The Ho Chi Minh City Statement

I knew it couldn't last. After being pleasantly surprised by last week's Chavez cover story in The Nation, I see (via Arts & Letters Daily) that Katrina and Co. have published a Vietnam travelogue from ex-student radical, ex-husband of Jane Fonda and ex-state senator Tom Hayden. Hayden's nostalgia trip—during which he casually refers to the brutal communist takeover of South Vietnam as a "liberation"—is what one would expect: a full-throated denunciation of the economic liberalization undertaken by the "still-undefeated Communist Party." (Well, they don't have free elections, so they can't be defeated that way.)

Hayden is as slippery as ever, writing that it is hardly his business "to question the desire of Vietnamese to share our globalized consumer culture like everyone else"...and then procedes to question the desire of the Vietnamese to share our globalized culture like everyone else.

Long one of the world's poorest nations, Vietnam is now the fastest growing economy in Asia, with annual growth of 7 percent in 2007. Despite this, The Wall Street Journal's 2008 Index of Economic Freedom ranks Vietnam 25th out of 30 countries in the region—and 135th overall. (Hong Kong, by contrast, ranks number one.) It's fairly obvious to everyone but Hayden that what Vietnam needs is not more government intervention in the economy but significantly less.

All of this growth, Hayden writes, "has come at the price of rising inequalities." Rather than the whole country living in grinding poverty, now only some do. (See the graph below, created using the indispensible website Gapminder). Poverty has been significantly reduced as a result of Vietnam's partial embrace of markets and introduction of mild economic reforms. But behind every silver lining, Hayden finds a dark cloud: "[G]rowth has created catastrophic problems of infrastructure, traffic congestion and pollution." Traffic congestion? Recall that in 1979 Joan Baez, supported by concerned antiwar activists like Allen Ginsberg and Norman Lear, took out full-page advertisements in five major American papers appealing to the government of Vietnam to stop brutalizing, torturing and "reeducating" its citizens. Hayden and Fonda refused to sign the document. And now he's bitching about traffic congestion and pollution.

There are those, Hayden writes, who "must take pleasure at seeing that country in the camp of corporate neoliberalism," like, one could imagine, the long-suffering Vietnamese people. But, he adds, there are "Some in Hanoi are dismayed by all this. An American expatriate, Gerry Herman, a former antiwar activist turned businessman and film distributor who has lived in Vietnam for fifteen years..." Indeed, the only people Hayden can find who are "dismayed" by rising standards of living are—surprise—a grizzled veteran of the anti-war movement who relocted to Vietnam and, cited later in the article, a handful of doddering dead-enders from the Vietnamese Communist Party.

There might be restrictions on Internet usage and private newspapers are censored, he writes, but "institutional controls have been steadily relaxed since the 1970s, with none of the uprisings that accompanied the fall of Soviet or Eastern European Communism." Hayden, who, as far as I can tell, doesn't speak Vietnamese, says that "In an observation I shared, [American expatriate Lady] Borton described Vietnam as ‘a place of constant talk, all the time, and they talk freely.'" This is, by any objective measure, a gross oversimplification. An hour or so after reading Hayden's piece, while trawling the Scandinavian news websites, I noticed this story about a Norwegian parliamentarian expelled from Vietnam for meeting with a dissident journalist. The latest dossier on Vietnam from Reporters without Borders, for instance, remarks that "The political police continued in 2007 what it had begun at the end of 2006: a relentless battle against opposition movements and dissident publications." Nor do the other section headings in the report inspire confidence: "Stalinist trials against dissidents"; "Return of the ‘popular courts'"; "A French journalist detained for ‘terrorism'"; "A press under supervision."

Hayden seems to have his finger on the pulse of modern Vietnam, making a number of sweeping generalizations that, if he doesn't speak Vietnamese, would be impossible to quantify: "Not many Vietnamese today think of the war with America with [writer] Bao Ninh's profound cynicism...the American war is perceived as a necessity forced on Vietnam by invading powers...Vietnamese take pride in having defeated so many great powers and feel deeply about their losses. There is a suppressed anger that they were willing to join the search for American MIAs while the United States and Monsanto refuse to take responsibility for Agent Orange." It is likely that some (or perhaps even all) of these statements are true. But Hayden doesn't entertain the possibility that the Vietnamese want more globalization, faster. He doesn't, after all, speak to any ordinary members of the "Vietnamese working class" (his phrase), choosing instead to blather about a betrayed revolution with aging apparatchiks.

While Hayden has largely abandoned the hard radicalism of his youth, he doesn't consider that a majority of Vietnamese were born after the war ended--and they are clearly embracing the "consumer culture" he finds so loathsome.

(Bonus quote: During those heady days of "revolution" and internecine ideological warfare on the left, the socialist critic Irving Howe expressed disgust at Hayden's fanaticism, writing that "if [Hayden] had the power and believed it necessary, he wouldn't hesitate to put me up against the wall and have me shot. That done, he might shed a tear for my miscreant social democratic soul.")

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  • ||

    Mother taught me that "If you acn't say something good about someone, don't say anything at all.

    Damn, Tom Hayden is a fucking ignorant asswipe!
    In a nice, ignorant asswipe, kind of way.

    It's the best I can do, Mom.

  • ||

    Mr. Moynihan, at first I thought you a bit of a right-winger crank (or perhaps a satanic/pagan black metaller type)but I really enjoy watching you rip new assholes for various obnoxious liberals. Bravo!

  • Joel||

    Met Haydn once in the early '70's. He was a dick then, too.

  • Joel||

    er...mispelled his name that time, too.

  • ||

    That GOP handle was really the dumbass J sub D.

  • Colin||

    I once read that Hayden divorced Fonda because he was too depressed after Bush I beat Dukakis.

  • ||

    I just got back from Vietnam and there is a huge disparity between rich and poor. The poverty over there is just soul crushing. But the rich are not the emerging capitalists, it is the government workers. A street policeman will pull over a car and take a twenty dollar payment in lieu of writing a ticket. I am not sure how much of this he has to kick up, but in a country where the average salary is about one hundred dollars a month, policemen are some of the wealthiest people in the country.

  • ||

    Just think,it could have been S. Korea too.

  • ||

    Why does the growth rate chart show the growth trend starting a half-dozen years before the "market-based reforms" and continuing on the same trend afterwards?

  • ||

    I sincerely hope that Tom Hayden gets slapped silly by a group of Vietnamese citizens before he dies.

    -jcr

  • ||

    joe, surely you're not so stupid as to extrapolate a "growth trend" in a five-year hiccup in the data?
    Note, stupid (and here I'm abandoning my "surely you're not so stupid" theory) that there were several other and even more significant bumps along that line long before the market-based reforms.
    You're just so .... so .... Episiarch, help me. Can I call him a fuckwad?

  • ||

    joe, you fool, market comes from marcātus, which means "traffic".

  • Stephen||

    But behind every silver lining, Hayden finds a dark cloud: "[G]rowth has created catastrophic problems of infrastructure, traffic congestion and pollution." Traffic congestion?

    Right, because I'm sure traffic infrastructure is a totally free-market phenomenon in Vietnam. Nope, no signs of statism there! Because if the US has been doing it for a hundred years, it must be capitalism...right???

  • ||

    Joe,
    That graph is showing incomes, not growth. The point on the graph where Vietnam introduced market based reforms is not the entire point of the graph, just a gimme. The point of the graph is to refute Hayden's claims that a move towards free markets has been a bad thing because of inequality and traffic congestion. It serves it's purpose because personal income is an excellent indicator of quality of life.

  • ||

    Pinette,

    It's median incomes, right?

    If the growth is a skewed as Hayden contends, it might not show up on such a graph.

    Yes, Mr. Kelly, like every economist in the world, I consider five years of data all pointing in the same direction to be suggestive. Call us crazy...

  • ||

    joe,

    that is a good question. I don't know the answer, but I suspect the high inflation that accompanied this five year period means the economy had a temporary bump as the government printed more money. Over the last fifteen years, they have been able to sustain the growth levels with single digit inflation.

    The question I have for you is: if the economy was booming and the leaders thought it was in any way sustainable, why would they loosen their grip on power?

  • ||

    Joe, I'm pretty sure that graph is showing the percentage of people living below $1 a day.

  • ||

    I'd guess that rebuilding their cities was responsible for the growth before the reforms. Not that I really know anything about Vietnam that didn't come from reading Marine Sniper.

  • ||

    I can't find it on the gapminder site. but ppps sounds like it's talking about purchasing power parity which is a personal income index.

  • Kolohe||

    Keep in mind that the vertical axis is on a log scale, so the bump before 1986 is even less than the slope would intuitively indicate.

  • ||

    Yes, Mr. Kelly, like every economist in the world, I consider five years of data all pointing in the same direction to be suggestive. Call us crazy...

    Did joe just call himself an economist? Cuz I was under the impression he was an unemployed land use planner with a Pol/Sci degree from Georgetown.

  • ||

    Gimme Back My Dog,

    I think it's indisputable that the leadership thought they would see better economic growth if they adopted China-style reforms. That's certainly what happened in China.

    It's just odd to see a chart offered as evidence that A caused B, when it shows B starting before A.

    Did joe just call himself an economist? Cuz I was under the impression he was an unemployed land use planner with a Pol/Sci degree from Georgetown. Precisely!

    Well, except for the "called himself an economist" part. And the "unemployed" part. And the "land use planner" part. And the "poli sci" degree part. And the "Georgetown" part.

    But, hey, those mistakes aside, boy, you really got me!

  • ||

    Joe is right.

    The small 3-4 year bump and the 1-2 year plateau before the reforms showed real improvements in peoples lives the huge spike afterwards is capitalist growth and therefor all bad.

  • ||

    Wow, taking an 0 for 5 and turning it into an 0 for 8!

    You ARE impressive, joshua.

    Is anyone else having joshua's browser problems? He keeps seeing stuff.

  • Paul||

    Why does the growth rate chart show the growth trend starting a half-dozen years before the "market-based reforms" and continuing on the same trend afterwards?

    Yeah, because we all know that undemocratic communist regimes with planned economies always have good economic results.

  • ||

    So, basically, the only answer I'm getting is "what a terrible person you are for noticing that!"

    Figures.

  • ||

    joe sez: - "Why does the growth rate chart show the growth trend starting a half-dozen years before the "market-based reforms" and continuing on the same trend afterwards?"

    Easy - Blackmarket

  • ||

    So, basically, the only answer I'm getting is "what a terrible person you are for noticing that!"

    You could always go back and look at French occupation and point out the steady growth it was achieving before the commies started whining.

    That trend is nearly 15 years.

    But I guess instead of being "terrible" we would be calling you a "monster".

  • ||

    If only Gapminder offered data in spreadsheets like everyone else...

    It looks like growth was starting to sputter right before the reforms, but I can't tell for sure in that graph. And, if it wasn't, why fix something that isn't broken, specially when the fix involves copying the hated Chinese?

  • ||

    joe, Pinette, Paul, joshua corning, Warty, Kalohe and GBMD -

    Hey, the whole point of the post is to point out that Tom Hayden is a useless, socialist, hippie, commie, longhaired, refugee from the '60s, Haight Ashbury, unwashed, dumbass.

    Hey Tom! Yeah you, moron! They have traffic congestion because they now have fuckin' cars!

  • ||

    And, was the earlier growth more than just a bounce-back effect?

  • ||

    You could always go back and look at French occupation and point out the steady growth it was achieving before the commies started whining.

    You meant "winning."

    And yes, I could. I could observe that the same steady growth can be seen under the mercantile, colonial regime as can be seen in the period after the late 70s.

    Which would seem to suggest that the growth is the normal state, when the country isn't a warzone.

  • ||

    Hey Tom! Yeah you, moron! They have traffic congestion because they now have fuckin' cars!

    LOL! Quite right. Some people, they pick a side, and they throw any principles, evidence, or reason right out the window. That "No Enemies on the Left" nonsense that people like Hayden indulged in will suck the brains right out of you.

  • ||

    Which would seem to suggest that the growth is the normal state

    I agree with joe again...we don't need communists to see growth. In fact they tend to start growth harming wars.

  • ||

    Well, sure, joshua, but you rarely see communists making much trouble in places that are happy, prosperous, and peaceful to begin with.

    You know what the communists do in Italy when they win municipal elections? They provide good public transit, pick up the trash, and put in traffic calming on neighborhood streets.

    Now, you take your colonial-era Vietnam, or your World War One-era Russia - that's when your commies turn into a real pain in the rear.

  • ||

    joe, that's an interesting observation that I have no explanation for. It's more than stupid to claim that there can't be economic growth under communism - hell, look at China, they were growing rapidly well before they began to reform their economy.
    Maybe it's a "broken windows" bump of some sort, the country was pretty fucked after the war and it's not surprising that the rebuilding created jobs and new opportunities.

  • alan||

    Joshua,

    Which would seem to suggest that the growth is the normal state

    I agree with joe again...we don't need communists to see growth. In fact they tend to start growth harming wars.


    Why would you miss an oportunity to blame the French when what occurred, even the rise of Communism in Vietnam, is their fault?

  • Matt Schiavenza||

    I disagreed with just about everything Hayden wrote, but here's a nitpick with Michael's wording: the Communist takeover of South Vietnam was both brutal and a "liberation", as for the first time since before French colonization Vietnam was united and free of foreign occupation.

    In Vietnam, as in China, support for the Communist movement had more to do with nationalist reasons than with orthodox Marxism. Which didn't stop the Communists from enacting brutal, destructive policies in both countries, of course.

  • ||

    Hey Tom! Yeah you, moron! They have traffic congestion because they now have fuckin' cars!

    Actually, they have congestion because they now have fuckin' motorbikes (baby steps, baby steps)

    youtube "Ho Chi Minh City traffic" if you want to see what a million motorbikes in a city where no one follows traffic laws would look like.

  • ||

    Maybe it's a "broken windows" bump of some sort, the country was pretty fucked after the war and it's not surprising that the rebuilding created jobs and new opportunities.

    Do you mean to say that the 50% growth Iraq experienced in 2005 wasn't due to the policies of AEI interns?

  • Tom Hayden||

    I sucked Jane Fonda's dick.

  • ||

    "just got back from Vietnam and there is a huge disparity between rich and poor. The poverty over there is just soul crushing. But the rich are not the emerging capitalists, it is the government workers. A street policeman will pull over a car and take a twenty dollar payment in lieu of writing a ticket. I am not sure how much of this he has to kick up, but in a country where the average salary is about one hundred dollars a month, policemen are some of the wealthiest people in the country."

    Nigeria is no different.

  • ||

    I wonder if Hayden participates in the global consumerist culture?
    Surely while he's clicking his tongue over
    poor Vietnamese trying to improve their
    lives, he couldn't be living his own in the same
    way? He eats rice 3 meals a day and lives in a grass
    hut, right?

  • ||


    The poverty over there is just soul crushing. But the rich are not the emerging capitalists, it is the government workers.


    Look at government compensation trends in the US. Government workers are the new salaried upper class.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    Gimme Back My Dog,

    I spent three weeks in Saigon last may. Was with my wife who was born there but came here (political refugee) in 1989.

    The poverty over there is just soul crushing. But the rich are not the emerging capitalists, it is the government workers. A street policeman will pull over a car and take a twenty dollar payment in lieu of writing a ticket.

    I take you spent most of your time in Hanoi and places north?

    The corrupt police problem is rampant in Hanoi and the north, but not so much at all down in Saigon.

    The poverty is soul crushing. But in the south you will find business men who are making their own way too. The way you describe the economy, is what I saw much more in the north (where the communists have been in control longer). The south is different.

    Of course they also have big mafia problems up in the north too.

    youtube "Ho Chi Minh City traffic" if you want to see what a million motorbikes in a city where no one follows traffic laws would look like.

    :) Only a million? What's amazing is that they drive without traffic laws, and they still get where they want to go.

    And you have to tell me, what kinds of amazing things did you see Vietnamese carrying on motorbikes (they really aren't motorcycles by American standards). I saw:

    1) a family of five can go to the movies in the evening, on one bike

    2) you can carry all the materials needed to erect a skyscraper -- including concrete and I beams -- on a motorbike

    3) you can, in fact, tie four very fat, very much alive Vietnamese pigs onto the back of a motorbike, along with your five year old daughter, and go half way across Saigon to the market place


    But Hayden doesn't entertain the possibility that the Vietnamese want more globalization, faster. He doesn't, after all, speak to any ordinary members of the "Vietnamese working class"

    Hayden is an idiot. I did talk to many ordinary (and catagorically bitter) members of the Vietnamese working class, who do in fact resent their poverty. And they blame their government for their poverty.

    Even in the north, the Vietnamese people call the communists "they". Just to give you some gage of how "popular" the communist regime is over there (/sarcasm/).

    Until around 2000, they had to buy and sell almost everything on the black market because government prohibited them from owning or running even small shops. Now they can own businesses, at least some types. But the government still owns and runs (horribly inefficiently) the industrial backbone of the country.

    Vietnam has the capacity to become an economic power house. But not until and unless the government gets its fat ass out of the way and lets them work.

    Odd and curious oberservation: I found that native Vietnamese people are more in tune with libertarian economics than most Americans. Hell, the Vietnamese would come up to me (complete strangers) and just want to talk about it, and how horrible it was that their economy wasn't free.

    Now, if we could find some way to swap Vietnam and Mexico, I'd be down there at the border waving traffic to head north. Hell, I'd donate to charities that transported people to come to the US. These people know how to make money if you'll just let them run.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    Most of the tourists I met in Vietnam were Vietnamese, either from south California or Australia. It about blew my mind to hear Vietnamese people speaking English with a mixed Vietnamese-Australian accent.


    The Vietnamese people I met were predominantly bitter, and their bitterness is directed at their own government, for the lack of economic freedom they have. They are accutely aware of their poverty, and also aware that it somehow isn't necessary for them to be so poor.

    Hayden is an idiot who knows not what he speaks of.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    btw, Vietnam today is benefiting from all the Vietnamese who escaped after '75. Because that's who makes up the vast bulk of Vietnam's growing tourist industry. That, and Vietnam is where Australians go on vacation since the Bali bombing.

  • bill||

    Thank god the Asians can't get their politico/economic act together or they'd take over the world and we'd all be speaking Chinese.

  • ||

    Can't an economy grow, without market reforms, if there's basically no where to go but up, if new technology creates new industries, if there's a healthy black market, if a war ends or is ending and/or some of those things are happening in combination? (along with other economic activity I haven't thought of). I don't think the government has to initiate market reforms for economies to grow.

  • ||

    In Vietnam, as in China, support for the Communist movement had more to do with nationalist reasons than with orthodox Marxism. Which didn't stop the Communists from enacting brutal, destructive policies in both countries, of course.

    It's only when there are such pre-existing conditions of brutality and destruction that Communists can gain any sort of traction at all. WW1 Russia and Germany. WW2 China. Strongman-era Latin America. When the background political culture is peaceful and decent, the people who might have become communists, or at least put up with them, become Social Democrats or American-style liberals instead. See Sweden, or Canada.

  • alisa||

    "Odd and curious oberservation: I found that native Vietnamese people are more in tune with libertarian economics than most Americans."

    My next-door neighbor is a Vietnamese libertarian. At first I was surprised; but it makes sense. We take the basics for granted in America (markets, property rights, personal liberties) but in Vietnam all of that is still a struggle.

  • kubi||

    Is anyone else suprised that at how small the dropoffs in income were during the war? I figured that getting bombed back to the Stone Age would have had a greater effect. Or was American aid and spending binges by soldiers in the South enough to balance everything out?

  • ||

    A lot of the Vietnamese people in my city, especially the businessowners, were big Romney fans.

    Many of them are former South Vietnam army officers, and they relate to the Republicans as the party of Reagan and anti-communism.

  • ||

    Well maybe in the fantasy world of bush agenda of domination. This country is hated by the majority of the world and now after the preemptive invasion we violated so many international laws that our country is no no better than nazi germany. The republican party and democrat party will make history as the parties (like nazi party) that annilated mankind and created death camps for children and created attrocities.

  • ||

    I also want to add that there is a huge antiwar protest that has gone global and will be bigger than 2003's protest that brought millions of people onto the streets
    http://worldagainstwar.org

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