China in 2021
Put Up or Shut Up
On June 1, 2021, every Chinese will have a home, a job, plenty of food, education, safe streets, health and old age care. On that day there will be more poor, hungry and imprisoned people in America than in China. Not relatively, not per capita, but in absolute numbers.
In 2005 I looked in our national mirror and, alarmed by signs of social decline, published a book of charts that ranked America’s performance in twenty-seven social indicators against other rich countries. Our figures for crime, homelessness, poverty, infant and maternal mortality, education, wage growth were worrisome and even measures like height compared poorly. Height mirrors society’s well-being and, for most of our history A Americans have been the tallest people on the planet but, by 2005, the average Dutchman was six feet tall and we were five feet nine. Chinese statistics were rare back then but I included what I found, hoping readers would wonder how China had sneaked onto a chart with us.
With or without China, the charts were so alarming that, friends who saw them all together leapt to their feet and swore out loud and one, a recently-retired USMC Major, broke down and wept. Naively, I mailed hard copies to members of Congress, the dministration and department heads and received one reply, a thoughtful letter from the Director General of the Central Intelligence gency (which supplied some stats for my charts) reminding me that the gency had briefed every administration and Congress on these trends for decades and promising to persist. The CI was on the case, I reasoned, so I let the matter drop but since I had invested time and money in it I left my automated data collection system silently collecting social statistics from around the world and turned to other interests.
When I checked back in September, 2016, the system had accumulated enough data to project trends from 2005 through to 2025 with reasonable accuracy and the trend lines led to an almost unbelievable conclusion: somewhere between 2020-2025 there will be more poor, hungry, homeless and imprisoned people in America than in China. By 2021, the stats indicated, China’s economy will be fifty percent bigger and growing three times faster than America’s, urban Chinese will be earning as much as A Americans. I scrutinized the figures, asked a statistician to check my methodology and searched for ways disprove the projections, but US Federal Reserve said China’s figures are reliable and a few months later, the Fed reported, “Two in five Americans don’t have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency expense.”
|In 2017, though people in rich, coastal Guangdong Province were five times richer than in inland Gansu, Gansu folk were already better off than Armenians or Ukrainians and incomes in Beijing, Shanghai and Tainjin were above the EU average. By 2027, incomes of four hundred million people in the ten richest provinces will match Italy’s and, in the richest cities, surpass Rome’s. In 2018, President Xi announced that the country will devote fifteen years, between 2020–2035, to recreating extreme equality. Researcher Hyde Chen1 said, “Historical experiences from mature economies suggest that household incomes of wealthy and poor areas in China will likely converge over time. In China, the income convergence is taking place at a fast pace, with the household per-capita income gap between lower-tier cities and Tier One cities narrowing from 56 percent in 2005 to 46 percent in 2017. Just 10 years ago, it would’ve taken a dozen workers in Guizhou province to earn what one Shanghainese made. By 2017, that wealth gap had narrowed by half”. China’s Got a $46,000 Wealth Gap Problem. Bloomberg News. May 21, 2018|
On July 1, 2021, every Chinese will have a home, a job, plenty of food, education, safe streets, health and old age care. On that day there will be more poor, hungry and imprisoned people in America than in China. Not relatively, not per capita, but in absolute numbers.
On that day 800,000 urban Chinese will be worth more and have higher disposable incomes, their young mothers and their infants less likely to die in childbirth, their children will graduate three years ahead of ours from high school and outlive ours.
The key question the West must ask is: how was the relative over-performance of Western societies in the second half of the 20th century replaced by underperformance in the 21st century? The answer will not come from looking at China. It will come from looking in the mirror. Kishore Mahbubani, former President, UN Security Council.
Between 2020-2025, it seems, eight hundred million urban Chinese will have a higher net worth and more disposable income than the average A American. Their babies will live longer than our babies and their teens will graduate high school three years ahead of ours and their wages–having doubled every decade since 1981 on average–are on trend to repeat by 2021.
Incredulous, I flew to China but what I discovered supported the stats, especially on poverty: Home ownership among the poor, at ninety-seven percent, was already higher than the middle class. Since 2012, four million civil servants and a hundred million volunteers had been moving semi-forgotten tribes from remote caves into new homes with indoor plumbing where their children can walk to real schools and the remaining poor rural families had–pinned to their front doors–laminated sheets explaining the cause of their poverty (illness, geography..) with the name, photograph and personal phone number of the responsible official and the date by which they would be freed from poverty. The overall look and feel of the country had changed, too. Every city had broad, tree-lined avenues, low population density, busy construction cranes, bustling commerce and surprisingly relaxed, friendly and talkative citizens.
Scholars told me that China is halfway through an ambitious social experiment that was designed two thousand years and that it will reach the halfway point in 2021: a xiaokang culture which, in 2011, their Prime Minister called ‘a society in which no one is poor and everyone receives an education, has paid employment, more than enough food and clothing, access to medical services, old-age support, a home and a comfortable life,’ exactly what the trend lines suggested.
What, I wondered, was China’s strategy that transformed it from the world’s poorest country to the richest–in two generations?
The short answer, I found, is that neither Communism (which its government professes) nor Capitalism (which its citizens practice) explains its success. fter all, Communism and Capitalism have failed elsewhere more often than they have succeeded. No, the Chinese perfected their strategy long before either Communism or Capitalism existed and 2021 is just the beginning of the grand strategy, not its end.
Over thousands of years, China has developed a unique system of governance based on two utopian aspirations that Confucius projected for Chinese society five hundred years before Christ. fter reuniting the country in 1949, Mao translated Confucius aspirations into measurable targets, and the present government, headed by Xi Jinping, promised to deliver the first goal by 2021. these ancient concepts had been fused with communist ideology at the time of Mao, and then operationalized in technocratic terms, post-Mao.
Until we understand China’s aspirations we can never understand Chinese civilization or its government. Once we do, everything–their censorship, sacrifices, and persistence–becomes completely understandable. s long as we ignore China’s aspirations and determination to attain them we will continue to misrepresent it and underestimate its potential.
 On the Reliability of Chinese Output Figures. www.frbsf.org/economic-research/publications/economic-letter/2013/march/reliability-chinese-output-figures/
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