By Michael Hudson and posted with special permission.
In a Financial Times op-ed, “Investors in Xi’s China face a rude awakening” (August 30, 2021), George Soros writes that Xi’s “crackdown on private enterprise shows he does not understand the market economy. … Xi Jinping, China’s leader, has collided with economic reality. His crackdown on private enterprise has been a significant drag on the economy.”
Translated out of Orwellian Doublethink, the “crackdown on private enterprise” means cutting back on what the classical economists called rent-seeking and unearned income. As for its supposed “drag on the economy,” Mr. Soros means the economy’s polarization concentrating wealth and income in the hands of the richest One Percent.
Soros lays out his plan for how U.S. retaliation may punish China by withholding U.S. funding of its companies (as if China cannot create its own credit) until China capitulates and imposes the kind of deregulation and de-taxation that Russia did after 1991. He warns that China will suffer depression by saving its economy along socialist lines and resisting U.S.-style privatization and its associated debt deflation.
Mr. Soros does recognize that China’s “most vulnerable sector is real estate, particularly housing. China has enjoyed an extended property boom over the past two decades, but that is now coming to an end. Evergrande, the largest real estate company, is over-indebted and in danger of default. This could cause a crash.” By that, he means a reduction of housing prices. That’s just what is needed in order to deter land becoming a speculative vehicle. I and others have urged a policy of land taxation in order to collect the land’s rising site value, so that it will not be pledged to banks for mortgage credit to further inflate china’s housing prices.
Warning about the economic consequences of China’s falling birth rate, Soros writes: “One of the reasons why middle-class families are unwilling to have more than one child is that they want to make sure that their children will have a bright future.” This is of course true of every advanced nation today. It is most extreme in the neoliberalized countries, e.g., the Baltics and Ukraine – Soros’s poster countries.
Soros gives his game away by stating that “Xi does not understand how markets operate.” What he means is that President Xi rejects rapacious rent-seeking, exploitative free-for-all, and shapes markets to serve overall prosperity for China’s 99 Percent. “As a consequence, the sell-off was allowed to go too far,” Soros continues. What he means is, too far to maintain the dominance of the One Percent. China is seeking to reverse economic polarization, not intensify it.
Soros claims that China’s socialist policies are hurting its objectives in the world. But what he really is complaining about is that it is hurting America’s neoliberal objectives for how it had hoped to make money for itself off China. This leads Soros to remind Western pension fund managers to “allocate their assets in ways that are closely aligned with the benchmarks against which their performance is measured.” But the tragedy of financializing pensions is that fund managers are rated on making money financially – in ways that hurt the industrial economy by promoting financial engineering instead of industrial engineering.
“Almost all of them claim that they factor environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) standards into their investment decisions,” Soros writes. At least, that’s what their public relations advisors advertise. Exxon claims to be cleaning up the environment by expanding offshore oil drilling in Guyana, etc. As for “social standards,” the neoliberal mantra is trickle-down economics: by making our stock prices rise, by stock buybacks and higher dividend payouts, we are helping wage-earners earn a pension, even though we are offshoring and de-industrializing the economy, de-unionizing it and “freeing” the economy from consumer and workplace protection laws.
Soros has a radical solution, which he suggests “should obviously apply to the performance benchmarks selected by pensions and other retirement portfolios: … The US Congress should pass a bipartisan bill explicitly requiring that asset managers invest only in companies where actual governance structures are both transparent and aligned with stakeholders.”
Wow. Such a bill would block Americans from investing in many American companies whose behavior is not at all aligned with stakeholders. What proportion: 50%? 75? More?
“If Congress were to enact these measures,” Soros concludes, “it would give the Securities and Exchange Commission the tools it needs to protect American investors, including those who are unaware of owning Chinese stocks and Chinese shell companies. That would also serve the interests of the US and the wider international community of democracies.” So Mr. Soros wants to block the United States from investing in China. He seems not to see that this is President Xi’s objective also: China doesn’t need U.S. dollars, and is in fact de-dollarizing.
George Soros is obviously upset that President Xi is not Boris Yeltsin, and that China is not following the kleptocracy dependency that warped Russia’s economy. Soros thought the ending of the Cold War would simply let him buy up the most lucrative rent-yielding assets, as he has aimed to do in the Baltics and Ukraine. China said “No,” so it is not deemed to be a “market economy,” Soros-style. It has not made its social organization marketable, and has avoided the financial dependency that makes “markets” a vehicle for U.S. control via sanctions and foreign buyouts.