Communism or Capitalism in Asia – some personal views

Photographed and uploaded to English Wikipedia...

Photographed and uploaded to English Wikipedia by Adam Carr (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City...

English: War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Vietnam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night over dinner, Marilyn asked me whether the Communist or Capitalist model was best for the majority of the people. Perhaps I should clarify the context. We were sitting outside, having a meal on the famous Pub Street in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and had yesterday visited the World famous UNESCO heritage site of Angkor Wat. At the end of the trip, we shared a cold drink with our guide and started talking. In earlier life, he was a soldier and he told us that he and his family were forced to leave Phnom Penh at gun point by the Khmer Rouge during the civil war. {For more information on Cambodia’s political history follow this link.}. Our guide told us that he and his family had to walk for seven days and seven nights continuously because if they stopped the Khymer Rouge would have immediately killed them. Our conversation moved on to the life of ordinary people in Cambodia, during his life time. The good news for him was that the Cambodian Government expected foreign tourist visitors to increase to five million annually in a couple of years. Since 1993, Modern Cambodia has been a democratic republic.

We had recently arrived in Cambodia after two months in China and Vietnam. Marilyn prompted the question to me over dinner because we were shocked by the suffering of people in this region of the World. We had a few days earlier visited the War Remnants Museum in in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) – it provided a very disturbing view of America’s record in the Vietnam War but to be fair it was largely one-sided  and failed to portray the other side, how the Vietnamese treated US or Australian soldiers.

Readers of this blog will know that I am a passionate believer in neoliberalism but have previously argued that it is time for Third Wave Neoliberalism – a sort of compassionate capitalism.

This has been a very long preamble, setting out the context and my personal bias before trying to answer the question. Let me share some of my thoughts.

In the sixties, I thought that the US government was right to try to stop the spread of Communism in South East Asia and I unfashionably favored the case for war. I often reflect that had I been born in the US, I was of an age where I would have been drafted into the war. Many years later, I have very different views and feel that trying to stop the spread of communism by war was fundamentally wrong.

For sure, the earlier years of communist states in Asia were pretty ugly times for ordinary people, with Government  following political agendas both at home and abroad with a fair degree of brutality, generally ignoring the ordinary person’s needs – this was a long way from French principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. However, in latter years, the communist states in China and Vietnam have opened up their economies and provided a degree of economic liberalism but still not too much political liberalism. This has resulted in the Chinese super-rich, a very small and privileged group of the top families and I suspect that is similar in Vietnam. On the surface, life for ordinary people has improved too in recent years. Fashionable consumer goods like iPhones abound, in Vietnam motor-bikes are highly popular. Beneath the surface, I fear that ordinary people have suffered from inflation, triggered by governments’ economic policies to keep their economies growing. Personally,  I admired the China’s Keynesian investment stimulus in 2008 but agree that it had downsides for ordinary people. So on balance, I am an admirer of recent economic achievements in both China and Vietnam but feel that this is staging post and the journey of economic and probably political liberalism needs to be continued. For me, China and Vietnam, are single political party countries but they are they are light years removed from Marxist ideals of Communism.

By comparison, I see the West’s record differently too. I still believe that the capitalist model provides the best solution and most effective engine for growth but recognize that it too produces and elite, privileged class, which is often far removed from individual industry and labour.  I continue to favour compassionate capitalism – Third Wave Neoliberalism. 

Historians have shown that the French and US intervention in Asia was misguided, and that the wars were pursued with unnecessary brutality. Whilst I recognize the right for countries to defend themselves, I often struggle to understand the justification for offensive actions.

I worry that the Western economies have lost their way economically, with political regimes that are democratic but an absence of leadership and decisive decision-making because powered is effectively watered down – the EU provides an excellent example.

So in conclusion, I still very much favor capitalism over communism. Both models need to converge and serve the economic, social and political interests of ordinary people but compassionately. Everywhere the case is overwhelming to cut bureaucracy and promote a new sort individualism.

What do you think?

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3 responses

  1. Pingback: Insights to Angkor Wat and the Cambodian countryside « Discover the Orient

  2. This is a brilliant blog and a very good analysis of the problems that faces the developing countries. The problems in places like the UK which are being hit by (amongst other things) the increases in labour costs in those developing countries as their people slowly and painfully climb up the ladder – hopefully out of poverty towards a better standard of living – are different but also need to be addressed.

    Dare I suggest that it requires a bit of both capitalism and communism to make it work? By that I mean a mixture of private enterprise and communal work. The model for the first is classic neoliberalism and this should apply where things (goods or services) are offered for general sale. Only that way can there be the required drive towards more competitive organisations – i short the requirement for evolution.

    However, a different model should apply when we are thinking about caring for our environment, infrastructure and people. Here the outcome that is required is not one that can be measured by financial factors. There is no true competition in maintaining our roads. As society is presently structured, the authority so doing has its own discreet accounting system and so still thinks in financial terms but that can be to the detriment of society. It may well be ‘cheaper’ to use machinery rather than high labour/low technology methods for road maintenance but there are costs that at present we cannot offset against that benefit – more people unemployed, lacking self-respect, lacking a structure and meaning to their lives, costing society in terms of benefits and, on occasion, poor health, addiction and criminality. The challenge is to find a way of ensuring good outcomes in a public sector situation – and to date no government has solved that problem. Hence, we feel we are better off putting such matters into private hands quietly ignoring that this adds an additional burden – the need to provide a profit.

    Trying to find a model which meets this latter structure whilst still providing sensible cost control has begun to dominate my thinking. To date the only (tentative) conclusion to which I have come is that control has to be small and local which means that funding has to be small and local too (for he who pays the piper calls the tune). In my book it also need to have a large element of support if it is to work in a democratic society. Any ideas, Alf?

    • Rodney,

      Many thanks for the positive feedback.

      We are agreed about compassionate Capitalism or “Third Wave Neoliberalism”.

      With regard to the second part of your argument, I have a suggestion. What wbout bringing back a modified form of National Service? This could include suitably approved programs of work for the environment, infrastructure and people, as well as perhaps, social service, voluntary service overseas? Perhaps, the default could be military service, with an option to specialize in a second year?

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