Robert Scheer SI Podcast

Nathan Gardels: Is China Serious About Its ‘Socialist Market’?

Robert Scheer discusses the paradoxical past, present and future of the rising superpower's economic model with a fellow veteran Beijing watcher.
Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of NATO and International Security Assistance Force troops in Afghanistan, visits the 1-16th Infantry 2nd Battalion at Qalat Mangwal, Afghanistan, during a battlefield circulation, in support of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. [ U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Joshua Treadwell]

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In this week’s Scheer Intelligence podcast, host Robert Scheer discusses the paradoxical past, present and future of China’s “socialist market” economic model with Nathan Gardels, author of “It Is No Longer Glorious to Get Rich in China,” published this week by Noema, a magazine of the Berggruen Institute. Observers of the rising Asian superpower should “stop drinking the neoliberal Kool-Aid and drink the party tea” if they want to understand it, says Gardels, highlighting the longstanding tension between the Chinese Communist Party’s ideology and the fantastic capitalistic energy unleashed since Deng Xiaoping infamously promulgated the slogan “to get rich is glorious” in the 1980s. 

Today, Gardels notes, “China has more billionaires than the US, the top 1% owns 31% of the wealth of the whole country,” and China’s current leader Xi Jinping is now announcing that the rich need to start sharing the wealth in what he is calling the “third distribution.”

Scheer, who himself has been studying, visiting and writing about China since he was an econ grad student at Berkeley in the ’60s, explores with Gardels one of the biggest questions of this century: Does the most populous nation on Earth actually take Marxist-Leninism seriously? 


Robert Scheer

Joshua Scheer

[Transcript coming soon…]


  1. In his most recent podcast, “Anti Capitalist Chronicles”, Marxist Prof. David Harvey mentioned that when Marx was writing Capital, he was basing his analyses largely on English capitalism (Manchester specifically, if memory serves). From reading all three volumes, I myself noticed that America did not escape Marx’ attention; he coined the young US as still functioning as a British colony with large swaths still completely embracing slavery. But Harvey is right; Marx’ focus was by far on English capitalism. So therefore he formulated his ideas on it based on what he saw as to how England applied capitalism. Harvey said this because in order to analyze capitalism writ-large, one has to study all the various ways different countries apply it.

    Clearly China is very different, what Marx knew about England may not be applicable to China. But one thing that might not be up for debate is something Gardels mentioned, and that is the workers have to have an ownership stake in capital. In other words, a worker cooperative. If China prevents that, I’m not sure how far their current experiment will go.

    I must disagree with Gardels, in that our complete misunderstanding or even ignorance of China will somehow spell trouble for America. Perhaps to some degree, but the biggest reasons we are in deep trouble have little to do with China. The reason America is in major trouble isn’t because it doesn’t understand China; it’s because it doesn’t understand itself. Since the beginning, America has marinated its collective brain in complete myth and fairy tale, and the stark reality of America is now setting in. The chickens may be coming home to roost, we’ll see. While the Afghanistan pullout might be a sign of the collapse of empire (private mercy are or will be replacing troops so it’s not really over), the fact is this isn’t the first bad loss America has endured. Robert correctly mentioned Vietnam, and America, through severing its currency from gold in 1971, bought some more time. To my recollection, America hasn’t outright won a war since 1945. We’re the Notre Dame of geopolitics.

    I’d say that if there was a clear sign of a permanent military contraction, that would be the end of the Cuban embargo.

  2. I don’t like the formulation that everyone should be provided “a capital stream of income, a share of ownership” in the economy. Better Henry Miller’s: the only hope is a monelyess society.

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