Monday, May 03, 2010

Survey of Vietnamese attitudes 2010

The Associated Press released a new poll on April 30 (AP-GfK Poll: Vietnamese upbeat about future) that claims to be "one of the most exhaustive surveys to date of contemporary Vietnamese attitudes." It "underscores how rapidly life has changed in Vietnam. Under a single-party Communist government, the country has embraced market-oriented reforms and lifted tens of millions out of poverty."

Note the usual sleight of hand here in western commentary, indeed even in most academic commentary. It suggests that 10s of millions have been lifted out of poverty due to the market reforms. The fact that the period before "market reform" was also a period of the history's most desructive war ever, followed by no reparations, a new war forced on Vietnam in Cambodia, and an international embargo, while the period since the onset of "market reform" coincided with the end of the Cambodia war and of the embargo, is presumably irrelevant. Also presumably irrelevant is the fact that most other third world countries which have never had any lack of "markets" and capitalist classes have not had this kind of success in the social field as Vietnam has.

No, while the market reforms were necessary due to the extreme poverty of the state following all this destruction and underdevelopment, it is precisely the maintenance of significant aspects of the old socialist structure within which these market reforms have been introduced that is responsible for VN's almost unique success in poverty reduction and good social indicators by the standards of countries of its national income per capita or higher.

The AP dispatch continues:

"Eighty-five percent said the economy is stronger than it was five years ago, and 87 percent said they expect it to be even stronger in another five years. Eighty-one percent said the country is moving in the right direction."

This is a very interesting poll, which can be read here:
But I'm really unsure about how representative it is, and whether it really tests anyone's opinions very much.

For example, to the question "Compared to 5 years ago, would you say that the condition of this country’s economy is better, worse, or about the same?", 85% allegedly answer "better", including 40% who answer "much better", 9% "the same" and only 3% answer "worse". Yet the last 5 years saw the country's biggest inflation crisis since the hyperinflation of the mid-1980s (which played its part in ending the old order), and during time prices of most basic good and much else doubled (wage rises were much lower), a crisis which was devastating for the poor (though no doubt many of the capitalists did well from rising prices). Vietnam struggled out of this crisis, partly by the Politburo putting the more extreme pro-market tendency on a leash in mid-2008, yet this was followed later that year by the world capitalist financial crisis. Vietnam did not suffer at the same level as many in the capitalist world, but throughout the capitalist sector - particularly the export-oriented, mass consumer goods production area, which employs millions of mostly rural to urban migrants - there were enormous mass redundancies, of several hundred thousand people. Now given that most Vietnamese peasants still have land to go back to, and thus food security, we can say that most were relatively cushioned compared to similar rural migrant workers in many other capitalist countries which feature mass landlessness. However, the idea that they would view the situation as "better" or even "the same" seems laughable to me. Even worse is the fact that this relative lack of landlessness that I say may have cushioned the shock has become less effective in precisely the last 5 years, as thousands of peasants are losing land to industry, and there are virtually no stories I am aware of where this has led to an improvement in the peasants' situation, or even an equal situation.

So while I would like to believe these findings, given my overall support for the CPV in the past and to some extent present, I think it would be intellectually dishonest for me to try to push these findings as evidence of anything. They certainly don't correspond to the views of anyone I know.
Another example that creates much suspicion (and in this case even suspicion of the poll's intentions), was the question (and answer) "What comes closest to you opinion on abortion?" where te options "abortion should be illegal in all cases" or "illegal in most cases" drew the absolute majority opinion (33% and 42% respectively), whereas "legal in most cases" drew only 10% and "legal in all cases" only 1% !!

For the record, abortion is completely legal in Vietnam, in all cases, always has been, is performed daily (indeed at too high a rate, but that's another issue), at both central state hospitals and at small private clinics and communal health centres and everywhere in between, and there has never been any discussion that I'm aware of of changing this situation, nor have I ever met anyone opposed to abortion. So this particular question, for me, puts a shadow over the worth of the entire survey.

On other things, many of the lists of things people think are serious problems seemed generally OK, but the questions were vague, and some things less believable than others. Certainly, the fairly low position given to access to health care and to transport/traffic issues as serious problems is frankly not believable.

If we are to take the survey at face value, however, there are a number of interesting points, though given what I've said above, this should be treated with caution as well.

Big majorities (55% and 58% respectively) oppose the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, while only 3% support either war (the rest allegedly don't know). This appears pretty accurate, if anything, the numbers clearly opposed are probably quite a bit higher.

In terms of positive views of foreign countries, Russia was viewed most favourably (by 49%), well ahead of China (32%), in turn well ahead of the US (19%). Seems pretty accurate. Again, despite generally favourable opinions about China, 33% thought the rise of Chinese military power was a bad thing, and only 8% thought it was good. That is pretty logical for Vietnamese. The very high opinion of Obama (35% favourable) is pretty spot on about current illusions, and the very low rating of George Bush (8% favourable) accurately reflects the inevitable unreformably stupid hard right in any society.

The most interesting point for me, which I would like to believe is accurate, is that only 56% of respondents thought there should be more private ownership of business and industry, while 25% thought there should be more state ownership. Some reading this might be surprised that I think these statistics are good. But you need to understand how far popular consciousness has drifted on this fundamental issue. In addition, given the state sector still holds all the most strategic parts of the economy, it is quite possible for many to want more private ownership, due to their illusions in the wonders of "the market" etc (and many may interpret this as smallish private ownership), yet still believe in a strong state economy. For me, 56% seemed a pleasantly smallish number. And the fact that a full quarter of respondents wanted not just the preservation of a strong state sector - the way it is usually put, including by party leaders and ideologists - but actually MORE state ownership is a stunning figure. If this is true, it is a good sign.

Another similar sign of socialist consciousness concerned a question about how business and industry "should be managed." 15% said "The government should be the owner and appoint the managers" while 11% said "The employees should own the business and should elect themanagers," 26% in total. Of the rest, 33% hel the social-democratic illusion that "The owners and the employees should participate in the selection of managers" (by the way, not such a social-democratic illusion in the case of businesses which are state-owned; on the contrary, co-management, a revolutionary concept - but tis underlines the problems with this kind of poll - did this question refer to private business only, or state business as well?). Only 14% said "The owners should run their businesses or appoint the managers."

On the other hand some three quarters said that competition is good "because it stimulates people to work hard" and, regarding inequality, that "larger income differences are OK as incentives for people to work harder." Only 10-12% had an opposing view on each, supposedly. Note however that the "value added" in both cases, about encouraging people to "work harder", was already in the loaded questions.

One final comment. In the section about who you would not want as a neighbour, there were, expectedly, very high figures for drug addicts, former criminals etc, but only 26% didn't want to live next door to a homosexual. Now that might still be unacceptably high, but have no illusions we are talking about an underdeveloped, largely peasant country; and also we needn't have any illusions the figures would be much better in our "advanced democratic" countries, and possibly worse. This fits in well with my perceptions (and this result is so much the opposite of the completely unbelievable "answers" regarding abortion) - in general, Vietnamese are simply not particularly hung up about gay people.

Readers here can expect a larger article shortly on current developments in Vietnam.