Tuesday, October 21, 2014

China's man in Hong Kong explains the problem with democracy – It's a threat to capitalism

As reported by AFP:
Hong Kong's Beijing-backed leader Leung Chun-ying told media that if the government met pro-democracy protesters' demands it would result in the city's poorer people dominating elections.

In an interview with foreign media, carried in the Wall Street Journal and International New York Times, the embattled chief executive reiterated his position that free elections were impossible. [....]

Leung said that if candidates were nominated by the public then the largest sector of society would likely dominate the electoral process.

"If it's entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you'd be talking to the half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than US$1,800 a month," Leung said in comments published by the WSJ and INYT. [....]

His quotes also echo that of Wang Zhenmin, a well-connected scholar and regular advisor to Beijing.

Wang said recently that greater democratic freedom in the semi-autonomous city must be balanced against the city's powerful business elite who would have to share their "slice of the pie" with voters.

"The business community is in reality a very small group of elites in Hong Kong who control the destiny of the economy in Hong Kong. If we ignore their interests, Hong Kong capitalism will stop (working)," he said in August. [....]
The argument that democracy is dangerous because it means mob rule by the ignorant unwashed masses—or rule by unscrupulous and even tyrannical demagogues who can manipulate those masses—is a very old one, going back to classical antiquity. (Such concerns can't simply be dismissed as groundless, by the way, even if we disagree with the anti-democratic conclusions.) A more specific version of this argument, warning that political democracy is disastrous because it threatens the basic requirements of a capitalist market economy, was made quite often throughout the 19th and into the early 20th century. Even in countries with regimes of elected representative government, it provided a strong rationale for restricting voting rights to the affluent and well-educated.

For better or worse, history seems to have demonstrated that such claims about the fundamental incompatibility of political democracy and the capitalist market economy—whether offered by critics of democracy or critics of capitalism—were exaggerated. Yes, there are inherent tensions between them, but on the whole that's a good thing. When democracy is genuinely working, it should provide a countervailing force against the unhampered logic of the market and the interests of economic elites. Our situation in the US right now is enough to make it clear, unfortunately, that giving poor and working-class people the formal right to vote (with perhaps a little voter suppression at the margins) is quite compatible with capitalism, increasing economic inequality, and excessive government solicitude for plutocratic interests.

It's true that some pro-plutocratic and market-fundamentalist ideologues still share that 19th-century fear of the perils of democracy, and occasionally some billionaire will blurt this out in an unguarded interview. But in most western societies, people who hold these views can't state them as openly and straightforwardly as they could have in the 19th century. Rather than explicitly stating that democracy poses a threat to capitalism, and thus to the foundations of prosperity and civilization, they have to formulate these ideas more euphemistically and with various circumlocutions.

In some other parts of the world, however, those anti-democratic arguments can still be made publicly with refreshing honesty.

—Jeff Weintraub

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Agence France-Presse (AFP)
October 21, 2014
Hong Kong leader: Democracy would see poor people dominate vote

Hong Kong's Beijing-backed leader Leung Chun-ying told media that if the government met pro-democracy protesters' demands it would result in the city's poorer people dominating elections.

In an interview with foreign media, carried in the Wall Street Journal and International New York Times, the embattled chief executive reiterated his position that free elections were impossible.

Demonstrators have paralysed parts of Hong Kong with mass rallies and road blockades for more than three weeks, in one of the biggest challenges to Beijing's authority since the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests of 1989.

Leung's comments were published just hours before talks between senior government officials and student leaders to end the impasse are scheduled to take place later on Tuesday.

China has offered Hong Kongers the chance to vote for their next leader in 2017. But only those vetted by a committee expected to be loyal to Beijing will be allowed to stand -- something protesters have labelled as "fake democracy".

Leung said that if candidates were nominated by the public then the largest sector of society would likely dominate the electoral process.

"If it's entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you'd be talking to the half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than US$1,800 a month," Leung said in comments published by the WSJ and INYT.

Semi-autonomous Hong Kong has one of the biggest income divides in the world, with growing discontent at increased inequality and exorbitant property prices fuelling the protests which turned increasingly violent at the end of last week.

There are fears any further clashes between police and protesters could derail Tuesday's discussions.

Leung's latest comments are likely to further fuel the anger of protesters who see him as hapless, out of touch and pandering to the whims of a small number of tycoons who dominate the financial hub.

His quotes also echo that of Wang Zhenmin, a well-connected scholar and regular advisor to Beijing.

Wang said recently that greater democratic freedom in the semi-autonomous city must be balanced against the city's powerful business elite who would have to share their "slice of the pie" with voters.

"The business community is in reality a very small group of elites in Hong Kong who control the destiny of the economy in Hong Kong. If we ignore their interests, Hong Kong capitalism will stop (working)," he said in August.

Leung played down expectations ahead of the long-delayed talks with student leaders that will be broadcast live.

"We are not quite sure what they will say... at the session," he said.

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