Dienstag, 13. März 2018

Trump, Putin, Xi – what is it that makes them so similar to each other?


How companies work and what conditions must be met for their proper operation, seems pretty clear. Manufacturing enterprises rely on an infrastructure that allows a constant and reliable supply of energy and raw materials (or primary products). Furthermore they usually require a state-run educational system, which provides the company with the necessary "human material". They have a margin of discretion with regard to the sharing of profits between employees and owners.
Here Government may intervene for the benefit of one side or the other, but there is hardly any margin for maneuvering as far as the supply of energy and other primary resources are concerned. Engines only run reliably and without interruption if constantly fed with gas, lubricating oil and so on. The same holds true for a company. So, on matters of basic functioning there can be no vote and no democracy. That is, why corporate policy has usually operated in a monarchical or even dictatorial manner. Only Japanese-style capitalism using the so-called Ringi system, where all important decisions were put to vote by individual departments, is an exception to the general rule. However, this happened at a time when Japanese companies produced so cheaply that they had a significant price advantage over their competitors that allowed them to rely on such a cumbersome system. Meanwhile, in-firm democracy has become a thing of the past, even in Japan.

Modern industrialized Nations are more and more similar to large Corporations

In order to get the needed supply of energy and mineral resources, they depend on a global network, which has to be absolutely reliable. A disruption, such as that triggered by the oil crisis of 1973, can bring any economy to a standstill as soon as domestic reservoirs have been emptied. To prevent such disruption, the US not only maintains military bases around the world - in total between 800 and 1000 - but also ensures that, as far as possible, friendly-minded regimes at potential trouble spots ensure order. Dictatorships seem to have worked best for this purpose.

The American Way of Life

This fundamental orientation of American politics has never been made the subject of democratic debate, for it concerns nothing less than the “American way of life”, which would be jeopardized without the constant influx of raw materials and energy (even if the dependency on outward sources of energy has been reduced due to shale mining). It is not the American people who decide on these basic matters, but the Deep State, which includes the Military-Industrial Complex and that one percent of the richest Americans who by means of donations in election campaigns determine who may and who may not become the President of their country. The US has turned into a plutocracy with the formal trappings of a democracy. This happened not because a new aristocracy hijacked the state in a coup d'état, but because the country has become a mega-enterprise that only works smoothly if it exercises a strict control over that daily intake of energy and resources which is the very fundament of its wealth. The president of the United States is basically nothing more than the CEO of a large corporation, albeit equipped with far greater power, because in order to enforce corporate policy – the American way of life - he has at his  disposal the world’s most powerful military apparatus.

The parallel between the state apparatus and companies is even more striking in China

No other country plans and organizes its progress to wealth and power so rationally, so scientifically and so systematically as China. The desired goal is clearly defined and so are the methods that serve to achieve it. The country aims at conferring material prosperity to its citizens, global superiority to its military, and to its power elite the greatest possible say on the world stage. The official ideology "Socialism with Chinese characteristics" - actually capitalism directed from the top - has so far proved to be brilliantly up to the task. Not unlike any successful company, the Communist party actively promotes individual initiative as long as the latter adheres to the goals prescribed from above. But there is no arguing about the goals themselves - these are proclaimed from above. In this way, any large projects like airports, railways and roads, once their realization has been decided at the center, are forcefully pushed through against any protests and resistance from below. China may indeed be regarded as the very embodiment on the level of a modern state of a typical private company which gives full reign to private initiative only when and so far as it does not collide with goals set by the central management.
One important difference does, however, remain. Companies not content with employees merely fire them, the Chinese government behaves quite differently with nonconformists: it either makes them disappear in labor camps or simply kills them.

The large-scale enterprise China has recorded breathtaking progress

The regime of Xi Jin Ping (the man sporting the sympathetic face of a good-natured grandpapa) is brutal, but its success is beyond doubt. Not only did China succeed in creating in no time at all a functioning pension system that extends to most of the population, it also provided modern medical care, installed the largest and most advanced rail network in the world and managed to develop an advanced space program that makes it a serious competitor with NASA. But more important for the rest of the word: China - for thousands of years a state of philosophizing literati, who had nothing but contempt for the military - is about to move up to the top rank of a great military power, and it does so faster than any other country. This is especially true of the fleet, new warships being launched at ever shorter intervals.

Xi Jin Ping and Donald Trump are alike

in that both are the CEOs of states that they govern as if they were indeed mere corporations. There can be no doubt, however, that the Corporation “Middle Kingdom” is nowadays much more successful, as the population becomes more prosperous every year. In the coastal regions, a new middle class has been created that can afford to travel all over the world. Wherever these people go, they learn that their country now has a respected place next to Europe and the US. Although what the government calls the “Chinese Dream” has been copied from America, one billion do believe in it, while the American dream turned into an illusion. The income of a majority of the US population stagnates since the 1980s. Moreover, the US is heavily indebted, its infrastructure – railways, roads, bridges - is in rapid decay, and - by far the most alarming – its population is deeply divided. For more than half of Americans Donald Trump is not "their" president.

The diverging trend of the two states

has profound ideological reasons. Modern China is still influenced by its traditional creed, Confucianism. A ruler only enjoys the grace of heaven as long as he feeds the belly of his subjects for that is his responsibility. A majority of Chinese people accepts the dictatorial rule of the Communist party, because through its success it demonstrates heavenly grace. Still bitterly poor no longer than half a century ago, China has ceased to be a developing nation in the opulently rich coastal regions. It has become a very powerful country. It is for this reason that the ruling party enjoys the confidence of a predominant majority.
In the US, a very different ideology has taken root right from the beginning of its history. "Rugged individualism" allows private persons to put their own interests above that of the state. The very moment that American corporate CEOs realized that they would make far greater profits, if cheap Chinese workers and not the much more expensive American ones produced the goods they sold in the US, they started to outsource production. The result can be viewed nationwide. From New York to Los Angeles rust belts have sprung up, prompting millions of Americans to regard government and Wall Street as their greatest enemies. For in this way American corporations have made China the workbench for the whole world (an offer the Chinese did, of course, gratefully accept). One percent of Americans - with Trump as one of their most conspicuous representatives - have put their own interests ahead of the welfare of the state and thus seriously jeopardized the future status of the US as a leading world power.

Putin's Russia occupies a special position

The country does not need to search beyond its own borders for energy and raw materials, because it has both in abundance. So Russia does not need to defend raw material sources abroad as do the US and China. Nor is it forced to defend its markets, because customers for oil and gas wait at its door. In other words, Russia is highly self-sufficient.
Xi Jin Ping and Donald Trump resemble each other in that the mega-enterprises, over which they preside, stretch their sucking tentacles all over the globe. Even more than the US, China depends on the resources of other countries. Its economic interests in South America and particularly in Africa impel the government towards similarly ruthless power politics. The first Chinese military base recently built in Djibouti only marks the beginning of a foreseeable future trend. Only Putin's Russia can do without such a policy of securing raw materials. That's a remarkable difference when compared to the US and China.

The threat emanating from Russia

has other causes. It is based on the humiliation of this country after the break-up of the Soviet Union. Under the communist regime, which directed all economic life from above and completely stifled individual initiative - the most important asset of the capitalist system - the country fell far behind, eventually collapsing. The so-called reform of the Russian economy prescribed by the West and carried out by Jeffrey Sachs during the 90s led to an almost total breakdown and general impoverishment while at the same time creating an oligarchy of the super-rich who were ready to sell the country's oil fields – the only asset left at that time - to the West. It was Vladimir Putin who resisted the sell-off.
The West also took advantage of Russia's weakness when it started to sever the Ukraine from the Russian sphere of influence, according to Brzezinski's text book (The great Chessboard). For Russia this move had strategic implications as it would bring its Black Sea port Sevastopol under Western control. This project too was thwarted by Putin.
In retrospect, it must be said that the West did not help a country in need and thus made it an ally, but deliberately exploited its weakness in order to make it even weaker. In this sense, Putin is a product of wrong Western politics.
The sanctions imposed on Russia are, certainly, a reaction to acts of aggression. If war is out of the question, what else is left but economic measures, since Russia's actions in Crimea and Ukraine could not simply be tacitly accepted? But, on the other hand, Putin’s aggression was in its turn a reaction to the previous misconduct of the West.
As a matter of fact, these sanctions are quite unsuccessful. They have not significantly affected trade, only barring Russia's access to credit by Western banks. All those who believed that Russia would collapse after three or four years at the latest have been thoroughly mistaken. It testifies to Putin's statesmanship that he even managed to turn Western sanctions into a weapon against the West, for he is generally believed when calling it a conspiracy against Russia. The sanctions serve as a welcome excuse to incite his people to unconditional love and sacrifice for the Fatherland. At the same time, he succeeded - with far fewer resources than the US or China - to modernize the military machinery so that a first strike against his country would be a suicide for any aggressor. If one can trust him in the matter, present day Russia is now even superior to the US in weaponry since it has developed missiles of allegedly up to ten Mach top speed. If this is true, these new rockets can break through any defense system – a strategic advantage for Russia.

The West wanted to punish Russia

In fact, it looks as if Putin in reaction to Western punishment has sparked a will to self-assertion in his country that could well initiate a similar development as in China. Russia now focuses all its efforts on the sole goal of accelerating industrial progress. On the one hand, it achieves strength and independence vis-à-vis the outside world, while, on the other, it enlists the solidarity of its population with growing prosperity. Doing so, it seems to be looking less towards Europe with its modest growth rates than to China, which leads the world with rates between 6 to 7 percent. Nor does it surprise that in practical politics Putin again follows the East rather than nearby Europe. Opponents of Putin’s regime risk being murdered even if such cares are few when compared with China. But there remains no independent press, it has been all but strangled.

It testifies to the great ability of this man

that he fights the West with the latter’s own weapons. Russia Today is a popular forum for Western intellectuals and outsiders who have no chance of being heard in their own country. It is true that in the US or in England no one disappears in a prison for his or her opinion or is murdered at the behest of the government. In a very positive way, this trait distinguishes American plutocracy from the Russian and Chinese autocracies. A man like Noam Chomsky, who calls his own country and his government by the name of a “rogue state”, would have signed his death sentence in China as well as in Russia.
Western outsiders do not disappear and they are not killed, they are simply not heard in the official media of their country because these media belong to that one percent, which dominates politics as well as business. Putin knows this, and so he offers RT as a kind of democratic forum to Western dissidents, even though he does not tolerate any dissidents in his own country. This is, of course, a stroke of genius by which he further promotes polarization within Western countries.

If it is true that the model of the private company

is being adopted by entire states, so that they behave like mega-corporations, then we may reasonably expect the people living in them to bear more and more resemblance with men of business. A modern day German or Englishman would not have been able to communicate with a Chinese Mandarin or an Indian Brahman as these lived in completely different worlds, but scientists and CEOs speak the same language everywhere; there are hardly any differences between Englishmen, French, Chinese or Russians.
This development should be welcome, but it would be naïve to see only its positive aspects. In a company people are merely employed, they can be replaced by others at any time, and they are present not as entire human beings but serve as functions in the fulfillment of certain tasks. When states behave like companies and mutate into mere "locations", their citizens too feel like being transformed into a kind of employees, replaceable at any time and reduced to their respective functional roles. Such a development bodes ill, as it has dangerous consequences. Men definitely want to be more than just the cogs in a huge gearbox. They need enthusiasm, love, joyance, and these belong to a different sphere. In business, feelings are left behind in the cloakroom. Professionals are required to offer their technical and economic intelligence – that’s all.
When states as a whole behave like businesses, increasingly curtailing any private retreat, there is a risk that the place for this basic human dimension is becoming ever smaller, though the need for it remains, of course, undiminished. This easily leads governments to look for artificial replacements. Nationalism, is the first ersatz they usually hit upon in order to fill the vacuum. Virulent nationalism creeps into the emptiness of human beings when these function like mechanical cogs. It blows up hot emotions and binds these cogs together in an artificial community. It does not seem to be mere coincidence that nationalism in China and Russia as well as in the US of president Trump is on the rise.

People around the world are becoming ever more alike

because science and economics operate globally according to identical principles, but it does not follow that the distance between them would disappear – in fact, it does not even become substantially smaller. Scientific, technical and economic knowledge means strength - and strength is what competing states aim at just like competing companies. Indeed, they employ all means of modern industrial espionage in order to gain the strength conferred by superior knowledge. For them its primary carriers, that is scientists, researchers, engineers, are factors of power. They are so in private companies where they are required by law to guard all secrets entrusted to them, and they are even more so in a modern state-enterprise. Scientists in the Chinese military complex work exclusively for China - everything else would be considered a treason - while in Russia or the US they are just as much bound to the service of these government. Thus, the same people who resemble each other ever more because of similar professions are separated from one another by their state affiliation with definite nations.

This need not worry us,

if the US, China, and Russia were islands, or if any of these powers would be the only one to dominate the globe. In this case, people would quickly get weary of the one-sided pursuit of ever greater material wealth, their demonstration of military power would be superfluous anyway. They would be drawn to the enchantment of spiritual things, normally called culture, because there man may quench his thirst for freedom, whereas technical civilization does not provide much room for freedom as it operates like a big machine where every part must assume its specific function. Culture is the epitome of all that man is able to create and conceive beyond technical constraints. Left to itself, every society that has attained a minimum level of material welfare strives to conquer the spiritual sphere.
It is the misfortune of our time that the three superpowers are not located on separate islands, but that China and the US are superpowers with globally spreading tentacles, getting more and more in each other’s way. With only five percent of the world's population, the US consumes about twenty-five percent of fossil resources in order to realize the American dream. The Middle Kingdom is home to fifteen percent of the world's population. What share of resources will they claim for themselves in order to realize the Chinese dream? Perhaps three times as much that is seventy five percent as their population is three times as big?
These are mere speculations, but it is evident why they are not willing to end the race for greater military, economic and political power. Of all three, Putin alone would have a chance to break away from this race, all the more as Russia seems strong enough to cope with any external enemy. But Putin is obsessed with the surrounding world. He constantly measures himself and his own country against other politicians and nations, he longs for being respected, and, if that should be impossible, at least for being feared. In order to achieve this goal he seems prepared to take at least as high risks as the unpredictable Trump or the much more cautious Xi.

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