Widgets from China

I don’t fully understand what’s going on in China. I do have some dispiriting facts, though.

The equation of the Chinese growth story that is changing the world (and keeping U.S. Wal-Mart customers happy) is unforgiving: Ten percent annual expansion is the guarantor of the Communist Party’s hold on power and so everything will be done to sustain it. Agonized debate (think U.S. health care reform or Afghan deployment) is not for China. Bulldozers are more its thing.

Furthermore, there’s this pervasive idea about entitlement, which was very much front and center when China single-handedly derailed the Copenhagen conference on climate. Here’s the line of reasoning: all the great developed countries in the world had a period where they polluted an unimaginable amount and pursued growth at all costs. Britain, America, and all others employed children, killed workers, and polluted uncontrollably before eventually stabilizing into (more) sustainable, clean, industrial countries.

The problem is one of scale. Let’s say you’re Britain in the 1790s… making 20% of the stuff that the world uses. That’s 20% of the stuff for 1.2 billion people. Ok. Now, let’s say you’re China in the 2000s… making 70% of the stuff that the world uses. That’s 70% of the stuff for 6.8 billion people. And all these people are demanding far far more trinkets, baubles, and shinies than their counterparts 210 years ago.

China feels entitled to this fast, irresponsible growth period that all the great nations went through. BUT, since the world economy is now so huge, the potential for damage to people and natural resources has grown untenably large. China shouldn’t get the carte blanche that other nations got, because China can do so much more lasting damage than those countries could ever imagine doing.

But like I said, I still don’t fully understand what’s going on there. It doesn’t seem good.

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I’m also alternately fascinated and horrified by the China story. I feel as if we’re already in the beginning stages of a new Cold War that has the potential to eclipse the USA-Soviet Union’s due to the increased level of scale/impact both countries could leverage. It’ll be interesting to watch this issue develop.

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