Arguably one of the most important Western observers of China, Martin Wolf, associate editor and chief economic commentator of the Financial Times, recently wrote a piece titled: “How to reform today’s rigged capitalism.” The issues discussed and solutions provided can be seen as the latest remedies elites offer in order to save capitalism.
As early as 2008, Wolf had sent out a caveat on the dream of globalisation being shattered. In this new piece again, he said, “We must address weakened competition, feeble productivity growth, high inequality and degraded democracy.” Again he advocated saving capitalism with pretty strong words.
Yet, in his view, the answer is not to overturn the market economy, reverse globalisation or halt technological change, but to reform capitalism even though it is rigged. The crux of his plan is to promote competition. Wolf thinks: “The limited liability joint stock corporation was a great invention, but it is also a highly privileged entity. The narrow focus on maximising shareholder value has exacerbated the bad side-effects.” It is hopeless to rely on the existing monitoring system to shield us from short-sighted, money-driven business. New legislation is needed.
Redistribution is the remedy for inequality. This is the theoretical framework Western establishment elites rigidly observe. They have no plans to rise beyond capitalist logic and the solutions to tackle inequality are well within the boundary of capitalism. However, their criticism is a stark revelation of today’s social reality. As Wolf puts it: “Money buys politicians. This is plutocracy, not democracy.” He puts political reform ahead of economic reform. Without political reform, change in the way money in politics works and how the media works, the much needed reforms in other areas won’t take place.
Historically capitalism surmounted many crises time and again, showing a certain degree of self-adjustment and tenacity.
Without going further into the viability and effectiveness of the proposed policy and the undetermined fate of the capitalist system, elites such as Wolf provide another analytical perspective on the profound changes in the current international situation. In a general sense, the current world power landscape is undergoing major and profound changes.
Some in Western countries are unwilling to accept the fact that China is rising. Some US citizens and other Westerners are unwilling to admit China is a powerful country, reluctant to treat China as equal. Some of Wolf’s thinking reminds us that the profound changes taking place go beyond the seeming rivalry between the US and China, but to capitalism and socialism. Some Westerners believe China is changing the world in a way they do not appreciate. In our opinion, China’s path can only be correctly explained in the framework of socialist discourse.
It is more than 30 years after the Soviet Union collapsed. The globalisation of capital has both economic and conceptual significance. Few from the Western world have taken a serious view and consider the proposition beyond capitalism. In this regard, the new round of realistic critique on capitalism by Western elites not only provides an opportunity to us to better understand the profound changes in the current international situation, but also serves as a conscious reminder to strengthen our own system.
The author is a research fellow at the Academy for Social Sciences Evaluation under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. GLOBAL TIMES