Graeme Maxton

Climate Change Economist and Author

Jack Ma’s detention bodes well

China’s political system makes more sense

China has become something like the devil in much of the world and that makes it hard to remain objective when everything the country does is viewed as bad. But China has certainly got something right. It has shown who’s in charge.

For many years, Jack Ma’s Alibaba was one of the most luminescent stars in China’s economic constellation. Then, towards the end of 2020, Mr Ma made a speech in which he challenged the authority of the Chinese government. He had no problem with his company following government policy, he said, but he didn’t like having to follow outdated policies.

Within days, the previously high-profile Mr Ma disappeared. Since then, he has only been seen once, though even that is uncertain. His company has been heavily fined, and the finance arm – known as Ant – has been savagely pruned back.

For many people, this is all a very bad sign. It indicates China’s system is unpredictable, which is bad for business.

For anyone who cares about principles of governance though, what has happened is a very good sign indeed.

What China’s political leaders have done is show the world who’s in charge. It is not, like on much of the rest of the planet, the big corporations and the finance sector that make the system tick. It is the government – those elected to lead.

Now, you might shout back, that is nonsense. China is not democratic, you might say. Look at all those human rights atrocities. Is that not the work of the Chinese government? Just look at what happened in Hong Kong, you might also say, where the politicians completely ignored the will of the people.

And I might agree with you on many of those points.

But, I would still argue that a country which, at least in name, is ruled by those elected to do that job, and which – perhaps even nominally – is supposed to attend to the needs of the people, is better.

It is certainly better than letting a country be controlled by big business – be that Alibaba, or any of the world’s corporate Titans that manipulate governments and laws in their own interests and plunder the planet without responsibility – all in the name of maximising the short term earnings of a wealthy few.

Too often people forget the meaning of words. Capitalism simply means that a society is managed in the interests of capital – or, put another way, money. It is managed for the rich.

But isn’t the alternative worse?, you might say. Isn’t that socialism?

What’s that then? Have you forgotten the meaning of that word too? Socialism is a system which is managed in the interests of society. That’s what it means.

Why is that so bad?

Eat the poor instead