Thursday, November 3, 2011

China's Fat Years

Joel Kotkin is discussing the potential of the Chinese economy to overtake the United States economy and become the dominant world power.

Joel Kotkin, New Geography, 4 October 2011

Chan Koonchung’s chilling science fiction novel The Fat Years — already an underground sensation in China — will be published in the U.S. January 2012. The book, first published in Hong Kong in 2009, is partly so chilling because it reveals a scenario that is all too plausible. Set in 2013, it takes place after a second financial crisis (euros, anyone?) that all but destroys the Anglo-American economies and ushers in “China’s golden age of ascendancy.”

This all-powerful Chinese state looks very familiar. It pursues a commercial strategy of plundering resource-rich regions around the world, often working with the most despicable of regimes such as Zimbabwe. And it harnesses and promotes information technology while maniacally censoring the Internet, rendering cyberspace just another outlet for propaganda.

It is also increasingly self-confident. As one character — a highly placed party cadre in the story — suggests, this new Chinese model represents “the best option in the world as it really exists.”


Note that the novel sited is a near future dystopian, with a little bit of a science fiction twist to help illustrate the issues at hand.

James Kidd, (U.K.) Independent, 3 August 2011

The Fat Years is propelled by a smart dystopian conceit. In 2011, a month of Chinese history goes missing: 28 days in February and March separating a global economic meltdown from the beginning of "China's Golden Age of Ascendancy". Weirdly, the majority of citizens are too satisfied with their lives to notice the lacuna. A few people – an unhappy few as it turns out– are immune to the communal well-being, and wonder where the time has gone.

What makes the concept of the conceit interesting to me is that it is much like the sleep walking our culture does today about….. Well about just about everything that does not involve popular culture and the cult of personality.

Kotkin is somewhat dismissive of the idea that China will overtake the United States. A number of people would agree with this idea simply because they view the entire worlds current economic structure as a dubious basis for future exapansion by anyone. But Joel Kotkin, is himself something of a panglossian:

Kotkin (The City) offers a well-researched—and very sunny—forecast for the American economy, arguing that despite its daunting current difficulties, the U.S. will emerge by midcentury as the most affluent, culturally rich, and successful nation in human history. Nourished by mass immigration and American society's proven adaptability, the country will reign supreme over an industrialized world beset by old age, bitter ethnic conflicts, and erratically functioning economic institutions. Although decreasing social mobility will present a challenge, demographic resources will give the U.S. an edge over its European rivals, which will be constrained by shrinking work forces and rapidly proliferating social welfare commitments. Largely concerned with migration patterns within the U.S., the book also offers a nonpartisan view of America's strengths, identifying both pro-immigration and strongly capitalist policies as sources of its continued prosperity. However,

Kotkin tends to gloss over the looming and incontrovertible challenges facing the country and devotes limited space to the long-term consequences posed by the current recession, the rise of India and China, and the resulting competition over diminishing energy resources (from Publishers Weekly via Amazon).

So while he can see the downside to the current growth trends in China, he views this all as a positive to the United States.  As if the collapse of the creditor-industrial powerhouse of the United States in the Great Depression in some way helped the Europeans, rather than triggering their own collapse.

This is much in line with Voltaire’s Pangloss in Candide: The royal educator of the court of the Baron. Described as "The Greatest Philosopher of the Holy Roman Empire", his philosophy is “all is for the best”.

No comments: