Tuesday, 1 December 2009

China: boosters and sceptics

I'm sceptical that the world is going to be dominated by China. A book was published this summer by Martin Jacques with the over-reachingly grandiose title 'When China Rules the World: The Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World'. I can't be bothered to read it as I it smells rather like the Webbs' 'Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation' and those boosterish books on Japan from the 1980s.

Jacques used to edit Marxism Today and I believe it may be a case of one form of implausible belief about 'Western capitalism' being replaced by another. (The book's thesis is rebutted here by Ian Buruma and its many errors and misunderstandings are most comprehensively enumerated here by Jonathan Mirsky; their understanding of China is far more detailed, concrete and sceptical).

The reason I mention this today is that George Magnus wrote a sensible and cautious piece on China's prospects in yesterday's Times. It should help take the wind out of the sails of some of those over-excited China projectors (including John Gray - the more he strays from philosophy into economics and economic history, the less plausible he becomes).


malty said...

A friend bought extensively from the Chinese in the nineties, silica by the boatload, and spent some considerable time there, way in boondocks of northern China. His comment was always the same, they are back in the dark ages, 1000 years ago. You wonder when they say that "we are now a modern state," in 10 years?

The reason that he stopped visiting was because the German agent he used and had been his companion on his China trips died of hepatitis.

Dave said the worst meal he had whilst there had bulls bile as the centrepiece.

Gaw said...

I can hardly bear to imagine what bull's bile might taste like. Bitter, I suppose.

I have a feeling that China, like Japan and Russia before it, is a canvas upon which the disaffected of the West project their wishful thinking.

Bunny Smedley said...

It's also worth noting another enterprise in which China is a world leader - civil war. They haven't had one for a while, and may well be due one within our lifetimes - and when they do, although the result isn't going to be a picnic for the economic and political stability of the world in general, it won't exactly be a boost to China, either.

Gaw said...

I understand that prospect is one that terrifies the leadership. That they are so keen to propagate the '5,000 years of existence' stuff is a sign of weakness rather than strength.

Sean said...

Over the last 8 days ive stayed in three different hotels in southern Africa filled to the brim with Han Chinese, and they are not there for the cricket, surf or safari.

As long as everyone is making money then civil war will not be on the cards......and thats why they are trying to buy up the worlds commodities.

Hey Skipper said...

I go to several places in China a lot (Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong), although that experience shouldn't be over esteemed, since I am mostly seeing the country one bar and one restaurant at a time.

That said, the Chinese I run into seem pretty decent sorts whose driving would be substantially improved by the wide availability of handguns.

Even in the big cities, there is a heck of a lot of poverty, although Hong Kong not so much.

Bunny is right about the civil war thing, and possibly to become even more right, given the astonishing gender ratio imbalance, IIRC something beyond 115 male babies to every 100 female.

The Magnus article was very good--it is impossible to understand China's economy (or various recent asset bubbles) without taking on board the fact that the RMB is not a floating currency.

dearieme said...

Remember Georges Pompidou? "I like Germany so much that I'm glad there are two of them."

Gaw said...

Sean: That's their problem, in that they need very rapid (possibly unsustainable) rates of growth to absorb rural migrants and excess labour from heavy industry. The question is whether they are achieving this growth through massive over-investment in redundant plant and buildings which will come back and bite them.

Skipper: Perhaps you should try to represent Smith and Wesson? Could be huge. Their currency strategy may well be seen as one of the biggest economic policy disasters since the return to the Gold Standard in the '20s. But I hope not.

Dearieme: Plucky little Taiwan. Some lovely films too.