The dictator is enjoying a surge of popularity. But the rise of this neo-Maoist movement could upend China’s stability ... In the west, Mao is understood chiefly as China’s “Red Emperor” — a vicious dictator who fostered an extreme personality cult, launched the disastrous Cultural Revolution and masterminded a “Great Leap Forward” that resulted in the worst famine in history. Experts estimate that Mao was responsible for between 40 million and 70 million deaths in peacetime — more than Hitler and Stalin combined. However, while Hitler, Stalin and most of the other totalitarian dictators of the 20th century were repudiated after their deaths, Mao remains a central figure in modern China. The Communist party he helped found in 1921 and the authoritarian Leninist political system he established in 1949 still run the country. ... But this whitewashing of Mao’s legacy is a risky strategy. Thanks to the party’s tight control over education, media and all public discourse, most people in China know very little of Mao’s terrible mistakes. Indeed, the dictator is more popular today than at any time since his death. Last year nearly 17 million people made pilgrimages to his home town — Shaoshan — in rural central China. In the mid-1980s, barely 60,000 undertook the journey. ... They see Mao as a symbol of a simpler, fairer society — a time when everyone was poorer but at least they were equally poor. Those who have studied the resurgence in Mao’s popularity in China see it as part of a broader global phenomenon that encompasses the appeal of Donald Trump in the US, Brexit in the UK and populist politicians on the left and right in Europe. At a time of sharp dislocation and intense resentment towards elites, people in many countries are attracted by nostalgia and tradition. For ordinary people in China, that means Mao and the classless society he envisioned. ... This presidential embrace of Mao has surprised many in China, given that the dictator was personally responsible for the awful suffering experienced by Xi’s own family.
Cuba has two economies now: the national Communist economy for the majority; and a quasi-capitalist one for foreigners and the elite. Each has its own currency: the Communist economy uses the Cuban peso, and the capitalist bubble uses the convertible peso. Cuban pesos are worth nothing. They can’t be converted to dollars or euros. Foreigners can’t even spend them in Cuba. The convertible pesos are pegged to the U.S. dollar, but banks and hotels pay only 87 Cuban cents for each one—the government takes 13 percent off the top. The rigged exchange rate is an easy way to shake down foreigners without most noticing. It also enables the state to drain Cuban exiles. A million Cuban-Americans live in south Florida, and another half-million live elsewhere in the United States. They send hundreds of millions of dollars a year to family members still on the island. The government gets its 13 percent instantaneously and most of the remaining 87 percent later because almost every place that someone can spend the money is owned by the state. ... A single restaurant meal in Havana costs an entire month’s salary. One night in a hotel costs five months’ salary. A middle-class tourist from abroad can easily spend more in one day than most Cubans make in a year.
Financial markets accommodate both prudent insurers and reckless gamblers. They provide investors with an opportunity to diversify their portfolios, and allow gamblers to bet on future movements in interest rates. The coexistence of the two can allow speculators to make profits by stabilising prices—buying when markets are fearful, and selling when they are greedy. But when the gambling motive overwhelms the insurance motive, speculation becomes destabilising and then risk, far from being minimised by careful management, becomes concentrated in the hands of those who understand least what they are doing. And when regulators perceive insurance when they should see wagering, their actions magnify a crisis rather than minimise it. Such destabilising speculation, mischaracterised by regulatory authorities as prudent risk assessment, is what caused the global financial crisis of 2008. ... The coexistence of insurance and gambling goes back to the earliest days of markets in risk, and the interaction of the two has been central to financial history. But it was four developments in the second half of the 17th century that combined to frame the way we think about risk, and the institutions we have for dealing with it, through to the present day.