The Unz Review - Mobile
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information



=>
 Russian Reaction Blog
/
DevelopmentTeasers

Africa has more than 50 political entities and more than a billion people with some of the highest concentrations of genetic and cultural diversity on the planet.

For every destitute failure like Niger, you have some country that bucks the stereotype and dispels some of the doom and gloom that predominates in HBD-realistic commentary about the “dark continent”. One of the biggest and most striking exceptions is Ethiopia, noteworthy as the only African country to successfully resist European colonization.

Reprinting Al’s comment from my post trying to counter some of the extreme skepticism towards Africa:

For a supposedly reality-based community, the HBDosphere has a major blind spot regarding where Africa is today and possible scenarios for its future. Africa has 55 countries; doom and gloom is not applicable to them all.

I’m in broad agreement with your major points, and I which to illustrate them with some examples from the one case I know best, and which has been mentioned in the comment thread. Ethiopia. I lived there for several years in the last decade as an expat, still visit regularly, have invested not only other people’s money, but my own, in there. This is going to be long, sorry.

First of all, keep in mind that Ethiopia is landlocked, has few useful minerals (just a little gold), has no oil and therefore must pay a hefty energy bill in imports, and as a very montainous place it is really difficult and expensive to build modern infrastructure. They speak their own language (Amharic) and, never having been colonized, don’t have the head start that other Africans have in speaking/understanding English or French. It’s also in an exciting neighborhood: Sudan (terrorism and civil war), South Sudan (civil war), Eritrea (formal state of war, tenuous ceasefire at the border), Somalia (’nuff said), Kenya (terrorism), Djibouti (only decent neighbor). That’s on top of whatever ancestral disadvantages it might possess on HBD grounds.

Someone expressed doubts about the increasing crop yields. They’re true. Ethiopia has been growing at or over 10% year-on-year since the turn of the millenium. This growth has been obtained by investment on family farms (there are very few large private estates in Ethiopia, since the Communist dictatorship of 1974-1992 had expropriated all land). This means growth has been broad and benefited a large proportion of the population. It also means it is sustainable. Ethiopia is set to be the fastest growing economy in the world this year, despite suffering from a drought (more below).

Foreign investment is pouring in, mainly Chinese, Korean and Turkish, but with non-negligible and rising amounts coming from the West (U.S., Netherlands, Germany) and Japan. They have made some inroads in products such as flowers, leather, and the textile industry, i.e., the first-tier, labor-intensive stages of industrialization. This is almost certain to go on.

They have also turned Ethiopian Airlines into a major player in world long-haul cheap air transportation, despite not having the bottomless amount of cash the Arab sheikdoms can give Qatar, Etihad, Emirates &c. Ethiopian Airlines revenue has been growing at 25% year-on-year for the last decade or so. It has surpassed South African as the largest African carrier.

Foreign investment (mainly Chinese here) has been pouring into infrastructure. The Chinese have built a major new railway to Djibouti (Ethiopia’s outlet to the sea) and motorways between the major cities. I have used them several times and the quality is generally very good in an absolute sense (in Africa, they have few peers).

Sub-Saharan Africa is famous for electricity shortages, and that kills any possible industrialization. Ethiopia is building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, which has already started producing a small amount of energy and is set to be completed shortly. It is the seventh largest dam in the world and will supply several times Ethiopia’s current electricity needs. The shortages will not only disappear, but prices will be dirt cheap in global terms – cheap enough to attract foreign investors. Best part? The whole cost of the dam, some USD 7 billion, is being financed from the government budget – not donors, not foreign aid, not outfits like World Bank, and such. It is their own money.

Another thing the Ethiopians are doing is at least trying in education. They have now achieved full primary school enrollment; that is, very nearly all school-aged children really are attending school. This is a major achievement for a Third World country, and one as poor as Ethiopia. They have also created about a dozen universities, and are busy churning out engineers and agronomers. I mean, really: the government has a cap of about 15% on how much social science (that includes law) degrees the universities can grant. They have the priorities in the right place.

Of course, the standards of this education are low on an absolute scale, but even then… Several times I’ve spoken about this with other expats (Asians and Westerners) who were directly involved with supervising their Ethiopian workforce. To the question, ” you know, is someone with a degree in engineering from an Ethiopian university really an engineer?”, the answer almost unanimously was: “well, not really, of course it’s not the same thing as an engineering degree from back home in [China, Netherlands, Korea], but it is much better than we expected. The balance between expertise/salary levels is excellent and headquarters is really pleased. Plus, there are more than enough people capable of continuing to receive training and achieve higher productivity levels”. I myself did not run a large team, but my experience has been much the same.

Ethiopia is world-famous for the 1980s famine. That had nothing much to do with “incompetence”, though. It was planned, and very well planned if I may say so, by the then ruling Communist government (who else?) to genocide the population of the heartland of the opposition. The global repercussion took them by surprise and they had to appear to do something; so they happily received the world’s donations of food and money, gave them to their soldiers or sold them to get guns, and kept the people starving. They lost in the end, thank God (the opposition guerrillas took over the capital in 1992, and they are the basis of the current ruling party).

From late 2015 or so, Ethiopia (and East Africa from Eritrea to Mozambique generally) has been suffering from the effects of the latest El Nino phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean, which interferes in the framework of air currents in the southern hemisphere with the result that in East Africa the rainy season is shortened by one or two months. As Karlin’s piece shows, there is barely any major irrigation works in Africa. (In the case of Ethiopia, the topography makes it nearly impossible in most of the country, and in all the more densely settled regions). Well, the current Prime Minister gathered the high-ranking foreigners in there (ambassadors and businessmen) to tell them, in effect: “if you say you’re our ally, this is the time to chip in. By the love of God, if you want to help, don’t give us food. What we need is money that we can funnel to the peasantry of the most affected areas, so they can buy food, and seeds and cattle to replenish their decimated holdings. If you give us food, more of our peasants will be priced out of the market and things will only get worse. And by the way, if you don’t help us, we will do this ourselves with our own money”. Funds from abroad were not forthcoming, and none of you has heard of any major famine in Ethiopia in the last two years. The economy did not even slow down! Why? Becase Ethiopia has been achieving nearly 40% of investment/GDP ratio, and invests over two thirds of its budget on capital investment (infrastructure); numbers almost unheard-of in the Third World, and particularly in countries as poor as Ethiopia.

Of course, this has focused on the positive side of the picture, because few people know about this, and – as I see – none in the HBDosphere. (Those who do, are making money out of it). There are of course, major, enormous, obstacles for Ethiopia to continue improving; the most immediate is, what else, rivarly between the ethnic groups. (Today, the minority Tigrayans, just some 4 million people out of 100 million, hold the upper hand and buy out the elites of the other way more populous ethnies. The Oromo have been staging demonstrations since last year, and large parts of the country are currently under a relatively mild martial law). Acute foreign exchange shortage is another difficulty; exports are growing, and growing well, but are still too small to finance industrialization-driven growth, so the government is very careful with the foreign exchange it gets (this is a major pain in the ass for foreign investors; but if the government did not do this, the now-more-numerous middle and upper classes would spend this money away importing luxury goods from Asia and the West).

The Ethiopian economic strategy proclaims the relatively modest objective of achieving middle-income status by the end of the 2020s. (If they keep up their current rates of growth, they’ll get there well ahead of schedule). That’s a pittance if you’re a Westerner, but a genuine achievement if you were the world’s poster-child for abject poverty just a few decades ago.

I could tell you a lot more, about politics, security. terrorism, crime, the problem of Islam, etc, but I’m sure your eyes glazed over into TL;DR long ago. Anyway, if someone read this far and is interested in more information, look up the name of Arkebe Oqubay.

What makes this all the more impressive is that Ethiopia was subjected to an IQ shredder of sorts during the Italian occupation.

A reader and long-term correspondent on primarily Eurasian matters sent me the following email:

I’ve been there a couple of times. Ethiopia is fucking amazing. It’s like what visiting Korea in 1960 must have been: still poor, but with all the numbers going up, up, up.

Anyway, here’s a depressing bit of historical trivia about Ethiopia: when the Italians took over, back in 1936? Mussolini literally told the new colonial regime to “liquidate” as many educated Ethiopians as possible. Which they enthusiastically did. Haile Selassie’s government had laboriously scraped together the cash to send a couple of hundred Ethiopians abroad to university. Almost all of them were killed, as were most of the country’s literate administrators and technicians. If you want the depressing details, google Yekatit 12 or the Graziani Massacre. The exact numbers are of course contested, but it looks like the Italians killed 20,000 to 30,000 (out of a population that was then 9 – 10 million), disproportionately targeting the educated and skilled.

That is similar to the Katyn massacre in absolute terms, twice as bad in relative population terms, and perhaps an order of magnide or two worse in terms of its impact on the educated, technically competent fraction of the population of Ethiopia relative to Poland. And yet the former is an order of magnitude or two better known. I’ve read several books covering the lead-up to WW2 and this is the first time I’d heard of Yekatit 12.

Additional wrinkle: this ended up being a double whammy for Ethiopia, because after the war, they very reasonably asked for war crimes trials for the people who did this. This was terribly embarrassing to the Allies, because some of these exact same people had switched sides and were now key players in the new postwar Italian government. (In particular Marshal Badoglio, the first postwar prime minister, had been implicated in all sorts of horrors in Ethiopia.) The Allies did not want an Italian equivalent to the Nuremberg trials! So, to shut up the Ethiopians, they made a deal: they gave them Italian Somaliland — modern Eritrea. This turned out to be a poisoned gift, because Eritrea is ethnically and linguistically distinct from Ethiopia. Before long there was an independence movement, and then a grinding twenty five year long guerrilla war that helped keep both countries poor and miserable.

The last war with Eritrea ended in 2000. Ethiopian GDP per capita (PPP) – i.e., adjusted for population growth – has expanded by 150% since 2000 ($620 to $1600 constant 2005 international dollars), if from a very low base. I think that’s the highest rate of expansion of any Sub-Saharan Africa with the exception of some small resource exporters.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Development, Ethiopia 

I have often remarked that a convenient way to think about East Asian comparative economic development is to view its three biggest players – China, Japan, and South Korea – as being separated by twenty year “chunks” of development, with Japan being on its leading edge and China being its laggard.

For instance, here is a graph of their respective per capita GDP growth rates from 1950 for Japan, 1970 for Korea, and 1990 for China – the years when all three passed the $2,000 mark (in terms of 1990 Geary-Khamis dollars, the standard unit of measurement used by what is probably the world’s most accessible comprehensive economic history database compiled by Angus Maddison).

east-asia-comparative-economic-development

This argument has recently been advanced by Jingyi Jiang (via Brian Wang), who likewise noticed the similarity of Japan’s, Korea’s, and now China’s “miracle economy” growth experiences – although his explanation of this might be a bit lacking:

Third, South Korea, Japan and China are geographically close. They trade a great deal with each other, and both South Korea and Japan invest directly in China. These close economic ties suggest that their growth experiences could be similar.

Alternatively, it could have something – just a little – to do with the fact that all three of these countries have First World average national IQs, which have been shown time and time again both on this blog and increasingly in academia to be the best predictors of economic potential around. I know, crazy thought, that.

Jingyi Jiang predicts China’s ultimate steady state level of GDP per capita at around half of the American level. The basis on which he does this is pretty weak: “No country in the world has been able to sustain growth rates of 7 percent or higher for more than four decades.” But this does not have to apply to China, since its level of economic development had been artificially suppressed by Maoist economic lunacy prior to the 1980s. Since China’s average national IQ and hence human capital potential is comparable to that of Japan (which has settled at 75% of the US level) and that of South Korea (at 65% of the US level, but continues eking out small gains), an ultimate limit of 50% seems to be unduly pessimistic.

Of course in population terms China is Japan x10 or Korea x25, so even half the US level of GDP per capita translates to a Chinese economy that is more than twice as large as the US in aggregate and at least as large in terms of military spending even if the share of GDP devoted to it remains 2% and 4% for China and the US, respectively. This is why all the numerous pundits who have argued that the (actually largely non-existent) China hype is all fake by smugly pointing out similar trends with respect to Japan in the 1980s are either idiots or knowing peddlers of nonsense.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: China, Development 

Just in case you thought the correlation between human capital and economic development was an artifice of the post-socialist world, here is a similar graph (R2=0.4273) for all the world’s countries that have participated in the Math and Science portions of the PISA or TIMMS (8th grade) international standardized student assessments.

education-economy-global-1

The methodology is the same as described in the previous post. As you can see, the relation is every bit as strong at the global level. However, you may point to a few outliers. How to explain them?

Corruption, institutions and “governance”, “ease of business” indicators, etc. are all next to useless; in fact, it has even been found that some corruption is better for growth than no corrupt at all (though there is a critical point of extreme corruption at which it becomes deeply harmful).

But these are minor technical discussions. As far as I can see, there are only three major factors that explain why some countries diverge from the close correlation (R2=0.8393) between human capital and economic development observed in normal countries with a long history of capitalist development: (1) Major exporters and mineral exporters, relative to their total GDP; (2) Countries with a legacy of socialism and central planning; and (3) Countries with small populations that are also major financial, tax haven, or tourism centers.

education-economy-global-3

As you can see from the graph below, the conventional countries would form a nice best fit exponential curve (R2=0.8393). So would the countries with socialist legacies (R2=0.4908), albeit with greater dispersion and at a systemically lower level than the normal capitalist ones – especially once you remove those among them with substantial resource endowments. The same in reverse applies considering those countries that have managed to occupy niches in tourism, providing tax havens, and above all in financial services (R2=0.6014) – they do systemically better than the normal capitalist countries. The only countries to defy this iron correlation between are those whose oil production enables their populations to live off the rents from it (R2=0.0002); but these Rich Oilmen countries are very few in number, and concentrated in the Gulf.

The Capitalist Normals

The Capitalist Normals (blue) have long histories of capitalist development, and while some – like Australia or Argentina – may have large primary resource endowments, they cannot be said to dominate the economy. They have a very close correlation (at least by social science standards) between levels of human capital and economic development. The developed countries in this band occupy the global technological frontier. As usual, the outliers tend to be exceptions that prove the rule, so I’ll focus on them.

Argentina does slightly better than its PISA scores might otherwise indicate, but here there may be a few explanations: (1) Older Argentinians are far better educated than their counterparts in most of the rest of Latin America; (2) Low school-leaver human capital may be in part compensated by having the continent’s highest tertiary enrollment ratio.

UPDATE: The Argentina outlier is solved. According to Steve Sailer, Argentina’s low score is thanks to the scrupulousness of its school administrators, who – unlike most other countries – took the effort to track down the truants and drop-outs, who constituted 39% of its school-age population. Without this effect, Argentina’s score would have been about 40 points higher, i.e. above Mexico, and similar to Chile and Bulgaria, that is to say right where it should be. Sailer also makes the observation that since truancy tends to be more prevalent in poorer countries – a factor that is only rare adjusted for in the PISA tests – the gap in the human capital of older schoolchildren between the high-scoring developed world and the low-scoring developing world are, if anything, even higher than recorded in these tests.

Syria and Jordan both do a bit worse than their potential. Perhaps the influx of poor Palestinian refugees depresses Jordanian per capita wealth, while Syria is hampered by an extremely statist economy.

Israel is a major positive outlier. One explanation is that there is a lot of math and scientific aptitude diversity within Israel, with Arabs and Sephardi Jews performing badly and Ashkenazi Jews doing much better and perhaps a great deal of variation within the higher-IQ Ashkenazi group in particular; however, this is not borne out in the statistics, with the standard deviation for Israeli scores no higher than in many other countries. So why is it richer than, say, Turkey? No idea. Maybe because of US financial help, which is not inconsiderable. Maybe because the entrepreneurial Jew stereotype is correct even if the clever Jew stereotype isn’t.

Greece is a minor positive outlier, but their debt crisis is cutting it down to where it should be; as with Ireland a few years ago (it used to be an outlier in 2007 but is no longer). I guess the invisible hand has a sense of justice.

The United States is the most significant positive outlier, getting almost $10,000 more GDP than would be warranted by its human capital levels, which are comparable to Sweden or Australia. One major factor is surely that Americans simply work much longer than Europeans; their productivity levels, output per hour worked is, in fact, virtually equal to that of Germans or Swedes. It also helps that it has plentiful land per capita with the world’s best natural riverine transport system – and useful land, not permafrost like in much of Russia or Canada – and controls the world’s reserve currency.

Korea is a major negative outlier, one of the world’s cleverest countries but one that hasn’t yet even fully caught up with Italy. However its case – as is, to a lesser extent, that of Finland and Taiwan – is explainable by the simple fact that for them, “convergence” isn’t a finished process; they continue to grow relatively rapidly by already-developed country standards, they do not have any debt or fiscal crises, and they can expect to continue moving in the direction of ultra-rich countries like Switzerland and Singapore in the next decades. That said, Japan – also a minor negative outlier – indicates there may be diminishing returns to ever more impressively educated populaces.

It is important to emphasize, also, which countries in this category are NOT outliers: Brazil, Mexico (despite a substantial oil endowment), Indonesia, India, and Turkey. Also South Africa, which is not in this database, but can be inferred to have very low human capital based on its still prevalent illiteracy and very low TIMMS (4th grade) results. Now Brazil and India are regarded in the Davos press as superior to Russia, and in the long-term superior to China also (by virtue, so their argue, of their democracy and “demographic dividends”); the other nations cited here have all at one time or another been suggested as replacements for Russia in the BRIC’s.

If we are however to regard human capital as the main determinant of the natural level of economic development, and the “potential gap” between the two to be the most reliable determinant of future growth prospects, then the best BRIC by far is China, followed by Russia; to the contrary, India and Brazil (and any prospective BRIC’s members) are unremarkable.

The Red Tigers

The Red Tigers (green) are countries with major legacies of socialism and often central planning. It is interesting to observe that countries where reforms started earlier (e.g. ex-Yugoslavia, East Central Europe) and where markets played a greater role under socialism are much closer to the “equilibrium level” indicated by their levels of human capital. That said, despite their relative affluence, their “potential gaps” are still substantial; for instance, the Czech Republic and Poland have human capital basically equivalent to that of Germany or the US, but are still up to twice as poor in terms of GDP (PPP) per capita. This implies that this group will continue converging to advanced developed countries in the years ahead.

Practically all outliers in this group are negative, and were already covered in the previous post. But to recap:

China is the mother of all outliers, and no doubt a very significant one – it has 1.3 billion people living at lower middle income levels (although a few provinces remain distinctly Third World) but their high-school students now outperform the US and most of the EU. In my opinion this is the result of a very special situation.

The Maoist state suppressed economic growth to a degree unprecedented in virtually any other state in the socialist camp; it also started from a very, very low base. But despite its ruinous economic views, its social policies – including basic education – were implemented far better than in almost any other low income country, and that on top of (a) their reverence for scholarship that only had its equivalent in the Protestant emphasis on literacy and (b) the observed high IQ of Chinese overseas communities which may have a genetic component. This means that when China introduced market reforms, the “potential gap” between its human capital and existing level of economic development was vast to a degree probably unprecedented anywhere else in the world and in all history. Hence thirty years’ worth of 10% GDP growth that shows no sign of stopping (in fact, China’s relative performance exceeds that of any other Asian tiger in their stage of rapid development). And barring a major and unexpected discontinuity is should NOT stop until China reaches the level of per capita wealth Korea, Taiwan, or even Switzerland.

One minor caveat is that rapid development means that this “potential gap”, while vast, may no longer be quite as vast as indicated by the graph. Note that according to some estimates, China’s PPP GDP is now larger than America’s, which would give a GDP (PPP) per capita of $10,000-$12,000 or so.

Armenia, and to a lesser extent Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, are negative outliers. Their cases are clear; they suffered from destructive wars in the 1990′s, and in Armenia’s case it remains surrounded by neighbors from hell.

The ex-Soviet countries without oil, such as Ukraine and Moldova, tend to be deeply negative outliers. One reason is that they reformed slowly (while the Soviet-era system crumbled about them), and late; and have suffered from particularly incompetent and avaricious governance; as I argued in a prior post, Ukraine never left the period of “anarchic stasis” that characterized Russia in the 1990′s. However, Ukraine’s perspectives aren’t looking good, at least in the short-term. Perhaps it’s because corruption, etc. are still so high that – while they normally don’t have much of an effect – reach such critical levels that they significantly stymie growth; an alternate, and more benign, explanation is that Ukraine’s GDP (PPP) is underestimated – it was not adjusted upwards like Russia’s in the recent OECD and World Bank recalculation of relative prices – meaning that Ukrainians already live better than the statistics indicate, their “potential gap” is smaller, and thus understandably there is less room for fast GDP growth.

Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia are curious creatures in that in their case, the resource windfall boon works against the socialist legacy curse. This means that, despite that they are ex-Soviet – i.e., the economy was more deeply distorted and reforms started later than in much of the rest of the socialist camp – they are nonetheless on the upper part of the human capital and economic development curve, along with countries like the Czech Republic or Romania, and are not outliers like Ukraine or even Latvia.

At this point I would also like to demolish the myth of Georgia as a shining beacon of unimpeded economic progress in the Caucasus. It will not transform into Switzerland or Singapore, or even Estonia, any time soon, i.e. the next few decades. Its human capital is very low and it is already fairly close to the maximum economic potential enabled by it; this may be an achievement on Saakashvili’s part, who massively – one might say recklessly – liberalized the Georgian economy, which caused (or accompanied) a big growth spurt in the mid to late 2000′s. But it is unsustainable, first because Georgia is now far nearer the limits imposed by its low level of human capital; second, because if anything human capital has declined under Saakashvili (e.g. tertiary enrollment has nearly halved as university fees exploded, making post-school study much less affordable for ordinary Georgians).

The Oilmen

The Oilmen (red) are those very lucky countries with lots of oil and small populations. It is almost always oil; the sole exception in my sample is Botswana (diamonds and minerals).

Unlike either the Capitalist Normals or the Red Tigers, there is no correlation between levels of human capital and economic development among the Oil Guzzlers. That is because the oil production per capita effect, which relies on geological luck of the draw, overpowers all others. That said, they could be divided into a few distinct groupings.

(1) The Rich Oilmen. Qatar, Kuwait, and the UAE, and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Oman, are all fabulously rich thanks almost exclusively to their resource endowments. Their human capital is unimpressive and would not otherwise come anywhere near supporting their oil-enabled luxurious lifestyles. Their attempts at diversification are to be lauded, e.g. finance and tourism in Dubai, or journalism in Qatar, but these efforts are critically reliant on attracting foreign specialists with (oil) money so they are not sustainable.

(2) The Casual Oilmen. Norway and Russia benefit greatly from their oil windfalls; for a start, they largely rule out fiscal worries. Benefiting from uninterrupted capitalist development, Norway has transformed itself into one of the world’s wealthiest nations; even if it didn’t have oil, it would still be as rich as Sweden. Russia will probably never reach Norway’s level because the latter has far more oil per capita; nonetheless, it has a decent manufacturing base (e.g. capable of making stuff like GLONASS and advanced fighters) and a moderately growing economy that has no reason not to converge to Italy by 2020 and perhaps Sweden by 2025 or 2030. Tight supply and growing demand means that it is very unlikely that oil prices will fall and remain low in the foreseeable future, but even on the off chance that they do, Sergey Zhuravlev has calculated that the effects on Russia’s economy are going to be modest in the medium-term and negligible in the long-term.

(3) The Poor Oilmen. Oil is likewise of help for plugging budget holes to Algeria, Kazakhstan, Iran, Venezuela, Mexico, and Azerbaijan. However, unlike the case for the Rich Oilmen, their populations are too numerous to live off in sumptuous comfort off the rents; oil production per capita is too low. This means they can’t fly off into the stratosphere like the Rich Oilmen. They need non-oil based growth to become rich. But unlike the Casual Oilmen they are unlikely to achieve much of that because their human capital levels are very modest. If there is an oil crash, past experience – e.g., Venezuela in the 1980′s and 1990′s – suggests that they will be in for many years of stagnation and fiscal crises.

The Bankster Nations

The Bankster Nations (crosses) tend to be small countries which have managed to become major financial, tax haven, or tourism centers. Their GDP (PPP) per capita tends to be higher than the level suggested by their human capital, but not to anywhere near the same extent as the Rich Oilmen.

Liechtenstein is the biggest outlier in my database; its human capital is respectable, but its GDP (PPP) per capita at $141,000 is literally off the chart. No wonder when their population is a mere 30,000 souls. Luxembourg, Singapore, and Hong Kong have all carved themselves out very profitable niches as financial centers serving neighboring economies that are much bigger but also more regulated. Macao is Asia’s gambling center (and unofficial a conduit for Chinese money laundering). Cyprus serves a similar money laundering and reinvestment function for Russian nouveux riches, to the extent that the Russian government recently bailed out the island. Mauritius is a tax haven, and is also – along with Malta and Trinidad & Tobago – a popular vacation spot.

Switzerland is an entire nation that has devoted itself to financial services (including the more shady, secretive ones) as well as other very high added-value stuff like precision engineering and pharmaceuticals. And it has become extremely rich.

Without exception all these places are doing better or far better than the average Capitalist Normal country. That said, even here there is a definite correlation between human capital and GDP (PPP) per capita. These activities may require less hard work and scruples than is typical for other industries but they still require brains – especially for the high-end finance stuff. Not so surprising then that it is the highest human capital countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Switzerland that have become so prominent in it.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 

That title sure caught you attention? Good. Now for the 1000-words-in-a-picture evidence.

gdp-human-capital-socialist-bloc-3

Human capital refers to educational attainment, as measured by the results of the PISA and TIMMS standardized tests*. As you can see, there is a very close correlation between human capital and GDP (PPP) per capita. The exceptions all confirm the rule. For now I have only done the post-socialist space, because of its sheer variety – different cultures, different rule-of-law and ease of business environments, difference resource endowments and political systems – which lets me illustrate just how irrelevant all those factors are compared to human capital. The same laws hold at the global level, and I intend to cover it in a consequent post, but that involves a lot more work so for now I’ll just settle for this.

The Near Developed nations have respectable GDP per capita (approaching the poorer members of the classical developed world, such as Portugal and Greece), and levels of human capital that are basically equivalent to those of the rich countries. They are close to converging with the developed world, so growth tends to be relatively slow by the standards of more dynamic (but much poorer) emerging markets, on the order of 3%-5%. Despite their low positions, neither Russia nor Latvia are outliers; more recent calculations by the World Bank give Russia a PPP GDP of $20,000 for 2010, wedging it in with Hungary, Poland, and Lithuania; while Latvia was very severely affected by the late recession. The Czech Republic is close to being a positive outlier: One reason may be its proximity to developed Germany, another the early start of its reforms.

The Red Train is, basically, China. Its searing growth rates aren’t because of its state capitalist system or the Confucian work ethic, but because its human capital is wildly out of line with its economic development. Its high school graduates are ready to operate complex machines and staff the most hi-tech enterprises, but the legacy of Maoist economics – which, hard as it is to believe, were even more inefficient and offered fewer incentives than under Soviet central planning – means that a significant share of the population still uses oxen-pulled plowshares for farming. So it is no wonder that, with its markets freed, the system is straining to catch up – at the pace of 10% per year – to its equilibrium place along with South Korea and Japan. Note also that according to some estimates, China’s PPP GDP is now larger than America’s, which would give a per capita level of $10,000 or so; significantly higher than the figure displayed on the graph.

The Slow Middle are countries with moderate levels of human capital, and they are significantly poorer than the Near Developed nations; for them, convergence to developed country levels is still far away. Their growth rates are modest because their economic development is only slightly, if at all, below the level natural for their degree of human capital. While Turkey and the Balkan countries don’t look that far away from the poorest Near Developed countries, it should be noted that all three are currently suffering from major disbalances that could well end up in Latvian-style crashes. To set themselves on a sustainable development path, they will have to raise their human capital levels by at least another notch. The two negative outliers are Ukraine and Armenia. Ukraine has just been horrendously mismanaged; as I argued in a prior post, it never left the period of “anarchic stasis” that characterized Russia in the 1990′s. That said, the Ukraine may not so much of an outlier; its prices are low, and salaries are comparable to Serbia’s, so its PPP GDP may well be substantially underestimated. Armenia is an even more glaring outlier, with human capital that is comparable to the weaker Near Developed members, but I suppose huge military spending and being blockaded on two sides, and bordering Georgia and Iran on the other two, isn’t conductive to prosperity.

The Doldrums consist of Georgia and Moldova. Georgia has had good management under Saakashvili (it is now far less corrupt than Russia, or its Caucasian neighbors, and Ease of Business is very good by global standards), and Moldova has had bad management; nonetheless, their differences in GDP per capita are modest. The problem is that their schools produce people who are, largely speaking, functionally innumerate; so no matter how hard Saakashvili wills it, Georgia isn’t becoming a Singapore of the Black Sea any time soon. Sustained convergence to developed country levels is out of sight; radical improvements in human capital will first have to be made, and they can’t happen in the space of a few years; they require decades. The Saved By Oil group include Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. They are as wealthy as the Slow Middle, but as stupid as the Doldrums. But in a world of high oil prices they should be relatively well off.

Kyrgyzstan is in the Third World. Although its Soviet-era legacy has enabled it to provide universal primary schooling, the quality of the products of that schooling is comparable to India – at the very bottom of the global heap. It may achieve decent growth of perhaps 4% or 5%, but it will be from a very low base.

There are several conclusions to this. First, there are only really three important factors to economic development. First, above all, human capital, i.e. primarily, the quality of education. It makes sense on an intuitive level and there’s a ton of literature in support but the graph above makes it… graphically clear. Second, resource endowments, when highly concentrated per unit of non-resource extraction based GDP – as in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, but not quite in Russia – will hugely, and positively, influence the level of GDP (it does play a substantial positive role in Russia but it should be noted that Russia’s oil production per capita is less than Canada’s, and its oil production per unit of GDP is far less than Kazakhstan’s or Azerbaijan’s). Third, political management. Especially incompetent regimes such as the ones in Ukraine will hold it back from achieving the full potential enabled by its human capital; if its monstrously incompetent and repressive of growth, as in Maoist China, the resulting gap between reality and potential can develop to truly vast proportions; consequently, when the most egregious barriers are removed, as during the late 1970′s, growth takes off at truly prodigal rates.

Equally important is the fact that things commonly cited by Thomas Friedman, Davos Man, The Economist, The WSJ, The Financial Times, the respectable experts, etc. etc. as important for economic growth turn out to be largely irrelevant. Ukraine is more democratic than Russia and Kyrgyzstan is more democratic than China, but their growth profiles are much worse regardless. Russia is fairly corrupt – though not nearly to the extent implied by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index – and so is Hungary, and they both have much poorer Ease of Business indicators, but they are both much better off than cleaner and business-friendly Georgia. Latvia was part of the “clean” Baltics, but that didn’t stop it from tumbling to the bottom of the Near Developed pack in the wake of the global financial crash; is it too much of a coincidence that Estonia, which has a slightly edge in human capital, managed to hang in tight? The three biggest outliers by far in a best fit line on the graph – China, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan – are all patently explainable by a Maoist legacy and oil windfalls.

Suffice to say, most of the former socialist bloc – most of the world, in fact, but that’s for another post – is at precisely the economic development levels implied by their levels of human capital. There are exceptions, most especially China, but to a lesser extent also many of the poorer Near Developed countries, where the distortive legacy of central planning has resulted in lower current economic development levels than should otherwise have been the case had markets been allowed to function; nonetheless, they tend to compensate with respectable growth rates, as the reality – potential gap seeks closure. If you need to blame someone for why your country is poor, don’t bother trotting out the usual canards: State interference, authoritarianism, corruption, anti-Western policies, privatization and liberalization will solve everything! (liberal canards); neocolonialist exploitation (leftist canards); Russian exploitation (East European nationalist canards). More likely than not your countrymen are illiterate, innumerate slobbering buffoons and it’s as simple as that.

* Human capital was calculated by the average of PISA 2000 scores in Math and Science, and of TIMMS 2008 scores in Math and Science. Where data sets for both assessments existed for a particular country, the TIMMS score was – on average – around 7.7% higher than the PISA score, so I adjusted the former down by that amount. The human capital index was calculated by taking the average of the PISA and adjusted TIMMS scores where applicable, or either the PISA score or the adjusted TIMMS score where data for only one of them existed.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 

Pomeranz, Kenneth – The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (2001)
Category: economy, history, world systems; Rating: 5*/5
Summary: Brad DeLong’s review; The Bactra Review; Are Coal and Colonies Really Crucial?

great-divergence-pomeranz It’s a rare book that not only vastly informs you on a particular issue, but in so doing overturns many prior conceptions you had on the general subjects. Now, Pomeranz is not a good writer. The text is slow and turgid, and readable only by dint of my interest in the subject. Many potential counter-arguments go unanswered (which is not to say that they sink the overall theory, as I will try to prove in this review). All that said, I have little choice but to give it a 5*/5, as this a truly counter-intuitive and deeply contextualizing work that overturns many of the triumphalist post hoc narratives of Western chauvinism.

This book attempts to answer the big question of world economic history: Why Europe? It does this by systematically comparing Europe with other leading world regions in the pre-industrial age such as Qing China, Tokugawa Japan, and India. The first big finding is that – contrary to the conventional wisdom – there were far more similarities than differences, at least between Britain and the most advanced Chinese region, the Yangtze Delta.

Essential Similarities Between Old World Cores

It is sometimes argued that special European demographic patterns, such as marrying late and a celibate clergy, had the effect of lowering its fertility and mitigating the Malthusian impoverishment held to be prevalent elsewhere. Another, often complementary, view is that European consumption markets were already far more developed than in China, which allowed it to hit the ground running (so to speak) once the preconditions for industrial revolution were fulfilled. However, China also saw fertility postponement, and there is ample evidence that at least until the mid-19th century the average quality of life in China as measured by life expectancy, median incomes, availability of consumer goods, etc. was at least as good as in Europe, probably higher, and as good as Britain in its most advanced region, the Yangtze Delta.

Although Europe was technologically ahead in some spheres – most visibly, guns, clock making, optics – China had a clear lead in irrigation, soil preservation and land management, and medicine (yields per acre in Europe only approached Chinese levels by the late 19th century). This is of no small consequence in pre-industrial societies hewing to the laws of Malthus. As in China, per capita food and fuel availability declined in Europe up until the mid-19th century century; only in Britain was this in significant part mitigated from 1800 by the windfall of “coal and colonies” (much more on this later).

Finally, there’s the argument that European capitalist institutions and markets were better developed and thus kick-started its growth. But again, the evidence Pomeranz marshals convinces that, if anything, China was substantially more “capitalist” (in the laissez-faire sense) than Europe. There were far fewer monopolies, and no internal trade barriers – contrast this, for example, with ancient regime France – and as a consequence, the volume of trade flows (in grains, sugar, timber, etc) were far higher within China than in continental Europe. The civil service was professional and meritocratic, whereas in Europe this only came to be in the 19th century. Markets for labor and products were freer in China; guilds had much less political influence than in Europe. Bound labor and feudal obligations remained prevalent far longer in Europe (and India) than in China, where it had long ago become marginal; for instance, the settlement of Taiwan for the cultivation of sugar – China’s equivalent of the Caribbean islands – was done by free labor. Though credit was cheaper in Europe – or, at least, in Holland and Britain – but to cut a long story short, there is (1) no evidence that this made crucial industrial activities unprofitable or impeded further pro-industrial mechanization, and (2) the credit system was more developed in India relative to China and Japan, although it was far more backward in general.

One major factor that Pomeranz glosses over is the impact of the Scientific Revolution. Though Chinese scientific achievements are under-appreciated – for instance, it matched Western mathematical achievements up to and including those of 16th century Italy – it is undeniable that Europe took a commanding lead from about the mid-16th century. There was to be no Chinese Kepler or Newton. But impressive as it was, you do not need calculus or laws of planetary motion to produce coal and iron (“as late as 1827 and 1842, two separate British observers claimed that Indian bar iron was as good or betterthan English iron”), and you certainly don’t need them to more efficiently produce textiles. As first textiles, and then coal and iron, constituted the first stages of the Industrial Revolution – up to the 1860′s or so – the European scientific base was almost entirely incidental to the initial industrial takeoff. Now obviously this scientific base did become vastly more important by the late 19th century, which saw the flowering of the electric, chemical, and international combustion engine industries; and those countries with particularly powerful research establishments, such as the US and Germany, did very well, catching up to Britain. However, by then China was already hugely behind.

Addendum 7/31: I almost forgot to mention this. This is probably obvious, but Pomeranz says nary a word about the contribution of cultural differences to the Great Divergence (in contrast to people like Landes who make it a centerpiece of their analysis, waxing poetic on the influence of the Renaissance, the Reformation, distinctive Western values of separation of church and state, etc). And rightly so. Culture is an intangible, and has very little explanatory power; furthermore, such explanations are frequently contradictory in time and place (for instance, whereas “Confucian values” may be cited as holding Chinese society back, they are now frequently invoked to explain the meteoric rise of the Asian tigers; you can’t have it both ways, folks).

The European “Miracle”: Coal and Colonies

Why then did Europe, and more specifically Britain, industrialize while China fell into an ecological impasse in which food production barely kept up with population growth? Pomeranz argues (convincingly, IMO) that the crux of the matter was a fortunate conjunctures and contingencies that overwhelmingly favored Europe.

First, colonies. Many recent scholars have dismissed their contribution; according to one article, overseas coercion could not have been responsible for more than 7% of gross investment in late 18th century Britain (and far less in Europe). But this neglects the vital role of the New World colonies – with their near endless land and natural resources – at relieving ecological bottlenecks in Europe, and in particular Britain. These included sugar (which acted as an additional source of calories as well as a hunger suppressant) and cotton (for clothing, and indirectly relieving pressure on pastures and timber for heating), and later in the 19th century, massive grain exports. All this “ghost acreage” allowed the British isles to support a far larger population than its existing carrying capacity could have, a highly urbanized one and relatively comfortable too (hence no Malthusian stress as in late Qing China, with its debilitating effects on political and social cohesion).

(Furthermore, even the aforementioned 7% figure could have been significant in a pre-industrial world. Due to high rates of capital depreciation, the net accumulation in capital stock then was only a small fraction of the overall savings rate. For instance, according to one calculation, that hypothetical 7% in “super-profits” – an increment to gross savings not purchased at the expense of consumption – could have significantly increased an otherwise minimal rate of net capital accumulation.)

And these goods – cotton, sugar, etc. – could be imported at very favorable terms of trade, because of another set of favorable conjunctures. The decimation of Native Americans due to European epidemiological superiority cleared the way for settlers, who supplied the Caribbean colonies with food and Britain with timber (thus relieving its Malthusian stress). Furthermore, the slave labor on the Caribbean islands – apart from the implicit coercion (and “super-profits” it enabled) – prevented them from developing their own proto-industrial sectors that could undercut British exports.

This is in contrast to what happened naturally in China, largely by dint of its free labor markets (as opposed to New World slavery or East European serfdom). The inner provinces began to expand their handicrafts and textiles industries, thus undercutting the (more advanced) proto-industrialization of the Yangtze Delta. This was a form of “import substitution,” and economically natural in those times because of far higher transport costs than is the case today. This was accompanied by a growing population in the inner regions. Unable to increase its industrial exports, and facing declining imports of rice, timber, etc., the most advanced Chinese regions, the Yangtze Delta and Lingnan, had to increase the labor intensity of their agriculture so as to keep food production abreast of their own population.

Obviously, the conditions did not exist for a Caribbean turn towards import substitution. The slaves themselves had no choice, and neither did the owners; they needed to produce commodities for export in order to pay for replacing slaves. And this all provided a growing (as opposed to declining) demand stimulus for British industry.

One additional New World advantage covered in some length by Pomeranz is the windfall of New World silver – which was, in large part, a free gift to Europe on account of the slave labor and monopolies used in its extraction. This allowed it to easily balance the books with trade in China for silk, porcelain, etc., which in turn could be used to pay for African slaves and New World resources. And Chinese demand for silver was huge, since it was remonetizing its economy to run on silver during the early modern period. Indirectly, it contributed to the formation of the Atlantic economy.

The second great British advantage was coal – that is, as an alternative to wood, located close to its main industrial centers (China too had coal, but it was far away from its main industrial centers, and transport costs were prohibitive). Coal relieved pressure on woodlands, which were in rapid decline, and – due to its virtually limitless nature – unbound the production possibilities of iron. Steam power was crucial to this expansion, not only by powering other processes but by permitting a huge expansion of coal-mining itself. “The Chinese had long understood the basic scientific principle involved – the existence of atmospheric pressure – and had long since mastered (as part of their “box bellows”) a double-acting piston/cylinder system much like Watt’s, as well as a system for transforming rotary motion to linear motion that was as good as any known anywhere before the twentieth century. ll that remained was to use the piston to turn the wheel rather than vice versa.” So the relevant technical skills were not unique to Europe. In fact, northern China had a huge coke and iron complex as early as the 11th century under the Song dynasty, though it was brought low by the multiple perturbations of the 12th-15th centuries (Jurchen and Mongol invasions, etc). The rest is worth quoting in extenso:

However, a number of factors militated against widespread Chinese (re)adoption of coal as a major fuel source. First, the reorientation of the center of Chinese development to the east and south meant by the Qing dynasty meant that its industrial cores were now located far from the big coal deposits in the north-west; the advantages of linking these regions by transport are only evident ex ante. Second, the best artisans were concentrated in the (low coal) Yangtze Delta or along the south-east coast, and serving a huge public demand for clocks and other mechanical toys. Third, “even if mine operators had seen how to improve their mining techniques, they had no reason to think that extracting more coal would allow them to capture a vastly expanded market.” Finally, and most importantly, the technical nature of extracting Chinese coal was profoundly different from that of extracting British coal; in fact, it made the deep extraction that enabled Britain to boost its output all but impossible.

English mines tended to fill with water, so a strong pump was needed to remove that water. Chinese coal mines had much less of a water problem; instead they were so arid that spontaneous combustion was a constant threat. It was this problem – one that required ventilation rather than powerful pumps – that preoccupied the compiler of the most important Chinese technical manual of the period… Even if still better ventilation had ameliorated this problem—or if people wanted coal badly enough to pay for this high level of danger – ventilation techniques would not have also helped solve the problem of transporting coal (and things in general) as the steam engines that pumped out Britain’s mines did. Thus, while overall skill, resource, and economic conditions in “China,” taken as an abstract whole, may not have been much less conducive to a coal/steam revolution than those in “Europe” as a whole, the distribution of those endowments made the chances of such a revolution much dimmer.

In contrast, some of Europe’s largest coal deposits were located in a much more promising area: in Britain. This placed them near excellent water transport, Europe’s most commercially dynamic economy, lots of skilled craftspeople in other areas, and – to give the problems of getting and using coal some additional urgency – a society that had faced a major shortage of firewood by 1600 if not before. And although timber and timber-based products were imported by sea, this was far more expensive than receiving logs floated down a river, as the Yangzi Delta did; the incentives to use (and learn more about) comparatively accessible coal were correspondingly greater.

Much of the knowledge about how to extract and use coal had been accumulated by craftsmen and was not written down even in the nineteenth century… Harris shows that French attempts to copy various coal-using processes foundered, even when they reproduced the equipment, because the production of, say, a heat-resistant crucible required very detailed knowledge and split-second timing acquired through experience – and the financial losses from making a mistake could be very large… Only when whole teams of English workers were brought over (mostly after 1830) was the necessary knowledge effectively transferred.

Thus we see that technological expertise was essential to Europe’s coalbreakthrough, but the development of that expertise depended on long experience (and many failures along the way) with abundant, cheap supplies. This experience was possible because artisan skill, consumer demand, and coal itselfwere all concentrated near each other. Without such geographic good luck, one could easily develop lots of expertise in an area with a limited future (e.g.,in using and improving wood furnaces) and not proceed along the track that eventually led to tapping vast new supplies of energy.

Furthermore, the adoption of the steam engine – whose synthesis with coal was what really generated the Industrial Revolution – was also highly contingent. It was the result of 200 years of use on British coal fields, which was both economical (free coal due to zero transport costs) and proximate to mechanics-minded artisans which could offer improvements. Nonetheless, it took until 1830 for the costs of energy per unit of power for steam-run textile machinery to decline precipitously; until then, water remained competitive with steam engines!

Take away some of the incremental advantage conferred by skill transfers from nearby artisans in other fields, the learning by doing made possible by the application to nearby coal fields, and the low cost of coal itself, and – as incredible as it seems to us today – the steam engine could have seemed not worth promoting.

So, in conclusion, Britain enjoyed two major advantages that the Yangtze Delta, the Lingnan region, and Japan did not: (1) a colonial system that allowed it to massively increase its effective carrying capacity while simultaneously stimulating its industrial production, and (2) conveniently located coal reserves in damp places.

Apart from Britain, Europe as a whole was nowhere close to an industrial takeoff at the dawn of the 19th century; and though the relative inefficiency of its land usage – and the gains from ameliorating that – allowed it to avoid a crisis for a few decades after 1800 (what Pomeranz calls the ecological “advantages of backwardness”), it was nonetheless approaching an an ecological bottleneck as in China (the 1840′s in particular are known as a time of dearth). This was at a time when the Industrial Revolution had scarcely began on the mainland, and if it had continued it would have required the diversion of more and more labor to working the land intensively, instead of industry. Could industrialization then have been sustained without coal, New World surpluses, and the already existing industrialization of Great Britain?

The general impression one gets is that not only was the “European miracle” in fact just a matter of fortunate conjunctures and contingencies, but that there was nothing especially preordained about the Industrial Revolution. No colonial surpluses; no easily-reachable coal or mechanical culture; perhaps, even no slavery (to enhance the efficiency with which colonial surpluses were extracted) – no industrial revolution. At least, not a few more centuries.

Additional Thoughts for Consideration

(1) Needless to say, I now largely reject my previous theory Walled Off By Complexity: Did China Stagnate Because Of Its Writing System? I don’t think the hieroglyphics system did China any good, but they certainly can’t explain The Great Divergence.

(2) One important factor that I didn’t see Pomeranz mention – the Atlantic is much narrower than the Pacific! China was building ships as advanced as that of the European Golden Age of Navigation as early as the 15th century, and in huge numbers far exceeding the capacity of any single European state. Navigation itself wasn’t a problem either (note that it was China that invented the compass, topographic maps, etc). But it didn’t practice overseas slave-trading, and those Chinese that settled new lands – be they in Taiwan, or the inner provinces – tended to develop their own proto-industrial economies, which in the presence of conditions of free trade and free markets for labor and products eventually undermined the volume of trade.

(3) The “rise of the West” was in large part built on systems – mercantilism, military-fiscal competition, etc. – that universal Western ideology now condemns. Ironically, the BRIC’s (including most prominently China) are the ones using mercantile strategies to catch up to the West.

(4) What’s even more curious is that it wasn’t only Britain, and then the rest of Western Europe that overtook China; so did Russia. Now Russia was undoubtedly far, far behind both China and the West practically since its inception until (relative to China) about the late 19th century. It had serfdom, very small urban class, a very de-commercialized economy, with luxury consumption being indulged in by a tiny elite, etc. Nonetheless, despite this backwardness – an inevitable one, due to ecological reasons I have written a lot on this blog about – the state did nonetheless successfully leverage what meager surpluses it had to maintain a rough military parity with the West and play the role of a Great Power. So, yet more evidence that strict adherence to neoclassical economic development isn’t all that it’s hyped up to be.

(5) An interesting counter-factual to consider – what if there had been no easily accessible coal in Britain or the Rhineland, and if Columbus had found no New World and instead sunk somewhere in the middle of a globe-spanning World Ocean? Could there have been an industrial revolution? Is industrial revolution contingent on “coal and colonies”?

Or would Europe instead have become something like Qing China in the 19th century, increasingly politically debilitated, and economically stagnant – any improvements in land management and increasing labor intensity swallowed up by an inexorably growing population? Could it, indeed, have collapsed, perhaps after it grew critically weak and was invaded by the Russian Army much like China was by the Jurchens, the Mongols, the Manchus, etc., and pillaged by British pirates much like Japanese pirates preyed on a weak China in the 17th century Ming twilight? Indeed, could it eventually have collapsed into yet another Dark Age as followed the Roman Empire, in which much of the vaunted knowledge of the Scientific Revolution would be lost to memory, with the 18th century to early 19th century coming to be seen as a bygone “Golden Age”?

PS. H/t to Doug M. for bringing this book to my attention in the first place.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 

Just as with Russia, the Western media (beholden as it is to its power elite sponsors and anti-Rest ideology) peddles many tropes about China that cloud real understanding of this fascinating civilization-state. In the spirit of Sino Triumphalism, this is my attempt to set the record straight and overturn the lazy arguments used to dismiss, Brezhnev-like, China’s imminent rise to superpowerdom. My message to those Sinophobes: talk cooks no rice. For more on this topic see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

MYTH: The lack of IP rights curbs innovation, so the Chinese economy will remain based on producing cheap knock-offs of superior Western goods.

REALITY: China now focuses on copying products because its technologically lagging, and as such it is much easier and cost effective to reproduce already existing products than to come up with your own. Much the same can (and was!) said of Japan in the 1960′s, or Germany in the 1880′s – but look at them now!

The lack of IP rights makes this assimilation far easier – why waste money paying rent to foreign software companies when you can use their products for free so easily? You’d have to be their stooge to do this! Throughout history, many successful developers, such as Germany and Britain, flouted IP rights and funded industrial espionage to modernize their economies. They only started praising the virtues of IP rights when they got rich to protect their own new interests.

With China already taking the leading positions in sectors such as High Speed Rail and supercomputers, the time when it joins the developed world in “kicking away the ladder” can’t be far off.

MYTH: Corruption and inequality is growing rapidly, which will lead to rising social tensions, economic stagnation, revolts, and collapse.

REALITY: Corruption is largely irrelevant to economic growth, unless it is cripplingly high (which it definitely isn’t in China). For instance, only 9% of Chinese reported paying a bribe in 2010, which is actually the same as Japan.

True, inequality has risen sharply, with the Gini index reaching 47. This figure is similar to the US and lower than most Latin American countries, albeit far higher than in Europe. However, a peak in inequality is typical of countries in the middle of their industrial development, and is expected to fall in the coming years. Indeed, this seems to be already happening, with the poorer inland provinces beginning to grow faster than the wealthier coastal regions in recent years.

MYTH: The brouhaha over China today ignores its bad loans and real estate bubble, which will explode and sink its economy any day now.

REALITY: Pundits have been ranting about China’s bad loans problem for a decade, but in reality the issue is less acute now than it was then. In the meantime it is the Western financial that collapsed (and had to be bailed out at huge taxpayer expense). Chinese leaders noticed this problem early and nipped it in the bud with a series of restructurings in the 2000′s.

The real estate bubble isn’t really a bubble because, no matter how many empty apartments there are, half of China’s population is still in the countryside and will continue moving into the cities for decades to come.

MYTH: Back in the 1980′s, there was the same hysteria about Japan becoming No. 1, and look what happened to them! This Sino triumphalism is nothing but a passing fad.

REALITY: China’s population is TEN TIMES bigger than Japan’s. Realistically, Japan could have never become the world’s biggest economy because doing so would have required its GDP per capita to rise to double that of the US. In stark contrast, China’s GDP per capita needs only be a QUARTER that of America for it to become the world’s largest economy. Some economists think that’s already happened (see below).

MYTH: The Communist Party suppresses all freedom of thought, which will inevitable lead to stagnation, regional rifts, and pro-freedom uprisings.

REALITY: First, the idea that the CCP truly suppresses free thought nowadays is a bit quaint. There are plenty of think-tanks – more than in the US – that are discussing exciting new concepts such as deliberative democracy, Comprehensive National Power, and new ways of measuring economic growth.

Second, the leadership is forward-thinking and responsive. To illustrate this, in a recent speech Hu Jintao called for a “circular economy” and “sustainable development.” (Can you imagine Obama voicing similar sentiments? The Republicans would devour him alive.) This is backed by concrete policy measures. For instance, in response to its reliance on coal China invested in renewable energy manufacturing capacity and now produces half the world’s wind turbines and solar panels.

Third, not only does democracy or the lack of it have no discernible effect on the speed of development – in fact, China itself is a refutation of that theory – but its not even that oppressive compared to countries commonly called “democratic.” So it jailed Liu Xiaobo for 11 years (who claims China would be better off under colonialism). But in the meantime, the Marxist activist Binayak Sen got life imprisonment in India, and the US is waging a campaign to shut down Wikileaks and imprison Julian Assange. No talk of a Nobel Peace Prize for those two.

Fourth, it is extremely arrogant to claim that China will necessarily want to follow in the footsteps of the West. It may well take its own sovereign road to democracy, such as a democratization of the current NEPist model. Even if it does democratize aka Taiwan, then why should it collapse? Its factories and people will remain in place; so will economic growth, albeit with a blip or two during the transition. And according to our “democratists” wouldn’t such a development make China stronger anyway?

As for George Friedman’s forecasts that a widening gulf between the coast and inland regions will cause the coastal elites to identify with foreign interests such as Japan and the US and break the power of the government… well, this is the same guy who goes on about The Coming War with Japan. No more comment required.

MYTH: Outside showpieces like Shanghai and a few other coastal cities the entire country struggles on in Third World poverty, illiteracy and immiseration.

REALITY: This is belied by fairly basic statistics. A country with 67% cell phone penetration, 36% Internet penetration, and more cars sold per year than in the US as of 2009 cannot be “Third World” be definition. Nor does a literacy rate of 97% or an infant mortality rate of 16/1000 jive with this description.

As of 2010, the IMF gives China a real GDP per capita of $7,500 (which is lower-middle income by international standards). However, in reality this is probably an underestimate. For instance, Thailand with a GDP per capita of $9,000 had manufacturing wages of $250 per month in 2009, as opposed to China’s $400 per month. Its consumption stats also indicate a higher living standard (which is all the more impressive given its high savings rate). In any case, China is a decidedly middle-income country.

MYTH: The People’s Liberation Army is full of rusty Soviet-era hardware and derelict warships that will be obliterated in a conflict with the US.

REALITY: Now resting on a solid economic foundation, the Chinese military is being rapidly modernized. In recent years it has unveiled its own drones, a fifth-generation fighter prototype, and a “carrier-killing” ballistic missile. It accounts for a third of global shipbuilding capacity, enabling a rapid naval buildup (even as US capabilities degrade due to fiscal problems and cost overruns). A recent RAND study indicates that China is already be able to establish air superiority over Taiwan in the event of a hot war over the straits.

As Paul Kennedy noted in The Rise And Fall Of The Great Powers (of which Chinese strategists are big fans), military power follows naturally in the wake of economic power. The Chinese economy will eventually be so much larger than everyone else’s in the Pacific basin that its neighbors will have no option but to acquiesce to its hegemony, even if it doesn’t win them over by its rapidly growing soft power.

The only military sphere in which China lags the US (and Russia) is in the size and sophistication of its strategic nuclear forces. But even there it may be stronger than it appears. It was recently revealed that it has built 5000km of tunnels in the hills of Hebei province. For all we know hundreds of ICBM’s could be hidden away there.

MYTH: The Chinese economy is dependent on exports for its economic growth, meaning that even if the US collapses it will bring the Chicoms down with it.

REALITY: This is a complete myth. Whereas gross exports are at 40% of GDP, what matters are NET EXPORTS – which are at just 7% of GDP. (In fact this past quarter it even reported a trade deficit). Or if we look at it regionally, those Chinese regions which export a lot are all located on the southern and south-eastern coasts, and account for less than 25% of the population; the rest of the country is far more autarkic.

Now true, a collapse in export demand will lead to a temporary rise in unemployment in those export-dependent regions. But the Chinese can do without the “heroic” American consumer. They’ll just consume more of their own production (as it increasingly the case anyway).

MYTH: China will grow old before it grows rich.

REALITY: No, it won’t. According to UN projections, its share of the population aged 15-65 will have dropped from 72.4% now to 68.9% by 2030 (by which time it will be a developed country by its current trajectory). For comparison, Japan’s working age population today is just 64.0% – that’s less than China two decades later!

Furthermore, there are still massive productivity gains to be collected from urbanizing another 20%-30% of the population. As peasants continue moving into the cities, the urban workforce which is the source of most added value production will continue growing well past the time China the total labor force begins shrinking. The decline in the numbers of children will enable each one to get a better education.

MYTH: Even if it grows at 10% a year, it will take China’s $5.9 trillion GDP decades to catch up to America’s $14.7 trillion GDP growing at 3% a year. That will come no sooner than 2025. And that’s assuming that Chinese GDP figures are accurate (they’re not, of course, given the Communist penchant for lying).

REALITY: This is a very common argument, even in respected venues, but one that shows fundamental economic illiteracy. The $5.9 trillion GDP is China’s NOMINAL GDP, which reflects a very weak yuan. If the yuan were to appreciate against the dollar, growth in nominal GDP will be much faster than real growth – and in fact IT IS, growing at nearly 25% for the past five years.

Its REAL GDP, which accounts for differences in international prices, is far bigger at $10.1 trillion and not far from America’s $14.7 trillion. But even this may be an underestimate. Back in 2008, the IMF and World Bank both reduced their estimates of China’s real GDP by around 40%; these revisions are considered questionable. Using those old figures, China would already be at America’s size. This is supported by comparisons of Chinese consumption (e.g. Internet access; manufacturing wages; etc) to other middle-income countries, which in my approximations give it a real GDP per capita of perhaps $12,000 and implying a total real GDP of $15-16 trillion.

The case for Chinese manipulation of statistics is unproven. One of the primary arguments here used to be that economic growth didn’t track electricity consumption. But that’s not too convincing in light of China overtaking the US in electricity consumption in 2011.

China’s economic growth has tracked South Korea’s very closely but with a 20 year lag (or 15 years using the old, bigger GDP estimates). Its real GDP per capita in 2000 was equivalent to Korea’s in 1980; as of 2010, it was equivalent to Korea’s in 1990. (The story for nominal GDP growth is remarkably similar: China’s number for 2010 is equivalent to Korea’s in 1988). Now if China continues following Korea’s historical per capita trajectory, it should have a real GDP of $22-$30 trillion by 2020 and $40-$55 trillion by 2030 (former figure based off current GDP estimates; latter off the bigger estimates). This means the US should be overtaken by 2020 at the latest and left in the dust soon after. Assuming a steady rate of convergence to international prices, China’s nominal GDP too should become the world’s biggest by the 2020′s.

The groundwork is secure. Human capital is the foremost determinant of economic growth rates, and China’s today is far higher than South Korea’s two decades ago (recent international standardized tests show that performance even in China’s poorest provinces is close to the OECD average, while Shanghai won global gold prize).

Now consider that China’s foremost obstacle to global superpowerdom is highly unlikely to grow quickly, is overburdened by fiscal deficits, and may yet default on its obligations – and that by then, China’s currency will likely be free floating. In that case, the yuan will be the most likely contender for the title of world’s reserve currency. Upon assuming it, its nominal GDP – and weight in the global economy – will become every bit as dominant as its real economy of steel mills and factories.

EDIT: This article has been translated into Russian at Inosmi.Ru (10 главных мифов китаефобии).

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 

One of the biggest questions in global history is why it was Western Europe that industrialized first, and ended up colonizing most of the rest of the world. As late as 1450, the possibility of such an outcome would have been ridiculed. By almost any metric, China was well in the lead through the medieval period – in technology (compass, paper, ship-building, gunpowder, movable type printing), government (bureaucrats were selected based on meritocratic exams, whereas in Europe professional civil services only began appearing in the 19th century), urbanization, etc.

In my view, most of the common explanations for the “European miracle” are largely self-congratulatory post hoc narratives that aren’t really convincing. Europe had markets, you say? For most of the medieval era, and even later, feudalism was the dominant social structure; the rising nation-states replaced it with mercantilism. Robber barons holed up in their castles charged extortionate rates on merchants passing through their fiefs. Throughout the period, most Chinese were freemen, enjoyed lower taxes, and fewer controls on land sales and industry; there were no internal trade barriers (instead, the government funded large projects such as the Grand Canal to economically unify the territory). China was far closer to the free market economy than Europe! Similar ventures only began to appear in Europe in the 18th century. In ancient regime France, there were internal controls on trade and many bureaucratic posts were up for sale to the highest bidder, a matter of considerable resentment that would contribute to the Revolution. Even the Enlightenment thinkers only dreamed of governing their countries as efficiently as they imagined the Celestial Empire did.

What about China’s stultifying Confucian traditionalism? Again, there was no shortage of reaction in Europe. No colonial empires bringing in revenue from trade and overseas commodities, because the Chinese grounded their fleet in the 1430′s? Please, Spain owned half the western hemisphere, and ended up stagnating despite (or because of) it; meanwhile, inland European regions with no colonial empires to speak of, such as the Ruhr or Silesia, industrialized early. Ravaged by rebellions, nomadic invasions, and repeated Malthusian crises? But Europe also had its fair share of these: the Black Death depressed European populations for nearly three centuries, and constituted a classical subsistence crisis, while some conflicts were also exceedingly devastating, e.g. the Thirty Years’ War that killed about a third of the German population. No good energy sources? China has as many rivers for watermills as Europe, and the Song dynasty produced more coal and pig iron in 1000AD than Europe did in 1800. The Chinese were hobbled by a low national IQ? This controversial theory was advanced in some circles to explain the historical failure of India or the Arab world, but whatever its merits, it surely can’t apply to China. Nor can several specific reasons given for the failures of other civilizations, such as water stress and desertification in the Middle East, or being on the wrong latitude as with Africa, India, and the Americas.

For a long time, I’ve only found two theories to be semi-plausible. First, Jared Diamond’s argument that China’s geography – a flatland of fertile river plains, capable of feeding big armies, with no major peninsulas that could host rival power bases – is naturally suited for unification (in contrast to Europe’s zigzag of mountain ranges and rugged peninsulas coasts). This reduced internal competition, so that the effects of bad policies – such as the occasional banning of private seafaring – reverberated throughout the whole of China, whereas in Europe only one region at a time suffered under Louis XIV’s fiscal depredations or the Spanish Inquisition. But on the other hand, surely this was counterbalanced by the returns to scale and (relative) internal peace enjoyed by a unified China, as opposed to fragmented Europe with its never-ending internecine wars? While IMO the charge of “geographical determinism” is thrown about too wildly nowadays, in this case it may be justified.

Second, as I said in my post on cliodynamics, the depth of Malthusian collapses that occurred in China were arguably bigger than in Europe, and tended to affect all of China at once (because of its greater internal connectedness). This meant that during these “dark age” periods, there may have been more technological regression in China than in Europe. Nonetheless, both of these theories are speculative and hedged with all manner of caveats. In my view, this question remains wide open.

However, I’m only writing this post because I think I’ve discovered a major, perhaps the major factor, that explains the “great divergence” between Europe and China. In short, it is China’s writing system.

From its origins in Phoenicia, the alphabet spread to Greece and Rome, and formed the building blocks of all future European literary culture. In contrast, China retains a system of hieroglyphs (汉字), inherited from the very earliest days of literacy (imagine using Egyptian hieroglyphs or Linear B today). All its writings are in the form of thousands of distinct symbols, and combinations thereof, expressing ideas. The hanzi may look much cooler than a standard alphabet, but in practice it throws up a host of serious problems.

1. Universal Literacy. It is much harder to attain practical literacy in Chinese, than it is in “normal” languages. A typical West European only has to know 26 or so symbols, and after that – because her language is mostly phonetic – she can transcribe most speech into text that is, at a minimum, legible and understandable. Not so for Chinese, where knowing how a word is pronounced is typically no clue as to how to write it. The PRC’s standards for literacy are recognition of 1,500 characters for rural dwellers and 2,000 characters for urban dwellers, but in fact it is estimated that real fluency requires knowledge at 3,000-4,000. Furthermore, this is passive recognition; writing stuff involves active recall, and is much more difficult still. David Moser’s The Writing on the Wall [DOC] has many amusing anecdotes on this subject, e.g.:

The most astounding example I encountered back in my early days studying Chinese was during a lunch with three graduate students in the Peking University Chinese department. I had a bad cold that day, and wanted to write a note to a friend to cancel a meeting. I found that I couldn’t write the character ti 嚔 in the word for “sneeze”, da penti 打喷嚔, and so I asked my three friends for help. To my amazement, none of the three could successfully retrieve the character ti 嚔. Three Chinese graduate students at China’s most prestigious university could not write the word for “sneeze” in their own native script! One simply cannot imagine a similar situation in a phonetic script environment – e.g., three Harvard graduate students unable to write a common word like “sneeze” in the orthography of their native language.

What was even more amazing – and puzzling – was that the Chinese people I dealt with showed almost no concern for this phenomenon. Most tended to explain away the situation as due to low educational standards, or merely natural everyday memory lapses. “And besides,” they would say to me, “Don’t you sometimes forget how to spell a word in English?” And I slowly began to realize that part of the problem is that, for most native Chinese, who have not grown up using an alphabetic system of writing, the contrast between the systems is not at all evident – they simply have no basis of comparison. Such people tend to assume that their difficulties are with the process of writing itself, rather than the particular writing system they are using.

Go, read his essay. And his other essay, Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard. Good, you’re back, and want to know what this has to do with China’s late industrialization. The answer is that, as I’ve argued many times on this blog, literacy rates, and educational human capital in general, is the most important prerequisite and determinant of economic development. The most literate countries in 1800 were also the richest ones in 2000. Thanks to its traditionally high levels of development and meritocratic system for grooming civil servants, China has always been relatively literate, until eclipsed by North Western Europe by 1800; as you can see in the graph below, its somewhat of an outlier. But knowing what we know of the peculiarities of literacy as limited by the very structure of its writing system…

(PS. Note that both Korean uses an alphabet; and so does Japanese, if a very complicated set of two alphabets (hiragana and katakana) with borrowings from Chinese hieroglyphs in the form of kanji. Could this, at least partially, explain why both Japan and Korea were far more successful at industrialization than China?)

One tentative implication is that the literacy rate estimated for historical China would be a fraction of its conventionally estimated percentage because to be able to functionally express the same range and depth of ideas in a hieroglyphic script as a scholar working with an alphabet-based writing system would constitute a much harder undertaking. I daresay that for anyone without a photographic memory, a great deal of time would simply be taken up with laboring over the Kangxi dictionary. This reduces the amount of mental energy that could be spent on more practical matters of original research or innovation.

2. Platonic Worldview. Many theorists have speculated about the role of traditionalism in keeping China back, but one can’t help noticing that such tendencies would logically be encouraged by the limitations of the Chinese writing system. Hieroglyphs originally evolved to keep track of two basic functions: religious ceremonies, trade accounts (e.g. bushels of grain delivered, etc), court historians (mostly formulaic accounts of dynasties, omens, wars, etc). As symbols stand for ideas, and given the simplicity of Chinese grammar, I suspect it is much harder to accurately convey unusual and complex phenomena in the Chinese script. Psychologically, this may have encouraged a Platonic worldview based on perfect forms, and the exaltation of traditional wisdom over the skeptical empirical, which is all antithetical to the scientific method.

3. Small Webs Of Reference. In pre-industrial times, much of what passed for industry and manufacturing was hands-and-eyes type of work, small artisans with apprentices and a few simple machine tools practicing their art in a workshop. China was abreast or ahead of medieval Europe in most of these spheres (barring a few things like eye-pieces and mechanical clocks). They even invented movable type printing well ahead of Europeans, which is truly amazing given how much simpler that system is for alphabet-based scripts. In some respects, Song China was already as economically developed as 18th century Europe. But they never made the leap to mass production and assembly lines; from about 1820, England made a qualitative spring forwards that China would not begin to replicate until the 1950′s.

Ultimately, the reason for this may reside in alphabetic script. Artisinal techniques can be conveyed well enough by word of mouth; the larger projects, such as dams or canals, can be overseen by a few very well-educated bureaucrats with the appropriate symbolic expertise. But once you get into the world of mass production, steamships, advanced metallurgy, chemicals, electricity, etc., then you can’t do without a big reservoir of specialists with a high degree of functional literacy, and a big, shared body of knowledge that these specialists can consult. The Chinese writing system is not conductive to the emergence of the far wider webs of reference, of citation and indexing, that is a prerequisite for an industrial takeoff. As Moser points out, this remains a problem even in the digitized modern age:

Yet even if some technological fix were to be devised to solve the problem of character entry, the non-alphabetic nature of the writing system still results in other serious and long-standing “invisible” problems. For example, the inclusion of a standard index to books, manuals and reference materials is made orders of magnitude more difficult by the Chinese writing system. The result is that to this day, the vast majority of non-fiction books published in China do not have an index, or anything like it. This fact seems incredible to those firmly ensconced in the alphabetic world, for obviously the lack of an index considerably lessens a book’s usefulness. Removing indexes from Western library books would be like an atomic bomb being dropped into academia. Yet their lack is a mundane fact of life in China.

… In virtually every informatic context, from library card catalogs to everyday user’s manuals, the relatively cumbersome Chinese writing system exerts a low-level but constant drag force on productivity, and tends to reinforce an undemocratic state of affairs in which only the educated elite or the doggedly determined make full use of the tools of the information environment.

Now imagine the challenges faced by Chinese scholars of yore, who did not even have the pinyin alphabetization system to help them out. In summary, the main problem of hieroglyphic writing systems is that it puts a mass of structural impediments towards the effective sharing of information that would not otherwise exist in an alphabetic system. This might be as good an explanation of why China reached a technological plateau early, and then largely stagnated for the better part of a millennium, as any other.

(Granted, there were improvements during this period. For instance, there was a huge burst in agricultural productivity during the Qing dynasty, which enabled the Chinese population to remain on par with the European. But this was a matter of traditional experimentation with crop varieties that has been practiced since the dawn of agriculture; an industrial revolution it does not – and cannot – make.)

Many pundits believe Chinese industrial catch-up is unsustainable because of its “traditional” lack of innovation and tendency to retreat into itself and stagnate. However, if this, for now admittedly fragile, theory is accurate, then the prospects for China under 21st century technological conditions look auspicious (for now, we’ll leave aside issues of climate change and Limits to Growth). Automatic translators can instantly look up any characters; likewise, any pinyin can be instantly converted into the appropriate character. Cell phone apps can recognize characters on paper and translate them. In tandem, a limited alphabetization and modern IT have overcome most of the structural difficulties that once stymied Chinese breakthrough into the world of industrialism and hi-tech. Furthermore, the critical languages of the future are those of math and computer science, and in these the Chinese are on a level playing field.

I can only finish these ruminations with a few comments on the big debate surrounding the simplification and/or alphabetization of Chinese. Largely, the latter is far more effective than the former; simplification may, in most (but not all) cases, improve the chances of character memorization, but it doesn’t resolve the core problems of hieroglyphic writing systems. On the other hand, the Chinese characters are a major cultural legacy and losing them would be tragic. As such, it would be best IMO to use pinyin (or Gwoyeu Romatzyh; I wish, LOL!) for practical purposes, but continue compulsory teaching of Traditional and Simplified characters for their historical and literary value.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
China - not only toys, but tokamaks too.

China – not only toys, but tokamaks too.

Four cables from Cathay, courtesy of this excellent Cable Search tool.

The first cable (Cable 1) is one of the last dispatches of Ambassador to the PRC Clark T. Randt, a long, analytical piece from January 2009. But it’s also perhaps the least interesting of the four. This is because it is only a rehashing of the standard narrative that can be found on most editorials on the subject: the post-Mao economic liberalization; fast industrial expansion; pollution and demographic problems; etc. China’s prospects are underestimated, as I’ve argued in the past. For instance, he cites projections that China will overtake Japan in five years years and “could rival the United States in overall scale” by the late 2030′s. But these are surely very, very pollyannish (from the US perspective) since in actuality China overtook Japan this year (2010) and its real GDP is already 70% of America’s.

The real threat to Chinese – AND global – growth prospects are resource constraints. Surprisingly, perhaps, for a US government official, Randt cites estimates having China reach peak oil in the early 2010′s and peak coal “in the next 15 to 25 years” (I think coal production will plateau as early as 2015). However, these shortages will be partly mitigated by huge alternative programs – he cites China as being the world’s largest producer of renewable power and Cable 3 mentions plans to construct 70 new nuclear power plants in the next decade. He is almost certainly wrong in his optimistic ideas that China will buy into the US global order, rather than seeking to remake it in its own images (as all aspiring hegemons try to do). To take an example, the wish that China will make itself into a “reliable partner” for the US and other donor countries is put into question by Cable 4 from the very same embassy, in which a Kenyan ambassador expresses an African preference for Chinese aid over Western “conferences and seminars”. The cable finishes with some platitudes about the US needing to “push for the expansion of individual freedoms, respect for the rule of law and the establishment of a truly free and independent judiciary and press”, which must surely have the publisher of this cable spinning in his British prison cell.

The second cable (Cable 2), from July 2009, is a very informative, but short (so recommended reading), introduction to three major interpretations of Chinese politics: as “akin to… the executive suite of a large corporation, as determined by the interplay of powerful interests, or as shaped by competition between “princelings” with family ties to party elders and “shopkeepers” who have risen through the ranks of the Party.” In the first interpretation, Party General Secretary Hu Jintao is the CEO, with the 25 other members of the Politburo aiming for consensus in decision making. The Politburo members are also oligarchs in practice, having their own vested interests and administrative-economic clans. (BTW, this political system of corporate clans and fusions of economic and political power bears some resemblance to Russia’s).

Many casual observers continue to see China as a sweatshop manufactory of cheap, unreliable goods (poisonous toys, etc) produced by exploited workers on starvation wages, but this is very rapidly diverging from reality. The third cable (Cable 3), from February 2010, has a few examples. With just a fraction of the science and technology funding of developed country universities, Chinese institutions are managing to produce ground-breaking work in esoteric spheres such as nuclear fusion, quantum communications and nanotechnology. Of course, not all of them are “pleasant” advances, and reflect the Orwellian instincts of the Chinese state, such as a biometric sensor designed to identify people by how they walk. An authoritarian state, but one with hi-tech visions that are fast becoming realities.

The final cable (Cable 4), from February 2010, can be summarized by one quote: “[Kenyan Ambassador to China] Sunkuli claimed that Africa was better off thanks to China’s practical, bilateral approach to development assistance and was concerned that this would be changed by “Western” interference. He said he saw no concrete benefit for Africa in even minimal cooperation. Sunkuli said Africans were frustrated by Western insistence on capacity building, which translated, in his eyes, into conferences and seminars. They instead preferred China’s focus on infrastructure and tangible projects.”

Finally, one more piece of news on China, not Cablegate-related. As regular blog readers know, I think that educational capital and more broadly average IQ levels are one of the key – and frequently under-appreciated due to political correctness – determinants of economic development and whether or not convergence to developed country levels is even possible. Its much higher educational capital is one of the key reasons why I think China will continue doing much better than India in development, regardless of its “democratic deficit.” However, many people argue that China’s human capital must actually be quite low, because it doesn’t spend much on education, resources are bare in the provinces, statistical fudging under unaccountable governors, etc.

The recent results from the international standardized PISA tests in math, reading and science will make this an increasingly untenable position. Shanghai got by far the best results out of all the OECD countries (never mind the developing ones). Now while you might (rightly) argue Shanghai draws much of the elite of the Yangtze river delta, the Financial Times has more: “Citing further, as-yet unpublished OECD research, Mr Schleicher said: “We have actually done Pisa in 12 of the provinces in China. Even in some of the very poor areas you get performance close to the OECD average.””

Since countries like the US and France get scores “close to the OECD average”, this means that the workforces soon to be entering China’s economy, even from its poorest regions, will be no less skilled than those of leading Western economies (note too that the numbers of Chinese university graduates are soaring). And with China’s massive population, four times bigger than America’s, its road to superpowerdom must be all but guaranteed.

Cable 1

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR THE SECRETARY, DEPUTY SECRETARY, EAP A/S
HILL, S/P, EAP/CM
NSC FOR DWILDER

EO 12958 DECL: 01/05/2034
TAGS PREL, PGOV, ECON, EFIN, MARR, MASS, CH
SUBJECT: LOOKING AT THE NEXT 30 YEARS OF THE U.S.-CHINA
RELATIONSHIP

Classified By: Ambassador Clark T. Randt. Reasons 1.4 (b/d)

¶1. (C) January 1, 2009, marked the 30th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. This anniversary followed the PRC commemoration of roughly 30 years of China’s “reform and opening” policy under Deng Xiaoping, which led to China’s staggering economic growth.

¶2. (C) Thirty years ago, China was just emerging from the nightmare of the Cultural Revolution and 30 years of fratricidal misrule. China’s economy was crippled by years of disastrous policies like the Great Leap Forward. The population was coming to terms with the world’s most draconian population controls enacted in 1976 after decades of Maoist state-subsidies encouraging large families. Chinese foreign relations tended to be more influenced by ideological yardsticks than economic links since China had very few commercial links with the outside world. In 1979, Chinese urbanites on average made the equivalent of five dollars per month.

¶3. (C) Just as no one in 1979 would have predicted that China would become the United States’ most important relationship in thirty years, no one today can predict with certainty where our relations with Beijing will be thirty years hence. However, given the current significance of the bilateral relationship and the risk of missing opportunities to jointly address ongoing and predictable future challenges, below we look at trends currently affecting China with an eye to how those trends might affect relations. Several issues leap out, including China’ insatiable resource needs, our growing economic interdependence, China’s rapid military modernization, a surge in Chinese nationalism, China’s demographic challenges, and the PRC’s increasing influence and confidence on the world stage.

¶4. (C) China has been plagued over the millennia by unforeseen events that devastated formerly prosperous regimes. Mongol invasion, the Black Death, uncountable peasant uprisings, warlords, tax revolts, communist dictatorship, colonialism, famine, earthquakes and other plagues were largely unforeseen by the China watchers of the past. This report focuses generally on more optimistic projections. Given China’s history, however, the United States should also gird itself for the possibility that China will fall short of today’s mostly sanguine forecasts.

Resource Consumption

¶5. (C) Popular and scholarly works in recent years highlight China’s growing demand for natural resources and the possible impact that China’s pursuit of resources will have on its foreign policy. Since economic reforms began in the late 1970s, industrial and exchange rate policies have fueled investment in resource-intensive heavy industries in China’s coastal region, which currently account for approximately 55 percent of the country’s total energy consumption today. A construction boom over the past decade has also stimulated growth in heavy industries. China is now a leading steel producer and currently accounts for 50 percent of the world’s annual cement production. Reflecting China’s emphasis on resource-intensive industries, China’s energy utilization rate grew faster than its GDP between 2002 and 2006. In 1990, China consumed 27 quadrillion British Thermal Units (BTUs) of energy, accounting for 7.8 percent of global consumption. In 2006, it consumed 68.6 quadrillion BTUs or 15.6 percent of the global total. According to U.S. Department of Energy statistics, by 2030 China will account for 145.5 quadrillion BTUs or 20.7 percent of global energy consumption.

¶6. (C) China’s oil demand has grown substantially over the last 30 years. In 1980, China consumed 1.7 million barrels of oil per day, almost all of which was produced domestically. In 2006, China consumed 7.4 million barrels per day, second only to the United States. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), China’s oil consumption will reach 16.5 million barrels per day in 2030. More than two thirds of the increased demand will come from the transport sector as vehicle ownership rates rise. China became a net importer of oil in 1993, and it now relies on imports to meet a growing portion of its fossil fuel needs. The IEA forecasts that China’s oil import dependence will rise from 50 percent this year to 80 percent by 2030, as domestic oil production peaks early in the next decade. To strengthen the country’s future energy security, the Chinese Government has adopted a “go out” policy that encourages national oil companies (NOCs) to acquire equity stakes in foreign oil and gas production. Today, state-owned Chinese oil giants CNPC/PetroChina, CNOOC, and Sinopec can be found in Sudan, Iran, Kazakhstan,

Venezuela, Angola, and the Caspian Basin.

¶7. (C) China has also increased its reliance on imported minerals, and many analysts have attributed the global commodities boom of recent years in part to China’s growing demand. Between 1980 and 2006, China became the world’s largest consumer of iron, copper and aluminum. Chinese conglomerates are ubiquitous in sub-Saharan Africa exploiting mineral wealth there, and Chinese multinationals have significant investments in Australian mineral and uranium production.

¶8. (C) China’s reliance on coal has come at an appalling environmental cost. This year, China surpassed the United States in carbon emissions, and it will soon become the world’s biggest energy consumer. Between now and 2030, the IEA estimates, China will need to add 1,312 gigawatts of power generating capacity, more than the total current installed capacity in the United States. Coal-fired power generation, a major source of air pollution, accounts for approximately 78 percent of China’s total electricity supply, and it will likely remain the predominant fuel in electricity generation for at least the next 20 years. Analysts predict that domestic coal production will peak in the next 15 to 25 years. China already became a net importer of coal in 2007, and coal imports are expected to grow in the coming decades to meet growing demand in China’s coastal provinces.

¶9. (C) The Chinese Government recognizes the need to reduce dependence on coal, and it is pursuing policies to diversify its energy mix. China is already the largest producer of renewable energy in the world, with major investments in large-scale hydro and wind power projects. Nuclear and natural gas power will also account for a greater proportion of energy production, but under current projections, efforts to diversify China’s energy mix will not have a large enough impact to curb greenhouse gas emissions growth.

¶10. (C) China’s energy intensive growth has also had tragic consequences for public health. By most measurements, at least half of the world’s most polluted major cities are in China. Rural residents, in particular farmers, have been affected by water pollution and dwindling water supplies, which are frequently redirected for industrial use. Respiratory disease, water-borne illness and tainted food scares are facts of modern life in the country. According to a recent WHO study, diseases caused by indoor and outdoor air pollution kill 656,000 Chinese citizens every year. Another 95,600 deaths are attributed annually to polluted drinking water.

¶11. (C) China’s increasing reliance on imported natural resources has foreign policy ramifications and provides opportunities for the United States. A China that is increasingly dependent on Middle Eastern oil might be more likely to support policies that do not destabilize the Middle East. Take Iran, for instance. We have long been frustrated that China has resisted (with Russia) tough sanctions aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program. In the future, a China increasingly dependent on foreign energy supplies may recalculate the risk a nuclear Iran would pose to the greater Persian Gulf region’s capacity to export oil.

¶12. (C) Another opportunity presented by China’s increasing resource consumption is in the joint development of technological responses to reduce carbon emissions and to diminish the public health impact of industrial growth. Scientific publications around the world conclude that the projected rate of global energy and natural resource consumption is unsustainable. Experts warn that we must find alternative forms of energy in order to avert calamities posed by global climate change. International efforts to develop and significantly utilize renewable energy, clean up our shared global environment, and conserve our remaining raw materials will not be effective without meaningful Chinese participation. As the world’s preeminent technological power and as a leader in multilateral energy and scientific organizations, the United States is in a unique position to work with China to overcome these challenges.

Economic Interdependence and Chinese Demographics

¶13. (C) In the next fifteen years, while China’s overall population is predicted to stabilize, its urban population will likely grow to almost 1 billion, an increase (of 300 million people) equal to the entire current population of the United States. China plans to build 20,000 to 50,000 new skyscrapers over the next two decades — as many as ten New York cities. More than 170 Chinese cities will need mass transit systems by 2025, more than twice the number now present in all of Europe. China is now surpassing Germany as the world’s third largest economy and is projected to overtake Japan within the next five years. By the end of the next thirty years, China’s economy could rival the United States in overall scale (although its per capita income will likely only be one quarter of the United States’).

¶14. (C) Behind these outward symbols of success will be an increasingly complicated economic picture. Since 1979, by reversing the misguided economic policies of the Mao era, liberalizing labor markets and prices, opening to foreign investment, and taking advantage of the West’s consumer-driven policies, China has maintained fast growth. However, the set of circumstances that allowed such impressive growth rates will no longer exist in the future.

¶15. (C) Many speculate that China has reached the limit to easy productivity gains by rationalizing the state-planned economy. The Economist Intelligence Unit expects China’s annual growth to slow from around 10 percent in the last 30 years to 4.5 percent by 2020. After 2015 when the labor force peaks as a share of the population, labor costs will rise faster. This will increasingly make other countries like India and Vietnam more attractive for labor-intensive investment. In addition, workers will have to support a growing number of retirees. Early retirement ages combined with the urban one-child limits creates the so-called “4-2-1” social dilemma: each worker will have to support four grandparents, two parents and one child. Savings rates will start falling as the elderly draw down their retirement funds.

¶16. (C) China will have to manage an economy increasingly dependent on domestic consumption and service industries for growth. Already, urbanites are buying 1,000 new cars per day, making China the world’s largest Internet and luxury goods market, and traveling abroad in growing numbers. By 2025, China will have the world’s largest middle class, and China will likely have completed the transition from the majority rural population of today to a majority urban population. These consumers of tomorrow will likely flock to products from around the world as their North American, European and Japanese counterparts do today, providing new opportunities for American business. If incomes continue to grow, it is likely that the Chinese middle class will react like educated urbanites in other countries by exerting pressure on the Government to improve its dismal performance on environmental protection, food and product safety. We are already seeing increased public activism over such issues today.

¶17. (C) China will face a challenge in the next thirty years encouraging this urban consumption while dealing with the social equality issues inherent in a rural population where over 200 million people still live on less than a dollar a day. China will also have to find a way to improve the lot of between 150 and 230 million migrant workers who today must leave their children and aging parents behind in their home villages to travel to the industrial centers of the relatively developed coastal regions to work in factories or on construction projects.

¶18. (C) With China’s phenomenal growth has come increased economic interdependence. This will likely increase, although some of the less-balanced elements of China’s economic interactions should be mitigated. Rising consumption rates should work to lower China’s trade surplus as well as its overabundance of foreign exchange reserves. More assets controlled by corporations and individuals, as opposed to the government, will diversify outward investment, reducing political control by Beijing, but also the utility of political suasion for U.S. policymakers interested in effecting the flow of capital to international hotspots.

Chinese Nationalism and Confidence on the International Stage

¶19. (C) As one of two main pillars of post-Mao Chinese Communist Party rule (the other being sustained economic growth), Chinese nationalism is growing and should be monitored closely. As witnessed during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Chinese are increasingly proud of the tremendous strides their country has made in recent years. More and more young people see China as having “arrived” and might possess the confidence and willingness to assume the responsibilities of a major power. However, as was evident during protests over the 1999 mistaken bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, the 2004 protests over Japanese textbooks, and more recently the anti-France diatribes that followed the roughing-up of a disabled Olympic torch bearer in Paris by Free Tibet supporters, this nationalism can also lead to jingoism. Chinese leaders of a system with few outlets to express political sentiments are faced with trying to give vent to the occasional uprising of nationalistic anger without letting it get out of hand or allowing it to focus on the failings of the central leadership.

¶20. (C) With notable exceptions like Zhou Enlai, Chinese foreign policy practitioners thirty years ago had little practical experience dealing with the West. Since then, Chinese diplomats and subject matter experts are increasingly well-educated, well-traveled and well-respected. Chinese diplomats at international fora such as the UN and the WTO have become adept at using procedural rules to attain diplomatic or commercial ends. This trend will likely continue in the coming decades, increasing the likelihood of American decision makers finding more able adversaries when we disagree on issues, but also more able partners where we can agree to jointly tackle a problem of mutual concern such as nonproliferation, alternative energy or pandemic influenza.

¶21. (C) While still reluctant to claim China is a global leader, Chinese officials are gradually gaining confidence as a regional power. By the end of the next 30 years, China should no longer be able to portray itself as the representative of lesser developed countries. This does not mean that it will necessarily identify with the more developed, mainly Western countries; it well might choose to pursue some uniquely Chinese path. In the coming 30 years, a U.S. President might be involved in negotiations with a Chinese leader seeking to reshape global financial institutions like the IMF or the WTO or establish rival institutions for non-Western countries in order to mitigate domestic Chinese concerns. Even so, China’s growing position as a nation increasingly distinct from the less-developed world may expand our common interests and make it easier for the United States to convince China to act like a responsible global stakeholder.

¶22. (C) Foreign assistance coordination is another area of opportunity. China is rapidly ramping up its global economic presence, not only via resource extraction ventures and cheap exports, but increasingly via direct investment and assistance. This investment and assistance are welcome in most less-developed countries, whether in Africa or Southeast Asia, and particularly in countries where China’s longstanding policy of “no strings attached no political interference” appeals to democratically-challenged dictators and kleptocrats. However, China is already facing blowback as a result of its more cavalier approach to issues that more scrupulous donors have wrestled with for decades. Scant attention paid to worker safety, job opportunities for local people, environmental protection, and political legitimacy has had negative consequences for China on multiple occasions, from a tarnished international image and being used as a political whipping boy by opposition groups in democratic countries to unpaid loans, expropriated investments, and even the deaths of Chinese expatriates. As a result, China is beginning to understand the merits of international assistance standards not for altruistic reasons, but for achieving China’s own bottom-line imperatives of a more secure international position and better-protected economic interests in third countries. This realization, coupled with China’s growing economic clout on the world stage, make it quite possible that, in the next 30 years, China will come to be identified by the average citizen in less developed countries not as “one of us” but as “one of them.”

¶23. (C) In all likelihood, a new-found (if still somewhat grudging) PRC interest in internationally accepted donor principles such as transparency, good governance, environmental and labor protections, and corporate social responsibility will have matured in 30 years’ time, making China a reliable partner for the United States, other donor countries, and international organizations in alleviating poverty, developing infrastructure, improving education and fighting infectious disease. And as one of the world’s premier economic powers, China can be expected to have all but discarded its over-worn and outdated “non-interference” rhetoric in the face of massive Chinese investment assets and other economic interests abroad.

¶24. (C) As evidenced by Chinese policies toward pariah states like Sudan, Zimbabwe, Burma and Iran, China is still willing to put its need for markets and raw materials above the need to promote internationally accepted norms of behavior. However, the possible secession of southern Sudan (where much of the country’s oil is found) from the repressive Khartoum-based Bashir regime, the erratic treatment of foreign economic interests in Zimbabwe by Robert Mugabe, the dangers to regional safety and stability posed by Burma’s dysfunctional military junta, and the threat to China’s energy security that a nuclear-armed Iran would represent have given Beijing cause to re-calibrate its previously uncritical stance toward these international outlaws. If China’s integration into global economic and security structures continues apace, we would expect its tolerance for these sorts of disruptive players to decrease proportionately.

¶25. (C) China’s work in the Six-Party Talks and the Shanghai Cooperative Organization may provide guidance as to how to accelerate this trend. China plays a leading and often responsible and constructive role in both of these multilateral groups. Future U.S. policy-makers might usefully consider additional international mechanisms that include both U.S. and Chinese membership such as the proposed Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism that may grow out of the Six-Party Talks. The Chinese themselves have suggested a Six-Party Talks-like grouping to address the Iran nuclear issue, perhaps a P5-plus-1-plus-Iran. In the future, we may wish to consider the United States joining the East Asia Summit (EAS).

¶26. (C) Likewise, as the Chinese economy takes up a larger portion of the global economy, it inevitably will become increasingly affected by the decisions of international economic and financial institutions. Similarly, China’s economic decisions will have global implications, and its cooperation will become essential to solving global-scale problems. Drawing China constructively into regional and global economic and environmental dialogues and institutions will be essential. More and more experts see the utility of establishing an Asia-Pacific G-8, to include China, Japan, and the United States plus India, Australia, Indonesia, South Korea and Russia; others say the time is ripe to include China as a member of a G-9. Giving China a greater voice is seen as a way to encourage China to assume a larger burden in supporting the international economic and financial system.

Role of the Military

¶27. (C) The disparate possibilities exist that in the coming decades the PLA will evolve into a major competitor, maintain only a regional presence or become a partner capable of joining us and others to address peacekeeping, peace-enforcing, humanitarian relief and disaster mitigation roles around the world. China may be content to remain only a regional power, but Deng Xiaoping’s maxim urging China to hide its capabilities while biding its time should caution us against predicting that the PLA’s long-term objectives are modest. In the years to come, our defense experts will need to closely monitor China’s contingency plans and we will need to use every diplomatic and strategic tool we have to prevent intimidating moves toward Taiwan. In the coming years, Chinese defense capabilities will continue to improve. The PLA thirty years from today will likely have sophisticated anti-satellite weapons, state-of-the-art aircraft, aircraft carriers and an ability to project force into strategic sea lanes.

¶28. (C) Thirty years ago the PLA was a bloated political organization with antiquated equipment and tactics. Today, the PLA is leaner and is becoming a modern force. Chinese military and paramilitary units have participated in UN-sponsored peacekeeping missions in East Timor, Kosovo, Haiti and Africa. In December 2008, for the first time, the PLA Navy deployed beyond the immediate waters surrounding the country to participate in anything beyond a goodwill tour to combat piracy off the Horn of Africa. It is likely that China will continue to support UN-sponsored PKOs, and if the piracy expedition is successful, China might follow up with expeditions to future piracy hotspots such as the Strait of Malacca or elsewhere.

¶29. (C) Over the past thirty years, Chinese officials have come to begrudgingly acknowledge the benefits to East Asia resulting from the U.S. military presence in the Pacific, especially the extent that a U.S. presence in the Pacific is an alternative to a more robust Japanese military presence. A peaceful resolution of the threat posed by North Korea might cause China to call for an end to the U.S. base presence on the Korean Peninsula. Perceived threats to China’s security posed by Japan’s participation in missile defense or by future high-tech U.S. military technologies might cause tomorrow’s Chinese leaders to change their assessment and to exert economic pressures on U.S. allies like Thailand or the Philippines to choose between Beijing and Washington.

¶30. (C) Whatever the state of our future relations with China, we will need to understand more about the Chinese military. Multilateral training and exercises are constructive ways to promote understanding and develop joint capabilities that could be used in real-life situations. In the coming years, the Chinese may be called upon to participate in regional peacekeeping and humanitarian relief exercises. Some of these could be handled under UN auspices, but others could be bilateral or multilateral. For instance, Cobra Gold, which is held every year in Thailand, is America’s foremost military exercise in Asia. It has a peacekeeping component and since the December 2004 tsunami in Indian Ocean has included a humanitarian relief element. With proper buy-in by the Pentagon and PACOM, we could create a program to engage the PLA more directly both with our military and with friendly militaries in the region. Modest efforts at expanding search and rescue capabilities on the high seas, developing common forensic techniques for use in mass casualty events, conducting exercises with PLA units tasked with responding to civil nuclear emergencies, or table-top exercises for U.S. and Chinese junior officers could be steps that promote trust with little risk. At the same time, more frequent, regularly scheduled high-level reciprocal visits between Chinese and U.S. security officials might eventually lead to a constructive strategic security policy dialogue on nonproliferation, counterterrorism and other issues.

Taiwan and Human Rights

¶31. (C) Taiwan was the most vexing issue holding up the establishment of relations 30 years ago and remains the toughest issue for U.S.-China relations despite significant improvement in cross-Strait relations since the election of Taiwan President Ma. It will remain a delicate topic for the foreseeable future. We should continue to support Taiwan and Mainland efforts to reduce tension by increasing Taiwan’s “international space” and reducing the Mainland’s military build-up across from Taiwan.

¶32. (C) Thirty years ago, the Chinese state interfered in virtually every aspect of its citizens’ lives. An individual’s work unit provided housing, education, medical care and a burial plot. Reeducation sessions and thought reform were common, churches and temples were closed, and average citizens had little access to the outside world. Today, Chinese have far greater ability to travel, read foreign media and worship. Nonetheless, the overall human rights situation falls well short of international norms. Today, China’s growing cadre of well-educated urbanites generally avoids politics and seems more interested in fashion and consumerism than in ideology; after all, outside-the-box political thinking, much less activism, remains dangerous. However, any number of factors in the future ranging from rising unemployment among recent college graduates, or growing discontent over the income divide separating rich urbanites from poor peasants, to discontent among the mass of migrant workers could lead to unrest and increased political activism. The Chinese Government still responds with brutal force to any social, religious, political or ideological movement it perceives as a potential threat. Chinese political leaders’ occasional nods toward the need for political reform and increased democracy suggest a realization that the current one-party authoritarianism has its weak points, but do not promise sufficient relaxation of party control to create a more dynamically stable polity in the long term.

¶33. (C) While the U.S. model of democracy is not the only example of a tolerant open society, we should continue to push for the expansion of individual freedoms, respect for the rule of law and the establishment of a truly free and independent judiciary and press as being necessities for a thriving, modern society and, as such, in China’s own interests. Someday, China will realize political reform. When that day comes, we will want to be remembered by Chinese for having helped China to advance. Randt

Cable 2

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIJING 002112

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/23/2034
TAGS: PGOV CH
SUBJECT: TOP LEADERSHIP DYNAMICS DRIVEN BY CONSENSUS,
INTERESTS, CONTACTS SAY

REF: A. BEIJING 2063
¶B. BEIJING 2040

Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Aubrey Carlson. Reasons 1.
4 (b/d).

Summary

¶1. (C) The need for consensus and the desire to protect vested interests are the main drivers of Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) decision-making and Chinese leadership dynamics in general, according to Embassy contacts with access to leadership circles. Contacts have variously described relations at the top of China’s Party-state structure as akin to those in the executive suite of a large corporation, as determined by the interplay of powerful interests, or as shaped by competition between “princelings” with family ties to party elders and “shopkeepers” who have
risen through the ranks of the Party. End Summary.

Hu Jintao as Chairman of the Board?

¶2. (C) Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo decision-making is similar to executive decision-making in a large company, two well-connected contacts say. xxxxx that Party General Secretary Hu Jintao could be compared to the Chairman of the Board or CEO of a big corporation.xxxxx, used the same analogy in a May 18 meeting with PolOffs. xxxxx said that PBSC decision making was akin to a corporation in which the greater the stock ownership the greater the voice in decisions. “Hu Jintao holds the most stock, so his views carry the greatest weight,” and so on down the hierarchy, but the PBSC did not formally vote, xxxxx. “It is a consensus system,” he maintained, “in which members can exercise veto power.”

¶3. (C) xxxxx had told PolOff previously that he knew “on very good authority” that “major policies,” such as the country’s core policy on Taiwan or North Korea, had to be decided by the full 25-member Politburo. Other more specific matters, he said, were decided by the nine-member PBSC alone. Some issues were put to a formal vote, while others were merely discussed until a consensus was reached. Either way, xxxxx stated sarcastically, the Politburo was the “most democratic body in the world,” the only place in China where true democracy existed. xxxxx said that although there was “something” to the notion of a rough factional balancing at the top between the Jiang Zemin-Shanghai group and the Hu-Wen group, neither group was dominant, and major issues had to be decided by consensus.

Leadership Dynamics: Driven by Vested Interests

¶4. (C) xxxxx asserted to PolOff March 12 that the Party should be viewed primarily as a collection of interest groups. There was no “reform wing,” xxxxx claimed.xxxxx made the same argument in several discussions with PolOff over the past year, asserting that China’s top leadership had carved up China’s economic “pie,” creating an ossified system in which “vested interests” drove decision-making and impeded reform as leaders maneuvered to ensure that those interests were not threatened. It was “well known,” xxxxx stated, that former Premier Li Peng and his family controlled all electric power interests; PBSC member and security czar Zhou Yongkang and associates controlled the oil interests; the late former top leader Chen Yun’s family controlled most of the PRC’s banking sector; PBSC member and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Chairman Jia Qinglin was the main interest behind major Beijing real estate developments; Hu Jintao’s son-in -law ran Sina.com; and Wen Jiabao’s wife controlled China’s precious gems sector.

¶5. (SBU) Note: In a development that could fan the “vested interest” rumor mill, China-related websites in the United States this week were reporting that a Chinese security technology company with links to Hu’s eldest son, Hu Haifeng, was being investigated in Namibia on charges of corruption. A July 19 article in a Malaysian paper, cited by a U.S.-based dissident website, wenxuecity.com, reported that Hu Haifeng was a “potential witness” in the case but was not himself a suspect. The report said that the younger Hu was a former CEO of Nuctech and currently the Party Secretary of its parent company, Tsinghua Holding Co. Ltd. According to the China Digital Times website at the University of California Berkeley’s China Internet Project, the Central Propaganda Department on July 21 issued orders to block any reference to the case in the PRC media. End note.

¶6. (C) xxxxx, had told PolOff earlier that leaders had close ties to powerful economic actors, especially real estate developers and corporate leaders, who in some cases were officials themselves. The same was true at the local level, xxxxx stated. He claimed that these interest networks had policy implications since most local leaders had “bought” their positions and wanted an immediate financial “return” on their investment. They always supported fast-growth policies and opposed reform efforts that might harm their interests, xxxxx. Vested interests were especially inclined to oppose media openness, he said, lest someone question the shady deals behind land transactions. As a result, the proponents of “growth first” would always be in a stronger position than those who favored controlling inflation or taking care of the poor, xxxxx.

¶7. (C) xxxxx that the central feature of leadership politics was the need to protect oneself and one’s family from attack after leaving office. Thus, current leaders carefully cultivated proteges who would defend their interests once they stepped down. It was natural, xxxxx said, that someone like Xi Jinping, who maintained a non-threatening low profile and had never made enemies, would be elevated by Jiang Zemin and Zeng Qinghong. Xi would act to ensure that Jiang was not harassed or that Jiang’s corrupt son would not be arrested, xxxxx.

Princelings vs. Shopkeepers

¶8. (C)xxxxx, separately described leadership alignments at the top of the CCP as shaped largely by one’s “princeling” or “shopkeeper” lineage. In separate conversations in recent months, xxxxx said that some argued that China’s “princelings,” the sons and daughters of prominent Communist Party officials, including many who helped found the PRC, shared a perception that they, as the descendents of those who shed blood in the name of the Communist revolution, had a “right” to continue to lead China and protect the fruits of that revolution. Such a mindset could potentially place the “princelings” at odds with Party members who do not have similar pedigrees, xxxxx, such as President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and Party members with a CYL background, who were derisively referred to as “shopkeepers’ sons.” xxxxx had heard some princeling families denounce those without revolutionary pedigrees by saying, “While my father was bleeding and dying for China, your father was selling shoelaces.”

Goldberg

Cable 3

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIJING 000263

C O R R E C T E D C O P Y – (ADDED SECSTATE ADDRESS)

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/CM-BRAUNOHLER
STATE FOR EAP/CM
STATE FOR ISN/NESS
USDOE FOR NNSA/SCHEIMAN, GOOREVICH, WHITNEY
USDOE FOR NUCLEAR ENERGY-MCGINNIS
STATE PASS TO NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION (DOANE)
USDOE FOR INTERNATIONAL/YOSHIDA, BISCONTI, HUANGFU
NSC FOR HOLGATE

EO 12958 DECL: 01/20/2035
TAGS CH, ENRG, KPWR, MNUC, OSCI, PINR, PINS, SENV, TPHY,
TSPL

SUBJECT: PRC: NUCLEAR RESEARCH AT CHINESE ACADEMY OF
SCIENCES
BEIJING 00000263 001.4 OF 002

Classified By: BRENT CHRISTENSEN, ESTH COUNSELOR. REASON: 1.4(b,d,e)

1.(SBU) Summary: In response to an invitation by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), ESTH officer traveled to Hefei, Anhui Province, in December 2009 to visit several Chinese government-sponsored scientific institutions. During this time, ESTH officer learned of the below information through official presentations, personal observation, and informal/discreet conversations with CAS staff members. Most significantly, the Institute of Plasma Physics continues to conduct research on how to use nuclear fusion as a sustainable means to produce energy. At the same time, China is expanding its use of nuclear fission as an energy source and plans to open at least 70 nuclear fission power Qnts within the next 10 years. In 2009, CAS’s Institute of Plasma Physics budget was USD$20 million. Additionally, other CAS institutes are conducting research in biometrics, computational physics and material science, nanoscience and nanomaterials, soft-matter physics, environmental spectrometry, fiber optic wave-length division multiplexing, quantum communications, superconductors and spintroncis, and cognitive sciences. End Summary.

Institute of Plasma Physics – Nuclear Research

¶2. (C) In mid-December 2009, the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) Institute of Plasma Physics (IPP) in Hefei, Anhui Province was preparing for another cycle of experiments with its Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST). EAST was designed to be a controlled nuclear fusion tokamark reactor with superconductive toroidal and poloidal field magnets and a D-shaped cross-section. One of the experimental goals of this device was to prove that a nuclear fusion reaction can be sustained indefinitely, at high enough temperatures, to produce energy in a cost-effective way. In 2009, IIP successfully maintained a 10 million degree Celsius plasma nuclear fusion reaction for 400 seconds. IIP also successfully maintained a 100 million degree Celsius plasma nuclear fusion reaction for 60 seconds. One of IIP’s immediate goals is now to maintain a 100 million degree Celsius plasma nuclear fusion reaction for over 400 seconds. Currently, IIP is also conducting research into hybrid fusion-fission nuclear reactors that may be able to sustain nuclear reactions indefinitely, and at sufficient temperatures, to cost-effectively produce energy. IIP officials stated that China has the explicit goal of building at least 70 nuclear fission power plants within the next 10 years. IIP scientists claimed current Chinese nuclear energy production efforts use Uranium 235, but research is being done to make Uranium 238 a feasible alternative. IIP’s 2009 budget was USD$20 million – a two-fold increase over the previous year – and IIP leadership expects their budget to increase again in 2010.

[AK: cut.]

Institute of Intelligent Machines – Biometrics Research

¶3. (C) The Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) Institute of Intelligent Machines (IIM) in Hefei has developed a biometrics device that uses a person’s pace to identify them. The device measure weight and two-dimensional sheer forces applied by a person’s foot during walking to create a uniquely identifiable biometrics profile. The device can be covertly installed in a floor and is able to collect biometrics data on individuals covertly without their knowledge. When questioned about the device’s potential applications, IIM officials stated the device was being used by “secret” customers and was not available on the commercial market. IIM also said they were involved with China’s “Program 863.” (COMMENT: Program 863 is China’s national high-technology development plan that includes both military and civilian technology development programs; therefore, it is likely the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is one of the customers for whom this biometrics device was developed. END COMMENT)

Institute of Solid State Physics – Nanotechnology Research

¶4. (C) In mid-December 2009, the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) Institute of Solid State Physics (ISSP) in Hefei was conducting research in the fields of computational physics and material science, nanomaterials, and soft-matter physics. ISSP’s 2009 budget was roughly $6 million (USD). ISSP’s top priority projects are: one-dimensional nanomaterials, spin and charge research using perovskite manganese oxides, and the design and preparation of high-dampening materials. ISSP also conducts research on nanomaterials and nanostructures for China’s “Program 973.” (NOTE: Program 973 is China’s national plan for improving basic scientific research and development. END NOTE)

Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics – Spectrometry & Fiber Optic Research

¶5. (C) In mid-December 2009, the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics (IOFM) in Hefei was modifying environmental spectrometry technology to detect TATP explosives for use in counter-terrorism efforts. IOFM was also conducting fiber optic research on wave-length division multiplexing (WDM) technologies using pulsed and continuous laser sources at both single-mode and multi-mode wavelengths. A cursory walk through one of their labs revealed that IOFM was specifically conducting experiments in the 980-1150 nanometer range, and that they were conducting experiments using hydrogen-filled fiber optic communication lines. (COMMENT: Hydrogen-filled fiber optic lines are technologically challenging to manufacture, but provide many advantages; one of which is increased security and protection from tampering. END COMMENT)

University of Science and Technology of China – Organization & Research

¶6. (C) In mid-December 2009, the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in Hefei had academic programs focusing on Math, Physics, Chemistry, Life Sciences, Nuclear Science, Engineering, Computer Science, Information Technology, Management, Humanities, and a department dedicated to the development of gifted young people. USTC has 37,000 staff and 40,000 graduate students. USTC oversees two national laboratories: the National Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory and the Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Science at the Microscale (HFNL). HFNL has 95 faculty members and roughly 400 graduate students. HFNL research focuses on quantum communication, nanoscience, superconductors, spintronics, and cognitive sciences. In the area of quantum communication, HFNL was conducting research in quantum teleportation and free space quantum cryptography that scientists hope will result in “totally secure” communications. USTC also oversees China’s “Program 178,” although they did not describe the nature of this program. (COMMENT: A cursory walk through their labs seemed to indicate they had already succeeded in single-particle quantum teleportation and are now trying to conduct dual-particle quantum teleportation. END COMMENT)

HUNTSMAN

Cable 4

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIJING 000367

SIPDIS

STATE PASS USAID

EO 12958 DECL: 02/11/2020
TAGS PREL, ECON, EAID, EINV, CH, XA
SUBJECT: AFRICAN EMBASSIES SUSPICIOUS OF US-CHINA
DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION IN AFRICA

REF: (A) 09 BEIJING 955 (B) 09 BEIJING 1311 (C) 09 BEIJING 2836

Classified By: Economic Minister Counselor William Weinstein. Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

Summary

¶1. (C) African Embassy officials told EmbOffs that many in the African community were uncomfortable with the concept of US-China development cooperation in Africa. China’s fast, efficient, “no strings attached” bilateral approach is popular in the region, as is the PRC preference for infrastructure over governance projects. African officials fear that U.S. or European interference will slow down the assistance process and tie conditions to Chinese aid. In the past, the EU angered many African countries when it proposed trilateral cooperation. The Chinese subsequently backed out of discussions citing lack of African support. In addition, African officials believe that competition between donors has had positive consequences for African development, giving the African countries options after several decades of a largely “Western” development model. Despite apprehensions, one official believed that U.S.-China cooperation could be positive if carried out with active African participation. The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) was offered as an example of an organization that has managed to collaborate well with China in Africa. End summary.

Threatening the Chinese way

¶2. (C) During a February 8 lunch, Kenyan Ambassador to China Julius Ole Sunkuli said he and other Africans were wary of the U.S.-China dialogue on Africa and felt Africa had nothing to gain from China cooperating with the international donor community. Sunkuli claimed that Africa was better off thanks to China’s practical, bilateral approach to development assistance and was concerned that this would be changed by “Western” interference. He said he saw no concrete benefit for Africa in even minimal cooperation. Sunkuli said Africans were frustrated by Western insistence on capacity building, which translated, in his eyes, into conferences and seminars (REF C). They instead preferred China’s focus on infrastructure and tangible projects. He also worried that Africa would lose the benefit of having some leverage to negotiate with their donors if their development partners joined forces.

Lessons from the EU experience

¶3. (C) South African Minister Plenipotentiary Dave Malcolmson echoed the same reservations in a February 9 meeting. According to him, lessons could be learned from the EU experience in 2008. When the EU put together a policy paper on trilateral development cooperation in Africa, many African countries were annoyed because they were not consulted on the issue. They argued that the third party in these nominally trilateral discussions was conspicuously absent. They perceived this as a Western attempt to reign in China’s Africa assistance. Malcolmson said the African resistance prevented any concrete progress coming out of this initiative as the Chinese then subsequently backed out of the discussion, citing African opposition.

Africans don’t want conditions, they want options

¶4. (C) African countries principally fear that the U.S. and other Western countries will use trilateral cooperation to try to attach governance conditions to Chinese development. Malcolmson, who previously worked at the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) secretariat, recalled that governance projects received a lot more support from Western donor countries than infrastructure projects. He opined that although governance, peace and security are crucial to African growth, they must be accompanied by measures to reduce poverty and build infrastructure.

¶5. (C) Malcolmson echoed Sunkuli’s comment that African countries also fear losing their bargaining power. China’s emergence in Africa as a counterbalance to U.S. and European donors has been very positive for Africa by creating “competition” and giving African countries options. He recalled that after the 2006 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit, when China announced its commitments to Africa to much international media fanfare, traditional donors changed their attitude. They recognized that they had to measure up to China and “came calling.” The EU proposed infrastructure projects (after having defacto given up supporting these types of projects) and the World Bank began to support more agriculture projects.

The DFID example and recommendations for the future

¶6. (C) Malcolmson clarified that if U.S.-China cooperation leads to a real escalation of resources then it could be a positive step, but many Africans expect that it would slow down development. He cited the DFID’s relationship with China as an example of healthy cooperation. DFID’s success has come from focusing on small projects and working largely outside formal channels (REF A). Malcolmson recommended working through regional African organizations like the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) as a way to alleviate African concerns. If both China and the United States contribute resources to promising African development projects, then Africans will welcome trilateral cooperation. He said this would have the added benefit of encouraging the Chinese to venture beyond bilateral development assistance and support regional projects.

Comment

¶7. (C) Sunkuli and Malcolmson’s comments are a potential warning sign as the USG prepares for the upcoming U.S.-China Sub-Dialogue on Africa. As the PRC continues to stress a policy of “non- interference” in the internal affairs of other countries, China could well use any voiced African opposition as an excuse to stop or slow progress on further discussions or collaboration. We should be careful to pick projects that would have broad support within the African community, preferably African-initiated and led, to get the development cooperation dialogue started on the right foot. In addition, we should clearly articulate the benefits of our cooperation to our African counterparts and include African voices in the debate on the U.S.- China-Africa relationship.

HUNTSMAN

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 

How will the global South fare in our likely future of energy shortages, climate change and resource nationalism (and wars)? India has China’s population mass, but lacks its industrial dynamism and human capital. Africa has Russia’s energy and mineral wealth, but not the military power or social coherence to defend it. South America’s prospects appear brighter – it at least may have the crucial degree of strategic isolation, industrial infrastructure and energy and agricultural wealth to eke out a comfortable (if not luxurious) existence in the turbulent times ahead. In the next few posts, I will assess the future prospects of these three regions in the post-peak oil world, starting with India.

A 2007 Goldman Sachs report estimated India’s GDP growth potential at about 8% until 2020, reinforcing the hype of recent years over “India shining” and the vigorous IT industry springing up in oases like Bangalore. This may well be realistic, even despite India’s manifold social problems (low human capital, creaky infrastructure, caste-based inequalities, an unwieldy bureaucracy, sluggish courts, etc), under a global “business-as-usual” scenario. That however is highly unlikely, for the hard numbers suggest that India will be economically and geopolitically squeezed out of the resources it needs to prosper or even survive by its massive eastern neighbor, China. There are limits to growth on our planet and no guarantees that they will be distributed fairly or equitably in the coming age of scarcity industrialism.

Why India is not China

The two countries share fundamental similarities. Both have more than a billion inhabitants, sustained by great rivers like the Ganges, Huang He and Yangtze that are fed by the (melting) Himalayan glaciers. Both rely on coal to meet the bulk of their primary energy needs and will need to import ever more hydrocarbons, metals and food products from abroad to power future growth. Both are ancient hydraulic civilizations that got left behind during the Industrial Revolution and are now determined to make up lost time. But to realize these dreams, they must compete with each other – directly or indirectly – for the same global energy, mineral and water resources.

Unfortunately for India, its Chinese competitor is dominant across practically all indices of national power one cares to compare.

India China
GDP / capita 2009 2900$ 6600$
Literacy rate 1995-2005 66% 93%
Manufacturing sector (current prices) 2008 190bn $ 1800bn $
Internet penetration 2008 5% 22%
Planned infrastructure spending 2008-11 240bn $ 725bn $
Naval tonnage 164,000 346,000

[Sources: GDP per capita; literacy; manufacturing; Internet penetration; infrastructure; naval].

Let’s now look at the significance of each of the above. First, the average Chinese is now substantially richer than the average Indian. This matters because state power is tied to the surplus it can extract in taxes from a recalcitrant citizenry. There is no better proof of the importance of technological advancement and per capita productivity than 19th century Qing China, which although still the world’s largest economy during the Opium Wars got casually trounced by British gunships with modern artillery and steam power. We aren’t talking about that kind of gap between India and China, of course, but it does exist. The Chinese are now simply better able to actualize advanced industrial and military technologies that they buy (or steal) from the developed world into forms of power that matter – renewable energy, supercomputers, naval C&C, etc…

china-india-growth

China leapfrogged India despite the ruinous economic legacy of Maoism, which was surely far worse than that of the “License Raj”. The best way of explaining this puzzle is in terms of China’s better educational profile. The main determinant of long-term economic growth is a country’s human capital (see 1, 2, 3), which for the most part consists of the educational attainment of its population (which in turn is strongly correlated with its level of national IQ). Not only has China implemented basic schooling far more comprehensively than India (see the literacy rates), but in the past decade it has also charged ahead in tertiary enrollments. And there is some evidence that the Chinese have a big structural advantage in IQ over Indians; if that is truly the case, then convergence will be nigh impossible in principle.

As a result of its huge pool of well-educated workers, China enjoys an almost total industrial supremacy over India. China’s manufacturing sector was worth nine times India’s in 2008. This is reflected in practically any sector one cares to survey. Last year, China produced near half the world’s steel and almost ten times India’s output, and 13.8mn automobiles to India’s 2.6mn. In the most fundamental industrial sector, machine tool building, China was global first with 15bn $ of output, relative to India’s insignificant 268mn $. In summary: China is charging past America; India lingers at the level of France, Brazil and Russia.

No matter the hype around IT services off-shoring to India, its eastern rival is more “informatized” (despite the debilitating effects of China’s Great Firewall). Not only is China’s infrastructure already leagues ahead of India’s, it continues to spend three times as much on expanding it further.

Finally, China has a military edge over India – not only in numbers, but also qualitatively in crucial sectors such as naval, space, strategic nuclear and cyberwar. The PRC has a third of the world’s shipbuilding capacity (India has the world’s biggest shipbreaking industry) and some projections indicate the PLAN could have more warships than the USN by 2020. India does not have the industrial strength to embark on such an ambitious enterprise. Plus, a significant part of its military budget is tied up in maintaining military superiority over Pakistan on land; as a result, resources get diverted from the all-important Navy.

India in the Age of Scarcity Industrialism

Though both Asian giants are essentially world-islands (that is, civilizations so deep and self-contained as to constitute their own worlds), they are increasingly tied to the larger world system of capital and resource flows. Their economic progress and rising affluence has to be supported by outside energy sources. Meanwhile, trends such as climate change and urbanization are slated to suppress their agricultural yields, necessitating more imports of “virtual water” in the form of food from abroad. As such, it is vital for both China and India to develop both ways of paying for these life-giving imports (e.g. selling goods, accumulating foreign currency) or if necessary seizing them by force (using gunboats and expeditionary forces). Thus it is their common geopolitical prerogative to safeguard the sealanes carrying their bulk commodity inflows from the Middle East, Africa and South America.

Chinese naval modernization is proceeding in tandem with a far-sighted “string of pearls” strategy of naval base construction on its outlying coastal islands and friendly nations such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan (they will host radar stations, anti-ship batteries and logistics hubs for naval operations). India has no such project at sea, while on land it is constrained by the hilly jungles of Indochina to the east, the impenetrable Himalayas to the north and a hostile Pakistan to the west. Though it does have a thin slice of access to chaotic, mineral-rich Afghanistan and Russian-dominated Central Asia, it is hard to see how India can marshal the political will and capital resources to build the necessary infrastructure to exploit them.

It should not be forgotten that India faces severe challenges managing its own subcontinent. Contrary to popular opinion, the Pakistani military is not the foremost strategic threat to India – even the worse-case scenario, a full-scale nuclear exchange, will not kill more than 1% of the Indian population. Far more worrying is the specter of the collapse of the Pakistani state. The region contains a 168mn strong population, growing at more than 2% a year, in a desert only made habitable by canal systems drawing on the Indus River, which is dependent on Himalayan glacial runoff for 90% of its water volume. Perpetually capital-poor, indebted and overpopulated, Pakistan faces the specter of a drying Indus by the 2040′s (if the more pessimistic studies are correct)… after that come the climate refugees, the collapse of the Punjab breadbasket, the raids from the Baloch highlands and general nuclearized anarchy. Bangladesh, most of whose 160mn people live just one or two meters above sea level in an area the size of England, could literally find itself underwater as the 21st century grinds on. No wonder India is pouring 1.2bn $ into a border fence sealing it off.

(Incidentally, the prospect of failed states spilling mass columns of refugees into India would make a great leverage point for China. By supporting Pakistan and Bangladesh just enough to prevent them from collapsing, they would become its vassals…)

India too will experience diminished river flows because of melting glaciers, but not to a critical extent like Pakistan, because the Ganges and Brahmaputra are far more monsoonal. (Nonetheless, like China, India has some very ambitious water megaprojects on the cards). In an abrupt reversal from the earlier successes of the Green Revolution, the rapid depletion of the fossil aquifers used for irrigation in India is contributing to stagnating food production. Though China also suffers from the same problem, it is better equipped to weather it by virtue of its economic strength (foods for goods deals) and strategic foresight (e.g. buying foreign farmlands).

India’s best strategy now is to push the Japan-Korea-Russia-India strategic alliance concept beyond mere rhetoric. If these countries remain splintered in the face of a waning American superpower, Chinese hegemony in the Pacific and Indian Oceans becomes near inevitable. On the other hand, Japanese and Korean capital and knowhow, Russian energy and military technology and Indian manpower and potential economic dynamism could balance out China (and their foreign policy experts worry at the prospect). This diplomacy should be pursued in conjunction with increased spending on ballistic missile defense (to neutralize the Pakistani strategic threat), buying back Sri Lanka (to break China’s string of pearls) and most importantly naval expansion (to exert control over the Indian Ocean littoral).

Conclusions

Some commentators believe India has a long-term advantage over China because of 1) its vibrant liberal democracy and 2) younger and more fertile population. I disagree on both counts.

First, there is no empirical evidence showing that democracies develop faster than authoritarian regimes; indeed, the converse is often true, since the latter can often suppress living standards to squeeze out more resources for investment (on the other hand democracies tend to be freer of the megalomaniac delusions indulged in by some autocrats and hence experience fewer absolute train-wrecks). There may well be a case to be made that a more authoritarian Indian government could have provided mass education and infrastructure better and earlier. Or maybe not: as Amartya Sen theorized in The Argumentative Indian, they do have a traditionally open and discursive culture, one that seems far closer to the West than “Oriental despotism”. Regardless, I think it is safe to say that at least until both Asian giants become fully developed – which will take decades if it ever happens at all – democracy won’t give India any significant advantages.

Second, the idea that China will grow old before it will grow rich is one that should die already. If you don’t want to read this Goldman Sachs report, consider that China’s current development level is the same as South Korea’s in the late 1980′s; its fertility transition lags by only a decade or so (Korea’s fertility fell below replacement level rates in 1983 and is now at 1.19 children per woman; China’s in 1993 and is now at 1.77 children per woman*). Doesn’t exactly sound like the makings of a demographic apocalypse. Meanwhile, India’s huge (and still growing at 1.3% per year) population will sooner be a liability than an asset.

In the final analysis, demography and democracy count for little in the hard, cold (or should that be hot?) world of the post-peak oil future. What matters is India’s capacity to build a modern, sustainable society, solve its environmental challenges and overcome its geopolitical dilemmas. So far it has been largely unsuccessful on all three fronts. Development is largely confined to urban oases, at the cost of further environmental strains and geopolitical dependencies. Its policy-makers do not appear to be pursuing a coherent grand strategy. And when it comes to the manifold impacts of scarcity industrialism – diminishing energy and food sources, climate change, failed states – India is subject to forces beyond its control. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that India faces an increasingly bleak future in a world of limits to growth.

* Adjust down to 1.60 to take into account the male-female gender imbalance.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 

It is now nearly 20 years since market reformers began liberalizing the economies of Eastern Europe, or as some smart-ass put it, trying to revive the fish in the centrally planned fish stews. These stews, cooked to diverse recipes from goulash socialism to Soviet “structural militarization“, were subjected to a wide spectrum of overlapping treatments ranging neoliberalism (the Baltics), market socialism (Belarus), and mercantile corporatism (Russia). Other fish stews just stagnated in anarchic stasis (Ukraine). Twenty years on, it is time to observe the oft-surprising results.

I used Angus Maddison’s historical statistics, CIA figures for 2009 growth except where available the results from national statistical services (Belarus & Russia), and the IMF projections for 2010 (adjusted upwards for non-Baltic nations with sharp recent falls in GDP to account for their stronger-than-expected recoveries) to create GDP (PPP) per capita indices for post-Soviet nations and Poland (generally representative of Visegrad) where the output levels of 1989 – the year of peak Soviet GDP – are set to 100.

So which national ponds look like they’ve been subjected to grenade fishing, and which ones have the liveliest fish? Drumroll…

Belarus! At least amongst the industrialized nations, this market socialist economy – mocked and despised by proponents of the Washington consensus – is now substantially more productive than it was in 1989, beating out all its peer competitors. Furthermore, unlike the Baltics or Russia, it remains one of the most equal societies on Earth. Belarus suffered less of the “catabolic collapse” observed in neighboring Russia and Ukraine in the 1990′s, and strong growth resumed earlier. This included growth in manufacturing – Belarus did not suffer from the widespread deindustrialization from which Russia has only recently, and just barely, recovered from in 2007 (and then lost again in 2009!) – and the country even developed a competitive micro-electronics industry. Interestingly, Belarus is also the only CIS nations with whom Russia had a negative migration balance (until 2005). It seems that the stability and benefits offered by Bat’ka outweighed his collective-farm-boss chique.

That said, Belarus’ relative success – shocking as it would be to neoliberal ideologues – should not be overstated. First, in 1989 it was one of the poorer members of the “industrialized nations”, and in standard macroeconomic theory, faster economic growth is, ceteris paribus, easier when you are further behind. Second, whereas Belarus is great for ordinary workers and pensioners, the more talented find it unpromising, even oppressive. Intertwined with an authoritarian political structure, the economic system is largely closed to those who don’t like toeing the party line.

Despite its economic depression from 2007, Estonia seems to have performed very well too. Enfused with post-independence optimism, it carried out its liberal reforms earlier and more completely than any other post-Soviet nation. As a result, it enjoyed a fast revival of growth from 1993, giving it a 2-year head start over Belarus and a 5-year one over Russia. Estonia is far richer and more transparent than Belarus, has a vibrant hi-tech sector, and more political freedoms (with the important exception of disenfranchised Russophones). Latvia has been somewhat less of a miracle economy. After the recent economic collapse, its economic output is now little bigger than the Soviet-era peak, and is much less equitably distributed.

In the bubbly days of 2006-2007 (and by bubbly, I do mean bubble), these economies became known as Baltic Tigers. Their liberal economic policies, balanced budgets, favorable geography, and low-wage skilled labor attracted huge credit inflows. This enabled a debt-fueled consumerist orgy, resulting in awning current account deficits. As the 2008 global credit crisis unfolded, investors took fright and capital inflows turned into capital flight. The house of cards fell down. The Baltics embarked on brutal wage deflation and budget cuts, especially in the worst-hit Latvia, to maintain their currency pegs against the Euro, acquire much-needed IMF financing, and reattain competitiveness. This is projected to take years – and that’s discounting both further shocks to the global financial system and political discontinuities (e.g. after the last Great Depression the Baltic nations became soft dictatorships).

The Balts cannot rely on a renewal of the old bubble, rising foreign protectionism precludes an export-led recovery, and the prospects for strong domestic consumption are dim because of the huge rise in debt levels. The IMF now forecasts prolonged below-trend growth, with GDP per capita only approaching their 2007 peaks by 2014 for all three Baltic nations (the same projections show Russia and Belarus converging to or overtaking the Baltic economies by that date). Just as for the old chasm between Marxism and “actually existing socialism”, whatever the merits of neoliberalism as a theoretical construct – its proponents will have to answer for its real-world disappointments.

Now we come to Russia, which has the region’s biggest and most important economy by far. It’s post-transition history is also highly complex. First, it cannot be stressed enough that the USSR did not collapse economically because of its inherent internal contradictions. It collapsed because Gorbachev aborted central planning, or more accurately ditched the coercive mechanisms that made central planning work (though granted the observable evidence of worker unrest and economic stagnation may have tipped his hand). In the absence of evolved market mechanisms, the “dictator’s surrender” only led to ruinous insider plunder, asset stripping and managerial misappropriation, all under the slogan of “liberalization” (true liberalizing reforms were far less wide-raging and generally implemented much later than in the Baltics). Output plummetted as barter arrangements replaced late Soviet scientific socialism.

As a result, Russia’s new capitalism developed in the most anarchic and perverse ways; indeed, it arguably had a greater resemblance to old Muscovite patrimonialism. A weak Tsar (President Yeltsin) bestowed rent-gathering rights unto his new boyars (the oligarchs) in exchange for their political support – a compromise he was driven to by the combination of 1) state weakness and 2) the perceived need to prevent the Communists coming to power at all costs. Putin’s cardinal achievement in his first term was to decisively shift the balance of power between Tsar and boyars back to the former, a fact confirmed by the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of Khodorkovsky – the power-hungry robber baron who didn’t realize that the days of oligarch rule had passed. The economic crisis of 2008 led to the further reassertion of Kremlin power over the oligarchs – bailed out by a Russian state grown cash-rich from foreign energy sales, many are now little more than its glorified, well-compensated servants.

In the past decade, Russia has been in flux, metamorphosing from the chaotic, boyar-dominated, “appanage” atmosphere of the 1990′s, to the brave new world of Kremlin modernization dreams that are opening up the 2010′s. Three trends are now becoming dominant: 1) the state is becoming much more central in pushing Russia’s modernization through mercantilism (e.g. industrial tariffs), industrial policy (e.g. economic zones), and targeted investments in strategic and “sunrise” economic sectors (e.g. nanotechnology), 2) there is a concurrent, measured economic liberalization – from the 2001 flat tax reform to the raising of internal energy prices, and 3) there is a renewed attempt at social mobilization to fulfill the state’s development plans. In sum, a latter-day replay of the Petrine “revolution from above” (albeit one altered with the benefit of hindsight – Putin is careful to emphasize, even exaggerate, his Russian cultural patriotism, so as to avoid recreating the social divisions and unrest that tends to occur when a ruler is popularly seen as being in thrall to foreigners).

Russia’s post-1990 performance was far from stellar, though it should be noted that in overall per capita welfare it is still comparable to Belarus and only slightly behind Latvia (possibly ahead now) – not that much changed from the late Soviet period. Russia essentially lost two decades, like Latvia or Lithuania – and performed worse than Belarus, Estonia, and Poland (included in the graph for comparison).

This is not too surprising, since 1) Russia spent much of the 1990′s in “anarchic stasis”, a semi-failed state that had trouble maintaining any meaningful monopoly on violence, tax collection, and monetary emissions (the three vital functions of a state), 2) like the Baltics, Russia started from a relatively high base (it was already an industrialized nation), so it could hardly expect particularly rapid growth, and 3) the Kremlin only really began to focus on modernization as a priority in the mid-2000′s, as before it had been too preoccupied with consolidating the Russian state.

As I wrote in an earlier post on the Russian economy at the dawn of its late-2008 crisis (which was basically correct with the exception of the far too optimistic 2009 GDP forecast), Russia’s greatest weakness during the credit crunch was that its major corporations, the vast majority of them state or quasi-state, had come to rely on Western intermediation for accessing cheap credit. When the global credit wheel ground to a halt in late 2008, the first countries to be cut off were the emerging markets. (Having access to deep indigenous credit systems, nations like Brazil and China weathered the storm far better than Russian corporations and consumers who were suddenly cut off from cheap credit). Though the initial economic collapse was steep, Russia does not possess the long-term ailments of the Baltic states – debt has nowhere near the same level of penetration, the state remains incredibly cash-rich, and its strategic depth makes it largely invulnerable to any further retreat of globalization. Many forecasts now say that Russia will grow by 4% to 6% in 2010. In the longer-term, it has a comprehensive development plan and arguably good prospects for effecting an economic catch-up to the West.

Finally, far and away the worst post-Soviet performer amongst the industrialized nations is Ukraine. It never managed to reattain its Soviet-era level of per capita output, and that goal is now further away than ever. Comparable in its level of economic development to Belarus, Poland, and Russia in the late 1980′s, it is now far behind all three. Why? True, Russia had the gas reserves, but until the mid-2000′s Ukraine received vastly subsidized gas anyway. Furthermore, unlike Russia, Ukraine was nowhere near as burdened by “structural militarization” at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, nor did it retain prodigally expensive military forces or Great Power ambitions. It was also closer to Europe, directly bordering Poland. And besides, Belarus was in a similar position to Ukraine, but landlocked and shunned by the West to boot; but it nonetheless managed to do incomparably better.

I think the only good explanation for this retrogression is that Ukraine simply never left its 1990′s conditions of anarchic stasis. Its Tsar (or Hetman?) was always weak, Ukraine’s cultural cleft between Russian Orthodox East and Uniate West putting a glass ceiling to any ruler’s level of popular support at around 50% of the population. This constant problem with political legitimacy, experienced by both pro-Western and pro-Russian Presidents, stymied reform efforts and attempts to reign in oligarch power. Ukraine lagged well behind Russia, not to even mention the Baltics, in its economic liberalization, and its politicians remain representatives of oligarchic clans, not their puppet-masters as in Russia. Any sustained state-backed modernization scheme (e.g. on Putin’s Russia model) is doomed from the outset, while private investors and entrepreneurs are scared off by the unending political instability and lack of liberalization (in this respect, if Russia or Belarus is purgatory, Ukraine is hell). Long-term development is thus impossible under Ukraine’s conditions of anarchic stasis.

Below is a graph plotting the economic fortunes of the USSR’s less-developed nations (again per capita).

Azerbaijan‘s success is almost entirely tied up with the massive expansion of its oil production, especially from the mid-2000′s. Azerbaijan’s oil output rose from 0.2mn barrels a day between 1992 and 1998, to 0.4mn in 2005, and skyrocketed to 1.0mn by 2009, and as shown in the graph, the years of rapid increase were accompanied by amazingly high rates of GDP growth (up to 20-30% in a couple of years). A similar explanation would probably hold for why Kazakhstan‘s post-Soviet performance was substantially better than Russia’s, despite the many similarities between their economic systems – Kazakh oil production was 0.4mn barrels from 1992-95, 0.6mn in 1999, and 1.5mn by 2008.

(Russia produced only 22.6% more fuel energy in 2008 than in 1992. Its oil production went from an all-time peak of 11.5mn barrels in 1988, to 7.9mn in 1992, 6.0-6.5mn during 1994-99, 9.3mn in 2004, and 9.8mn by 2008 – i.e., correlated with general growth trends in its real GDP. Whereas the recovery in oil production accounted for a very substantial share of its GDP growth / recovery from 1999 to 2004, these effects became small after increases in oil production flattened out post-2004 due to geological factors (i.e. peak oil) and the political factors (the YUKOS affair); from the mid-2000′s, the main drivers of growth became retail, construction, transportation, manufacturing, and finance.)

Summation – Russia was recovering lost ground in oil production; Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan were gaining massive new ground. Translated into GDP growth over the entire transition period, Kazakh and Azeri growth appears much more impressive, even though it was much more narrowly based on increasing resource extraction.

Armenia showed impressive growth, despite that it has no such resource windfall and is a mountanous, landlocked nation bordered by unfriendly Turks to the west, the hostile Azeris to the east who are closely related to Turks (with whom it fought a war in the early 1990′s), a Georgia up north that dislikes its alliance with Russia, and with Iran to the south, which is friendly, but is an international pariah. How the Armenians managed this I don’t know, but kudos to them!

Despite the pro-Saakashvili rhetoric, Georgia is not that impressive on objective terms. The average, post-Rose Revolution 2004-2008 growth was 8%, which although ostensibly impressive was not exceptional by regional standards. Furthermore, it doesn’t mean very much for a nation 1) starting from a low economic base and 2) recovering from a massive prior GDP collapse. True, somewhat better than trainwreck Moldova, but left in the dust by its Caucasian neighbor Armenia (likewise wracked by blockade and the occasional war), and only slightly better than Russia – a nation that has a GDP per capita that is three times bigger than Georgia’s.

According to an alternate, non-rosy view, The Georgian Economy Under Saakashvili (Irakli Rukhadze and Mark Hauf), much of Georgia’s recent growth was one-off, being based on state asset sales and government lay-offs. This was accompanied by accelerating deindustrialization, continued emigration and poverty, and the destruction of all remaining safety nets. The authors say the government acquired the habit of pressuring independent businesses to provide “voluntary contributions” in return for not bankrupting them under corruption prosecutions. This is not to singularly condemn Georgia’s weak rule of law. After all, politicized interference in the economy, widespread corruption, and corporate raiding are the rule rather than the exception throughout the former USSR. The only thing that’s special about the Georgian economy is the chasm between the gushing, star-speckled rhetoric emanating from Saakashvili and his neocon cheerleaders – and the actually existing reality.

Finally, we can note that Uzbekistan saw much better growth than Tajikistan. Uzbekistan is an unreformed economy, as well as land-locked, poor, and truly authoritarian (i.e. an extreme version of Belarus). But starting from a low base really helps, I guess. On the other hand, Tajikistan saw a devastating civil war between Communists and Islamists that killed 100,00 people during the early 1990′s, and it is the post-Soviet republic that is least advanced in the demographic transition (capital diverted to sustain new mouths and remember that we are measuring GDP per capita in this post). Growth performance in Kyzgyzstan was in between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, whereas Turkmenistan’s was as good as Uzbekistan’s.

What to Expect?

Russia has a comprehensive modernization plan, the human, administrative, and financial resources needed to implement it, and the Kremlin’s siege mentality should give it the impetus to force it through. Thus, I am reasonably confident that Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan will continue to see relatively fast growth. These countries have relatively high human capital (a necessary prerequisite for economic catch-up), and their recent customs union will enable bigger economies of scale. As I said before, there are many reasons to suppose that Ukraine will (re)join this Eurasian space within the next few years, at which point its anarchic stasis will finally end.

As I observed above, economic openness and transparency are not as important to economic catch-up as they are sometimes made out to be (this is NOT to imply they’re bad, however – obviously, imitating North Korea’s Juche principle or Equatorial Guinea’s kleptocracy is not the way forwards). However, they shouldn’t be treated as the be all and end all of things either. Moderate levels of corruption are nothing more than an additional tax, and it is even possible to think of situations where it can be positive (for instance, nations with impossible, idiotic regulations). Meanwhile, excessive economic openness can leave one too open to the vagaries of global casino capitalism – observe Latvia today, or Argentina 2001, for good examples. Furthermore, the next decade will likely see the retreat of globalization in tandem with peak oil and the waning of Pax Americana. In this new environment of “scarcity industrialism“, states that carve out self-sufficient dominions will fare best. Russia is aware of this, and has begun to regather its former Empire, and so is China with its fevered buyout of mines, land, and political elites around the world.

The Baltics may slowly recover under business-as-usual, though in the more globally pessimistic scenarios favored by S/O the general pattern will be stagnation, political unrest, and authoritarian reaction (especially possible in the most vulnerable member, Latvia). Central Asia does not really have the capacity for generating its own sustainable development. Far from potential markets and tyrannized by extreme climes and distances, the region is doomed to perpetual backwardness, except in so far as outside Powers like Russia or China find it in their interests to subsidize their development. In the Caucasus, the threat of instability and violence hangs permanently in the air, making any attempts at prediction even more of a futile endeavor.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 

EDIT 11/27/08: Since writing this, I have come to realize that peak oil is real and will play a major role in any future scenario, and far sooner than the other three themes I highlight here.

The twentieth century was, above all, a Russian century. Granted, Germany was the most important challenger Great Power in the first half of the century, while in the second the United States begun to assert itself on the world stage. Nonetheless, Russia, under its Soviet incarnation, was the key focal point of world history. It is hard to imagine a movement like Nazism arising in Germany, or indeed fascism in general, without the spectre of communism hanging over a country. Similarly, the US was only brought permanently out of its traditional isolationism by the Truman Doctrine – their pledge to “support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures”, or, in other words, to contain communism.

This article will be about Russia’s place in the world in around 30 years time. In particular, will it be able to reclaim its former mantle as a superpower? Does it have the potential to usher in a new Russian century?

Firstly, we must define what a superpower is. Let us assume that it is a state with a leading position in the international system and the ability to influence events and project power on a worldwide scale. Furthermore, it must be strong on multiple planes of power – not only in the military sphere, but also in ‘softer’ areas like the economic base and cultural influence.

(Chinese political scientists have developed a metric for state power called Comprehensive National Power. There is no generally agreed-upon method by which different components of power are weighted and totalled. Nonetheless, virtually all of them have the US leading the pack, with Russia, Japan, China, France, the UK and Germany following behind in a cluster.)

Today, the world’s only country with the whole plethora of attributes – economic, technological, political, military and strategic – that make a state a superpower is the United States. Nonetheless, there are important trends at work that threaten to undermine this full-spectrum dominance. We have identified the three most important of these as economic (re)convergence, exponential growth in IT and global climate change.

The most important of these is economic convergence. Given decent growth conditions and the appropriate human capital and physical infrastructure, per capita incomes should converge across nations via the diffusion of technology and best practice. This process has accelerated with progress in communications technology: while in the 19th C Sweden played catch-up at 1% growth per annum relative to Great Britain, today China closes its gap with the US at a rate of up to 8%. This means that, historically speaking, the world’s centres of economic power are shifting much more rapidly than at any time before.

This trend is very positive for large countries with currently low per capita incomes like China and India, but negative for advanced industrial nations like the US, Japan and Germany. Their economic decline relative to Europe took centuries – a process that culminated in the industrial revolution, which saw these formerly proud empires relagated to being colonial appendages of the Western powers. The time has come for a great reverse. As a medium-income country, the effect will be slightly positive for Russia. Assuming there is no large-scale disruption of globalization in this century (as happened in the First World War and the rise of tariffs in the early 20th C), this trend should hold.

Of course, it’s not sufficient merely to be behind to catch up. One must also have the human capital and physical infrastructure in place. One of the best proxies for human capital is education.

Sources: CIA World Factbook 2007 for literacy %; United Nations Statistics Division for school life expectancy (2005 or latest); World Bank for tertiary school enrollment (2005 or latest); PISA 2006 Math scores; PISA 2006 Science scores; TIMMS 2003 Math scores for 8th Graders; TIMSS 2003 Science scores for 8th Graders; * other source.

Now as we can see from the info above, Russia’s (and eastern Europe’s) educational profile is of a First World character. Hence it is likely that the region’s impressive post-millennial growth will be sustained, resulting in convergence with west European countries by a 2020-30 time frame.

A more comprehensive analysis of this phenomenom is given by Goldman Sachs’ GES (Growth Environment Score) and this seems to back up our fundamental points – namely, that China and Russia are better positioned for sustained growth than India or Brazil. (Russia recently overtook China in the GES). India will nonetheless grow quickly, despite its creaking infrastructure and poor human capital, simply because it is so far behind. Brazil, however, will not, because while it is a middle-income country, its human capital profile seems to dictate that that’s where it should stay. It will remain a land of promise. The same goes for the rest of South America and the Muslim world. It usually takes about a generation to effect real change in the human capital of a particular country. Hence, we think it unlikely that there will be any significant changes to the following picture – rapid convergence for China and eastern Europe with Russia, convergence from a low base of India and stagnation for all the other regions (in relative terms).

In conclusion, China seems destined to become a third economic pole in the world by 2020, in addition to the United States and European Union. (According to the World Bank’s revised figures, China’s purchasing power parity GDP in 2005 was 5.3trn $, compared with the US’s 12.4trn $ and EU’s 13.0trn $. Assuming it manages to keep a 6-8% annual growth lead over them, it should become the world’s largest economy by 2020). India will also become much larger, but its overall size will be comparable to Japan’s – furthermore, the same development pattern that we see today (islands of IT-based prosperity in a sea of poverty) will be preserved, and its per capita income will remain extremely low. Russia and eastern Europe, on the other hand, are likely to converge to west European levels of development by 2030. While Russia’s overall economy will remain small as a percentage of world GDP (around 4-5%, up from 3.4% today), it will be fully developed with a strong high-tech mainstay.

The second global trend is the doubly exponential growth in IT. Economic growth has been with us since the dawn of history, although it took us a long time to realize this. Furthermore, it is not only exponential (ie, growing by x % per annum) – it is doubly exponential (x itself increases exponentially). The reason it took us such a long time to recognize this fundamental fact is that in the beginning, growth was very slow (a fraction of a percent per annum, as late as medieval times), so we perceived it as being linear instead of exponential. (The futurist Ray Kurzweil calls it the intuitive linear view versus the historical exponential view. His article The Law of Accelerating Returns is highly recommended).

However, during this century Moore’s Law in computing – that the number of transistors that can be inexpensively placed on an integrated circuit is increasing exponentially, doubling approximately every two years – has become well known. Furthermore, it is doubly exponential growth – while calculations / second / $ doubled once every 3 years in the 1950′s, the doubling time decreased to 2 years in the 1980′s and is currently at 1.5 years. The same general pattern can be discerned in world economic history. In medieval and early modern times, all societies’ per capita income grew at a rate just a little above 0%, and this fact was concealed by much stronger cyclical and chaotic tendencies. However, leading industrial countries grew by 1% per annum in the late 19th C per capita, while today this has increased to 2-3% per annum.

As more and more of the components that are governed by Moore’s Law enter our manufactures (GPS in cars, etc) and services (automated banking, etc), so will the growth rate of the real economy increase faster and faster. The case can be made that the Great Powers of this century will be determined by such things as R&D spending and personnel, nanotechnology spending and supercomputer production; just as the Great Powers of yesteryear focused their energies on steel, coal and engines. Not only will they generate the Kondratieff wave of economic growth for the next 50 years, they will give the states that nourish them capabilities that will fundamentally alter the strategic landscape. Powerful computers can be used to construct a truly effective missile defence; nanotechnologies can create very strong body armor (the US plans to roll out a suit that integrates nanotechnology exoskelotons and liquid body armor by 2020, as part of its Future Force Warrior project. A number of other countries have similar programs). Furthermore, nanotechnology can also be used to mitigate the effects of the third trend – climate change – by releasing light-reflecting aerosols into the atmosphere or even mass producing molecular machines that break down greenhouse gases into harmless components.

Eventually, true engines of creation (molecular self-assemblers) have the potential to radically transform every facet of everyday life through the dematerialization of production and elimination of material scarcity. A computer that can pass the Turing test also lies on the horizon, and its development will unleash “an exponential runaway beyond any hope of control“. After all, superintelligence is the last invention man need ever make. Now scrutinizing these forecasts is beyond the scope of this blog, let alone this article. We will refer you to Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns and the excellent The Futurist blog, and leave it at that.

Sources: World Development Indicators database (2004 or latest) for R&D, ppl % is researchers / million people, sp % is spending as % of GDP; public nanotechnology funding 2003 in millions of Euros; countries’ % share of top 500 supercomputers as of 11/2007. * These are my estimations (2007 spending), based on these articles: India’s nanotech spending below global levels (India spends less than Taiwan which spends 104bn $) and Russia Pours Billions in Oil Profits Into Nanotech Race (Russia to spend 7bn $ in next 5 years).

This table illustrates how strong today’s leading countries are in the leading spheres of the high-tech industries. The United States has a commanding lead. It has an excellent R&D infrastructure, with most of the world’s best universities (as defined by Shanghai Jiao Tong University). It has more than half of the world’s most powerful (ability to do calculations quickly) supercomputers – if anything, their lead is underestimated, since all the major vendors that manufacture these supercomputers (IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Cray Inc., Dell, SGI) are American. Its high government spending on nanotechnology conceals an even larger amount of private spending, as can be deduced from the diagram below.

The only other country roughly comparable to the US is Japan (while Japanese supercomputers are less powerful, they beat American ones on efficiency). Although small, individual European countries like Sweden or the Netherlands are also comparable to the US, Europe as a region is weighed down by technological laggards like Italy, Portugal and central-east Europe in general. Although the large European states spend a lot on nanotechnology (as does Russia from 2007), there is relatively very little private enterprise in this area. Amongst the BRICs, China and Russia look like they have promising futures in high-tech; the same cannot be said of India and Brazil, notwithstanding all the recent hype about the former’s flourishing IT industry (which is mostly based on Western out-shoring of cheap services, rather than true innovation).

In conclusion, the US and Japan look set to continue dominating these high-tech industries, although the US will continue to make most of the conceptual innovations. There will also be regions of the world (Taiwan, South Korea, Israel) that will occupy strong niche positions. The big European countries will lag, although Russia has the potential to break through to a leading position (its government has recognized nanotechnology as a national strategic priority, allocated massive funds to it and is seeking to build a hi-tech venture capital industry to attract private investment). China might converge to Europe in this field, but India will likely and Brazil will certainly remain substantially behind.

The final major trend for the medium to long-term global future is that of climate change. Historically speaking, global warming has followed the ‘high’ scenarios of climate models since they were first seriously constructed in the 1980′s. Nonetheless, even they might have underestimated the risk and magnitutude of catastrophic climate change. The Earth has many feedback mechanisms that could make runaway global warming a real possibility. Increased heat due to CO2 emissions will unleash the methane underneath the Siberian permafrost, accelerate forest decay in the tropics and melt the frozen methane clathrates that lie beneath the world’s ocean sediments. Think of these as primed explosives, CO 2 levels as the fuse. Beyond this global climate tipping point, there is no turning back – and the Pentagon, being substantially wiser than the Bush administration, seems to have taken note. There is even evidence that the true magnitude of global warming to date has not been fully appreciated due to global dimming – the ‘sunshade’ that emissions of soot particles create over our heads.

There have already been articles about who wins and who loses in a warmer world and even a book (How the World will Change – with Global Warming by Trausti Valsson, which is available as a free download). Northern regions like Russia, Scandinavia, Greenland and Canada will gain immensely as global shipping shifts to the Arctic and new oil and gas deposits are found at the top of the world. (Russia’s leadership seems to have foreseen this global shift – it has recently claimed a large chunk of the Arctic seabed and made long-term plans for the resurrection of a powerful blue-water navy). According to the book,

Transportation access will be greatly improved by new transcontinental railways, and as the rivers leading into the interior have become more or less ice-free, this area will be able to reap the benefits of the enormous shipping traffic along the North Siberian border.

The effect on Europe as a whole will be neutral, since the cancelling of the Gulf Stream will be counteracted by generalized warming (although Italy, the Balkans and Iberian peninsula will face drought and maybe even desertification). On the other hand huge new areas will be opened up in the north. In North America, although the West will face desertification, new areas will be opened up in Canada to compensate.

China and India will be very badly affected, both facing severe water shortages and inundation of the coastlines and river valleys (Ganges, Yangtze, Huang Ho) where most of their people live. While Europe and the US will also face inundations as the Greenland and West Antarctic icecaps melt, the extent will be more limited (mostly the Netherlands and Florida). Below is a fun applet you can play with to simulate various states of sea level rise.

In conclusion, in a warming world the US, Europe and Brazil will weather the storm, while Russia will benefit not only relatively, but absolutely. China and India will have to devote massive amounts of state resources on mitigating its effects, and questions have to be asked whether they will even be able to feed themselves. China’s northern breadbasket is turning into a dustbowl and its wheat production has been falling for the last decade, while global grain stocks have also dipped in the last 5 years under a barrage of drought and crop diseases. Outright famine is unlikely, we think – after all, China is fast becoming a medium-income country, and there is room to cut back on food consumption by reducing the proportion of meat in the people’s diet (which has been the primary cause of rising global food demand, rather than population increase).

In any case, it appears that there will be a need for a massive migration from overpopulated southern countries to the north to prevent a catastrophic disparity in global wealth and resources. (As such climate change will act counter to the equalizing tendencies of economic convergence). It is reasonable to imagine Canada and Russia filling up with tens, eventually even hundreds, of millions of immigrants from the stricken zones to the South – provided they accept their moral duty to let them in. If they don’t, there will probably be intense wars over dwindling resources in the south, possibly involving the use of nuclear weapons, from which the rich northern countries will be unable to insulate themselves from.

As we come close to the end of our analysis of the three trends – economic convergence, technological progress and climate change – that will shape world geopolitics this century, it is time for a summary of the main findings.

The US, as today’s single superpower, will be challenged by economic convergence on the part of emerging markets like the BRICs. Nonetheless, it will not be catastrophically affected by global climate change and its extraordinary strength in hi-tech should stand it in good stead for the next few decades. It will preserve its vast strategic strength (nuclear arms), power-projection capabilities and cultural influence.

Russia will re-emerge as a superpower due to economic convergence and above all global warming, which will shift global shipping to the Arctic, open up vast new energy sources and make the Siberian interior habitable on a sustainable basis. It has the potential to break through and become a leader in hi-tech industries. Economic convergence should see its per capita incomes approach, and possibly overtake, those of European countries within a generation – nonetheless, its overall economic weight in the world will remain modest. It will preserve its vast strategic strength (the equivalent of the US), should have gone some way towards developing power-projection capabilities and most importantly it will be the only Great Power with surplus energy and mineral reserves.

China will be the world’s largest economy in purchasing power parity by 2020 at the latest, although it will continue to lag in per capita terms. The development of a comprehensive R&D network should allow the creation of a truly independent, comprehensive military industrial complex, thus joining the US and Russia in that regard. Nonetheless, it will be very negatively affected by climate change, and unless a technological solution is found to this problem, its government will be increasingly pre-occupied with mitigating the consequences of global warming – desertification and inundation. China also plans to build power-projection capabilities (hi-tech forces capable of winning localized wars against technologically advanced adversaries (read: the US)) and increase the size and comprehensiveness of its strategic deterrance.

The European Union has all the pre-requisites of superpowerdom, but the million-dollar question is whether they will succeed in uniting into a truly federal state with one independent, European foreign policy and an integrated military-industrial complex. Such an outcome looks unlikely at present (what with France’s and Belgium’s rejection of the European Constitution), and that is unlikely to change, especially as the EU expands to take in the Balkans and maybe even Turkey. As it stands, however, like the old Polish-Lithuanian Union, Europeans can be manipulated against each other by the powers to the east and west (Russia and the US), which are stronger than any individual European state.

There is no question of Japan, India or Brazil becoming a superpower. Japan is developed and technologically advanced, but it does not have the public will to become militarized and actively project hard power over its own region, let alone the world. It has no energy resources and is vulnerable to being cut off from energy and food imports; nor does it possess a strategic deterrant. India has all of China’s problems and fewer of its advantages (its human capital is much lower, the infrastructure is poor and it is already more than a decade behind in per capita income). Brazil can be energy independent and it has a respectable industrial base, but it has no room for convergence (due to its low human capital) and only a scant R&D infrastructure. It has neither the capability nor the will to project its influence beyond its borders.

Our prediction is that by 2030, there will emerge a tripolar world dominated by the US, China and Russia. As we have shown, all these countries possess the means or the potential to acquire the means to acquire superpower status.

Their populations, we believe, also have the will to achieve this. As a proxy for this, let us take the World Values Survey results to the question, “E012.- E012.- Of course, we all hope that there will not be another war, but if it were to come to that, would you be willing to fight for your country?” 97% of Chinese, 77% of Russians and 73% of Americans answered in the affirmative. In Europe, on the other hand, these figures were typically in the 40-60% range. If half of them say that they’re unwilling to fight for their own country, how many of them will struggle for a united Europe? Japan scores just 25% – a reflection of its pacifist, non-interventionist foreign policy. While both Brazil (72%) and especially India (82%) have the will to be superpowers, they will be unable to acquire the capability in the foreseeable future.

Fast forward to 2030. What do we see?

The United States is still a, if not the, leading economy. In absolute size it has long been overtaken by China. Both states possess respectable power projection capabilities, the technological and economic base to sustain them and a strategic deterrant. China devotes most of its energies to acquiring the energy, mineral and food resources to feed its bourgeoning economy, and in mitigating the effects of climate change. The US is affected by these two problems to a much lesser extent.

Russia is an economic minnow next to Europe, the US and China because of its relatively small population. In economic size and technological development it is comparable to Japan (a basic fact which will not change even if it were to expand to incorporate the Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan). However, it will also possess a strategic deterrant, power projection capabilities and the will to use it. It is entirely self-sufficient in energy, agriculture and minerals, and can export surplus production. In a world which faces energy shortages, this will become an increasing important foreign policy level – on the largest scale, it means that Russia will be able to play off China and European US allies off against each other.

In the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, there is a socially conservative party called Shas. They only ever win small mandates, but since there is usually a narrow margin between the two main parties (traditionally Labor and Likud), they have the ability to tilt the balance of power one way or another. As such, they can exercise influence on Israeli politics out of all proportion to their numbers.

Russia seems destined to be the world’s Shas this century, balancing Chinese and American power. As of today, the US is much stronger, which might explain why Russia and China have banded together in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. As both countries increase their Comprehensive National Power, it is likely their friendship will be revealed for what it is – a temporary marriage of convenience.

The Soviet Union never came close to being the world’s foremost economic power, yet it exerted its influence on the world through its ideological fervor and military might. In the new century, Russia can add energy dominance to its trumps. Provided it retains its traditional will to power, the next century may well be a Russian one.

Note: under the nanotechnology spending column in the Hi-Tech Table, Russia should be at 1000 mn Euros rather than 1400 mn. (I forgot to convert the dollar figure and can’t be bothered correcting the table).

Objections

Do you have any? Please comment and I’ll try to answer them.

Edit: there were objections criticisms from peak oil, US debt and demographics. I have tried to counter them in Mailbag: Back from a Russian Century?

Edit 2: for more on the vital link between economic development and education, please consult my article Education as the Elixir of Growth.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.


PastClassics
Are elite university admissions based on meritocracy and diversity as claimed?
A simple remedy for income stagnation
Confederate Flag Day, State Capitol, Raleigh, N.C. -- March 3, 2007
The major media overlooked Communist spies and Madoff’s fraud. What are they missing today?
The evidence is clear — but often ignored