The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

China’s Rise Is Normal

China used trade protection and cheap wages & grabbed industry from the leading industrial power exactly the same as the US did with Britain.


The tech/science lead follows the manufacturing floor, with some delay, this was, again, the same with Britain & the USA.

The dynamics of industrialization are well understood at this point. The first books to read are “Bad Samaritans” and “Wealth and Democracy”.

Unlike Japan or South Korea, China has a larger population than America (same as America vs. Britain) and is has a large land mass and plenty of resources. In fact, it has slightly more land area than America.

Initial industrialization in England is an interesting story and still hotly debated. Later industrialization waves are mostly all the same. (The USSR is an exception, as are city states.)

Big leaps, as opposed to adaptations of existing models almost always come from states in hot competition, and among them the peripheral states usually win (Britain, for example, is peripheral to Europe.) The biggest tech surges in Chinese history came during warring states periods.

I’m very impressed by China’s rise and the West’s sheer incompetence in enabling it, but it’s not a huge leap the way the industrial revolution was. It’s just an extension of a previously existing model.

Japan’s rise was more impressive than China’s, as the first non-European nation to pull it off. But as an island nation with limited population, they were sharply limited. They made 2 runs at the US, one a war, one industrial, and neither let them become the foremost power.

The West was very good at keeping everyone but client states from industrializing. Even Japan needed British aid (the first time), then America’s (the second time.) But the West got stupid under neoliberal “end of history” ideology & let China run the playbook, thinking it wouldn’t challenge the West. Oops.

Americans probably should have learned from the Western experience with Japan. The British enabled Japan’s rise only to have Japan attack British possessions. Without American aid, that loss would have been permanent. But China is a continental power w/a massive population. The stupid was epic.

A radical change in economic model hasn’t happened yet, and seems unlikely to before ecological and economic collapse puts an end to the viability of the current model. Looking at Chinese cities with the 7 lane highways is instructive. It’s just a better version of the same old

A complete change of the permission system will be necessary for radical economic change. No one in power, whether in the West or China, wants that or can even imagine it.

Who knows, radical economic change might happen in China when collapse really starts biting. After all, they have the manufacturing base. But usually it happens at a periphery or in a tight area with multiple competing states.

This stuff is fairly well understood. However it’s not economists who put the pieces together, it’s sociologist and historians and even some anthropologists. Economists have done more damage to the West than astrologers did to Chinese dynasties. MBA factories get an honorary mention. (They mostly weaponized economic theories, as when they noticed economic theory saying that high profits come from not competing.)

One of the most instructive trends right now is watching so many people screaming about population collapse, when what the world actually needs is a lower population. (We could have avoided that necessity, but the window is closed. Sometimes you have to act at the right time.)

All people who yell about lower birth rates can imagine is economic growth through population expansion. Anyone who thinks that way can’t create a new economic model, they’re stuck in the old one. (Elon Musk is a good example.)

People who can’t even understand population overshoot are incapable of the thinking required to deal with the world’s actual problems.

We’ll talk about permission systems at a later date. As noted, they’re key.


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 16 2024


Why Do I Talk About Real Food Shortages In The Future?


  1. Feral Finster

    In the 19th Century, the British kvetched that the US was constantly ripping of British intellectual property and weaponizing tariffs to protect nascent industries.

  2. different clue

    Free Trade is the new Slavery.

    Protectionism is the new Abolition.

    Let’s see how the Free Trade Conspirators like them apples in their pipe and smoke it.

  3. Jan Wiklund

    Where’s the papers statistics from?

  4. Regardless of the effects of lower birth rates they can occur from both positive and negative factors.
    What percentage of recent reductions in birth rates are due to 1) the mass poisoning event reducing fertility 2) the mass poisoning event making people too unhealthy and stressed to choose to have more children.
    These two factors can appear as just a choice when in actuality people are being coerced (by their health) not to have more children.
    Even if we presume that lower birth rates would be beneficial the means to that end can still be highly destructive.

  5. How poorly or well does everyone think the west is doing with its current war in The Middle east? You know the war against the powerhouses of Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen?
    How poorly or well is the west doing in it’s proxy war against Russia in Ukraine?
    Imagine the west trying to then take on China.
    I’d guess there are some in China who think the best plan is to just wait out till the west finishes hanging itself.

  6. Bill R

    It must also be said that the US took other countries’ science & tech to develop [they stole patented inventions!]. It now accuses others of doing this and sanction them.

  7. nobody

    Population decline is more than just an economic problem.

    Biologically and demographically, perpetual population growth is required to support the elderly when they are unable to care for themselves. It doesn’t matter whether the support takes the form of western-style money pensions or traditional, non-paid, multi-generation households where the children (plural) take care of their elderly parents. Eventually, the vast majority of elderly people need more care than a prime-age adult can provide while still supporting themselves. A shrinking population can’t provide this level of care.

    Immigration can patch over the elder care problem in small areas, but in general, when the world’s population moves from growth to decline, much of the world will either leave the elderly to die in squalor, or will take a page from Canada’s disability policy and euthanize those who are unable to support themselves.

  8. Ian Welsh

    Or they could do what China is doing and concentrate on using robotics and AI to care for elders.

  9. Daniil Adamov

    “But usually it happens at a periphery or in a tight area with multiple competing states.”

    Any thoughts on where this might happen specifically, or is it too early to say?

  10. Ian Welsh

    Too early, I think. Russia’s one possibility. It could happen in China or India after they break into multiple states, or, heck, America if that happens.

    But really, don’t know.

  11. Purple Library Guy

    If I were going to take a gamble on where a new and innovative social/political/economic model would emerge, I’d be betting on Latin America. They’re the only ones doing much on those lines.

  12. Purple Library Guy

    @nobody — Nonsense. For most of human history, population levels were effectively steady and they managed. Japan’s population has been declining for some time now and their economy is doing fine, nor have they really increased immigration to compensate. The ratio of nonproductive to working people was very high during the Baby Boom–all those kids–and nothing collapsed.

    Productivity is not static, it continues to increase, and the proportion of the “working age” population that does paid work is much higher than it used to be because of the mass entry of women into the paid workforce. Clearly the modern economy can support far more nonworking people than it ever could before.

    So both empirical evidence and a cursory thought about the key theoretical factors makes it clear that there is zero need for perpetual population expansion.

    I also find it really hard to take the elderly-population doomsaying seriously when it seems like the same pundits one moment say “Oh noes! The population is aging and we won’t have anyone to take care of those old people!” and the next moment it’s “Oh noes! Automation and AI are going to take all the young people’s jobs, they won’t have anything to do!” Well, it can’t be both.

    The real problem is, we don’t have enough both for old people and for the wealthy oligarchs vacuuming up everything in sight. But that would still be a problem no matter what the demographic balance was.

  13. GrimJim

    Any real radical developments would need to come out of a place where the PTB really do not care about, and yet historically have been through the grinder. They also have to have a modicum of native resources, some sort of manufacturing ability (even if poor or antiquated), and a population that still seeks something better out of life and has not been completely crushed.

    So really, that limits it to three potential regions… Southeast Asia, South America, and sub-Saharan Eastern Africa. All three have some elements of the above. All three have potential for growth. All three are targets for Chinese trade, so potentially have access to true growth trade rather than servile banana republic style trade.

    As long as the West is stuck in pointless grinding wars and otherwise occupied, there is opportunity for local growth and something new to take flower.

  14. mago

    I once asked old China hand and beat poet Gary Snyder, what’s up with the disparity between the artistic and bureaucratic class, and he said something about differing ideologies existing side by side.
    Cold mountain poets and Peking court intrigues. The Tao and the state.
    China on the rise? Bueno just because it screws with the current imperialists.
    On the other hand, the Cheese conformist dualistic mindset spells another kind of oppression.
    Cameras on every corner. Bureaucratic system in your face while recording one’s every move.
    For who and what are we cheering for??

  15. Forecasting Intelligence

    Great post Ian.

    We are tracking LTG BAU and no one in our elites (or indeed the wider population) has a clue or wants to know.

    Your virtually the only commentator (apart from Greer) who references Limits to Growth.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén