So it’s becoming clear that the Chinese economy is finally slowing, the fastest and largest industrial revolution the world has ever seen may now be entering its autumn. I personally don’t find this at all surprising. Maybe they were making so many disposable pens and transformer toys, so well and so cheaply; even the Americans began to run out of cupboard space and more crucially money.
A lot of very clever people seem to think it’s a really, really bad thing that in just 20 year the west, in particular the UK, seems to have lost the majority of our manufacturing industry to emerging economies, predominantly China. I do not contest, that for our world power, ego on the world stage and prospects for an affluent future this is most likely a bad thing. But for the lifestyles, and quality of life of my generation, I think it’s a wonderful thing.
Let me paint a rather uplifting portrait of western decline.
Back when Britannia ruled the waves and British arrogance and self-importance was somewhere up in the stratosphere, we had an industrial revolution of our own. Despite the fact the Victorians were a fun loving bunch, the UK was not a very pleasant place to live in back then. The vast majority of the population did menial, soul destroying, and filthy, dangerous jobs for ten hours a day, seven days a week. But the economists on the TV, banging on about how all we need is more manufacturing (and inevitably more menial, soul destroying, and filthy, dangerous jobs) might have been satisfied back then.
Fortunately for us, the Chinese have now absorbed most of these jobs. They work long days, six days a week to produce everything between necessities and luxuries that we consume in the west. And they do it very cheaply, which has allowed us all to have a more for less. The jobs that we’ve been left with are mostly serving each other in warm clean shops, cozy desk jobs, well paid intellectual and banking jobs and some high tech manufacturing. Granted, a lot of these jobs aren’t exactly stimulating or even enjoyable, but they’re not going to harm you life expectance too much.
The prejudice old criticism of the Japanese and later the Chinese was that they just copied what west did and were rarely innovators. In 1930’s Japan, there was a lot of truth in this statement. But just look at the Japanese now, progress and innovation has secured their place world leaders.
In china however, this is to a large degree still true. As in all communist states, their oppressive political masters have intellectually stifled the Chinese people. It’s hard to be a competitive innovator, think out side the box and invent if you’re at such a disadvantage that you cant even access an accurate history book or use Google. For these reasons, innovation in china has been lacking. But what’s at the detriment of them has benefitted us. I believe this could be a reason why many of what we might call the more “interesting” or “clever” jobs, such as design, research and media have remained strong in the west. The back of my i-pod springs to mind “designed in California – made in china”. But with the emergence of a wealthy highly educated Chinese middle class, this situation does not look set to last.
So next time I hear a story along the lines of “china creates 6,000 new jobs making pens” I’m inclined to wish them well without any jealousy. The reason we’re not competing with the Chinese anymore, is because we wouldn’t want to. If a new pen factory opened in my town, the only people who’d work in it would be polish, and I’m not sure if even they wouldn’t do it for a Chinese wage doing Chinese hours.