Published On: Mon, Feb 17th, 2020

There’s much to learn from China’s mobilisation in the face of crisis

CHINA has built an isolation hospital for coronavirus sufferers in six days. In the spirit of socialist emulation, the team building the Wuhan facility aimed to beat the seven-day record set in Beijing during the 2003 Sars emergency.

As this weekend’s weather events have shown, Britain is yet to set in place effective flood controls.

China is a big economy and can mobilise very considerable human and material resources. But Britain is, by comparison, a mature economy — the fifth-largest in the world — and has yet to lay the first sleeper in the second high-speed railway.

The Chinese have offered to build this disputed bit of infrastructure by the middle of the decade. It might be a good idea to suggest they take the contract to build a decent system of flood defences first and then have a crack at building HS2 top-down from the north and upgrade the regional rail system while they are at it.

Two crises, two systems. 

It is impossible for the lay person, from outside the charmed circles of experts, to make informed decisions about the feasibility or the costs of infrastructure projects of this scale. 

That is why governments have to take leadership responsibility, make the people charged with these tasks accountable and keep a sharp eye on the costs and commercial advantages that accrue for the people and enterprises involved.

The starting point for any project at the scale required to modernise Britain’s rail network (and for that matter our coastal and flood defence systems) is the human and social needs measured against the environmental and social costs of not getting on with it.

By the same token, the starting point for any response to a medical emergency of the kind presented by this new mutation of the coronavirus must be the public health priorities that it raises.

It is hard to imagine that Britain, relying on an increasingly privatised health system, a civil engineering sector dominated by large, larcenous and frequently failing firms — in many cases owned and managed by dynasties of extremely reactionary hue — to be able to either conceive of such projects, let alone carry it out to such a tight timetable.

The reason China can do this is not due to any inherent characteristics of the Chinese people, any unexplained genetic predisposition, but simply the nature of the actually existing social system.

China can mobilise these enormous social forces, can direct these immense human resources, and gain the enthusiastic human engagement of the necessary millions precisely because the commanding heights of the economy and the decisive levers of power are, in essence, socially owned and directed.

This is not to say that every aspect of the way China goes about things would go down particularly well in Britain. That being said, there is a fairly substantial constituency of opinion who might give very serious consideration to implementing the Chinese policy of shooting corrupt bankers.

And the practice of imposing powerful sanctions — including long prison sentences — on political and government officials, or the managers of enterprises guilty of negligence and corruption in their public roles is something that would represent a sea change in the way Britain deals with these matters.

Capitalism, as a system for running complex modern economies and managing advanced and modern states, continually demonstrates its redundancy.

We have powerful examples of different ways of doing things. Britain needs to find its own way to ensure that the system of ownership and control corresponds to the real needs of our people and the harmonious and productive development of our economy. It is demonstrably clear that this is not capitalism.


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Monday, February 17, 2020
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