Wednesday, April 06, 2005

FOLLOW UP: Chinese Growth - Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?

By now, it's cliche to say how great China is. You won't be off the plane an hour before you hear that this is Asia's century. And, having recently returned from there, I can concur that the progress, the development, the overall civility there is spectacular. However, I can also confirm what I said 2 years ago before I had visited. Their miracle is going from communist-agrarian to capitalist-urban in 50 years, but it'll be nothing short of a second miracle if they can clean up the mess they've made in less than another 50 years. Specifically:

  • They have set up an industrial complex which consumes their (and others') natural resources at such a rate that they'll be devoid of economically-viable resources within 50 years. They must make friends with nuclear power, non-petroleum plastics, hybrid vehicles, and RECYCLING.
  • Which segues into the next issue: pollution. There must be about 500 trillion pieces of trash on the ground in that country. With a population of 2 billion, I calculate that it will take half of 'em exactly 50 years to pick it all up. Meanwhile, the other half of the population can start straining the crap out of their water supply. At the same time, of course, they're going to start facing the health problems caused by their decadence. Hey you stock-chasers: listen up: buy pharma stocks, buy Gilette. These folks are gonna need lots of Kleenex! Ah-choo.
  • And while we're talking about the population, we might throw in the ridiculously low productivity figure. The population has to be educated, outfitted with new technologies, and taught how to work in a profit-incentivized capitalist structure. This is a generational change, not a 5-year plan.
  • The allocation of capital has been entirely and cronyistic. As such, past and present investments are quite likely to crash and burn. Projects with obviously negative ROIs continue to get money tossed at them while entrepreneurs are trying to get water from stones. Existing investments need to be reviewed and new investment methodology must be totally revamped. How do you say "risk adjusted return on capital" in Mandarin?

No comments: