By Kevin Meyer
So here are some news stories from the local paper:
- Sales of new homes down 48%
- Uncertain times for business
- Hospitals probed over ‘unnecessary’ surgery
- Major cities coping with flight delays
- Con artists fill spiritual void
Pretty typical stories, right? Economic problems, healthcare problems, transportation problems, nefarious people preying on the less fortunate.
Except that the local paper in question is the Shanghai Daily, left on my hotel door this morning.
People of haven’t visited China recently, or never, might be surprised by how this highly-controlled supposedly communist country has grown up. When you arrive at the very modern (but also coldly modern) airport you are met with lots of advertising and even a Burger King, and are then whisked into the city at 400kph on the Maglev. Vast stretches of skyscrapers, great superhighways, mostly late-model cars (especially Buicks…). CNN, Fox, HBO, and Cinemax on the hotel TV.
The internet is a bit slow as everything goes through the Great Firewall, but the only sites I visit that I’ve found to be blocked are YouTube and our friend Ron’s Lean Six Sigma Academy blog… the only blocked lean blog. But we always knew Ron was the dangerous subversive type.
Presumably political and social news is filtered a bit, however I was still a little surprised at how much was freely reported.
And that points to the concern for the future. There’s some incredible infrastructure being built, presumably paid with by the interest payments the U.S. is making on the massive and increasing debt the Chinese are nice enough to buy. In effect we’re funding all of this by spending far more than we should. Sort of an interesting concept being a loaning country instead of a debtor – maybe we should give it a try.
The standard of living in China is increasing and incredible wealth is being created – there are something like 100,000 millionaires just here in Shanghai. But it’s a dangerous dichotomy as most workers are still paid very little. Up until recently wages have been depressed thanks to an abundance of eager workers from the countryside to fill the positions created by businesses fleeing the regulatory, tax, and supposed labor cost burdens of the U.S. and elsewhere – but wage inflation is starting. News is being reported more freely. That’s setting up a clash of power and control between people officials, profit-based business and a “people’s republic.”
The next several years will be very interesting – and something for all of us to keep an eye on.