Mike Haynes

The real bank robbers

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Bankers have become among the most hated section of the population, but mainly because of the huge rewards they continue to give themselves despite the massive financial crisis they caused. Mike Haynes looks at why we should loathe their other thieving activities - those on the high street.

Twice last summer robbers made off with the cash boxes containing a few tens of thousands each from local banks. But who were the bigger thieves - the robbers or the branches of the banks whose cash was stolen? I have no romantic illusions about people who rob banks. But thinking about how the banks themselves have robbed us at a branch level is an interesting exercise.

When dodgy dealing and debt shook the global financial system in 2008 most attention was focused on what is called investment banking. Investment banks have two jobs.

Getting China Wrong?

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Debates about China have often been focused on those who say its growth can go on for decades and those who predict imminent doom. Here Mike Haynes argues that neither approach is correct, but so far the Chinese leadership has been more adept at understanding its growth than outside commentators

If you have a mobile phone or a computer then there is a good chance that it has been made in China. This is where top Apple products come from - the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. These embody some of the cleverest ideas of modern technology and judged this way a lot of people think that China's growth is something completely unusual. Whereas a generation ago China was one of the world's poorest economies, today it is jumping stages to become one of the richest. This idea is causing consternation both among those who support global capitalism and those who oppose it.

Mismanaged democracy

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Events in Russia have a habit of proving people wrong. The oil boom allowed Vladimir Putin to re-establish a degree of order and to make Russia a "managed democracy". Now it looks more like a mismanaged one as economic crisis has undermined Putin's appeal and made the cronyism and corruption look even less acceptable.

The announcement of the stitch-up that would allow Putin to become president again in 2012 - and probably to stay on to 2024 - was greeted with huge cynicism. But only a few hundred went to a token demonstration in Moscow in September. No one really expected that by December tens of thousands would be protesting against electoral fraud in elections to the Duma (the Russian parliament) that were supposed to be a dry run for the presidential ones next spring.

Food: between hunger and plenty

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Billions of people regularly struggle to get enough to eat. Mike Haynes argues that the problem isn't a lack of produce or a rising population. It is a system driven by profit

The global price of food has risen again to a new high, breaking the records set in 2008. In Britain this matters, especially if you are on a low income or benefits. In the poorer parts of the world where nearly a billion people are hungry it becomes a matter of life and death. The reason is simple - we must have food to live. This is why food prices are politically explosive, including in the upheavals in the Middle East. The lower your income, the more you must spend to buy food to survive.

Caring for profit

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The economist Joseph Schumpeter had a fine phrase to describe market competition - it's all about "creative destruction". Market enthusiasts love the creative bit. They tend to keep quiet about the destructive side. And this is especially so if the destruction potentially involves the biggest care home provider for the elderly in Britain.

If you have not heard of it then take note - it's called Southern Cross. It runs 600 care homes under its own brand and operates a further 70 as Ashbourne Senior Living and 47 as Active Care Partnerships. Together they have 38,000 beds and 40,000 staff.

Change in Putin's Russia

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Simon Pirani, Pluto Press, £17.99

Simon Pirani has written a terrific book. His careful dissection of modern Russia moves from those at the top to the fate of the masses of Russian people in the last two decades. Few can equal Pirani's expertise gained as a political activist, a semi-academic, and a jobbing journalist whose interviews stretch from striking car workers to oil oligarchs.

1989-2009: celebrations muted by the disappointments of the present

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What happened to the illusions that free market capitalism would bring democracy, social justice and equality to the societies of Eastern Europe? Mike Haynes reports

British tourists are commonplace in the former Soviet bloc today. Cheap flights take you to Prague or Budapest. You can spend a weekend in the Baltic states or even make it to Moscow and St Petersburg. The beer is cheap. For stag nights and last minute flings the prostitutes are numerous and cheap. It is easy to combine a visit to some of the finest sights with some of the worst. And many do. Out of sight, out of mind.

In Western Europe migrants from these countries are common. We meet them every day working in bars and hotels, on the farms and in the factories. Supermarkets in

S is for state capitalism

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As global capitalism flounders, the world's governments are scrambling to use state action to try to stop the rot and bail out the system. After two decades of being told that the market works best, the state is back.

The reason for this is not some grand theory. It is pragmatic. The crisis is showing that states not only need to set the rules for capitalism to work but must also be major players. For socialists this creates a dilemma. If the choice is between bankruptcy and state support we obviously call for state support and nationalisation. No firm should go under, no job be lost because of the lunacy of the system. But we need more than this. And we should be under no illusion that the state is a socialist force.

The World on Fire

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Anthony Read, Jonathan Cape, £25

For socialists the most exciting year of the last century was probably 1919. While the 1917 Russian Revolution had shaken the world, its full implications only became apparent when the First World War ended in November 1918. The next two years saw the world in turmoil. "We are running a race with Bolshevism and the world is on fire," said US president Woodrow Wilson at the time of the Versailles Peace Conference.

Back in the Ex-USSR

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Review of 'Virtual Politics', Andrew Wilson, Yale University Press £20

'Mr President. I have good news and bad news. The good news is that you have been re-elected. The bad news is that nobody voted for you.' Andrew Wilson says such jokes reflect the cynicism of life in Russia and the former USSR. A fake democracy has been created in a world of 'virtual politics'.

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