In a world battered by debt and speculation crises the Chinese economic miracle remains one of the few bright spots on the horizon of traditional economists. There is a preoccupation in the ‘dismal science’ (as Victorian historian Thomas Carlyle dubbed economics) with all things Chinese that can add or knock off hundreds of points on global stock markets on any particular day.
The exchange rate of the yuan, the latest Chinese inflation numbers and how they affect interest charges, issues of intellectual property rights or protectionism have become the daily fare of the economic tea-leaf- readers. But what has been left out of this calculus until recently is the price of labour.
Now Chinese workers are starting to change all that as they organize against a system that treats them as cheap and expendable commodities. China’s workers are announcing the end of the cheap labour model that has fuelled the biggest manufacturing boom in history.
Spreading out from the Pearl River Delta in South China to the rest of the country is a movement that even the draconian censors of the Communist Party cannot keep quiet. In this edition we listen to what these workers have to say, particularly to Western consumers so hungry for inexpensive Chinese clothes and electronics. ‘At what cost?’ they demand to know.
Elsewhere in this issue Mark Engler tackles the $700 billion US military budget and questions why even the hint of a suggestion of a cut (at a time when many citizens must tighten their belts) is so taboo.
We also return to the Yasuní National Park, to find out how Ecuador’s bold plan to leave its oil in the ground – in return for compensation from the international community – is faring.
Richard Swift for the New Internationalist co-operative.