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Sometimes, it is much simpler to expound upon one’s views on a subject by replying to and arguing against an opposing view, rather than constructing one’s own thesis. Call it intellectual laziness, a clever short-cut or whatever you not, this is what I’m going to do with the Washington Post article A Long Wait at the Gate to Greatness, in which John Pomfret argues that China is unlikely to ever match, let alone surpass, the United States as the world’s premier superpower. I will quote it in full, adding my own comments:

Nikita Khrushchev said the Soviet Union would bury us, but these days, everybody seems to think that China is the one wielding the shovel. The People’s Republic is on the march — economically, militarily, even ideologically. Economists expect its GDP to surpass America’s by 2025; its submarine fleet is reportedly growing five times faster than Washington’s; even its capitalist authoritarianism is called a real alternative to the West’s liberal democracy. China, the drumbeat goes, is poised to become the 800-pound gorilla of the international system, ready to dominate the 21st century the way the United States dominated the 20th.

The key difference is that China is a demographic giant. This means that to match the US in gross GDP (one of the key criteria for superpower status), it need only advance to around a quarter of its per capita development, or Mexico’s level. To match the West (and be double the US), it need only reach Portuguese standards.

Except that it’s not.

Ever since I returned to the United States in 2004 from my last posting to China, as this newspaper’s Beijing bureau chief, I’ve been struck by the breathless way we talk about that country. So often, our perceptions of the place have more to do with how we look at ourselves than with what’s actually happening over there. Worried about the U.S. education system? China’s becomes a model. Fretting about our military readiness? China’s missiles pose a threat. Concerned about slipping U.S. global influence? China seems ready to take our place.

But is China really going to be another superpower? I doubt it.

China’s positive portrayal is far from universal. To the contrary, it’s possible to find a great many articles like his claiming that China’s rise is overblown, e.g. Will Hutton on Does the future really belong to China? (no, it doesn’t, according to him).

Too many constraints are built into the country’s social, economic and political systems. For four big reasons — dire demographics, an overrated economy, an environment under siege and an ideology that doesn’t travel well — China is more likely to remain the muscle-bound adolescent of the international system than to become the master of the world.

Let’s see how well he backs up this thesis.

In the West, China is known as “the factory to the world,” the land of unlimited labor where millions are eager to leave the hardscrabble countryside for a chance to tighten screws in microwaves or assemble Apple‘s latest gizmo. If the country is going to rise to superpowerdom, says conventional wisdom, it will do so on the back of its
massive workforce.

However, there is a very big hitch in the aforementioned conventional ‘wisdom’. According to the World Bank’s report Unleashing Productivity, the overwhelming majority of Chinese growth can be attributed to increasing total factor productivity and investment from 1999 to 2005. If labor supply hadn’t increased, China’s growth rate would have fallen by less than 1% point. Furthermore, China has experienced very high human capital accumulation, as nine-year schooling has become universal and “during the past decade, China has produced college and university graduates at a significantly faster pace than Korea and Japan did during their fastest-growing periods”; since education is the elixir of growth, its workforce won’t just be assembling gizmos and tightening screws for long. Even now higher-added value manufacturing is booming.

But there’s a hitch: China’s demographics stink. No country is aging faster than the People’s Republic, which is on track to become the first nation in the world to get old before it gets rich. Because of the Communist Party’s notorious one-child-per-family policy, the average number of children born to a Chinese woman has dropped from 5.8 in the 1970s to 1.8 today — below the rate of 2.1 that would keep the population stable. Meanwhile, life expectancy has shot up, from just 35 in 1949 to more than 73 today. Economists worry that as the working-age population shrinks, labor costs will rise, significantly eroding one of China’s key competitive advantages.

Firstly, a TFR of 1.8 is far from critical and kept constant will lead to only small declines in the size of succeeding cohorts. Secondly, according to most projections the absolute size of the labor force will nonetheless continue growing until 2030 (it also neglects the fact that the supply of excess labor from agriculture is far from drying up). Thirdly, it ignores the extend to which rising labor costs will be offset by rapidly growing productivity as much more resources can be invested in a smaller pool of children.

Finally, I strongly recommend reading the third chapter of the Goldman Sachs BRICs and Beyond book, Will China Grow Old Before Getting Rich?, for a refutation of this particular variant of the demographic-apocalypse myth.

Worse, Chinese demographers such as Li Jianmin of Nankai University now predict a crisis in dealing with China’s elderly, a group that will balloon from 100 million people older than 60 today to 334 million by 2050, including a staggering 100 million age 80 or older. How will China care for them? With pensions? Fewer than 30 percent of China’s urban dwellers have them, and none of the country’s 700 million farmers do. And China’s state-funded pension system makes Social Security look like Fort Knox. Nicholas Eberstadt, a demographer and economist at the American Enterprise Institute, calls China’s demographic time bomb “a slow-motion humanitarian tragedy in the making” that will “probably require a rewrite of the narrative of the rising China.”

In other words, just a little more than Japan’s rate (22%) today. Nothing particularly alarming. So what if the share of the working age population drops from 71% today to around 60% in half a century? Especially in an ever wealthier world where old people get ever healthier?

Regarding pensions, he answers his own question. They won’t be a problem because they generally don’t bother with them. (As a matter of fact, the lack of pensions partly explains China’s huge savings rate).

As for Eberstadt, I don’t put much stock into what he says, given the apocalyptic rhetoric he has spewed on Russia which I covered in the Demographics post on Da Russophile.

I count myself lucky to have witnessed China’s economic rise first-hand and seen its successes etched on the bodies of my Chinese classmates. When I first met them
in the early 1980s, my fellow students were hard and thin as rails; when I found them again almost 20 years later, they proudly sported what the Chinese call the “boss belly.” They now golfed and lolled around in swanky saunas.

But in our exuberance over these incredible economic changes, we seem to have forgotten that past performance doesn’t guarantee future results. Not a month goes by without some Washington think tank crowing that China’s economy is overtaking America’s. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is the latest, predicting earlier this month that the Chinese economy would be twice the size of ours by the middle of the century.

There are two problems with predictions like these. First, in the universe where these reports are generated, China’s graphs always go up, never down. Second, while the documents may include some nuance, it vanishes when the studies are reported to the rest of us.

Opinion presented as fact.

One important nuance we keep forgetting is the sheer size of China’s population: about 1.3 billion, more than four times that of the United States. China should have a big economy. But on a per capita basis, the country isn’t a dragon; it’s a medium-size lizard, sitting in 109th place on the International Monetary Fund‘s World Economic Outlook Database, squarely between Swaziland and Morocco. China’s economy is large, but its average living standard is low, and it will stay that way for a very long time, even assuming that the economy continues to grow at impressive rates.

As I mentioned, to fulfil what is perhaps the most important criterion for superpowerdom, China’s population size means it only has to reach about a quarter of America’s per capita development level to qualify – something it is already, by some measures, quite close to doing.

Secondly, the gap in development actually means China has the means to continue to ‘catch-up’ rapidly, since it’s much easier to grow fast when you lag far behind best practice. And unlike Morocco or Swaziland, which have yet to come close to conquering illiteracy, China possesses a basically well-educated population that is capable of absorbing higher-productivity technologies to convergence.

The big number wheeled out to prove that China is eating our economic lunch is the U.S. trade deficit with China, which last year hit $256 billion. But again, where’s the missing nuance? Nearly 60 percent of China’s total exports are churned out by companies not owned by Chinese (including plenty of U.S. ones). When it comes to high-tech exports such as computers and electronic goods, 89 percent of China’s exports come from non-Chinese-owned companies. China is part of the global system, but it’s still the low-cost assembly and manufacturing part — and foreign, not Chinese, firms are reaping the lion’s share of the profits.

And this matters how? Innovation and global brands are the next stage of development; for now, rapid build-up of industrial capacity, infrastructure and human capital is paramount, and something China is succeding at marvelously.

When my family and I left China in 2004, we moved to Los Angeles, the smog capital of the United States. No sooner had we set foot in southern California than my son’s asthma attacks and chronic chest infections — so worryingly frequent in Beijing — stopped. When people asked me why we’d moved to L.A., I started joking, “For the air.”

China’s environmental woes are no joke. This year, China will surpass the United States as the world’s No. 1 emitter of greenhouse gases. It continues to be the largest depleter of the ozone layer. And it’s the largest polluter of the Pacific Ocean. But in the accepted China narrative, the country’s environmental problems will merely mean a few breathing complications for the odd sprinter at the Beijing games. In fact, they could block the country’s rise.

The problem is huge: Sixteen of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in China, 70 percent of the country’s lakes and rivers are polluted, and half the population lacks clean drinking water. The constant smoggy haze over northern China diminishes crop yields. By 2030, the nation will face a water shortage equal to the amount it consumes today; factories in the northwest have already been forced out of business because there just isn’t any water. Even Chinese government economists estimate that environmental troubles shave 10 percent off the country’s gross domestic product each year. Somehow, though, the effect this calamity is having on China’s rise doesn’t quite register in the West.

Actually this is the one point I somewhat agree on.

What I’d like to point out though is that these are not terminal factors which will prevent China’s rise, just an inconvenience. South Korea also had an extremely polluted environment in its industrial growth period (and to an extend, still does), but this didn’t stop it developing quickly and now that it’s rich it can devote more resources to environmental protection.

The real danger I see is that the Himalayan glaciers melt due to global warming and the great rivers that sustain Chinese (and Indian) civilization dry up. This will indeed probably pre-empt Chinese superpowerdom. Minor things like a bit of smog or increased water stress won’t.

And then there’s “Kung Fu Panda.” That Hollywood movie embodies the final reason why China won’t be a superpower: Beijing’s animating ideas just aren’t that animating.

In recent years, we’ve been bombarded with articles and books about China’s rising global ideological influence. (One typical title: “Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power Is Transforming the World.”) These works portray China’s model — a one-party state with a juggernaut economy — as highly attractive to elites in many developing nations, although China’s dreary current crop of acolytes (Zimbabwe, Burma and Sudan) don’t amount to much of a threat.

But consider the case of the high-kicking panda who uses ancient Chinese teachings to turn himself into a kung fu warrior. That recent Hollywood smash broke Chinese box-office records — and caused no end of hand-wringing among the country’s glitterati. “The film’s protagonist is China’s national treasure, and all the elements are Chinese, but why didn’t we make such a film?” Wu Jiang, president of the China National Peking Opera Company, told the official New China News Agency.

The content may be Chinese, but the irreverence and creativity of “Kung Fu Panda” are 100 percent American. That highlights another weakness in the argument about China’s inevitable rise: The place remains an authoritarian state run by a party that limits the free flow of information, stifles ingenuity and doesn’t understand how to self-correct. Blockbusters don’t grow out of the barrel of a gun. Neither do superpowers in the age of globalization.

Sounds more like an American triumphalist delusion than a realistic appraisal of how the world really works.

And yet we seem to revel in overestimating China. One recent evening, I was at a party where a senior aide to a Democratic senator was discussing the business deal earlier this year in which a Chinese state-owned investment company had bought a big chunk of the Blackstone Group, a U.S. investment firm. The Chinese company ha
s lost more than $1 billion, but the aide wouldn’t believe that it was just a bum investment. “It’s got to be part of a broader plan,” she insisted. “It’s China.”

I tried to convince her otherwise. I don’t think I succeeded.

I really fail how this is at all relevant. Perhaps it was just a commercial blunder; perhaps it was done for the purpose of acquiring American best practice. What could this possibly have to do with analyzing China’s future?

Well, to them, everything.

Washington’s political elites are filled with unease over the looming end of Pax America and the impending restructuring of the world economic and international order to one where regional powers like China, India and Russia become much more prominent and influential; the culmination of a macro-historical process that has only been accelerated by America’s fiscal profligacy, imperial overstretch and peak oil.

As such, their spokespeople, like Pomfret, try their best to deny the Emperor has no clothes, their arguments based on questionable assumptions and internally inconsistent. The US would be wise to reverse course and focus its energy on accomodating to the new multipolar world instead of trying to hyperventilate it away.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
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What are the reasons behind the wealth and poverty of nations? Since this question has exercised the minds of thinkers from Adam Smith to David Landes, Jared Diamond and Richard Lynn, I decided to take a look at it myself. I came to the conclusion that while geography, macroeconomic policies, resource windfalls and the microeconomic environment do play important roles, by far the most important factor is the state of a country’s human capital – things like literacy rates, school life expectancy and performance on international student assessments.

This is not a new idea. A Goldman Sachs report, Dreaming with BRICs, noted that:

Many cross-country studies have found positive and statistically significant correlations between schooling and growth rates of per capita GDP—on the order of 0.3% faster annual growth over a 30-year period from an additional one year of schooling.

However, I think education is much more central to this. The problem with using years of schooling as a yardstick is that in many middle-income countries, like Argentina, Turkey or Brazil, the amount of schooling is converging to that of the developed world, but the quality isn’t. This is attested to by their performance on international student assessments like PISA. For instance, in the 2006 PISA Science assessment, only 15.2% of Brazilians were at Level 3 or higher (the threshold for moving beyond purely linear problem-solving), compared with 47.6% of Russian, 51.3% of American and 66.9% of Australian students. Is it really then surprising to discover that from 1997 to 2007 purchasing power GDP per capita in Brazil and Russia, both medium-income countries, has grown at 1.3% and 6.0%, respectively, i.e., that Russia is playing the game of economic catch-up much more successfully?

I collected educational statistics on 65 countries and used a formula to work out a Human Capital Index (HCI), relying on three main stats – the literacy rate, PISA/TIMSS/PIRLS performance and tertiary attainment. I then compared this with their purchasing power GDP per capita and its average growth rate for 1997-2007. The results are in the table below.

Source: CIA World Factbook for literacy rates, GDP per capita, 2007 GDP per capita growth; PISA 2006 executive summary for Maths, Science, Reading stats (note: China, India are guessed); eighth-grade Maths, Science performance from Highlights from TIMSS 2003; fourth-grade Reading from PIRLS 2006; tertiary enrolment, 1997-2006 GDP per capita growth from World Bank. M1 and M2 refer to the mean of a country’s scores across PISA and TIMSS/PIRLS, respectively, divided by average across all participating countries; if there’s a figure for both M1 and M2, then M3 = (M1+M2) / 2; if not, M3 = M1 or M2, as appropriate. HCI = literacy * M3 * tertiary enrolment ^ (1/3). Figures in italics are those for which I’ve had to use other sources.

The chart below shows how closely educational capital and wealth correlate in 2007. We see an inverse square relationship or possibly a kind of S-curve with two inflection points.

Let us note a few things:

1. Notice that out of the 30 countries with an HCI below 0.80, with the marginal exception of Saudi Arabia, not a single one had a GDP per capita exceeding 20,000 $. In fact, this chart understates the pattern, because the detailed educational stats produced by programs like PISA and TIMSS typically don’t include low-income countries, where human capital is going to be typically very low.

2. Practically all outliers can be explained by one of two things – resource windfalls and socialist legacies. Among all countries with HCI’s of less than 0.80, the top outliers are all big oil or minerals exporters. This artificially inflates their GDP’s, varying in extent from Iran, South Africa and Mexico (where oil and minerals production co-exists with a burgeoning manufacturing base) to Saudi Arabia and Botswana (which are dominated by hydrocarbons and diamonds, respectively). The latter are green and the former are cyan/green. The reason Norway is the world’s most affluent country also comes down to the oil boost (its human capital is unremarkable by average OECD standards).

3. Similarly, the vast majority of low outliers come from the former Communist bloc. East European former satellites are red, post-Soviet countries are dark red and Russia is black. Note how far off the vast majority of them are from where their HCI seems to indicate they should be (the exceptions being Azerbaijan, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and to a lesser extent Bulgaria and Romania). Poland, Hungary and the post-Soviet world are currently well below their potential. The explanation is that these countries have spent much of this century languishing under central planning with all its inefficiencies and contradictions and thereafter being subjected to a decade-long period of brutal restructuring, before normal economic growth could again resume towards the mid to late 1990′s. Meanwhile, the Communist emphasis on education payed off bigtime, as human capital is comparable to that of much richer countries. It is worth noting also that the gap between potential and actual is greatest in the former Soviet bloc, presumably because the socialist legacy was strongest there (no folk memory of pre-WW2 capitalism, no Visegrad-like experiments with creeping capitalism, etc). The big exception is Azerbaijan, which has an oil windfall; Russia, the other country in a similar position, doesn’t replicate this because its potential (based on human capital) is much higher – its socialist legacy outweighs its resource windfall.

Below is a table with three indicators for each country – their actual GDP, potential GDP based on average macroeconomic/microeconomic policies and potential GDP based on optimal policies.

Potential and Actual GDP per capita (2007 $)
Actual Mean Potential
Max Potential
Georgia 4,200 15,000
Latvia 17,700 38,000
Moldova 2,200 17,000
Poland 16,200 33,000
Russia 14,600 35,000 49,000

4. There are five other low outliers – Slovenia, Taiwan, New Zealand, Finland and South Korea, of which the latter two are particularly big. The explanations aren’t as clear-cut here, but I’ll throw a few around. Finland is a northern country covered in permafrost that inflates construction, energy and transport costs, while New Zealand has a small population (i.e. a small market) far removed from the arteries of world trade. Slovenia has a socialist legacy. Taiwan and Korea are very densely populated, which impacts negatively on the productivity of the retail and construction sectors. Singapore is a top outlier, much richer than warranted by its human capital – I suppose that’s because of its status as a major trade hub. Not as convincing? I kind of agree. The above explanations do not have the all-encompassing unity and simplicity of the socialist legacy or the resource windfall. Which is why it’s time for us to talk about economic growth rates.

Speaking of which – see below.

Countries are marked by GDP / capita growth rates from 1997 to 2007. The colors go as follows: white (1.0-1.9%); yellow (2.0-2.9%); orange (3.0-3.9%); red (4.0-5.9%); dark red (6.0%-7.9%) and black (8.0%-14.9%). Also, GDP per capita figures (on the y-axis) are for 1997 – this is because what we are interested in is the influence of education levels on future growth, which we know for the period from 1997 up until today. Unfortunately, educational stats for 1997 will be much less comprehensive (PISA and TIMMS embraced much fewer countries then), plus it would take a lot of time digging them up – hence I made a rough assumption that they were the same as for 2007. Actually, the HCI is based on a collation of different stats from the 2000-2005 period).

One thing that immediately stands out is how countries that are below their potential tend to have much higher growth rates than those on or above their potential. In other words, excluding chaotic and cyclical trends, economies tend to a steady state depending on the level of their human capital. Thus, the blue and cyan groups above tend to have equal growth in GDP per capita (although since the population grows in most cyan countries, absolute GDP growth will be larger), meaning that the cyan countries aren’t converging and should not converge economically, no matter their degree of openness or transparency.

The most glaring exceptions are typically due to oil booms and the like, which not only increase GDP in of themselves but also fuel consumption splurges. The purple group is the most interesting, which mainly encompasses relatively well-educated post-Communist countries. Unshackled from the chains of socialism, they are now growing very quickly due to the huge ‘potential gap’ that exists between their human capital and development level. (Picture this as a question of heat diffusion – the greater the difference, the greater the pressure to close it). The green countries must massively increase their investment into education if they want to join the development bandwagon.

Now for some questions and answers:

What does this mean for development strategies?

Policy-makers must realize that education is the elixir of economic growth. Individual incomes grow due to the introduction of new technologies, which increase total factor productivity. (Granted, it is possible to increase labor participation rates and increase savings – but only up to a point. There are only so many people in any workforce, while investment is subject to diminishing returns. The only long-term development model is continuous technological adaptation, which is recognized by the exogenous growth model). However, a country’s ability to take advantage of technology diffusion is governed by its educational levels (e.g., the illiterate will have little need for a computer).

It is not enough, however, to enroll every annual cohort, give them ten years of public schooling and consider the task done, as is the pattern in much of the developing world today. School life expectancy in much of Latin America, the Middle East, South Asia and China might be drawing close to Western standards – the same cannot be said, however, for its quality, as these international student assessments reveal. Secondly, tertiary enrollment there (15-30%) remains far below Western and post-Communist standards (50-80%). To bridge the gap into society-wide participation in the ongoing technological revolutions, developing countries must make efforts to remedy the two above problems. Massive labor and capital infusions will only take you so far. Once a country achieves a GDP per capita of around 5,000 – 10,000$, growth becomes a matter of increasing productivity in the services and higher-tech manufacturing sectors. This requires annual cohorts of well-educated workers.

I am not denying that there are many other conditions that have to be fulfilled for economic convergence to happen. Goldman Sachs, for instance, has compiled a Growth Environment Index that takes into account thirteen factors: inflation, government deficits, external debt, investment, openness, years of schooling, life expectancy, political stability, rule of law, corruption and Internet, PC and telephone penetration levels. I think this approach misses the central point of development, however. An honest and well-run state simply reduces barriers to an economy reaching its maximum potential level of development; if the human resources are lacking, it will not converge to Western levels.

To illustrate this, let’s take a few middle-income countries, say, Chile and Estonia – both have solid macro-economics and perform respectably in rankings such as economic freedom, ease of doing business and corruption perceptions. Nonetheless, Chile’s per capita growth rate for the past ten years has been a sluggish 2.6%, compared to Estonia’s tigerish 7.7%. Why? I suspect it has something to do with Chile scoring 0.69 and Estonia 1.00 in my Human Capital Index. Russia, rarely cited as a paragon of economic freedom but with a good HCI of 0.94, outperformed Chile with growth of 6.0%. I suspect that the 1-2% difference from Estonia is due to the greater barriers to technology/productivity diffusion in Russia. (Incidentally, the reason the late USSR grew slowly was because its human capital was immensely burdened by the planned economy).

The same goes for the arguments of geographic determinism. Yes, being landlocked and frozen, or suffering the scourges of endemic debilitating diseases in tropical climes, tends to negatively affect development. I don’t see, however, how these disadvantages are different in quality from factors like macroeconomic incompetence or failing institutions.

How will this affect the world’s future?

In my previous Core Article Towards a New Russian Century?, I identified economic convergence, doubly exponential growth in IT and climate change as key drivers of world geopolitics in the decades ahead. On the topic of the former, I wrote:

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. 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.

I stand by this prediction. According to the data, Latin America, the Middle East and South Asia all have educational systems that leave much to be desired, and little sign of fundamental change can be observed (there is no discernable improvement in Mexico’s and Brazil’s PISA scores from 2000 to 2006; tertiary enrolments in the above regions are increasing at a glacial pace).

India is still plagued by illiteracy and as late as 2005 a tenth of the youth cohort didn’t receive primary education, 43% didn’t receive secondary and only 11% received a higher-level education (an unimpressive over 6% in 1991), according to the World Bank. India will be a Great Power, but its few economic/technological centres will remain islands of prosperity amidst a sea of backwardness.

China has a decent school life expectancy, literacy rate and enrollment rates (universal primary and 74% secondary), but its tertiary enrollment ratio is low at 20% in 2005. (Nonetheless, it has increased very rapidly, from 3% in 1991, and if the experience of other countries is anything to go by, a concerted effort could see their rates rise to developed-country standards within the next twenty years). I have no idea how average Chinese students would score on the PISA tests (comparing them to Hong Kong or Macau is a pointless exercise, because of the vast disparity in development), so I guessed 420. If so, then China’s current 10% growth rates should soon moderate to around 5% – as my second graph shows, it is a) fast approaching its potential and b) it’s hampered by bureaucracy and corruption. Today most Chinese growth, unlike in east-central Europe, comes from infusions of labor and capital rather than productivity improvements – growth which could experience a severe and protracted slowdown once the surplus labor pool in the countryside is expended and investment rates are hit by a financial crisis, as happened with the other east Asian tigers after 1997.

In conclusion, China seems set to do considerably better than other developing regions of the world (Latin America, Middle East, South Asia and Africa), but will still be very far from converging to advanced industrial levels in 2025. Meanwhile, eastern Europe will converge with western Europe, while Finland, Korea and Estonia may become some of the richest countries in the world.

How did you work out the Human Capital Index?

Explained beneath the big table. Basically, literacy rate * international student assessment scores mean average * tertiary enrollment ^ (1/3). The reasoning is that a) you must be literate, at a minimum, to participate in a modern economy, b) international student assessments give a clue as to the quality of those who are educated (better than school life expectancy) and c) tertiary education improves human capital further, though not to the same absolute extent as elementary schooling – hence we take the cube root of that figure.

I am aware that in an ideal situation, we would make a sample representing everyone in the country take a skills test to gauge human capital; since we don’t have that luxury, we must rely on available statistics, two of which (test scores and tertiary enrolment) apply mostly to the newest cohorts entering those countries’ labor forces.

What has this got to do with Russia?

When I say things like “Russia will have a GDP per capita of 30,000$ by 2020″, I work by a set of assumptions and beliefs that may not be entirely clear to the casual reader of this blog, particularly the Russophobe variety which believes Russia’s economy is an oil bubble about to pop like a balloon. Which is understandable, given that the Western MSM’s discourse on Russia’s prospects is mostly negative.

Nonetheless, some facts must be acknowledged. The government since 1998 has handled the economy well, balancing inflation and ruble depreciation by maintaining fiscal discipline. Since 2006, they have embarked on large-scale basic (agriculture, housing, health and education) and strategic (nanotechnology, venture capital) investment programs. Yes, the bureaucracy is unwieldy, corruption is a problem and life is hard for small businesses, but as the last few years have showed, these problems are not fatal – at worst, they have shaved off 1-2% of annual GDP growth, and in any case the Baltics are the exception rather than the rule in the post-Soviet space. Most importantly, Russia’s human capital is of First World standards – and as we’ve argued here, this is the key component of development.

If anything, it would be exceptional if Russia didn’t converge to west European levels of development by the 2020′s.

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