Notes On The News
by Gwydion M Williams
Snippets: Illiberal Democracy; Evolving Democracy; China and the Internet; HSBC; Overawed by Finance
Thatcherism failed to create the “global suburb” that it was hoping for. Only the richest 1% are thriving in the new system they have created. Most of the people who supported Thatcher are no better off than they’d have been without Thatcherism. Many find their cherished values crumbling.
Naturally they blame the wrong targets, mostly the European Union.
David Cameron seems to know better, but also is pushed by his own party’s Eurosceptics. With hindsight, what he should have done was agree to an immediate referendum, on the assumption that withdrawal would be rejected as decisively as it was in 1975. I can’t find exact figures, but my memory is that the polls indicated a majority for leaving. But the vote was 2 to 1 to stay, with definite pro-Europe majorities in every region apart from Shetland and Scotland’s Western Isles.[A]
Recent opinion polls have been mixed, but mostly show a majority for staying. One exception showed 51 to 49 for withdrawal: but it also showed that “41% believed that the EU is generally a good thing for the UK, while a third (34%) said it is generally a bad thing.”[B] That’s to say, solid pro-Europe opinion is larger. Floating voters are most likely to play safe and support the status quo when it is a matter of deciding rather than just grumbling. And even the grumbling is not consistent: back in October 2014, another poll showed 56 to 36 for staying in, with 8% undecided.[C] So a quick vote would have been a good idea, given that Cameron was under pressure from Eurosceptics in his own party.
What Cameron actually did was something else. He promised that there would be renegotiations and then a referendum if he didn’t get what he wanted, but only after the next General Election. This was maybe a clever thing to do in the context of British politics, but was disastrous for the Centre-Right coalition that had been developing, with Britain and Poland as major members. Cameron seems to have failed to see it, or else not cared enough. As one commentator put it:
“Cameron sold himself as a centrist conservative. When Ukip and his own right wing rose up against him, he ought to have shown the political courage Angela Merkel showed when she faced down the anti-Muslim protesters in Dresden. But Cameron did not stand on principle. He jumped from this focus group to that next news cycle and tried to please his mob by outflanking Nigel Farage on the right.
“His domestic policy became his foreign policy. He alienated Poland, our strongest European ally, and drove naturally conservative Polish immigrants away from the Tories with his attacks on freedom of movement. ‘He’s fucked up,’ said the Polish foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, in a secretly taped conversation of bracing frankness. He should have told the right to ‘fuck off, tried to convince people and isolated [the sceptics]. But he ceded the field to those that are now embarrassing him.'”[D]
This same commentator wants to ramp up the confrontation with Russia, strengthening my existing thankfulness that Cameron’s wilfully destroyed what was left of the Anglo notion of ‘New Europe’. But the point is, with one of the major governing parties wanting a referendum and a major protest party also demanding it, there is little point in delaying the issue. Sooner or later, the matter will come to a vote.
Labour’s best response would be to say that with so many people wanting a referendum, it would be sensible to settle the issue for another generation or two. Another 2-to-1 victory would destroy both UKIP and the broad Eurosceptic movement, and politics could move on.
But what’s more likely is a limited Labour victory and no referendum in the near future. Not certain, of course. One possibility is that the Tories win a majority of seats in England, but too few for a feasible coalition. This would almost certainly be combined with a wipe-out for Labour and the Liberal-Democrats in Scotland.[E] In such a case, the Tories could offer the Scottish Nationalists a very quick independence referendum in return for abstaining on important votes. Maybe a hybrid referendum – Scotland could vote on whether it wanted independence if the rest of the UK left the European Union, as well as independence regardless, at the same time as Britain’s future in Europe is decided.
Definitely, we live in interesting times.
The Ukraine Crisis got serious when the European Union did nothing at all about a mob combining pro-Western elements and neo-Nazis chasing out the elected President, ignoring a compromise that had just been agreed that would have led to an early election. This same mob intimidated Parliament and alienated the large minority in Ukraine that speaks Russian and/or looks to Russia. Russia’s reaction, including encouraging a Crimean secession, was defensive rather than aggressive.
One can understand why the US was working for such an outcome. The USA has learned nothing and forgotten nothing since it chose how to use its new superiority after the 1989 collapse of the Warsaw Pact effectively ended the Cold War. The USA decided that it would now be a good idea to undermine various dictatorial and independent-minded regimes that had been useful and protected as Cold War allies. They managed a slick overthrow with Ceausescu in Romania and Suharto in Indonesia. Started another round of violence in Zaire / Congo while overthrowing Mobutu. Tried and initially failed to overthrow Saddam Hussein in Iraq, having in the end to resort to invasion and creating predictable chaos. This policy continues unchanged, with Libya reduced to chaos and Syria fragmented. Ukraine is just another example of pro-Western elements encouraged to take a hard line and deny legitimacy to rival opinions. But why is Germany going along with all this?
One reason must be that it’s fun for European leaders to play the Hegemony Game, take it on themselves to try to replace foreign governments that they dislike. That was France’s motivation in taking a leading role in smashing Gaddafi in Libya. But why Ukraine?
What I’m noticing is that presenting the Ukraine crisis as Russian aggression has led to both Poland and the Baltic Republics looking to Germany as the nearest and most useful defender. This is happening with the Britain looking increasingly irrelevant and the USA looking much more to Germany. A functional Europe, in fact, which Britain could tag along with or try to separate from, but without much hope of influence.
And despite the mess in Ukraine, I’d see this as superior to other likely outcomes.
As I write (24th February), the new Greek government has forced a little flexibility out of the core of the European Union – that core increasingly depending on Germany.
I said last month that Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras’s link with a right-wing Eurosceptic Independent Greeks “leaves him well placed to accept a deal with the rest of Europe if he can get one”. This is pretty much what’s happened. The left in Syriza is keen for a confrontation that Greece would be unlikely to win, but Tsipras need not fear them. At the worst, he could split his party and call a new election, with the likelihood of getting a more secure majority. And the “Independent Greeks” had been a fading force and are likely to want to show that they can achieve something.
There should be some common ground for reform. One suggestion is to “seek to raise 2.5bn euros from the fortunes of rich Greeks, 2.5bn from back taxes owed by individuals and businesses, and 2.3bn from a crackdown on tobacco and petrol smuggling.”[F] This may get by for now, though Europe remains in the grip of New Right ideas, convinced that it is necessary to squeeze the real economy in order to please the financial markets. Europe seems to have forgotten that the economy worked a lot better when ordinary people were looked after and financiers were subject to much stricter regulation. Still, Greece seems likely to improve its positions, while still forced to make some cutbacks.
One thing I’ve not seen suggested is cutting back on the oversized Greek army. Greece is heavily militarised, with 13.4 per thousand active in the armed forces. This contrasts with 2.2 for Germany and 3 for Britain. Including other non-active forces it is worse: 3.7 for Britain, 2.7 for Germany and 33.8 for Greece.[G] All of which comes from trying and failing to match Turkey, a much bigger country. Greece cannot afford to fight Turkey: this was the cause of the fall of the Junta in 1974, after Turkey took 40% of Cyprus in response to a right-wing Greek coup there. With the Cold War over, Greece could run down its army to practically nothing and be no less secure.
But I doubt anyone will dare anything so radical. Or wish to risk another coup.
Let’s imagine an Alternate World in which the Nazis had won World War Two. Croats and Hungarians and Czechs might be flourishing: Croats and Hungarians were willing allies while Czechs were seen as useful subordinates. There would probably be very few Poles left, assuming that the war had started over Danzig, as it did historically. But if Hitler had been more modest and not demanded Danzig, Poles might have been allies in a war against the Soviet Union and perhaps survived.
And Ukraine? What’s now Western and Central Ukraine would most certainly be a German colony with hardly any Ukrainians left there. They’d be deported or dead. East Ukraine and Russia would be surviving under oppressive German rule and would have been stripped of most of their culture and identity. This was Hitler’s plan in Mein Kampf, and was mapped out in detail after the initial successes of the invasion of the Soviet Union.
“Generalplan Ost (‘east’ in German) was Adolf Hitler’s chilling vision to reorder central and eastern Europe in the wake of a projected military victory over the Soviet Union. All territory to the west of the dashed line was to be steadily denuded of its original inhabitants through a mixture of slaughter, enslavement, and deportation to Siberia. In their place would come ethnically German settlers and their descendents. Between the dashed line and the Ural Mountains, in central Russia east of Moscow, there were to be German-run military regimes that would prevent the re-emergence of any form of the Russian state. The city of Moscow itself was to be flooded through the demolition of a key dam, destroying the city and replacing it with a lake.”[H]
This “dashed line” started in the north a little east of Leningrad, and ran south and a little east to touch the Black Sea near the centre of Crimea. Taking in those parts of the Ukraine that tend to identify with the right-wing nationalism of Stepan Bandera, who initially worked with the Nazi invasion and fell out only when he proclaimed an independent Ukraine without permission. His followers then spent most of the war fighting both sides, tolerating Jews but treating Poles as enemies. Towards the end he was reconciled to the Nazis, but shared in their defeat.
This happened because of an uncharacteristic outbreak of honesty by Hitler – he was not willing to do much to string along anti-Soviet elements in either Ukraine or Russia. He would have been much wiser to have used them until he had defeated the Red Army, which he might have done had he not made so many enemies. He could have discarded them and got on with his actual plans after the war. The West, which never actually fought more than one-third of the German Army and still found it a strain, would have been unlikely to have made a difference.
Hitler basically lost the war by underestimating the Soviet Union. He had already defeated the formidable Anglo-French alliance that had defeated the Kaiser’s Germany in the First World War, and had some reason to think that the attack on the Soviet Union would be much easier. But he failed to change his policy when it became clear that this was not the case. His only idea was to demand more of the same: he was pretty useless as a wartime leader.
Fascist Ukrainians could not have known of secret plans for their future, but they could have made a reasonable guess from reading Mein Kampf. They should have known that it was nothing like what the Kaiser’s Germany did, trying to create a separate Ukraine friendly to Germany. They were amazingly foolish, joining with forces that wanted to exterminate them rather than just rule them.
Guided more by prejudice than hope, pro-Western elements alienated those elements within Ukraine that had been reasonably content as part of the Soviet Union, and who wished to remain friendly to Russia. For Russians, Ukraine was part of a wider Rus identity, with Kiev as the Mother City. A lot of the territory defined as Soviet Ukraine was really “New Russia”, territory conquered by Tsarist Russia from the Ottoman Empire. And Crimea was really unconnected, added to Ukraine in the 1950s by a whim of Khrushchev’s. Taking a hostile line was foolish.
It’s not really about Putin. Russia as a whole has been alienated, and is increasingly hostile to the USA.[I]
With hindsight, everyone can see that the USA created the problem of Islamic Extremism by backing characters like Bin Laden in Afghanistan, and then ignoring the needs of Muslim populations all round the globe after the Soviet Union had been defeated.
With foresight, we should be worrying that Ukraine might do the same job for European Neo-Nazis, who up till now have been little more than street-corner thugs. East Ukraine is an area where the European Far Right can do some serious fighting.[J]
Note that Islamists were marginal before the Afghan war.
Part of the problem is that most Ukrainians who support the Kiev government don’t actually feel like dying for the claim to East Ukraine. The regular army has suffered a lot of desertions, and also young men resisting the call-up. Only the Far Right show any enthusiasm for the war.
A war they don’t have to fight, of course. All along they could have settled on the basis of autonomy for East Ukraine.
But it is always easier to hide or to run than to fight for something. And it seems that a lot of the pro-Western protesters who started the chaos last year are now fleeing the foreseeable results of their own actions.
“Thousands of Ukrainians are fleeing the country in record numbers; since February, 2014, 600,000 Ukrainians have taken asylum or other forms of legal residence in neighbouring countries…
“These émigrés are not only asylum seekers. They are the Western-leaning intelligentsia, the qualified members of society with relatives abroad, and the students of the Maidan who first organized protests against former President Viktor Yanukovych’s government in November 2013.
“Ukraine has been hit by a severe Inflation, rising 25 percent in December. The hryvnia, Ukraine’s national currency, lost two-thirds of its value against the dollar over the past year in 2014. This devaluation has crushed Ukrainians’ purchasing power, particularly for western goods: the average monthly Ukrainian salary was $384 in January 2014. By December 2014, it was down to just $261.”[K]
Toryism used to assume that the less you changed the better, but that you also had to conciliate the actual opinions of actual people, when there were too many of them to ignore. On this basis, the Tory Party survived as an actual or potential party of government from its emergence as a faction in the late 17th century. That was the basis on which it was able to solidly unite England and Scotland, soothing over an historic antagonism.
Thatcherism changed that. And did immense long-term damage to the things that Thatcher genuinely thought she was rescuing and preserving.
The link with Scotland was one casualty. At the time of the Independence Referendum, we were reminded that the Tory Party used to be the strongest party in Scotland. But Thatcherism was mostly a movement of South-East England,
It looks now as if the Daily Telegraph is another casualty. It always was a newspaper that valued solid facts, even when they were inconvenient from a Centre-Right viewpoint. But this has been lost, according to Peter Oborne, former chief political commentator of the Telegraph
“Five years ago I was invited to become the chief political commentator of the Telegraph. It was a job I was very proud to accept. The Telegraph has long been the most important conservative-leaning newspaper in Britain, admired as much for its integrity as for its superb news coverage. When I joined the Telegraph had just broken the MPs’ expenses scandal, the most important political scoop of the 21st century.
“I was very conscious that I was joining a formidable tradition of political commentary. I spent my summer holiday before taking up my duties as columnist reading the essays of the great Peter Utley, edited by Charles Moore and Simon Heffer, two other masters of the art.
“No one has ever expressed quite as well as Utley the quiet decency and pragmatism of British conservatism. The Mail is raucous and populist, while the Times is proud to swing with the wind as the voice of the official class. The Telegraph stood in a different tradition. It is read by the nation as a whole, not just by the City and Westminster. It is confident of its own values. It has long been famous for the accuracy of its news reporting. I imagine its readers to be country solicitors, struggling small businessmen, harassed second secretaries in foreign embassies, schoolteachers, military folk, farmers—decent people with a stake in the country.”[L]
These ‘decent people with a stake in the country’ also supported Thatcher when she drove a stake through the industrial heart of the country. This was perceived at the time as curbing all of those nasty disruptive Trade Unionists, which did indeed happen. The long-term damage was not noticed.
The doctrine that profits came first naturally extended to the news media. Advertising has long been a major source of revenue for newspapers, often more important than the price paid by readers. This was something my father Raymond Williams highlighted, but nothing was done about it. When people said the magic words ‘free press’, there was a general assumption that this included a system whereby newspapers would depend much more on a small number of advertisers than their readership. There was of course some sort of tradition of limiting the influence of advertisers, but this has been getting increasingly weak.
“On 4 November 2014, a number of papers reported a blow to HSBC profits as the bank set aside more than £1 billion for customer compensation and an investigation into the rigging of currency markets. This story was the city splash in the Times, Guardian and Mail, making a page lead in the Independent. I inspected the Telegraph coverage. It generated five paragraphs in total on page 5 of the business section.
“The reporting of HSBC is part of a wider problem. On 10 May last year the Telegraph ran a long feature on Cunard’s Queen Mary II liner on the news review page. This episode looked to many like a plug for an advertiser on a page normally dedicated to serious news analysis. I again checked and certainly Telegraph competitors did not view Cunard’s liner as a major news story. Cunard is an important Telegraph advertiser…
“On Monday of last week, BBC Panorama ran its story about HSBC and its Swiss banking arm, alleging a wide-scale tax evasion scheme, while the Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published their ‘HSBC files’. All newspapers realised at once that this was a major event. The FT splashed on it for two days in a row, while the Times and the Mail gave it solid coverage spread over several pages.
“You needed a microscope to find the Telegraph coverage: nothing on Monday, six slim paragraphs at the bottom left of page two on Tuesday, seven paragraphs deep in the business pages on Wednesday. The Telegraph’s reporting only looked up when the story turned into claims that there might be questions about the tax affairs of people connected to the Labour party.”[M]
With newspapers in decline with more on-line news, the natural response in the new culture advanced by Thatcher is to throw out people who had supposed that job cutting was for other people. A culture that values immediate success above its official principles. One that breeds highly aggressive managers: people who generally go for a cheaper and lower-quality product, the natural habit of capitalists. This is not appreciated in cosy nooks of Englishness who thought such treatment was just for other people.
“For the last 12 months matters have got much, much worse. The foreign desk—magnificent under the leadership of David Munk and David Wastell—has been decimated. As all reporters are aware, no newspaper can operate without skilled sub-editors. Half of these have been sacked, and the chief sub, Richard Oliver, has left.
“Solecisms, unthinkable until very recently, are now commonplace. Recently readers were introduced to someone called the Duke of Wessex. Prince Edward is the Earl of Wessex. There was a front page story about deer-hunting. It was actually about deer-stalking, a completely different activity. Obviously the management don’t care about nice distinctions like this. But the readers do, and the Telegraph took great care to get these things right until very recently.”[N]
Is there honey still for tea? No, brimstone. A desolation of smug people.
Peter Oborne also complained that the Telegraph was lukewarm about supporting the recent protests in Hong Kong. But that too was part of the logic of business. If you are interested in producing physical goods, China remains the main centre of production. China’s on-line newspaper Global Times describes it thus:
“Even as growth slows and labor costs skyrocket, foreign investors keep pouring capital into China.
“Politically and economically stable, with a huge pool of still relatively cheap labor and improving infrastructure, China remains the powerhouse of global production. An expanding local market of increasingly rich consumers has attracted companies from around the world who want a piece of the pie.
“Although China’s growth slowed last year, the 7.4-percent rise is still the envy of most other countries.
“For the first time since 2003, China has replaced the United States as the top destination for foreign direct investment – investor confidence indeed. For most, it is not just about a competitive manufacturing base, it is about proximity and access to China’s vast army of prospective customers.
“True, China is losing some labor-intensive manufacturers to lower cost countries, but high-end products are blossoming as investment shifts to more sophisticated sectors.
“China’s industrial clusters of raw materials and skilled labor, suppliers and logistics, designers and factories, all in one location, are hard to find in other countries.
“While labor costs have risen in the developed coastal regions, interior provinces and smaller cities remain much cheaper and are now more accessible than ever due to better infrastructure.
“As China strips away red tape, opens up more sectors and ensures equal treatment for foreign and domestic firms, it continues to present tremendous opportunities for foreign businesses.” (China still darling of foreign investors[O])
China got a lot of the production that Thatcher kicked out of Britain. The real history of the world since the 1980s has been a massive equalisation between on the one hand Europe and the USA, and on the other the various countries of Asia and Latin America. The working class in the USA and Europe lost ground, partly because it was privileged compared to similar people in the rest of the world.
China also maintains a state-dominated economy in which capitalism operates only where it is allowed to operate. Where the financial speculation that led to the 2008 crisis would not be allowed. And continues to flourish on that basis.
Money is a means whereby people can exchange goods or services without any definite social tie. It cuts out the immediate need for social interactions beyond a very crude sort based on self-interest.
The complexity is based on how money is defined. For a long time, governments could do little more than make names for money, stamping gold, silver and bronze coins that ought to have more or less that value. Paper money was trickier and might lose value.
The other complication is lending money, on what terms and with what risk of a default?
Currently the system is infested with speculation, based on the New Right dogma that markets will self-adjust if allowed to run free. This deregulation began in the 1980s and undermined the highly efficient Mixed Economy that the West had run from the 1940s to 1970s.
Speculation isn’t much different from gambling, but has been given a respectability by the New Right. So much that governments have covered the gambling losses of the big banks and squeezed ordinary people to cover the cost of doing this. This is called ‘Quantitative Easing’. It is similar to the Keynesian system of spending your way out of a slump, but heavily slanted towards the interests of the rich. Mostly the banks have used the cheap money to improve their own internal finances. Far too little of the money has been passed on to potential borrowers.
The justification for not regulating finance is that markets are self-regulating systems. Which is actually a half-truth. Self-regulating systems sometimes work very well, but sometimes not so well. They sometimes get stuck in a bad configuration, or may rip themselves apart. (Not that these are really distinct things: there is probably a continuous flow from one to another.)
There is also no reason why a genuine and successful self-regulating system should meet human needs. Hurricanes are remarkable cases of self-organisation of clouds and winds, and can look rather beautiful if you’re safe from their effects on human lives.
“Rational” economics has an irrational belief that the system working well is the norm, and everything else a mysterious anomaly. The raw facts suggest that harmony is the exception. The Invisible Hand can easily fumble, when observed in the real world.
If you pick selected facts from a vast mass of data, you can give the appearance of proof to almost any hypothetical relationship. One example is the “Curse of Aaron Ramsey”. Ramsey is a noted soccer midfielder. As a midfielder, his job is to set up goals for his side and prevent the other side scoring, so he only occasionally scores himself. But someone noticed that each time he scored a goal between May 2011 and February 2012, a celebrity died or was killed soon afterwards. This linked the otherwise unconnected deaths of Osama Bin Laden, Steve Jobs, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and Whitney Houston.[P] The “curse” then vanished, with the man scoring with no one notable dying, only to suddenly return with the death of comedian Robin Williams.[Q]
Someone spotting a similar correlation in economics would probably win the so-called Nobel Prize for Economics. Or would if it fitted the prejudices of the rich: that prize was added to the original five thanks to a Swedish bank and gives a spurious appearance of science to stuff that is mostly pure nonsense.
Last month, a reader’s letter challenged me over saying that successful small businesses were on the way out. They quoted official statistics showing an increase in small businesses, mostly of the one-person.
But are these independent small businesses of the sort that were once widespread? Modern businesses have learned how to split and weaken those whose work they depend upon, often by making them nominally self-employed.
One example is a firm called Uber that provides a taxi substitute.[R] It has 850 employees, but is linked to some 163,000 drivers who constitute the business. Nominally they count as self-employed, but are they independent small businesses? Their own comments on a forum called Quora suggests not, and that they work long hours for bad pay.[S]
Hungary has openly proclaimed the goal of building an ‘illiberal democracy’, and Germany’s Angela Merkel finds this baffling. “Honestly, I can’t understand what is meant by illiberal when it comes to democracy”.[T]
It is really quite simple. Democracy means that the society is run in line with the views of the majority, and exercised by ordinary people typical of that majority. Liberalism means having broad tolerance, which is often not the same thing.
Liberalism as a political term was first used in Britain, with the old Whig tradition being consolidated as the Liberal Party in the 1850s. Liberals then were definitely not enthusiasts for democracy. They were hesitant about extending the franchise to the entire male population of the British Isles, or to any women. It did not happen till 1918, and most of them had no intention of giving significant power to the non-white majority of the British Empire. In class terms, their leading figures often came from higher up in the complex British hierarchy than Tories. Tory Democracy was a recognised category in the 19th century, and was illiberal in many of its attitudes.
Outside of Britain, there were plenty of Liberal Autocrats. Some, like Napoleon, recognised ‘the people’ as the source of their authority, but did not allow elected representatives to have significant powers. Others, with hereditary rights, insisted on their rights as Enlightened Autocrats.
This used to be well-known. It looks like the media, by mindlessly repeating the formula democracy = liberalism = enlightenment = elections-with-rival-political-parties has got most people accepting this formula without question. Even those supposed to be making deep and serious political analysis very seldom question it.
Western policy in the Middle East is based on a fixed belief that Western-style democracy is a Good Thing, even when the raw facts say otherwise.
The West was on stronger ground when it took an evolutionary view: that nations need time to establish what the West sees as good political habits, and that meantime the West needed to work with whatever was there. This did work in some cases, notably South Korea. And tolerance of ex-Nazis in Germany, former Fascists in Italy, Franco in Spain and most of the political structure of Imperial Japan. All of these did in the long run produce a Western-style system that worked well, from a Western globalist viewpoint.
You even find John Stuart Mill justifying ‘evolutionary autocracy’ in his essay ‘On Liberty‘, probably to justify his role working in the London Offices of the East India Company. But I’m confident that if the British had abandoned India in the late 19th century the result would have been a much less Westernised India. (Whether this would have been better or worse is much more open to debate.)
As it happens, the New Right chose to base itself on Capitalist Markets and Parliamentary Democracy as eternal truths, with no excuses for not applying them immediately and everywhere. This has made them much less effective than they might have been. On the other hand, they needed a strong streak of radicalism, and this was helped by the vast numbers of ex-Leftists that they acquired and have been among their most plausible theorists. (People who have done much more damage to the Western system while trying to serve than they ever managed while opposing it.)
The West should also forget about the idea of toppling People’s China via the Internet. As one commentator put it:
“Contrary to neoliberal fantasy, speech on the Chinese internet is remarkably free, vibrant and raucous. But this unruly discourse is watched by a veritable army (maybe as many as 250,000-strong) of censors. And what they are looking for is only certain kinds of free speech, specifically, speech that has the potential for engendering collective action – mobilising folks to do something together in the offline world.
“‘Criticisms of the government in social media (even vitriolic ones) are not censored… whereas any attempt to physically move people in ways not sanctioned by the government is censored.’ And the strange thing is that ‘even posts that praise the government are censored if they pertain to real-world collective action events’.
“The fact that an authoritarian regime allows vitriolic criticism of it in social media may seem paradoxical, but in fact it provides the most vivid confirmation of the subtlety of the Chinese approach to managing the net. ‘After all,’ observes King, ‘the knowledge that a local leader or government bureaucrat is engendering severe criticism – perhaps because of corruption or incompetence – is valuable information. That leader can then be replaced with someone more effective at maintaining stability and the system can then be seen as responsive.’ The internet, in other words, is the information system that enables the system to keep a lid on things.”[U]
Talking of China, people seem to think that HSBC is a Chinese bank. Which is rather like thinking of the Duke of Wellington as a typical Irishman.
The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation[V] began in 1865 as a bank for Britons occupying cities on the coasts of China: Hong Kong was a colony and the core of Shanghai was the British-dominated International Concession. It existed as a means of extracting money from China up until 1949, when all foreign businesses were expelled from Shanghai. It thereafter flourished in Hong Kong because Mao left it as China’s main link with the wider world. (It could at any time have been destroyed by simply closing the border, or by annexing it as Nehru annexed Goa in 1961.)
A lot of the money in the early days would have been from opium, and Hong Kong was and probably still is a major centre for the opium trade. I’ve not heard that HSBC did anything specifically wrong in avoiding the “laundering” of probable drugs money. But it is interesting to wonder how they managed to get so big.
Their UK presence is due to a takeover of the former Midland Bank. They are UK-based and all of their top executives seem to be British.
The general habit of politicians being overawed by finance and regarding speculators as wealth creators seems to have put HSBC above the law.
“HSBC’s Swiss arm is potentially open to a range of criminal charges in Britain because there is “credible evidence” that it has had a role in enabling tax evasion, according to a former director of public prosecutions.
“In a legal opinion prepared for the consumer watchdog, SumOfUs, Lord Ken Macdonald QC argues that there is sufficient evidence for the bank to be investigated for conspiracy to defraud the UK tax authorities.
“Decisions taken by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) not to prosecute the bank were ‘seriously legally flawed’, he said.
“Macdonald also said he believed that evidence already publicly available suggested HSBC should be prosecuted under the 1977 Criminal Law Act for its part in a ‘systemic’ operation to deprive HMRC of revenue.
“‘It seems clear, from the evidence we have seen, that there exists credible evidence that HSBC Swiss and/or its employees have engaged over many years in systematic and profitable collusion in serious criminal activity against the exchequers of a number of countries.
‘It seems equally clear that this criminal activity has taken place within the context of an institutional cynicism that is deeply shocking.'”[W]
[V] Hongkong rather than Hong Kong was the older usage