So last week, Market-Leninism reached its moment of synthesis:
After the excitement of Friday’s initial public offering, shares in Alibaba, China’s biggest e-commerce company, slipped back a bit on Monday. At the closing bell on Wall Street, the stock was trading just below ninety dollars, down more than four per cent from its closing price on Friday. But that still left Alibaba’s market capitalization above two hundred and twenty billion dollars, which means the market reckons that the company is more valuable than Facebook or Amazon.
The business case for investment is that Alibaba and its various subsidiaries are the means by which millions of people in China buy and sell things to and from each other. The business case against involves things like opaque ownership structures, but these sound like quibbles compared to palpable levels of essentially political unease.
The Chinese internet is arguably not only the most rigorously policed online environment in the world, but the most rigorously policed space full stop. An important element of the critique of Chinese internet management is that it crushes innovation, the free flow of ideas and hence the ability of local companies to develop and compete on the world stage and so on. Round these parts we've always considered this to be nonsense, but there it is, and moreover the internet-freedom-business-prosperity ideological quadrilateral is an essential component of the United States' general offer to the world.
Anyway, China's apparently stifling environment has now produced what investors in the NYSE have determined is the world's most valuable company. And in Jack Ma, it's also produced an entrepreneur in the classic mould, whose every babble and belch on mission and personal development and leadership and customer value and the rest of it is treated with Pavlovian flattery.
So China's comprehensive unfreedom has not only produced the most valuable company in the world's most happening sector, it has produced a 'business leader' of the sort usually considered an American archetype, and, more generally, as a characteristic product of freedom.
Mr Ma does, naturally, have those famous Chinese characteristics. His personal philosophy might be as repellent as any business prophet, but gems like this:
You are poor because you do not have the desire to become successful
You are poor because you lack foresight
You are poor because you cannot overcome your cowardice
You are poor because you lack the courage and determination.
aside from being a fairly standard part of the 'succeed and grow rich' school of homiletics, are also reminiscent of the kind of slogans that cadres used to paint on village walls during the early reform period. He is also on record as stating that the Tiananmen massacre was just the sort of decision that you'd expect a wise, tough-minded chief executive to take. I suspect this is a position fairly widely held in the wider Chinese business community; as we hear more from them, so we will hear more of it.
Anyway, to recap: The repressive architecture of China has now developed the world's most valuable company. It consists of a vast pyramid of atomised small groups and individuals entirely bent on accumulation, without the distraction of competing ideas. A process of complete depoliticisation gets a ringing endorsement from investors via the New York Stock exchange. There's no clearer statement of where China wants to be in the world, and no more depressing evidence of its success.
And just think of the appeal across both the political and business wings of the wider overclass. No distraction from competing political and economic ideas. No need to fund and generate thought that justifies existing hierarchies, or make electronic money transfers to ostensibly competing political parties. Just authority presiding serene and unchallenged over a striving pyramid of self-reliance. I may be exaggerating a bit, but I think China, through the agency of a billionaire Mark E Smith lookalike, may have just put its offer for the shape of the 21st century on the table.