost every day to greet returning friends and heroes.
“After all their personal sacrifices, they are determined not to be cheated into accepting a system that amounts to a sanitised version of Ben Ali’s rule, with only a mild softening of the old top-down political control and the same economic inequalities between the capital city and the provinces that sparked the January uprising…
“‘After suffering under a presidential dictatorship and de facto one-party rule, most leftists and Islamists are calling for a parliamentary system,’ says Radhia Nasraoui, a lawyer who heads the Association against Torture in Tunisia. Her husband, Hamma Hammami, leads the Tunisian Workers’ Communist party and was only released from prison when Ben Ali was toppled.
“There is a widespread consensus that the old Islamist party, al-Nahda (Renaissance), is Tunisia’s strongest political force. It is more powerful morally, if not yet organisationally, than its Egyptian counterparts because so many hundreds of members suffered torture and exile under Ben Ali, unlike the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt which was banned but not brutalised (apart from very few).” [B]
The Get-Gaddafi Zone
At the time of writing (28th March), the NATO intervention has stopped an immanent victory for the Gaddafi government and moved fighting to the middle of the country. The rebels briefly threatened Colonel Gaddafi’s birthplace of Sirte, which has been solid for him all along. But now they have been pushed out of Bin Jawad – I make that the fourth time the place has changed hands in this ding-dong civil war.
The West has been hung up on the idea of ‘Colour Revolutions’, ignoring the fact that they often create chaos and sometimes a return by the overthrown ruler, as has happened in the Ukraine. Nothing so neat is likely in the Arab world. In Tunisia the ruler fled: that made things easy. In Egypt, Mubarak stood his ground and then simply vanished, as I noted in the last issue. None of our fearless free media seem interested in asking after him.
In Libya, there has been a confused revolt with strong regional elements, a revolt that briefly seemed to sweep all before it. But then Gaddafi’s forces rallied, helped perhaps by the West revealing that it had learned nothing and forgotten nothing and was giving priority to revenge for past defiance. The Arab League weakly agreed to the idea of a ‘no fly zone’, which would have rapidly failed if it hadn’t been turned into a general authorisation to attack by a UN resolution.
Though it’s unclear just what the UN did authorise:
“Concern over the legality of the military action in Libya reignited on Monday as rebel forces surged into the space created by the international bombardment of Colonel Gaddafi’s military.
“Philippe Sands QC, professor of international law at University College London, warned that coalition forces were facing a ‘major problem’ to justify their latest strikes on legal grounds and Lord Ashdown, the former high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, said the coalition forces led by Britain, France and the US were facing ‘a moment of danger’ over the legality of their actions. He said ‘continued support for this looks as though it is leading to support for regime change, which legally is beyond the [United Nations] security council resolution’.
“Legal experts said the international coalition may have overstepped what was agreed by the UN resolution sanctioning military action to ‘take all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack’.
“Professor Nicholas Grief, director of legal studies at the University of Kent, said it was possible there could be an attempt to bring the matter before the international court of justice. Others said the coalition forces were within the bounds of legality and could continue to attack Gaddafi’s military positions as long as they posed any future threat to civilian populations.
“Concern grew as Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said he believed the military action was in breach of international law. ‘We consider that intervention by the coalition in what is essentially an internal civil war is not sanctioned by the UN security council resolution,’ he said. Russia abstained from the vote which resulted in resolution 1973.
“Britain said the strikes remained legal. ‘The UN resolution’s point of ensuring that civilians could be protected allows the international coalition to take action against those who are threatening civilians,’ said Alistair Burt, Foreign Office minister. ‘The Gaddafi forces have been threatening civilians through the advance of their military machine. In order for that threat to be lifted, action has been taken as we have seen. It is very important for us and for everyone that what has been done is under the terms of the UN resolution.’
“But Sands said it was becoming increasingly hard to justify the strikes on the Libyan leader’s forces as pre-emptive.
“‘The resolution is concerned with the protection of civilians, so a military attack on Gaddafi’s retreating forces could only be justified if it could be shown to be related to that objective,’ he said.
“‘It is difficult in international law to argue for a pre-emptive use of force to protect civilians from a possible threat that might arise in the future. We don’t know if there is evidence to show that a failure to attack Gaddafi’s forces would lead to a regrouping that would lead in turn to attacks on civilians. Pre-emption is a major problem because it is seen as a slippery slope, and rightly so.'” [D]
The initial strikes saved the rebels in Benghazi, where they probably do represent the majority of the population. It let them retake some places they had lost – the third time those places had changed hands, it seems. But the next target was Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte, which had never revolted and seemed solid for him. Attacking there was certainly not protecting civilians, because if any of them are anti-Gaddafi they are lying low and safe from Gaddafi’s forces. Not safe from NATO air-strikes, which seem not to be as targeted as was claimed:
“On Sunday night at least 18 large explosions were heard in or near Sirte, apparently part of the coalition’s campaign of attacking air defences and other military targets. But reports that the city had fallen to the Benghazi-based rebels were evidently wrong – and fuelled Libyan fury at the satellite TV channels that claimed it had.
“It was firmly in government hands and its people defiant. ‘I saw death with my own eyes,’ said Fawzi Imish, whose house and every other in his seafront street had its windows shattered by a Tomahawk missile strike in the early hours of the morning. ‘It was just intended to terrify people. And if the rebels come here, we will receive them with bullets…
“In early afternoon a convoy of 15 Toyota Land Cruisers carrying groups of fresh-looking regular soldiers moved east from Misrata where some rebels are still holding out. But there were no signs of heavy armour or artillery – perhaps because these have been easily hit in coalition air strikes in the battles for Ajdabiya, Ras Lanuf and Brega over the past few days.
“Lightly armed infantrymen, backed up by militiamen and civilians driving mud-smeared cars armed en masse by the government will be a far more elusive target for allied pilots if they are involved in a battle for a sizeable town or skirmishes along the coastal road.
“Residents of Sirte’s beachfront area protested angrily at an attack on Saturday night which killed three men picnicking on a breakwater surrounding a small harbour, packed with wooden fishing boats abandoned by their Egyptian and Tunisian crews when the uprising began last month. Fragments of the bomb were embedded in a shallow crater at the end of the stone jetty – which had no conceivable military use.
“On Khartoum Street, where one of the dead men lived, a woman could be heard wailing inconsolably as grim-faced relatives arrived to pay their respects.
“‘We are just civilians, there is nothing military here, only fishing boats and ordinary people,’ complained Ahmed al-Hashr, whose nephew Faraj died in the same attack.
“Anger and fear are accompanied by flashes of defiance. ‘At first people were scared of the raids, but now they have got used to them,’ said Asra Salem, a 15-year-old at al-Manara girls’ school, where many pupils stayed away after another night of attacks. ‘We just stay at home and pray and read the Qur’an,’ said Ghada Imrayet, recently returned from a long stay in Newcastle.
“‘Inshallah [God willing] we will defend our city, our homes and our coast,’ shouted an emotional Abdel-Adim al-Karam, a sound engineer whose small children were terrified by the bombing.
“Khamis Mohammed, a Sirte University lecturer, accused Nato of deliberately targeting innocent civilians and supporting ‘mercenaries and terrorists’ in the east.
“‘Our grandfathers fought Mussolini and we will fight and live free in our land,’ he said. ‘If Nato really cared about civilians it and the UN would send a mission here to find out who is really the aggressor.’
“Hatred for the Benghazi rebels has been fuelled by an incident on Sunday when pro-Gaddafi loyalists taking part in a peace march were confronted near Bin Jawad and three of them reportedly shot and killed, despite carrying white flags and olive branches. But according to some accounts armed volunteers were in one bus at the rear of the convoy.” [E]
If Gaddafi and his people do lose in the end, that will be the end of the last substantial expression of Nasserism, secular Arab nationalism. The end of a creed that shared many Western values but insisted on asserting itself. What will follow next is uncertain, but a supposedly sovereign state that will not assert its rights has no long-term future. A Somali-style collapse could happen in a number of countries, along with a rise of Islamism.
Commentators seem to forget that the winners of a revolution may be quite small in its early stages. The Jacobins in Revolutionary France began as quite a small faction and grew as their rivals failed to provide coherent government. That was also true of the Bolsheviks in Russia. It is in the nature of revolutions to revolutionise, and the West has an inadequate grasp of the risks.
Hague Looks Ridiculous
I’d say William Hague’s days in the cabinet are numbered. Libya was his first major crisis, and he managed to make just about every mistake that it was possible to make. Cameron had to shove him aside to get the current intervention organised, when the alternative was to look weak and ridiculous.
The best policy would have been to urge compromise, to allow for the fact that Gaddafi has a popular base and is very unlikely to flee. Looking more widely, he had compromised with the West and must have hoped that the long dispute was closed. Instead the West showed that no agreement will be honoured if it can be profitably broken.
Probably very few of the rebels are pro-British. The former Gaddafi supports are pretty certainly not, and there is evidence of Islamists involved as well. So a sensible British Foreign Secretary would have quietly concentrated on getting Britons safely away while a hostile regime self-destructed.
[Omitted here are two paragraphs that repeat what was said in the previous month’s Newsnotes.]
Luckily no one targeted Britons or other expatriates, apart from some unfortunate Black Africans suspected of being pro-Gaddafi mercenaries. Britons working in remote drilling camps got robbed by looters but otherwise no one seems to care what they do or when they leave. So far no foreigner has been intentionally harmed. One UK citizen of Libyan origin has been killed, but it is unlikely he was classed as a foreigner.
All along there was loose talk of no-fly zones and of using the SAS. British Special Forces have been pretty good at their proper job, making fast and skilled attacked on difficult military targets. Trying to use them as a global goon-squad was foolish and has not really worked. They failed to defeat the IRA. They don’t seem to have damaged al-Qaeda at all, or achieved anything notable in Iraq of Afghanistan. Several of them were sent into the rebel area on a mysterious mission, were caught and thrown out again.
“Labour has accused the government of ‘serial bungling’ over the situation in Libya, following a botched SAS mission to the troubled country.
“Six soldiers and two Foreign Office officials were detained for two days in eastern Libya but were released on Sunday and have left the country.
“Foreign Secretary William Hague said the men were withdrawn after a ‘serious misunderstanding’ over their role…
“Most of the group were dropped by helicopter into eastern Libya on Friday night but were later seized and taken to a military base in handcuffs by opposition fighters.
“Witnesses said they were found to be carrying weapons, ammunition, maps and passports from four different countries, claims reportedly denied by the group.
“They left for Malta on board HMS Cumberland on Sunday night.
“Mr Hague told the Commons: ‘Last week I authorised the despatch of a small British diplomatic team to eastern Libya, in uncertain circumstances which we judged required their protection, to build on these initial contacts and to assess the scope for closer diplomatic dialogue. I pay tribute to that team.'” [F]
If that’s a ‘diplomatic team’, what would an undiplomatic team be like? Who Dares Gets Kicked Out Again, it seems. They were not expected and were treated as hostile:
“Libya’s rebel commanders have freed two MI6 officers and six SAS soldiers captured by farm guards on Thursday morning, after the British government vouched for their identities. The group was immediately flown to the frigate HMS Cumberland, which remains stationed off the coast of Libya.
“Seven of the group had been inserted by helicopter into farmland near the rebel capital Benghazi on a mission to establish contact with anti-regime forces. The eight Britons had been detained and questioned since Thursday by rebel leaders who had suspected they were mercenaries.
“Challenged by guards at a wheat farm, they were forced to open bags containing weapons, reconnaissance equipment, and multiple passports, then herded into a dormitory before they were handed over to the rebels…
“The Guardian can reveal that the helicopter group’s contact was a British national named Tom, who is believed to be an MI6 officer. He had worked for the past five months as an administrator in the Al-Khadra Farm Company, 18 miles south-west of Benghazi. The group’s cover was blown by suspicious guards as soon as they arrived at their staging point inside the farm courtyard, which was adjacent to Tom’s living quarters.” [G]
Had this been followed by the fall of Benghazi to Gaddafi’s forces, Britain would have suffered a serious short-term blow to its prestige. What actually happened was that Cameron stepped in and raised the stakes, lending support to the idea of a No-Fly Zone, which might have worked if applied earlier. The USA decided that it wasn’t going to work, and so raised the stakes again, getting a UN resolution that effectively made NATO a party to the Libyan civil war, though with a promise of no ground troops. The danger is, this will produce stalemate and chaos. It might have been wiser for Cameron to have cut his losses and sacked Hague at the time.
[In 2014, Hague stood down as Foreign Secretary to become Leader of the House of Commons in preparation for his planned retirement from parliament, after 26 years as an MP. Still only 54.
[Western intervention managed to turn the tide against Gaddafi, who was murdered by his enemies. There are those in the West who rate this as a Good Thing, and likewise Iraq, because the Sacred Rituals of Parliamentary Democracy have now been performed in an effort to create a copy of Western systems. But the reality in both countries has been a break-down of central government and continuing civil war.
[In Libya, there is the extra problem of a coast close to Italy being used by would-be immigrants to the European Union, many of whom have drowned.]
Prospects for Good Government [in developing countries]
A government threatened with removal must be expected to defend itself. This is even more true when the state itself is at risk. Demonstrators who occupy the heart of a city and demand the government’s resignation have effectively declared war even if they have no weapons.
It is also normal for a government to refuse to punish its own people, even when blatantly excess force has been used. Remember Kent State University back in 1970? During a protest against the Vietnam War, unarmed college students were shot by members of the Ohio National Guard. The guardsmen fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis. Some of the students who were shot had been protesting against the enlargement of the Vietnam War with the American invasion of Cambodia. Other students who were shot had been walking nearby or observing the protest from a distance.
Protesting at the invasion of Cambodia was justified by history: the USA still lost and the long-term result was to destroy stability and lead on the years of Khmer Rouge rule and then a Vietnamese invasion, followed by a brief border war between China and Vietnam. But none of the Ohio National Guard received any punishment for blatant criminality.
Much more recently in this country, the policeman who caused the death of Ian Tomlinson during a G20 protest has so far escaped punishment, even though he was filmed being unreasonably violent to a man who wasn’t even part of the demonstration. States always enforce their power and seldom punish anyone for being over-violent in enforcing that power.
The claim that Gaddafi fired on unarmed protestors has yet to be proven. A lot of other stories have been proved to be false. Perhaps some people see this as secondary, the important issue is getting rid of the dictator and establishing good multi-party government. That view extends even to some of those who opposed the Iraq War, but is largely based on illusion.
Multi-party competition works when the differences between electable parties is outweighed by the prestige of the system within which they operate. It is hard to get going, and in England it needed two centuries and several rounds of civil war, followed by many decades of transition before Britain’s parliament was actually elected by the majority of Britons.
A monarchy can allow a smooth transition to democracy, if that monarchy is well behaved. Some are not. The Greek Royals from the 1950s were a definite ‘menace to society’. There was excellent reason to suspect them of involvement with the murder of moderate Socialist leader Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963, and with the Greek Junta of 1967-74, even though that junta threw out the monarch after a few months. It is rather a pity that those particular royals escaped with their lives. But elsewhere, things have gone better and most of Europe’s smooth transitions to democracy have happened with the monarchy accepting the process. Getting rid of the Spanish monarchy in 1931 made a Civil War almost unavoidable. Restoring it after Franco died eased a path to typical Western politics.
A functional multi-party system can be destroyed by a habit of declaring elections unfair. Or creating a pattern of rallies in the capital to break the government. The West and the USA in particular made foolish use of its brief dominance in the 1990s.
Meantime the Ivory Coast goes from bad to worse. It functioned OK for decades under an autocrat who could keep the place united. When they tried multi-party democracy, the place split along regional lines and this has led on to civil war.
Meantime in China…
“Like the Tunisian whose self-immolation sparked a revolt, Xu Mingao is a young street vendor. Fourteen-hour days selling flatbread in Zhongguancun – the capital’s Silicon Valley – earn him about 7,500 yuan (£709) a year.
“Home is a tiny cubicle in a dusty, hastily constructed neighbourhood where adverts pasted to lampposts seek workers who can ‘eat bitterness’ – endure the grind.
“But the 30-year-old is ‘pretty happy’ with his life: ‘The difference [from the old days] is huge. When I was small my family had to borrow money for my schooling and we wore hand-me-downs,’ he said.
“He and his wife have built a house back in their home town in Anhui with their earnings and hope for an office career for their boy.
“Rising expectations cannot always be met. Many of Xu’s neighbours are members of China’s ‘ant tribe’, who benefited from an explosion in higher education only to end up unemployed or in poorly paid work. One neighbour, Tian, said: ‘I notice how everyone on my bus looks tired. No one seems happy.’.
“Like Xu, she is the child of farmers; unlike him, she has a degree and white collar job. Yet she feels she faces more pressure than her parents did, partly because others are so visibly doing better.
“‘The rich are too rich and the poor are too poor,’ she says.
“Workers feel the pinch of rising food prices and property costs. Spiralling living costs among the urban poor and middle class disenchantment could prove a toxic mix for a government that has justified its rule largely on improving people’s living standards.
“But economists expect food inflation to fall back in the coming months and migrant wages in many parts of the country have risen rapidly thanks to labour shortages.
“The party has also been careful to promote itself as ‘après nous le déluge’, presenting itself as the only force standing between China and chaos.
“‘People feel they have something to lose,’ said Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch.” [H]
They also maybe have a better knowledge of their own history than Western journalists seem to possess. In 1911 they overthrew a rather bad system of Imperial rule, but then faced decades of chaos and an invasion from Japan, an invasion that the West failed to anything serious about. The Chinese Communists restored unity and stability. Under Mao, the economy tripled, after being fairly stagnant for centuries. In 1950-1955, life expectancy at birth was 40.8 years in China, 37.9 years in the newly independent Republic of India. Infant mortality per 1,000 live births was 195 in China, 163.7 in India. By 1970-1975, China’s life expectancy was up to 63.2 years and infant mortality down to 61.1, while India’s figures were 50.4 years and infant mortality of 119.7. [J]
China with its home-grown system has all along done better than India with its copy of the British system. A lot of Western commentators make drastic accusations about the setbacks of the ‘Three Bad Years’ 1959-61. They fail to figure how many extra Chinese lives would have been cut short had their system worked no better than India’s, which itself has been a moderate Third World success.
Science Rising [in China]
“China is on course to overtake the US in scientific output possibly as soon as 2013 – far earlier than expected.
“That is the conclusion of a major new study by the Royal Society, the UK’s national science academy.
“The country that invented the compass, gunpowder, paper and printing is set for a globally important comeback.
“An analysis of published research – one of the key measures of scientific effort – reveals an ‘especially striking’ rise by Chinese science…
“In 1996, the first year of the analysis, the US published 292,513 papers – more than 10 times China’s 25,474.
“By 2008, the US total had increased very slightly to 316,317 while China’s had surged more than seven-fold to 184,080.
“Previous estimates for the rate of expansion of Chinese science had suggested that China might overtake the US sometime after 2020.
“But this study shows that China, after displacing the UK as the world’s second leading producer of research, could go on to overtake America in as little as two years’ time.
“‘Projections vary, but a simple linear interpretation of Elsevier’s publishing data suggests that this could take place as early as 2013,’ it says.
“Professor Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, chair of the report, said he was ‘not surprised’ by this increase because of China’s massive boost to investment in R&D.
“Chinese spending has grown by 20% per year since 1999, now reaching over $100bn, and as many as 1.5 million science and engineering students graduated from Chinese universities in 2006.
“‘I think this is positive, of great benefit, though some might see it as a threat and it does serve as a wake-up call for us not to become complacent.’
“The report stresses that American research output will not decline in absolute terms and raises the possibility of countries like Japan and France rising to meet the Chinese challenge…
“However the report points out that a growing volume of research publications does not necessarily mean in increase in quality.
“One key indicator of the value of any research is the number of times it is quoted by other scientists in their work.
“Although China has risen in the ‘citation’ rankings, its performance on this measure lags behind its investment and publication rate.
“‘It will take some time for the absolute output of emerging nations to challenge the rate at which this research is referenced by the international scientific community.’
“The UK’s scientific papers are still the second most-cited in the world, after the US.” [K]
Of course citation rates might also be expected to lag a little behind quality: familiarity and prestige do count for something. Despite which, China undoubtedly has some way to go. But China has got its priorities right, ploughing money into rail networks, education and science. The US and UK cut back on these as needless luxuries, while allowing bankers to get absurd salaries and bonuses for playing games with financial stability.
[A] From issue 2805 of New Scientist magazine, page 10
[J] [http://esa.un.org/unpp/p2k0data.asp] (These are official UN figures for many countries.)