As I found out while participating in a recent panel on labor rights in China, there are many seemingly well-intentioned liberals out there who still think that China will progress smoothly towards a democratic future. Thus, they argue for example, that it is time for American unions to “engage” with what they argue are also unions in China but what are, in fact, arms of the Chinese state.
Most such liberals are not Chinese.
This new book by former Washington Post China correspondent Philip Pan argues, as I have, that a new form of “authoritarian capitalism” is taking hold there and that absent tremendous pressure from the general population it will not change.
Today’s review in the New York Times noted:
By embracing market economics while preserving the party’s monopoly on power and restricting political freedom, Mr. Pan writes, China’s Communist leaders have concocted an “authoritarian capitalism” that “could be as exploitative as anything Marx — or Mao — ever envisioned.” Free markets and private enterprise, he says, “generated wealth and prosperity, but unrestrained by democratic institutions, they also produced grim work conditions”: without trade unions, a free press, independent courts or elections, workers have little leverage with their employers and no way to remove corrupt officials, who often collude with business interests.