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Physicist, Startup Founder, Blogger, Dad

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Resolved: the 21st century will belong to China

I read the transcript of this debate, which included Henry Kissinger, Niall Ferguson and others, at the bookstore yesterday. Video available here.
Munk debate: Is China's rise unstoppable? Powered by the human capital of 1.3 billion citizens, the latest technological advances, and a comparatively efficient system of state-directed capitalism, China seems poised to become the global super power in the coming century. 
But the Middle Kingdom also faces a series of challenges. From energy scarcity to environmental degradation to political unrest to growing global security burdens, a host of factors could derail China's global ascent. 
To encourage public debate of the geopolitical of issue of our time, the Munk Debates will table the motion: be it resolved, the 21st century will belong to China.

47 comments:

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Robert Sykes said...

Why are educated people so stupid? Is it because they play at thinking rather than work at thinking?

China's basic problem is demographic. In the near future, its population will begin to fall, and it will become elderly and unproductive. There is also the very serious sex ratio problem: at least 30 million surplus young males. China is probably near its peak power right now. Since the US population continues to grow and remain young and productive, and because of our superior resource base (especially agriculture), China's position vis a vis the US can only deteriorate.

The 21st Century will be American, again, and maybe even the 22nd. People like to compare the US to Rome, but the Roman state and empire lasted 2200 years, from about 750 BC to 1453 AD. This would put the end of the US empire around 4000 AD.

Vince Tullow said...

>> system of state-directed capitalism
It seems to me that China will most likely be the Japan of the 21st century ...

David Coughlin said...

Do you object to the "China will be the big dog" position, or "I'm better than you" better than you posturing between countries?

David Versace said...

Until we see one of these Asian Tigers not stagnate as soon as they catch up we can sound the alarm.

Christopher Chang said...

Nothing wrong with what you're saying about China.

But your understanding of why the US is currently on top appears to be confused; it is the multiplicative interaction between population/cultural/institutional quality and raw population size and youth, rather than just the latter (otherwise India and Africa would have much brighter prospects; Africa in particular also has enough of a resource base that China is very busy working to gain access to some of it). If US population grows in a manner that degrades the aforementioned types of quality, it may not be a net win for the US even if the additional population is "young and productive".

I think the actual best thing going for the US right now is that there's no other place the majority of its productive elite would rather live. And yes, this may be sufficient to make the 21st century American, since global warming isn't gonna act quickly enough to make Canada more pleasant...

BlackRoseML said...

I would say that China cannot be an economic power due to finite economic demand for goods, which means the world does not have the demand to absorb the goods and services China produces. Moreover, high-end manufacturing and technology is already an occupied niche, taken over by other Asian countries (such as Japan and South Korea) and European countries such as Germany.

Christopher Chang said...

"Sounding the alarm" should not be necessary since the US has a huge-ass military advantage that is unlikely to go away in our lifetimes.

However, China does have more than six times the population of Japan + the newer Asian Tigers combined... in fact, it has more population than Japan + newer Tigers + *the US and Europe*. In many ways, it wins by default just by catching up.

David Versace said...

Wins what? Per capita income measures success, not aggregate GDP.

Christopher Chang said...

The immediate topic of discussion is global superpower status. A global superpower has the blessing/curse of being able to do a bunch of large-scale things on its own that other countries/entities have to negotiate for. Aggregate production matters for this.

Carson Chow said...

Surprisingly Zakaria was the star of the debate I thought.

David Versace said...

The ability to do what exactely? If these things your talking about don't improve QoL who cares? I'm not afraid China is going to invade America anytime soon.

botti said...

***Since the US population continues to grow and remain young and productive*** That's assuming they will continue to be as productive/skilled. The evidence suggests not necessarily. http://www.frumforum.com/the-future-costs-of-todays-cheap-labor/ http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112167023

Yan Shen said...

It's difficult to understand how a country still relatively early in its modern development is probably near the peak of its power. The entire point of catching up is that you're closing the gap between yourself and those ahead of you. By what quantifiable metric will China's position relative to the United States decline?

Yan Shen said...

Steve, I think uh we need to follow up this blog entry with another post about affirmative action...

DukeofQin said...

Unfortunately, you are confused.

Demography is America's basic problem. Human capital is the principal driver of economic growth. China's continues to qualitatively improve even with a projected quantitative decline.

America's "young and productive" population is only half correct.

The fundamental flaw in your reasoning is your incorrect assumption that humans are fungible commodities. They are not.

BlackRoseML said...

God, another Asian supremacy post by Yan Shen...please come back, Kevin Rose.

Yan Shen said...

Not sure why you've construed my post above in such a negative fashion. I suggested that there were elements of traditional Confucian culture that were worthy of emulation. I suggested that there were certain elements of contemporary American culture that were rotten. I pointed out that a global superpower is able to project its cultural values abroad. Certainly this is the case with the United States today. I also suggested that perhaps the world would be a better place if the traditional Confucian ethos proliferated.

Nothing that I've stated above should be considered particularly derogatory. Ask yourself how many Americans would ultimately agree with what I've stated above. Even my parents have told me the same things before. They believe that people in China work much harder and whine much less compared to people in America.

Henry Kissinger in his recent book On China points out that in contrast to the Chinese, Americans have always believed their values to be universal. In case you haven't been paying attention, America constantly tries to spread democratic values across the globe, boasting about the superiority of its own moral values. Is this an example of American supremacism? I certainly don't believe so. There's definitely a respect for individual freedom in American society that I believe is worthy of emulation. Unfortunately, contemporary America also has much that one should be critical of. In this regard, I believe that many of the virtues of traditional Confucian society can fill the cultural void I alluded to above.

Yan Shen said...

Many of the readers of this blog might be described as being proponents of what could be called "cognitive elitism", or a belief in the importance of cognitive ability. David Versace on the other hand seems to be more of a proponent of what might best be described as "cock-nitive elitism", judging by his constant gushing over how handsome, and charismatic, and well endowed Barack Obama is, etc. Perhaps the two of you are simply arguing past one another here?

Christopher Chang said...

Well, I agreed earlier that there's no "alarm" that needs to be sounded here. (This is mostly orthogonal to QoL anyway. The biggest plus of globalization is that almost everyone is now able to benefit from the QoL innovations anyone else comes up with.) And China is currently getting most of what it would want to use super power to secure, such as a free hand in Africa; Taiwan's status is arguably the biggest exception to this, so it serves as a natural alarm.

However, note that a caught-up China would have significant influence over the direction of innovation, just due to its purchasing power. When international businesses are able to compete for the Chinese market on a mostly-level playing field, basic economics suggests they will give it high priority.

LaurentMelchiorTellier said...

If one ignores the snark, I think that Yan Shen has a sound point - the retreat of affirmative action and rediscovery of American meritocracy is going to be catalyzed by the example set by China.


I expect that Galton would approve of the Confucian exams, for many of the reasons Shen mentions.

BlackRoseML said...

There is already an objective meritocracy in the US: it's called college admissions and the SAT/ACT.

Yan Shen said...

"There is already an objective meritocracy in the US: it's called college admissions..."

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.....................................................

BlackRoseML said...

Don't you agree that the SAT is an objective measure of g and colleges heavily emphasize it.

steve hsu said...

http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2010/10/les-grandes-ecoles-chinois.html

Bobdisqus said...

Yes, YS calms the troubled waters once again.

RKU1 said...

Well, I think America, Japan, and Western Europe all have pretty similar per capita GDPs these days, even despite America's huge advantage from the dollar being the world's reserve currency. So if China reached Japan's level, wouldn't that probably mean that China's economy would be larger, perhaps much larger, than that of every other country in the world combined? I'd regard that as pretty significant.


China's income level has certainly been growing rapidly for decades. And just yesterday, the WSJ mentioned that Chinese manufacturing wages would probably double again in the next four years, which also seems pretty significant...

Richard Seiter said...

You have raised what I think is one of the most important criteria/enablers for being a dominant country--possessing the world's reserve currency (I don't recall this being mentioned in the debate, did I miss it?). Is the dollar's status as reserve currency necessary for American dominance? Is it sufficient? Is it possible to be dominant while another country possesses the reserve currency?


The premise of the debate was good for generating controversy, but I think it would be more interesting to discuss how we expect China's rise to play out in a broader sense. Is it realistic to expect China to attain US/Japan/Western Europe/etc. levels of per capita GDP? If so, what implications will that have for the world economy (e.g. natural resource prices)? If so, is it possible that China won't dominate given that it has 4x the population of the US? What will happen if the dollar loses its status as THE reserve currency (e.g. what effect would there be on treasury bond yields)? What will happen if the Renminbi becomes THE reserve currency?


Two observations that concern me. First, America's rise was aided by the outcome of wars. Is it possible to have a peaceful transition (or even coexistence of peers, European history is not encouraging in that respect)? Second, I find the idea of China having 40 million "surplus" males within the decade frightening. That seems like a tremendous source of possible social unrest. It also sounds far too much like a potential army for my comfort.


I hope Yan Shen is right and the primary outcome of China's rise is the dissemination of Confucian values and additional unforeseen benefits.

RKU1 said...

Yes, those are all very important questions. I think another important factor is the not insignificant likelihood that some of America's massive internal problems may be the primary catalyst behind the elimination of the dollar as global reserve currency. America's mammoth and seemingly endless projected trade and fiscal deficits also don't help.


But I tend to doubt China's 40M "surplus" males will be that much of a factor one way or the other. In fact, if you consider Chinese demography for the last thousand or more years, there's generally been a 10-15% level of "surplus" males, due to massive levels of female infanticide in traditional China. So by historical standards, China today is remarkable in its degree of gender-balance. And during all those centuries, China was perhaps one of the least militarily-expansionist or "adventurist" major nations in the world.

Richard Seiter said...

I think you are right about America's internal problems affecting the role of the dollar as global reserve currency. One of my big economic worries is a positive feedback loop between the two.


I wasn't aware of the Chinese demographic history. That seems very relevant. Can you point me to a source where I can learn more? I am curious how they dealt with the gender imbalance historically.


It is fortunate that China tends to be less "adventurous." At this point I am more worried by America's ability to live constructively with a peer (especially one that is so much larger) than I am about China dominating. I suppose us surviving the cold war should give me some cause for optimism there.

RKU1 said...

A significant rate of female infanticide was such an important and universal aspect of traditional China, it's probably discussed in just about every book which touches on Chinese demographics. James Z. Lee's One Quarter of Humanity discusses it in exhaustive detail, and he's edited a half dozen other books on Asian demography, all of which cover some of the same ground. Pomeranz's The Great Divergence mentions the same thing and gives some references. A rate of 10-15% seems typical, but it occasionally got up to 25% or more. Here's a brief Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infanticide#China


Female infanticide meant that a signficant slice of the poorest Chinese males of each generation were unable to marry, and the combination of those two effects constituted the main form of Chinese birth control. Pre-modern Europe didn't have much infanticide, but a significant slice of European males and females were unable to afford marriage, which had much the same effect.

LaurentMelchiorTellier said...

Perhaps a question further: why did Galton never suggest copying the Confucian exam system I just mentioned? His estimation was great enough to suggest having the Chinese colonize Africa, and was high in other respects. His lack of interest in the Confucian exam has always puzzled me - maybe he didn't like the grading system (literary review).

steve hsu said...

Galton was well aware of competitive exams as a filter for talent. He had a nervous breakdown preparing for the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos examination. University positions in maths were primarily awarded to Wranglers (winners) of these competitions.

http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2009/07/wranglers.html

But I think the use of exams more broadly in England did not arrive until later. I don't know whether Galton ever advocated for civil service exams or for the Chinese model, but of course he did play a key role in the development of g :-)

"When Galton eventually entered the larger realm of education beyond his home at age eight, he discovered that there were others who could perform academically better than he. During the next ten years he watched his scholastic aspirations for greatness evaporate. Although he did well, he failed to earn the highest honors. This phenomena was inconceivable to him, since he had grown up with all the social advantages. He began searching for an alternative rationale for his limited greatness. The conclusion he eventually drew was that there must be some innate difference between those whose achievement went beyond his and himself. The ground work was set for his later work in intelligence theory and testing."

http://www.aceintelligence.com/detailed_history_of_iq.php
http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2009/07/wranglers.html

steve hsu said...

PS I just checked the paper cited in the earlier post
http://infoproc.blogspot.dk/2010/10/les-grandes-ecoles-chinois.html

http://www.jstor.org/stable/2717830?seq=37



There it is claimed that Europeans became aware of the Chinese examination system as early as the 16th and 17th centuries, and systematic written examinations did not appear in Europe until the 18th century (written Tripos started around 1750). It is implied that even the Tripos might have its origins in the Chinese system.


For example:







As early as 1755 there is an article
about China in the Gentleman's Magazine which reads as follows:


Writing is the only Test by which a Man of Sense desires to be try'd.... All
authors agree that the Chinese excell all other Nations in the Art of Government....
Their Honour and Titles are not Hereditary; ... The Mandarins are chosen once a
year at the Metropolis of China.3"
... On the authority of Isaac Vossius (Variarum
Considerationum, 1685) and the Jesuit missionaries, BUDGELL recounts in detail the systems of competitive examinations ...

reservoir_dogs said...

If you went back ten years, you would say the same about Japanese manufacturers and TV. Sony and Mishibishi were the gold standards of the best TVs. Who is this little firm in Korea named Samsung that make copycat products.

RKU1 said...

All of this is extremely interesting. I'd known that the concept of a meritocratic civil service in Europe had come from China, but I'd never dreamed that university exams such as the Tripos or the French Grandes Ecoles might have similar origins.

Stephen S said...

I think the choice of debate topic set the wrong tone. China advancing is good for everybody, because it's a large nation full of productive and creative people. High-g, as they say around these parts. Who cares to whom the century "belongs"?

LaurentMelchiorTellier said...

Great read, thanks.


I've never been able to figure out why Galton seemed to show no interest in the Confucian exam system. He seemed to do most of his psychometrics work late in the 19th century, yet the Confucian exam continued until 1905:


"After the Boxer Uprising, the government drew up plans to reform, then abolish the exams. On 2 September 1905 the throne endorsed a memorial which ordered that the old examination system be discontinued at all levels in the following year. "

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_examination#Demise_and_legacy


I am tempted to suspect that either his knowledge of the exams was scarce (hey, no google), and/or that he did not appreciate the "essay review" grading system. Essentially a literary critique, where the censor would grade your essay, with weight placed on beauty of calligraphy, floridity of prose, alignment of paragraphs, etc - AFAICS, subject to most of the subjectivity weaknesses inherent in an oral exam. Whereas Galtons psychometrics, even in their earliest prototypes, stressed the quantitative approach to the examination of differences, as was his "measure everything" wont - including expending a lot of his time without profit on phrenology, and other physical traits (pulling strength, acuity of vision, etc). Spearman mostly abandoned this, though I wonder what might have happened if he had continued it with a larger sample size.


Now that I look, I can't find anywhere that Spearman showed any comment on the Confucian exam system either. Maybe I attribute too much to this, but it strikes me as odd that the three founders (Binet as the third) never commented on such a deep seam of techne, even if they had the Wrangler + various oral exams closer to hand. *Millennia* of techne.

Christopher Chang said...

Well, keep in mind that China was approaching the nadir of its power during Galton's lifetime... and this did have something to do with the impractical subject matter of the imperial exams, and resulting misdirection of human capital.

Miley Cyrax said...

Colleges give de facto bonuses to blacks for being black and de facto penalties to Asians for being Asian. Being Asian was found to be equivalent to a 280 point advantage on the SAT vis a vis being black. Espenshade and Chung, 2005.

MtMoru said...

Oh yes. Absolutely. I wonder if Americans who've moved to China will do well or even better than they have already.

...But what's happened to Japan?

The euro is ruining Europe and the US will go the way of Latin America, a small rich elite and no middle class.

Australia and New Zealand should do well.

MtMoru said...

US colleges don't give a damn what your SAT scores are if you've got some Ds or Fs from your shitty public high school. America is shit. America is run by shit. The same goes for Canada which has no college entrance exams.

MtMoru said...

The very idea that the US, a multiethnic New World country, could work is ridiculous. Latin America and the US are on trajectories such that they will meet in 50 y.

MtMoru said...

Your'e right Yan. In China and THE ENTIRE REST OF THE WORLD except Canada OBJECTIVE CUMMULATIVE EXAMS determine who is admitted and who is rejected. Most of America's very smartest do get into good schools, but most of the elite schools admits are pushy but fuckers.

MtMoru said...

And following such a system it is NECESSARY that the elite so far as it is mediated by education in these countries will have a higher mean IQ than the American or Canadian elite and that therefore these countries will surpass the US and Canada in every way.

moose said...

The Economist ran an article some years back about there being roughly 9 Chinese girls for every 10 Chinese boys, entitled '6.3 brides for Seven Brothers.'

Luke Nguyen said...

China should have made greater economic integration their top priority in Asia and with their trading partners, if their ultimate goal is to dethrone the United States. As long as the US dollar remains the reserve currency of the world, we will always be at the top of the food chain economically. The Chinese Leadership (CCP) does not understand the United States, it's strength and weaknesses, you would need a Asian American to fill in the gaps in their knowledge and thinking (eastern). Every move they make seems to antagonize their neighbors and the trading partners.


The end of US reserve currency status would change the racial/class dynamics of the US in many ways. A rationalization of spending priorities towards more productive endeavors and away from social and military spending. The country's moronic worship of sports and entertainers would be thankfully paired down as disposable income would vaporize overnight for many. White and African American would be most hit by reduced government spending, they being the largest group employed by the government. The current 'downturn' would look like a walk in the park compared to what might happen if our government's no limit credit card gets taken away. The US has never really been subject to the 'market' economics that every other nation on earth has had to suffer through. It's the primary reason our standard of living has not plummeted with every new Trillion we print. I'll stop there as I have mix feelings about the whole situation, I benefit greatly from being an American, but I feel our system is wasteful and inefficient. We are a long ways from a world like Gattica, a meritocracy.


On a separate note, is it me, or does anyone else feel like Fareed Zakaria really doesn't know what he's talking about? It's so easy to dazzle our intellectual class, sprinkle a few big words, details; like automobile production in China from so and so to 2020. He doesn't strike me as very 'bright' in a lot of his debates, even though he did attend yale and harvard? When he refers to the US 'demographic' advantage, vis-a-vis Asia and Europe. Has that guy ever been to Los Angeles?

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