By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Scott Peterson
Even though Martin Jacques’ book, When China Rules the World, has some interesting details, it fails to convince one that China will rule the world. The author’s provocative title drives the bus but it does not reach its destination.
Jacques’ overview of the geo-political and Realpolitik relationships of the east and west are enlightening. But, world control is a myth that eventually causes war and destroys “the best and brightest” cultures that believe in it.
Never the less, what is happening in China is remarkable. China’s transition from Maoist communism to capitalist communism is like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly; i.e. China has wings but it still lives in a world constrained by its environment.
Jacques argues that a 90% Han Chinese cultural domination of 1/5th of the world’s population will change the nature of the 21st century. In a limited sense, that is undoubtedly true. However, money, power, and prestige have been the primary motivators of mankind since the beginning of civilization; i.e. whether one is a Han Chinese, Tibetan, or Uyghur–dominant cultures’ drive for money, power, and prestige will speed, break, and steer the wheels of nation-states.
There are dominant factions in every culture that are not necessarily the majority of that culture’s population. Jacques’ early comments suggest China’s 5000 year history reflects a cultural conformity greater than any other country in history while later he acknowledges that the predominant Han population is highly diverse in its beliefs. Cultural conformity is not the relevant issue; i.e., dominant cultural factions, whether a majority or minority of an indigenous population, are the game changers of history. Mao argued against Han chauvinism and insisted on recognizing China a a multi-ethnic nation
Jacques argues that China’s cultural history of respect for and veneration of familial obligation will have profound effects on the future of world economies. The history of modernization suggests that the fabric of extended filial obligation is ripped apart in every industrializing nation. China is not an exception. Human nature is immutable. As an agrarian culture moves to the city and parents are compelled to work for wages, family structure and filial commitment deteriorates.
Of course, capitalism is not the same in China as it is in the western hemisphere. As Jacques reports, major capitalist businesses are state-owned in China. They compete in the world market but government support mitigates much of the free enterprise ideal of capitalist economies. However, no nation-state has operated as a free enterprise capitalist country; i.e. government has always played a role in capitalist nations. Government subsidy of industrialization is a matter of degree. It may be that China will change the way industrialized countries compete but global economic domination is no longer possible in a tech savvy world that recognizes knowledge is power and natural resources are limited.
Long term, China is facing a tougher road to modernization because of its massive population, environmental degradation, and dwindling natural resources. Its short-term prospects look better than most other nations but China started at an economic low point which makes all economic measures of success look better. The long-term will mitigate the large jumps in economic growth that are seen in the short-term.
As Jacques points out, China’s savings rate is over 20%, with a GDP growth rate 3 times that of the United States.
Because of China’s remarkable savings rate and its foreign investment, natural resources are temporarily more available. However, nation-state economies are closely tied to each other. As China’s wealth grows, natural resources will dwindle and market forces will accelerate material costs. Natural resources will decline unless technological innovation offers usable substitutes.
A major failure in the eastern’ or western’ hemisphere economies will have great consequence to China’s short term advantage. With a failure of any significant nation state’s economy, China’s drive toward modernization will be deeply affected.
Jacques’ book exposes some of the cultural biases of China that are not widely known. He suggests that discrimination is as prevalent in China as it is in the United States; i.e. a reprehensible familiarity. Globalization is real while human nature seems immutable. All humankind travels on the same space ship. At the very least, China is proving that our environment is fragile and natural resources are finite.