Shanker Singham is a key protagonist in theory, creation, promotion and enablement of charter cities.
Charter cities are corporate-administered states within states. Therein, laws to protect workers’ rights, health and safety, tenant’s rights, the right to protest, access to justice and free speech do not exist. Corporation tax and import tax for “owners” of land and businesses are non-existent. Charter cities are, simultaneously, the most modern form of capitalism, a final expression of its pending demise, and a return to feudalism. It is corporate fascism.
Singham was interviewed by Seastanding Institute on 20th March 2015. The interview revealed the con-tricks he uses to promote spurious necessity for charter cities and shows how much he is opposed to democratic governance. His ingrained arrogance, inculcated at St. Paul’s School, meant he spoke freely and coldly about charter cities with no apparent cognizance of the glaring contradictions, absurdities, obstacles to logic, and downright lies. He is a very well-trained conman.
Listen to the interview here: Singham on charter cities, part 1
Analysis of Singham’s exposition of his work
Singham was introduced in the interview as someone dedicated to fighting worldwide poverty, grotesque flattery that he accepted eagerly. After obvious (and accurate) remarks about the number of people who live in desperate poverty he stated, without pause or caveat,
“there has been no more powerful force for lifting people out of poverty than three things: property rights protection, competition, open trade.”
His assertion was demonstrably and obviously not only false but opposite to reality. Poverty, wherever it exists, is a consequence of political decisions. On continents where corporate imperialists seek to impose charter cities – predominantly Asia, Africa and Central America – poverty is a direct consequence of ownership of private property, especially land, of competition by large businesses to maximise profits leading to annihilation of workers’ rights, theft of public infrastructure and destruction of habitats, and of cross-border trade where lower wages in one country increase profits for wealthy elite in another country.
Singham’s entire presentation of the necessity and the applicability of charter cities is prefaced and pre-proven by the knavish anti-truth quoted above.
He claimed China’s reduction of poverty was due to “opening up on trade” but omitted the fact that the structure of China’s economy and its distribution of wealth is far removed from free-racketeering libertarian philosophy that Singham supports.
The interviewer called enterprise or charter cities “legal startups.” That was correct. Charter cities depend on deletion of constitutions, legal processes, justice and democracy.
Singham pretended to challenge that description: “They are not entirely legal startups. A host government agrees with a developer to create a zone that has some degree of regulatory autonomy, and agrees a regulatory framework.” That is, he denied something was something and then showed how it was that something. Given that, in Singham’s words, the charter cities are likely to be in “developing” countries, it is very likely the governments of the countries will have large fiscal “debts” “owed” to international banks and that a lot of land in the countries will be “owned” by international businesses, and it follows that the governments will not be in a strong negotiating position with the charter cities’ “developers” and so any “regulatory framework” will benefit charter cities’ owners and not the people of the countries.
He stated unequivocally that the “regulatory framework” will be “governed by three primary principles:“
- “Property rights protection“
- “Competitive markets“
- “An open trading environment“
That is, three principles that are designed not to alleviate poverty and, indeed, are dependent on the existence of poverty.
By demanding such principles as a prerequisite for a charter city, Singham demanded countries adopt a specific libertarian economic model regardless of the wishes of the people of the countries. Blatant destruction of democracy in favour of racketeerianism: Corporate fascism.
Singham emphasised the importance of the second principle in “attracting investment.” He mentioned that many of the wealthy business-owning characters he’d met while working as a trade lawyer were most interested in a “level playing field for competition.” The “level playing field” means the ability to exploit and to maximise their profits without hindrance of laws and rights related to workers’ salaries, working conditions, health and safety, legal redress, tenants’ rights, free speech, protest, industrial action and human rights.
His invented justification of “legal autonomy” of charter cities was his claim that in many “developing countries” governments are beholden to a relatively small number of businesses and landowners, what Singham called “crony capitalists” whom he depicted as barriers to progress. There are several clear flaws in his argument, which was essentially fraudulent. Firstly, the problem is capitalism not the identity of certain capitalists; secondly, if a country has a socialist government then such “crony capitalists” cannot operate in the way Singham described but, of course, he did not examine the validity of people voting for a socialist government; thirdly, his solution was just different capitalists who conduct their exploitation across borders rather than internally; fourthly, his stance was screamingly imperialist and stank of old colonialism.
The imperialist facet of charter cities is intrinsic. A subtle change from old imperialism is that the competing potential invaders, land-grabbers and thieves will be international businesses and their financial backers rather than European governments of previous centuries. In the nineteenth century the world was divided into territories “owned” by UK, France, Spain, Portugal etc.; charter cities will change that to territories “owned” by Koch, Goldman Sachs, Amazon, Serco, DP World, Palantir, etc.
Singham claimed charter cities will “favour new businesses” over “oligarchs.” That comment was just another part of false marketing.
- He is not opposed to oligarchs: He was deeply impressed and inspired by post-USSR oligarchs and he helped them to steal public service infrastructure from the Russian people.
- Charter cities will favour businesses with the most wealth and those that are able to exploit and profiteer the quickest and with the least conscience. Whether “new” or otherwise, the beneficiaries will not differ in practices, intent and effect from “oligarchs” or “crony capitalists.”
- In almost all of the countries targetted for charter cities, exploitation and regressive business practices are by subsidiaries of or partners of large international businesses, not by local oligarchs or “crony capitalists.”
Performatively, the interviewer lauded Singham for “working on privatisation of the laws for competition” in Russia immediately after the end of USSR, in “Eastern Europe and later in Latin America.” “It sounds like you were really on the frontlines creating legal structures when these highly controlled economies opened up their markets.” In response Singham listed some of his key roles in inventing warped legal structures and manipulating law to favour and enhance extreme exploitation and concentration of wealth.
- “My career started with privatisation of the UK electricity industry.”
- “We did a lot of the privatisation laws and competition laws [in Russia and Eastern Europe].”
- “In the early nineties I went to Latin America and did much the same thing there after the Apertura – [partial privatisation of Venezuela’s oil industry].”
Two cogs in the libertarian wheel, a presenter and a practitioner, conversed casually about the corporatisation of public services, of the handover of public property to racketeers, of the bypass of democracy, of theft on a scale of billions of whichever currency was relevant.
Their phraseology was constructed to deceive.
“Highly controlled economies” meant countries wherein governments acted in the interest of the people and where profits were used for the public’s benefit.
“Opened up their markets” meant gifting public property and infrastructure to exploiters.
“Privatisation of the UK electricity industry” meant stealing a vital public service from the public and handing it to offshore financial institutions leading to grotesque continuous rises in costs such that electricity prices for consumers – that is, everybody in UK – are now factors greater than costs of electricity elsewhere in Europe.
“Privatisation laws and competition laws” meant removing the ability of democratically elected governments to act against theft of public infrastructure and against fleecing of the public.
Singham’s short recital of his CV was a preamble to another spectacular display of wilful charlatanism. He claimed that
“the chief lesson I learned from this whole experience [assisting corporate takeover of public property and infrastructure alongside reduction of democratic accountability] was that we had all made an assumption when we engaged in these processes that merely opening up the border and opening up trade would lead automatically to competitive markets inside the border and that assumption proved not to hold true.”
That sentence was a straightforward unambiguous lie. Singham and his colleagues made no assumption that what they facilitated would “lead automatically to competitive markets inside the border” – they assisted handover of public infrastructure to racketeers who, by financial necessity (tax-dodging), were effectively stateless and whose financial clout prohibited competition from any other business. They had not “merely opened up the border and opened up trade” – Singham’s “legal structures” expunged the power of governments to control corporate exploitation.
He continued his con by saying that “it was the lack of competition inside the border that led to the entrenchment of rent-seeking elites in Latin America.” “Huge amounts of money was being lost” because of “distortions in these markets.”
His audacity to complain about something that he helped to devise was matched by his fake ignorance that such a scenario would ensue. He declared a supposed lack of confidence in his understanding of how capitalism operates, of who or what prevails and of who loses.
Singhams’ “elites,” “oligarchs” and “crony capitalists” exist; they are called capitalists, landowners, property owners, business owners. Changes to international trade law in a country, changes that are designed to add to wealth of capitalists, will create his bogeymen and feed them.
Typical of the methodology of libertarians Singham sought to use something he created as a reason to take the next step toward corporate elite fascism. After having despaired over the existence of obstacles to free trade and of distorters of the market, he offered his solution:
“This is how I came to the idea of the Enterprise City.”
Singham’s view of the world and of humanity is bound tightly within a perspective informed exclusively by extremist free market ideology. Any government of any country that seeks to work on behalf of the people of that country, that seeks equality, equity, real opportunity, and a good life for its people is a government, for Singham, that is in dire need of “reform.” Free trade between a socialist country and a capitalist country is difficult because of how the latter acts but free trade between two socialist countries is mutually beneficial. Singham helped to impose free trade on countries without any consideration of mutual benefit, because he is as ardent a capitalist as it is possible to be, and his bogeymen rose to the fore with ease as they would inevitably do so. His next phase, allegedly but not really a counter to their rise, was to extract pieces of a country from the land and adjoin them to a stateless entity beyond government, beyond accountability and beyond humanity.
One of the main foundations of Singham’s argument to support necessity of charter cities is the inbuilt failure of capitalism to work in practice. He uses the actual visible and affecting consequences of capitalism’s features, features including constant competition causing constant drive for higher profits that in turn causes constant cost cutting (wage depreciation and quality of product reduction) accompanied by costs to consumers way beyond real costs, as his reason to go further toward corporate control. It’s a neat trick.
In the interview Singham underlined that charter cities must have the “right regulatory environment.” What he meant was that they must have no regulations. The interviewer asked that if “humanity was free of regulatory distortions” or “unleashed” would we live in a “world incalculably more wealthy?” He meant such “distortions” as prevention of price gouging, safety of products, health and safety regulations, contributions to provision of healthcare, fire service and police service, workers’ rights, legal redress, support for people who are ill, injured or disabled, protection for people against racism and prejudices, etc. His was an extreme expression of libertarian philosophy infused with deeply embedded antipathy toward humanity. When he suggested a “world incalculably more wealthy” he meant a very small percentage of the population.
Singham responded to the question with “yes, I think that’s right.” However, he clarified that when he spoke about regulatory restrictions he meant “the entire legal, economic and governance framework” and asked “is that, taken in its totality, delivering open trade, competitive markets and property rights protection?” Singham views governance – democracy – as an obstacle to the greed of corporations.
He queried whether it (legal, economic and governance framework) is “protecting economic freedom” but equated “economic freedom” with “property rights.” Singham’s obsession with “property” is ingrained. His expensive alma meter inculcated a belief system that placed ownership above everything else in life.
“Do you have a framework that drives competition on the merits where competition on the merits is the organising principle?” he asked. He knew the nature of capitalists is to compete regardless of, and often in opposition to, merits; his purported (and knowingly fraudulent) vision is of a capitalist utopia that is unattainable because of how the intrinsic characteristics of capitalism manifest themselves.
Singham’s career focussed on the practicalities of enabling removal of elected governments’ power but his conman’s patter developed as a side hustle so he could convince politicians, conservative activists, commentators and journalists of spurious validity to his plans and achievements. He never seeks to convince the public; he leaves that to politicians and media who translate his rhetoric into catchy mendacious slogans and aims. Singham doesn’t give a damn what the public think.
As part of an answer to his own question he said that governments never consider the “cost to the markets” of regulatory constraints. Regulators should never consider their effects on “cost to the markets” whatever that means. If a business cannot operate within a regulatory framework then it is not fit to exist as a business. Echoing standard far-right misrepresentation Singham claimed regulatory systems tended to regulate for the sake of it rather than for good reasons.
Another question from Singham, regarding regulatory changes, was “what is the cost to the ordinary competition market? How much wealth are we going to be destroying?” His unbendable loyalty is to marketeers’ profits but, early in his adult life, he convinced himself, aided by his education, to coalesce the demands of the market with life itself. For Singham, ultra competitive business markets are completely synonymous with man’s existence.
He tried to distance regulatory bodies from “legislators” – governments. All regulatory bodies are created, and can be removed, by governments. Their independence is often illusory; if it is not so then they can still be directed or corrected by governments. Singham knew this but it was convenient for his argument for him to cast regulatory bodies as separate entities, separate both from government and from the people. His rhetoric drifted into absurdist conspiracy theory “deep state” far-right territory.
The paragraphs immediately above recounted the voluminous dishonesty and deceit that led Singham into his conclusion of the need for charter cities. He knows they are a scam and a rejection of democracy and of society. He required a prequel to be able to present them as a conclusion rather than as hypothesis. The ease of debunkment would not worry him; his audience for his patter includes politicians and client journalists who do not need to be convinced, they need only to have the con explained for them to regurgitate compliantly.
For charter cities, Singham claimed there would be a process that determines whether or not regulations aid or suppress competitive marketeering although he randomly equated the desires of profiteers with the preferences of the public. The utterly ridiculous transposition of racketeers’ greed for unlimited profits with the best interests of the public was another piece of libertarian drivel that Singham tossed out casually as supposedly axiomatic.
Sufficient confidence to trot out simplistic lies and to array them in a pseudo-logic argument is confidence that is part of the curriculums at the most expensive private schools in UK. Eton, St. Paul’s and others pride themselves on their success of producing gift-of-the-gab shysters – David Cameron, George Osborne, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Douglas Murray, Matthew Elliott, Shanker Singham, Jonathan Sumption, Kwasi Kwarteng, Alexander Nix – who are trained to believe in their intellectual and moral superiority and in the arts of manipulation, obfuscation and deception, with no pause of thought given to consideration of veracity. Technique and style of Singham’s expositions of how and why he believes in charter cities were learnt in the classroom.
He stated that in charter cities “we are looking for a regulatory framework that enforces that process [competitive markets and property rights protection] to occur” and said “we believe” that will “secure the goal of maximising welfare gains across the whole economic system.” What he meant by “whole economic system” is not precise but, again, he made competition and property protection synonymous with the best option for everyone. His proof of the usefulness of charter cities was dependent on the validity of false axioms.
When asked why governments should or would agree to “hosting” charter cities Singham cited “explanations” governments had received from the World Bank (WB), the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The word “explanations” should be replaced by instructions. WB, WTO and IMF are vital tools of capitalism. Via crafty combination of financial assistance, loaded with caveats and in the form of debt and financial penalties, the three organisations guide governments toward adherence to the demands and whims of the free market. All three are products of the imagination of capitalism; none is indispensable. In a just world all three would be crushed and eradicated. However, in Singham’s world capitalism is as natural and as unavoidable as breathing.
The “explanations” from the triumvirate mean countries “know what to do” to “reform their economies.” Always, whenever capitalists say “reform” they mean bend toward feeding the wealthiest. Singham said countries’ governments’ “own people” are telling them what to do because they don’t have access to “capital” and “the cost of energy is too high.” By “own people” he meant capitalists.
Claiming to elucidate the conclusions of governments, Singham said they are obstructed by internal interests that are “politically powerful” and who “block reform.” This description is an invention by him and it reveals his contempt for democracy and his refusal to accept the existence of integrity in democracy. He also showed his low opinion of countries outside of Europe and North America.
His invention of vested interests was designed to provide an excuse to dispense with democracy and hand power and law to business. Because of his invented obstruction “we know that as a political matter we cannot enact the reform we want to enact” and so he concludes that his “regulatory framework” described above is necessary.
He admitted that
“our goal with enterprise cities is to have that spread around the country as a whole.”
That is a clear statement that Singham’s ultimate goal is complete abandonment of democracy. He desires the end of governments and of the public’s right to decide how they are governed. It is an admission that capitalism’s problematic relationship with democracy is beyond repair. For the exploiters and racketeers to able to continue to fleece everyone else, the right of the public to choose who governs must be removed. He advocates pure, unambiguous corporate fascism.
The interviewer posed an interesting question, based more in imagination than his (misdiagnosed) example of Hong Kong moving back from independence to being part of China, and asked “what if you set up these enterprise cities and a few generations from now the nation says ‘we’re changing the rules; we own this city now’ ” Singham responded by saying “what the ‘investor’ [in an enterprise city] needs to know is that the regulatory system is set and that the host government will not change it in the future.”
Again, he dismissed democracy completely. If the people of the country vote for a government whose manifesto commitment includes the end of charter cities in the country then that is what the people will expect to happen, but Singham wants that option to be unavailable. Permanent fascism.
He used Hong Kong as an example of how a “regulatory framework” enshrined in law prior to the city’s return to China allowed it to continue to exist as a free market region beholden to corporate interests after UK’s ninety-nine year lease had expired despite China having an entirely different political system. He claimed it could continue as such because it succeeded in the terms of its intent. However, his assertion that a law agreed previously protects the “regulatory framework” was unconvincing. The Chinese government could just change the law, or ignore it. He repeated the existence of an agreed law several times but did not explain what would stop China from altering the entire structure of governance of Hong Kong.
There are key differences between China and other countries where Singham would like to see charter cities. Most importantly, China is not a democratic country. A consequence of that is there is a different relationship between the government and the justice system than there is in democratic countries. Also, the public cannot make substantial changes to the government via an election.
His example of China, whether Hong Kong or SEZs, was a false example of his ideological concept of a charter city. Singham’s targets are countries that can be manipulated by international financial pressure, not China.
He said WB can be an arbitrator in disputes between elected governments and charter cities, and said there would need to be “an international mechanism of some kind” to ensure that if a democratically elected government were to “do something bad” (act in the interests of the public’s needs) that “would damage the fabric of the enterprise zone” (favour the lives and livelihoods of the public over corporate profits) then “there would significant legal liabilities.”
“International mechanisms” means pressure on governments to act in favour of exploiters rather than in favour of their public. “Significant legal liabilities” means sanctions, seizure of assets and trade tariffs, targetted at governments that favour democracy over corporate fascism. An example of how such penalties would operate was the theft of Venezuelan assets by USA, UK and others, including gold and money due for oil sales, when the Venezuelan government stopped an anti-democratic coup by USA oil industry-backed grifter Juan Guaido. Singham’s occupation is a trade lawyer, specifically working for international businesses to help them destroy democratic commitments of governments.
The interviewer asked Singham about his “requirements” for the establishment of charter cities.
1. By “committed developer” he meant a developer who was aware of the need for a “regulatory framework.” He said, without that framework, “distortions” (government decisions to protect the public) would create a “dysfunctional slum-like place.” It wasn’t clear if his fear of such an acute failure was based on how he thinks capitalism fails or how he thinks other political systems (e.g socialism) fail.
2. The adjectives used in “external infrastructure connecting enterprise city to host country” displayed evidence of Singham’s intent for charter cities to be beyond the control of an elected government. The “host” country is merely a geographical connection. Land is stolen from the people of a country, and their labour stolen as well, and handed to corporate control.
He wants subservience to corporatism to extend beyond the boundaries of the charter city into the rest of the country. As an example of “connecting external infrastructure” he said the cost of telecoms provision to the charter city from an “external” provider shouldn’t be “massively anticompetitive.”
He emphasised that “the name of the game is keeping costs down” for the charter city and “we want pro-competitive connection of all external aspects of the structure into the external system” and all of that will be “written into the regulatory framework.”
There is no limit to how much power and how much money the owners of charter cities desire. Singham’s “regulatory framework,” going beyond the cities’ boundaries into the “host countries,” is an enforced suicide note for democracy and an eternal ransom paid to permanently insatiate exploiters.
3. The interviewer suggested that a third “requirement” for the establishment of charter cities is admission by “host nation” that “it needs improvement,” and he asked Singham if “wealthy” countries will be “open to enterprise cities.” The former understood that less “wealthy” countries are the main targets of the charter city enthusiasts because governments of such countries can be more easily forced by international organisations (WB, IMF, WTO) to do what they are told to do, and to submit to corporate repression.
Singham seemed confident that any country could potentially agree to charter cities.
“The countries most likely to do this [charter city creation] are the ones who know what they need to do in terms of domestic national reform, have tried to do some of it and have run up against the obstacles – vested interests, elites, beneficiaries of distortion. They know what they have to do to generate jobs and economic development; they tried to do it and they failed at a national level. Therefore, they are looking at the enterprise city as an alternative delivery mechanism for reform.”
His summary above repeated the themes of his con: Failed capitalism in a country to be “reformed” and replaced by more ruthless capitalism; the depiction of the elements of capitalism – Sangham’s “elites” – as uncontrollable by democracy or political system; extremist exploiters bestowing gifts of jobs on the public.
It’s an ugly con. Ugly in practice and ugly in its disdain for logic and for honesty. Singham’s training in his youth, at St. Paul’s School and at economic finishing schools, infested him with ineluctable modality of the unreasonable.
He admitted, brazenly, that charter cities are unlikely to happen in an “advanced developed market” because
“the attraction of investment, the big gains, are going to come from the delta, the difference, between a regulatory environment inside the [charter] city and a regulatory environment in the rest of the country. That’s what going to attract capital and the region.”
As he explained, the appeal of charter cities to “investors,” otherwise known as disaster capitalists, is that they will have no threat to their profiteering from law or from democracy, and the rules for them will be opposite to the rules for the “host” country. Blatant unashamed, unhidden racketeering.
He claimed that the “delta, the difference” was why Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai were “very successful.” The three places he mentioned are different in many ways but a similarity is a stark gap between the richest and the poorest people in each place. Each has provided a strong example of wealth begetting wealth for the already wealthy. Also, none has democracy.
Singham and the interviewer mentioned healthcare in the USA as an alleged example of “anticompetitiveness” preventing better healthcare and hindering medical research. Neither noted the extortionate cost of healthcare for the public, costs that send hundreds of thousands of people into bankruptcy every year, and they avoided the fact that the USA healthcare system means if you cannot pay then you die.
The state of USA healthcare is one if the most disgusting examples of capitalist extortion in the world. Singham knows exactly how inhumane it is but he uses it as a false reason to promote a different strand of exploitation via charter cities. His claim was that charter cities would, via their “regulatory frameworks,” allow greater “competition” in medical research. He was being dishonest in two ways: Firstly, quality of medical research is not the problem in USA, the problem is the ginormous profits for the medical industry at the costs of people’s lives and livelihoods; secondly, “competition” in charter cities will be won by the wealthiest conglomerates.
A theme propagated by cheerleaders for charter cities is the invented assertion that they will enable “new technology” more than current capitalist systems. There is no logical reason to assume that is the case. Research is expensive and all capitalists prefer income to be hoarded by themselves rather than to be a contribution to the betterment of society.
Singham’s appeal to the benefit of research and new technology is a ruse. He knows better research and continuous new technologies are necessary and he uses that fact, as a random juxtaposition with no real connection, to promote charter cities.
The interviewer concluded by saying he hoped Singham “can write the legislation for as many enterprise cities and for as many countries as possible.” Utter disdain for democracy.
His interview with Seastanding provided a summary of Singham’s strategy for presentation of a need for charter cities and it emphasised strong focus on erasure of democracy. It sounded utterly illusory, born of criminal fantasy and devastating for the majority of people. Calm evil was the tone of content and of verbosity.