China has become a metaphor. It represents a certain phase of economic development, which is driven by low wages, foreign appetite for investment and a chaotic and disorderly development, magnificent in scale but deeply flawed in many ways. Its magnificence spawned the flaws, and the flaws helped create the magnificence.
The arcs along which nations rise and fall vary in length and slope. China’s has been long, as far as these things go, lasting for more than 30 years. The country will continue to exist and perhaps prosper, but this era of Chinese development — pyramiding on low wages to conquer global markets — is ending simply because there are now other nations with even lower wages and other advantages. China will have to behave differently from the way it does now, and thus other countries are poised to take its place.
Reshaping International Order
Since the Industrial Revolution, there have always been countries where comparative advantage in international trade has been rooted in low wages and a large work force. If these countries can capitalize on their advantages, they can transform themselves dramatically. These transformations, in turn, reorganize global power structures. Karl Kautsky, a German socialist in the early 1900s, wrote: “Half a century ago, Germany was a miserable, insignificant country, if her strength is compared with that of the Britain of that time; Japan compared with Russia in the same way. Is it conceivable that in 10 or 20 years’ time the relative strength will have remained unchanged?” Lenin also saw these changes, viewing them as both progressive and eventually revolutionary. When Kautsky and Lenin described the world, they did so to change it. But the world proved difficult to change. (It is ironic that two of the four BRIC countries had been or still are Communist countries.) Read more…
George Friedman is chairman of Stratfor.
As published in the Real Clear World on July 30, 2013 http://www.realclearworld.com