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The Gates to Hell
by Dan Raphael
February 9, 2005

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Speaking in code is one of the ways evil pays homage to virtue.  Not willing to quite come right out and express his enthusiasm for the inhuman working conditions and corresponding suffering that the Chinese government’s labor policies entail, Bill Gates burbles about how working people in China do “not quite” have the legal or medical “overhead” that exists in the United States.  “Overhead,” as we know, is the cost of doing business that any enterprise must factor into its operating plans and daily routine.  What this means in legal and medical terms—the ones just cited by Mr. Gates—is that working people in the United States have legal protections limiting the hours and conditions in which they can be worked, dangers to which they are exposed, and provision of avenues for appeal when these protections are violated.  Medical “overhead” means that a (diminishing) portion of the workforce in the United States is provided varying kinds and degree of medical coverage by their employers, insurance intended to protect them in the case of catastrophic injury or disease, and corresponding encouragement to seek regular, preventive examination. 

Mr. Gates is enthusiastic that these impediments to business do not fetter the flow of profits in the Chinese mainland.  He is correct in his perception, but his stated belief that this represents a new form of capitalism, is flatly false.  While evocative of the good old days of primitive capitalism enjoyed by Robber Barons and industrialists who counted human lives as simply disposable elements in a mathematical calculation of investment, these practices are in fact neither a throwback nor new.  They describe the routine operation of business in places located across the sweatshop floor dubbed the Third World:

[T]he workers' stories have a certain mesmerizing sameness:  the workday is long--fourteen hours in Sri Lanka, twelve hours in Indonesia, sixteen in Southern China, twelve in the Philippines.  The vast majority of the workers are women, always young, always working for contractors or subcontractors from Korea, Taiwan, or Hong Kong.  The contractors are usually filling orders for companies based in the U.S., Britain, Japan, Germany, or Canada.  The management is military-style, the supervisors often abusive, the wages below subsistence, and the work low-skill and tedious. (1)

Mr. Gates has no objections to fetters, so long as they are placed on the “right” limbs.  Indeed, he positively rhapsodizes about those “really smart” rulers of the Chinese mainland:

“They have this mericratic way of picking people for these government posts where you rotate into the university and really think about state allocation of resources and the welfare of the country and then you rotate back into some bureaucratic position.

“This generation of leaders is so smart, so capable, from the top down, particularly from the top down.” (2)

Perhaps it would be instructive, at another time, to recount how these unelected “smart” people have attained their current state of power and wealth, a process described by one well-known Chinese journalist (who had to flee the country) as “an unprecedented plundering of the Chinese economy.”  (3)  Such an examination might help explain why Bill Gates so closely identifies with these people.  Their “meritocratic” rise was achieved via routine, daily suppression of dissent, including beatings, summary execution, and often imprisonment of employees at places of work serving the dual role of dormitory--places from which the employees were not allowed to leave during their off hours.  Though no longer deemed of sufficient interest to the prime-time reports of news corporations, repression continues today.  (4)  Also worth mention in explaining the ascension of these fine people to positions of power is the two-track legal system in China with parallel court, one run by and for the members of the Communist Party and their family members.  When their corruption and flaunting of existing laws falls afoul even of authorities who try to look the other way, the Party courts provide correspondingly light sentences or outright let-offs for crimes that would likely be severely punished in the courts reserved for the commoners.

No wonder Mr. Gates is so enthusiastic about the misnamed “new” capitalism of mainland China.  He hopes to ingratiate himself—by one means or another—with the rulers of the Chinese mainland, its frontier economy representing a potential killing floor where working people’s lives can be straightforwardly rendered into numbers in bank accounts.  This is the sort of “freedom” an ultra-wealthy entrepreneur can readily understand!

For the Chinese people themselves, the reality is less rosy.  In an earlier period, when the Party was still guarded about the prospects for itself posed by large-scale foreign investment in the mainland, it was correspondingly more candid about the human cost implicit in the capitalist version of a “miracle economy.”  The Workers’ Daily, the Communist Party’s official voice, noted that “…sometimes, heaven is only a step away from hell.” (5)  They ought to know, since the context of this comment was the then-current death of more than 80 young women in a factory within one of the foreign-investment “special economic zones” where a fire found them trapped in their place of work—locked from the outside, as so many of these de facto prisons still are today.  The difference now is that the Western press has relaxed its interest and coverage in human rights violations in the increasingly “good” China run by the plunderers Mr. Gates understands so very well.  As often happens, the gates to hell are paved with profitable investments.

Dan Raphael has been an activist since the Vietnam war was heating up, and is a member of the Green Party of the United States.


(1)  No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, by Naomi Klein, Picador USA, New York, 2000, page 205.





Other Articles by Dan Raphael

* The Knave of Diamonds
* Baboons, Troops, and GI Resistance
* A Star of Liberation
* Get Off Your Knees!