Thursday, May 01, 2014

PPP Apocalypse Now

Because the Chinese population is about 4 times larger than the US population, GDP parity (PPP adjusted) still implies a large disparity in per capita income.
Bloomberg: China is poised to overtake the U.S. as the world’s biggest economy earlier than expected, possibly as soon as this year, using calculations that take purchasing power into account.

China’s economy was 87 percent of the size of the U.S. in 2011, based on so-called purchasing power parity, the International Comparison Program said in a statement yesterday in Washington. The program, which involves organizations including the World Bank and United Nations, had put the figure at 43 percent in 2005.

The latest tally adds to the debate on how the world’s top two economic powers are progressing. Projecting growth rates from 2011 onwards suggests China’s size when measured in PPP may surpass the U.S. in 2014, which would be years earlier than many economists had previously estimated, according to Arvind Subramanian of the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“There’s a symbolic element to this, to China overtaking the U.S., and that seems to be happening,” said Subramanian, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Peterson Institute. The latest data “plays to the idea that China is very big and getting bigger. It’s not to be underestimated.” ...
Perhaps more interesting:
The Needham Question

What do these things have in common? Fireworks, wood-block printing, canal lock-gates, kites, the wheelbarrow, chain suspension bridges and the magnetic compass. The answer is that they were all invented in China, a country that, right through the Middle Ages, maintained a cultural and technological sophistication that made foreign dignitaries flock to its imperial courts for trade and favour. But then, around 1700, the flow of ingenuity began to dry up and even reverse as Europe bore the fruits of the scientific revolution back across the globe.

Why did Modern Science develop in Europe when China seemed so much better placed to achieve it? This is called the Needham Question, after Joseph Needham, the 20th century British Sinologist who did more, perhaps, than anyone else to try and explain it.

But did Joseph Needham give a satisfactory answer to the question that bears his name? Why did China’s early technological brilliance not lead to the development of modern science and how did momentous inventions like gunpowder and printing enter Chinese society with barely a ripple and yet revolutionise the warring states of Europe?

With Chris Cullen, Director of the Needham Research Institute in Cambridge; Tim Barrett, Professor of East Asian History at SOAS; Frances Wood, Head of Chinese Collections at the British Library.
If current trends continue the Needham Question might be replaced by the more mundane Why did China have a bad 200 years starting in ~ 1800 AD? (See China 1793.)


James Hedman said...

The Chinese were a bit later than the Europeans in outlawing slavery and in letting property rights devolve down to the common people. I think the English yeoman with a freehold farm was an early model in Western Europe and then it was much boosted everywhere by the Reformation. The Chinese had a more monolithic state and started reforms later under the Qing dynasty up to those of the Republic and then by Deng Xiaoping. Mao Tse-tung was certainly a setback but then the West has had its bumps in the road too.

Cornelius said...

Why did China have such a good run from approximately 600-1600 AD? Why has the West been more developed than the East for such a long period? I think these are more interesting questions.

If we believe Ian Morris then the West has been more developed than the East for most of the last 10,000 years.

What changed during that period that allowed China to pull ahead temporarily? The obvious explanation is the collapse of Roman civilization. It took the West centuries to regain the level of development it had during Roman times and several more centuries to catch up to China again. But maybe that explanation is too simplistic.

Will the conditions that determined development in the past still determine development in the future? That's really what we want to know.

BobSykes said...

With more than four times as many young men of military age and economy as large as that of the US and a few hundred nuclear weapons, many on ICBM's, China is well-posed to become the dominant world power. It is already the dominant regional power.

And considering the crisis in Euorpe, a Russia-Chiinese alliance seems almost a foregone conclusion. China brings people and manufacturing to the table, Russia brings resources and high technology. This is clearly a military match for US/NATO/Japan/South Korea/Taiwan. And Russo-China has the moral advantage, as Napoleon would have it, too, while the West is exhausted.

So, we are back in a bipolar world and a potential Cold War. This time the trends area against us.

georgesdelatour said...

Jared Diamond and others have suggested that a polity of competing states in a balance-of-power promotes and tests innovation, while a large unitary polity immune to outside influence tends to inertia. Chinese innovations transferred to Europe were tested competitively in inter-state rivalry - unlike in China. This led to their rapid development and improvement.

China's recent revival has a lot to do with the counter-examples of prosperity provided by Chinese communities outside mainland China. To some extent, they have given China a version of that inter-state competition which previously energised Europe. Mao tried just about every wrongheaded policy a human mind could conceive. But others in the Chinese leadership could see Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong thriving. Once Mao was out of the way, they learned from the success of those societies. The rise of modern China is a story of the periphery tutoring the centre in strategies of success.

I think everyone of goodwill should welcome the enrichment of China. The new challenge for Europe and America is to learn again from China; to figure out what they are doing right which we are doing wrong.

Larry Darrell said...

steve is a racist, chinese supremacist, and all-round retarded cunt.

i expect the bgi results, so far as there are any, will be fraudulent, so i asked that my sample be destroyed.

vassili blokhin said...

china's insuperable advantage is its near homogeneity. manchurain han and canton han and sinkiang han all think of themselves as han.

stevelovesblackcock said...


chiner ha' arways been behind der west.

china people are uncreative grinds.

stevelovesblackcock said...

chiner has the huge advantage of ethnic homogeneity. but then it's had this advantage for a long time.

manchurian, cantonese, sinkiangese...all think of themselves as chinese.

James Hedman said...

"The new challenge for Europe and America is to learn again from China; to figure out what they are doing right which we are doing wrong."

We are certainly doing a lot of things wrong but I see no way that China is doing anything that we should model ourselves after unless you want to go back to despoiling the environment with industrial pollutants and working seven days a week in dark satanic mills.

I see a lot more to admire in Japanese culture than that of the Chinese. They clearly have way more integrity and honor. Japan should re-arm. Despite Japan's smaller population the Chinese are still scared shitless of them and with good reason. A militant Japan would be a welcome tonic to the entire Chinese-caused geopolitical malaise in the Orient.

James Hedman said...

"So, we are back in a bipolar world and a potential Cold War. This time the trends area against us."

It's a problem of our own making. Why that insane conglomeration of military/industrial complex neocons, old Cold warriors, liberals, Republicans, and Democrats alike thinks it is a good idea to be baiting the Russian bear is beyond comprehension. Just ten years ago the Russians were helping us logistically in staging our war in Afghanistan. Now it has been revealed that the CIA has been fomenting unrest in the Ukraine. We promised the Russians we would not spread NATO further east after the Iron Curtain fell and then we reneged on that. The Ukraine has been in Russia's sphere of influence (if not considered outright part of the Russian nation) for 300 years. We are both fools and idiots.

yulva said...

Perhaps the answer can be found in Nicholas Wades' new book "A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History "

From a review in the WSJ:

"... The orthodoxy's equivalent of the Nicene Creed has two scientific
tenets. The first, promulgated by geneticist Richard Lewontin in "The
Apportionment of Human Diversity" (1972), is that the races are so close
to genetically identical that "racial classification is now seen to be
of virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance." The second,
popularized by the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, is that human
evolution in everything but cosmetic differences stopped before humans
left Africa, meaning that "human equality is a contingent fact of
history," as he put it in an essay of that title in 1984.

Since the sequencing of the human genome in 2003, what is known by
geneticists has increasingly diverged from this orthodoxy, even as
social scientists and the mainstream press have steadfastly ignored the
new research. Nicholas Wade, for more than 20 years a highly regarded
science writer at the New York Times, has written a book that pulls
back the curtain.

It is hard to convey how rich this book is. It could be the textbook for
a semester's college course on human evolution, systematically
surveying as it does the basics of genetics, evolutionary psychology,
Homo sapiens's diaspora and the recent discoveries about the
evolutionary adaptations that have occurred since then. The book is a
delight to read—conversational and lucid. And it will trigger an
intellectual explosion the likes of which we haven't seen for a few

The title gives fair warning: "A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race
and Human History." At the heart of the book, stated quietly but with
command of the technical literature, is a bombshell. It is now known
with a high level of scientific confidence that both tenets of the
orthodoxy are wrong."

"The discoveries Mr. Wade reports, that genetic variation clusters along
racial and ethnic lines and that extensive evolution has continued ever
since the exodus from Africa, are based on the genotype, and no one has
any scientific reason to doubt their validity."

aseuss said...

" did momentous inventions like gunpowder and printing enter Chinese
society with barely a ripple and yet revolutionise the warring states of
Europe?" First of all, these inventions did not pass through Chinese history with 'barely a ripple': it took a leap of thought to use the explosive power of gunpowder to propel a projectile--i.e., create the first cannon. Such cannons were used to great effect in against China's few enemies, like the Mongols, though by then (the 1300s) the Mongol Empire was dying down anyway. So the quote above answers itself: gunpowder and firearms "revolutionized" Europe because Europe was a bunch of states constantly at war with each other. Each had little land, so they were constantly trying to elbow each other out of existence, and the way they did that is through military technology. There's your revolution, a technological one. China had no incentive to develop its military technology because it had no real enemies. Then as now, military tech often spurs more basic research, and since China had no reason make its cannons more and more lethal and develop more portable weapons, it missed out on this revolution. Indeed, it is actually amazing that China went so far in developing firearms, inventing the hand cannon and fire lance (a kind of flamethrower) even though it wasn't subjected to an arms race.
As for printing, printing did revolutionize Chinese society, but more indirectly through another Chinese innovation, the bank note. Paper money made financial transactions much easier, but perhaps more importantly, led to fiat currency--essentially, money backed by nothing but the government. This led to periods of hyperinflation in the 11th century. So, in a bad way, printing did revolutionize Chinese society...and, given our own use of essentially valueless currency, the modern world.

aseuss said...

We would not be "emulating" the Chinese by "despoiling the environment with industrial pollutants"; we would essentially be emulating ourselves, particularly our first 150 years of industrialization that did not go unchecked until the environmental movements of the 1970s and 1980s (exemplified by such symbolic, though inadequate, measures like passing the Clean Air Act in the U.S.). Indeed, London by Charles Dickens' time was just as dark and dreary as Beijing--and no, it wasn't the rain. Medical students learn that the first "occupational" disease was identified in England--lung cancers in miners and steelworkers, genital cancers in chimney sweeps.
As for Chinese vs Japanese culture, remember that the Japanese took much from the Chinese in terms of art, political science and religion. Porcelain and silks are Chinese inventions; Chan Buddhism became Zen in Japan. To say nothing of meditation and the physical practices (martial arts, qi gong, breathing regimens). So Japan was made Chinese, without the Chinese so much as laying a silk-padded shoe on Japanese soil.
"Japan should re-arm". Good grief. Not just the Chinese, but essentially all of Asia would have a problem with that. I don't need to go into what Japan did to the Chinese or Koreans. Which brings us to current fears of China. Hmmm, since when were the Chinese the bad guys?? They spent millenia doing nothing to the Japanese or Koreans or pretty much anyone else, yet traded with all these people.

aseuss said...

The collapse of Roman civilization has nothing to do with the West falling behind. The Romans contributed no mathematical theorems or scientific theories, though they did revolutionize building and politics. Interestingly, though, China did contribute to Rome's collapse indirectly--Rome lost a great deal of its wealth paying for fine goods from China.

James Hedman said...

A serious environmental clean up movement did not start in the 1970's but in the 1940's and 1950's. Pittsburg Pennsylvania reduced smoke pollution by 80% from 1945 through 1954. The Great London Smog of 1952 led to a clean air act in Britain in 1956. Other cities and states took similar action to clean up smoke and waterways before the federal regulations were passed in the 1970's under Richard Nixon's administration.

aseuss said...

A lot of good rule of law and property rights did for the Native Americans. They signed hundreds of contracts and treaties with the settlers and later with the government...only to be made war on, and then shoved off the land. I don't think the Chinese, without formal laws, would've done this--and they didn't, in their sphere. They basically stayed put, even though they could've overrun Japan, Korea, the Philippines, etc., having better technology and organization, not to mention sheer numbers.

aseuss said...

First off, China was not surrounded by myriad equally powerful states, as every European nation was since the Medieval times, so China never felt a strong sense of urgency to refine its inventions and technologies. Once it realized what was happening, it was too late. European powers didn't have the luxury to forestall technological development because there was always someone breathing down your neck; there were competitor nations literally on the other side of your borders. By the 1800s, China could do nothing to stop the British from forcing opium on them, and the other powers were close behind. By the end of the century, it had Britain, Germany, Russia, France, Portugal carving out pieces, demanding. extraterritoriality. It's not under that setting that you finance scientific research. Japan was "smart" in that it allied with European powers pretty early on. At any rate, no one really wanted to invade Japan because it was just one big fishing pier back then. So Japan had a little time to develop its industries; China really had to scramble and as we all know it did not work out all that well. The Communists took over and, just like that, economic development and innovation was forestalled for a half century.

James Hedman said...

Tell that to the Tibetans.

Stevie Mac said...

Really good documentary series by eminent historian Niall Ferguson:

"Niall Ferguson asks why it was that Western civilization, from inauspicious roots in the 15th century, came to dominate the rest of the world; and if the West is about to be overtaken by the rest.

Ferguson reveals the 'killer apps' of the West's success - competition, science, the property owning democracy, modern medicine, the consumer society and the Protestant work ethic - the real explanation of how, for five centuries, a clear minority of mankind managed to secure the lion's share of the earth's resources.

Ferguson's conclusions are surprising and provocative. He reveals that while the killer apps have finally been downloaded by the rest, in the process Western civilization has lost faith in itself. And it is that loss of self-belief that poses the biggest threat to its continued predominance.

The first programme in the series begins in 1420 when Ming China had a credible claim to be the most advanced civilization in the world: 'All Under Heaven'. England on the eve of the Wars of the Roses would have seemed quite primitive by contrast."

Each programme in the series addresses one of the 6 'killer apps' so the programme on science may be of particular interest regarding the Needham question.

And the book:

Cornelius said...

Living standards (i.e. PPP GDP per capita) did go down significantly when Rome collapsed. That has a lot to do with falling behind.

What Morris measured is a proxy for what we today would call PPP GDP per capita.

Stevie Mac said...

People are talking about China's economy overtaking America's and how big of a deal it is. But what about when China's economy is three times bigger or even potentially four times bigger!?

Interesting analysis by the way. They already often vote the same way at the UN but right now I don't think China wants to enter into an anti-western alliance and become openly hostile. They want to trade with the US and Europe and bide their time while peacefully developing. They will end up not even needing Russian technological expertise but I bet they wouldn't mind a bit of Siberia!

Godslayer said...

I'm not familiar with the other inventions.

But saying that
gunpowder was only used by the chinese to make fireworks is wrong. The
chinese made everything possible with gunpowder, including multistage
rockets, cluster ammunitions, rocket launchers, land mines, naval mines
poison bombs, grenades, etc....

It was only till 1750 did European muskets outclass Chinese muskets.

>As musket technology rapidly improved in Western Europe and the Ottoman Empire,
China often imported muskets, eventually losing the arms race to the
West by 1750. When the rifle was invented in the West, the musket lost
its status as the dominant weapon.


Huo Lung Ching; rendered by its translator into English as Fire Drake
Manual; in modern English, Fire Dragon Manual) is a 14th-century
military treatise that was compiled and edited by Jiao Yu and Liu Ji of
the early Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) in China. It outlined the use of
various "fire weapons" involving the use of gunpowder.

The Huolongjing provides information about various gunpowder
compositions, including "magic gunpowder", "poison gunpowder", and
"blinding and burning gunpowder". It has descriptions of the Chinese
cast iron grenade bomb, shrapnel bombs, and bombs containing poisonous
concoctions. The book describes the 10th-century Chinese fire arrow and
its evolution into the metal-tube-launched rocket, various rocket
launchers, the advent of the two-stage rocket that has a booster rocket,
and fin–mounted, winged rockets. The book also describes the use of
explosive land mines and naval mines,
and the latter's use of a complex trigger mechanism. The book describes
the development of other weapons, including various proto–guns such as
fire lance, handguns with up to ten barrels, handguns with possible
serpentine locks used as components in matchlock firearms, early bombard
and cannon,
cannon barrels filled with metal balls containing poisonous gunpowder
solutions, and cannons that were mounted on wheeled carriages.

Huolongjing also describes and illustrates the oldest known multistage
rocket; this was the "fire-dragon issuing from the water" (huo long chu
shui), which was used mostly by the Chinese navy.[57][58] It was a
two-stage rocket that had carrier or booster rockets
that would automatically ignite a number of smaller rocket arrows that
were shot out of the front end of the missile, which was shaped like a
head with an open mouth, before eventually burning out.[57][58] This
multistage rocket may be considered the ancestor of modern cluster
munitions.[57][58] Needham says that the written material and
illustration of this rocket come from the oldest stratum of the
Huolongjing, which can be dated to about 1300-1350 from the book's part
1, chapter 3, page 23

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