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In Line Behind a Billion People: How Scarcity Will Define China's Ascent in the Next Decade

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In Line Behind a Billion People: How Scarcity Will Define China's Ascent in the Next Decade


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Everything you thought you knew about China is wrong: why China’s economic rise will constrain it, not empower it. 

  • Getting past anxiety and cheerleading: a view of modern China that’s richer, more complex, more subtle – and more accurate
  • Why 21st century China will be shaped by scarcity, not wealth – just as China always has been
  • Understand why China’s growing middle class is shackled facing an emerging crisis of values, beliefs, ideas, and freedoms
  • The one book on China every decision-maker, investor, policymaker, and economist needs to read now


  • Copyright 2014
  • Dimensions: 6" x 9"
  • Edition: 1st
  • Book
  • ISBN-10: 0-13-313389-3
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-13-313389-9

Nearly everything you know about China is wrong! Yes, within a decade, China will have the world’s largest economy. But that is the least important thing to know about China. In this enlightening book, two of the world’s leading China experts turn the conventional wisdom on its head, showing why China’s economic growth will constrain rather than empower it. Pioneering political analyst Damien Ma and global economist Bill Adams reveal why, having 35 years of ferocious economic growth, China’s future will be shaped by the same fundamental reality that has shaped it for millennia: scarcity. Ma and Adams drill deep into Chinese society, illuminating all the scarcities that will limit its power and progress. Beyond scarcities of natural resources and public goods, they illuminate China’s persistent poverties of individual freedoms, cultural appeal, and ideological legitimacy — and the corrosive loss of values and beliefs amongst a growing middle class shackled by a parochial and inflexible political system. Everyone knows “the 21st century is China’s to lose” — but, as with so many things that “everyone knows,” that’s just wrong. Ma and Adams get beyond cheerleading and fearmongering to tell the complex truth about China today. This is a truth you need to hear — whether you’re an investor, business decision-maker, policymaker, or citizen.

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Introduction to In Line Behind a Billion People: How Scarcity Will Define China's Ascent in the Next Decade

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Table of Contents

Introduction    1

Economic scarcity    6

1. Resources: While supplies last    6

2. Food: Malthus on the Yangtze    6

3. Labor: Where did all the migrants go?    7

Social scarcity    7

4. Welfare: Socialism with Chinese    .actually no, not socialism at all    7

5. Education: Give me equality    but not until after my son gets into Tsinghua    7

6. Housing: Home is where the wallet is    8

Political scarcity    8

7. Ideology: The unbearable lightness of the Yellow River Spirit    8

8. Values: What would Confucius do?    9

9. Freedom: Keep on rockin’ in the firewalled world    9

Part I  Economic Scarcity    13

Chapter 1  Resources: While supplies last    15

The Panda Boom    19

It’s the CPI, stupid    20

Smashing the iron rice bowl    22

Under the mattress: Savings gluttony    24

The world ain’t so flat, or, good neighbors near and far    26

Bamboo consumption continued    28

Land: So much yet so little    29

Ownership society with Chinese characteristics    30

Legacy problems    32

Energy: From industry to transport and residential    34

Import dependence as Achilles’ heel    39

Water    41

Thirsty industry    42

H2O politics    46

Chapter 2  Food: Malthus on the Yangtze    49

Feeding one-fifth of humanity    53

A diet for a land of plenty    56

The meat of the problem    56

Hot and bothered    .and thirsty    61

Rise of the machines?    63

From Happy Meals to deadly dinners    66

Astronauts get Tang, taikonauts get grass-fed beef    69

Chapter 3  Labor: Where did all the migrants go?    75

Socialist employers’ paradise    77

...Becomes socialist employers’ paradise, lost    80

Migrants came, saw, and some are saying see ya later    81

Westward they go    84

Workers with attitude    87

Warmer, cuddlier policy for migrants    88

School of hard knocks    90

What happens when your key economic input shrinks?    91

Cashing out on the demographic dividend: an “uh oh” moment?    93

Public policy: A dash of creativity and wisdom needed    94

When 150 million workers unite    97

Part II Social Scarcity    99

Chapter 4  Welfare: Socialism with Chinese    actually no, not socialism at all    101

Dismantling the welfare system    104

...And stitching it back together    112

From youth bulge to geriatric bulge    117

Mo’ bling, mo’ honeys    125

Serving the people    128

Chapter 5  Education: Give me equality    but not until after my son gets into Tsinghua    131

A thought experiment: Turkmenbashi for a day    131

No, seriously, there is a real thing called urban bias    132

The social equalizer that isn’t    135

From urban bias to urban household bias    142

Turn on, tune in, and study abroad: Life at the top    144

Running out of levers to pull    147

Chapter 6 Housing: Home is where the wallet is    151

Phat cribs and fatter wallets    153

An urban middle class is born    156

Jobs all around    157

Fat pancakes from the sky: the rich man’s boom    159

So happy together    160

When virtues become flaws    161

“I love you    .after you’ve closed on that two-bedroom”    162

On the outside looking in    165

Socialist property rights with Chinese characteristics    167

Revenge of the capitalists    169

No taxation without representation    .but with corruption    170

Squeezed    173

Part III Political Scarcity    .177

Chapter 7 Ideology: The unbearable lightness of the Yellow River Spirit    179

A young nation-state    182

E pluribus mishmash    185

What comes after a revolution?    189

Forging the Deng Xiaoping consensus    190

New slogans, same consensus    193

The second identity crisis    195

Nationalism to the rescue (sort of)    198

Virtue is as virtuous does    200

Confucius as cultural export    204

Searching for a distinctly Chinese paradigm?    205

Chapter 8 Values: What would Confucius do?    209

Qunar (or where to)?    212

Software upgrades    213

Pursuit of happiness    215

Separate but unequal    219

Governing post-materialist China: The “what have you done for me lately” problem    223

It’s (mostly) sunny in Canton    224

Swatting flies    225

China pushes back on values    227

China the exceptional?    232

Chapter 9 Freedom: Keep on rockin’ in the firewalled world    237

A decade of harmony?    242

Stability Inc.    244

The “average Zhou” pushes back    249

From 100 flowers to 100 million weibos    254

Fast and furious    .and deadly    255

Give me PM 2.5 or give me death    260

Coloring outside the lines    264

Conclusion    267

All your (economic) base are belong to us    267

Embracing change: the basecase    270

Growth without abundance    271

A “New Deal” with Chinese characteristics    274

Chinese governance 4.0    277

Baby steps    279

What if the Chinese dream is deferred?    283

Endnotes    287

Index    319


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