Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dialectical Surrealism

Where have all the commies gone?

Relax America. Ignore the shrill sirens of xenophobic alarmists bent on making our Asian counterparts the new threat. I have met the enemy, and they are ours!

Passing through Beijing last week, on the way to Hangzhou and Sanya, cabbing from the Capitol Airport by elegant turnpike and driving through the Wangfujeng district, the spectacle of the New China was conspicuous.

Not far from the seat of government, still near Tienanmen Square, close by the official residences of the current leaders and the well maintained neighborhoods reserved for those retired, western decadence dominates the scene.

Passing the Ferrari and Lamborghini dealerships, cruising by showrooms for Rolls Royce and Bentley automobiles and an almost endless array of designer stores, one could easily be confused and disoriented. Is this Beverly Hills? Rodeo Drive?

Only the occasional three-wheeler, or stooped figure of an old woman sweeping with a crude broom reminds the traveler they are at the political center of the Middle Kingdom.

Just as Lao Tzu's and Confucius' names were replaced by Mao and Zhou Enlai a half century ago, the latter seem to have been eclipsed by Lauren, Coach, Prada and Vuiton, not just here in the capitol, but in most major cities in eastern China.

Much as Dada and Dali understood the evocative juxtaposition of dream with reality, so too the masters of political surrealism trick the mind to plant their message. Where Mao understood poverty gives rise to the desire for changes, the desire for action, and the desire for revolution, the elites of international finance, who in the 19th century used opium to enslave the country, corrupt its government and drain it of silver, promote a new dreamworld.

This time round the counter-revolutionaries will subvert economic reform by addicting their targets with a desire for cars, clothing and cosmetics and intoxicating all with the belief that consumption is progress.

The new opiate of the masses can not be found in any little red book. It shines down instead from countless billboards, and endless glossy advertisements of American celebrities hawking expensive and exotic brands; produced largely by impoverished Chinese right here, or the poor in nearby third-world countries.

Consumerism, materialism, conspicuous consumption are the measure for young Chinese. Inherently self-interested, in a dog eat dog world, and unable to appreciate their benefits in the common good, they display labels like merit badges; Addidas, North Face, London Fog ... even their native brands are largely knock offs of their western counterparts with logos obviously trading on the image of a Nike or Apple.

For all the bluster and national pride, China is again become just a colony of western empires. And on every corner, along almost every thoroughfare, bank after bank, almost common as cell phones, are ready to provide the hapless Chinese consumer a financial shot in the arm.

As in the West, government is the useful tool of the extractors who know full well that a loyal cadre of corruptible officials, a pseudo master class, is required to tend the plantation. One is reminded, the nation is rotted, like a fish, from its head first.

Nonetheless, it's at least quaint (if ingenuous) that at the annual gathering of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, going on in Beijing as I gaze westward over the Yellow Sea, to hear the Party boys lament the growing disparity in wealth; extol the necessity for egalitarian correction; and lament the fact the peasants outside the urban fringe earn less than a third of the pittance on which most city dwellers exist.

In the US, its well fed and well tended leaders are almost silent on these subjects; reflecting the general outlook of their critical constituents that it's only natural the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and you're a sucker if you think there'll be a middle class much longer.

And everywhere on the street and in Chinese news, the rapidly rising costs of food, energy and housing evidence the advent of a sobering reality: like Japan and the US, all bubbles burst; what goes up, will go down. Indeed, the Great Withdrawal may be under construction just around a nearby corner.

As inflation accelerates, recent efforts to recruit workers for new enterprises are coming up short. In some cases no workers could be found to take their positions in the economic harness. At the same time, the advancing cost of living has even precipitated strikes, something unheard of in the last several decades. The end of cheap labor is nigh!

Financial fissures are beginning to appear in the construction area. Notwithstanding the desire of speculators to build, and the bankers to keep the bubble inflating, the inability of buyers to afford new housing, or service mortgages, was compounded by anti-speculation measures intended to cool the over heated housing sector; all of which spells doom for the boom.

While China may not have a long history of private ownership to which to compare current prices, the simpler rent to value measure certainly indicates that prices have far outstripped incomes.

Reports already circulate of construction firms unable to get or keep the financing needed to finish projects already underway. What will become of the millions of Chinese who could be turned out of construction jobs? I swear, the construction crane is the national bird!

Will these workers turn to the low paying jobs offered by new enterprises? Will they depress already depressing wages? Will the latest five-year-plan, to increase peasant wages in the countryside stimulate domestic consumption? Will unemployed Americans buy the output of these new businesses?

Can the Chinese continue to peg the yuan to the sinking dollar and expect their consumers to suffer the inflated cost of imported food and energy that entails? They are a long suffering people; several millenia now. Will the Great Helmsman's observation remain true: will poverty again give rise to the desire for change?

If so, it hardly appears the Communist Party will be the vehicle for that change. It seems the answer to the question, "Where have all the commies gone?" is "Gone to Starbucks ... every one. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?"