At Wednesday night’s Democratic presidential debate, Michael Bloomberg took a not-so-subtle shot at Sen. Bernie Sanders, suggesting that the democratic socialist’s ideas for economic reform were a “ridiculous” turn to outright “communism.”
“We’re not going to throw out capitalism,” Bloomberg said. “Other countries tried that. It was called communism, and it just didn’t work.”
Predictably, the audience booed. These attacks on Sanders don’t generally work. Polling consistently shows that while Americans are cagey about socialism in the abstract, they like Sanders in the flesh. People don’t like socialism as an abstract foreign boogeyman, but a guy from Vermont calling for universal healthcare and stiff new taxes on billionaires sounds all right.
But there was in fact a candidate on stage whose affinity for Communist regimes deserves more scrutiny: Michael Bloomberg.
His financial news and data operation has been heavily invested in China for years, and Bloomberg has made a habit of defending China’s Communist Party and its leader, Xi Jinping.
Bloomberg: China is doing a lot. Yes, they’re still building a lot of coal-fired power plants.
PBS: And they’re still burning coal.
Bloomberg: Yes, they are, but they’re now moving plants away from the cities. The Communist Party wants to stay in power in China, and they listen to the public. When the public says I can’t breathe the air, Xi Jinping is not a dictator; he has to satisfy his constituents or he’s not going to survive.
PBS: He’s not a dictator?
Bloomberg: No, he has a constituency to answer to.
PBS: He doesn’t have a vote. He doesn’t have a democracy. He’s not held accountable by voters.
Bloomberg: If his advisers gave him —
PBS: Is the check on him just a revolution?
Bloomberg: You’re not going to have a revolution. No government survives without the will of the majority of its people.
The political substance of this is, of course, wrong. Plenty of governments survive without the will of a majority of their people. Democracy is not some fundamental metaphysical quality woven into the substance of reality. Leaders are not automatically legitimized by the fact that they hold power. To believe that they are is to subscribe to authoritarianism.
Bloomberg again downplayed the extent of China’s carbon pollution during Wednesday’s debate.
“In all fairness,” Bloomberg claimed, “China has slowed down [carbon emissions]. It’s India that is an even bigger problem. But it is an enormous problem. Nobody’s doing anything about it. We could right here in America make a big difference.”
This is not really true. In 2017, the most recent year for which the International Energy Agency reported data, India emitted 2,162 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, less than a quarter of China’s 9,302 million metric tons. Meanwhile, an analysis by Bloomberg’s own clean-energy consultancy found China had slashed its deployment of solar and wind energy last year to the lowest level since 2013.
“Bloomberg seemed either uninformed or more likely an apologist for Chinese emissions by falsely claiming India was a bigger problem, perhaps because he was on the defensive about his business dealings in China,” Paul Bledsoe, a former climate adviser in President Bill Clinton’s White House and lecturer at American University’s Center for Environmental Policy, told The Washington Examiner.
But the most horrifying of Bloomberg’s actions in defense of Xi and China’s Communist Party involve his actions toward the journalists working for his own news service. In 2013, Bloomberg killed a story about financial ties between billionaire Wang Jianlin and Chinese politicians, including Xi’s family.
“If we run the story, we’ll be kicked out of China,” said the then-chief editor of Bloomberg News, Matthew Winkler. The company then fired the story’s author, star reporter Michael Forsythe, now at The New York Times. Bloomberg then threatened to ruin Forsythe’s family financially if he and his wife refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement prohibiting them from speaking about the incident, and spent months intimidating the family. Bloomberg eventually relented after Forsythe’s family brought in a high-powered lawyer to push back against the company.
“Bloomberg’s company, Bloomberg LP, is so dependent on the vast China market for its business that its lawyers threatened to devastate my family financially if I didn’t sign an NDA silencing me about how Bloomberg News killed a story critical of Chinese Communist Party leaders,” Forsythe’s wife, Leta Hong Fincher wrote for The Intercept this week.
These are not the erratic impulses of an addled old man. They’re the carefully considered maneuvers of a businessman doing business in China. Bloomberg protects his personal fortune by protecting the Chinese government from public scrutiny.
Bloomberg’s news and data operation is hardly the only U.S. business with unsavory activities in China. Tim Cook bet Apple’s corporate future on China, and has pulled apps from iPhones in Hong Kong in an effort to encumber organizers for pro-democracy protests. Google is collaborating with the Chinese government on a censored search engine. The NBA is so heavily invested in China that star players and owners publicly admonish U.S. basketball managers who dare to openly voice support for democracy in Hong Kong. As U.S. companies become more dependent on Chinese money, they spread the Chinese government’s authoritarian influence.
It’s one of the most serious foreign policy problems the next president will confront upon entering office. And while any effort will be complex and delicate, one obvious necessary step will involve untangling U.S. economic and national security interests from the influence of the Chinese government. Bloomberg is actively engaged in typing up his own interests and those of the U.S. financial sector with that very government.
Bloomberg is thus an exemplar of the casual cynicism ingrained in the American ruling class. He castigates Sanders for the “communism” of bringing everyone affordable health care, while embracing China’s central planners for personal profit. Which of these men is really a communist?
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story dropped the word “million” from China’s and India’s carbon emissions totals.