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BW Businessworld

The Spending Dragon

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Is this yet another book eulogising the mighty economic power of China? Well, not really. As China Goes, So Goes The World peels another layer and reveals the flip side of the inexorable growth that led to several societal ills such as a huge market for fake products, sex trade and organ sales, among others. The author, Karl Gerth, says China is riding on consumerism of huge proportions as the Chinese have recently discovered their love for fancy cars, luxury goods, branded clothes, whisky and jewellery. The book also argues that the consumerism has its roots in its proximity to Taiwan and Korea that has caused a change in the standard of living as well brought in pop culture, something unheard of earlier.
Gerth believes that the global economy in future will be driven mainly by China, especially in the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2008. The transformation has come in the past three to four decades as the country drifted from communism to consumerism under Deng Xiaoping. One can gauge the huge market lying untapped in China when you look at its continuously growing middle class which consumes merely 33 per cent of gross domestic product. This process of consumerism gets buoyed further by institutions, which provide easy and cheap credit, and dissuade savings and encourage consumption.

The author traces consumerism in China from the car culture — which has now made it a major exporter of automobiles. This has not been an unmixed blessing as it has brought China closer to countries like Sudan, which it is cosying up to in order to access oil.

Gerth explains the new face of consumerist China as one where the new freedom decides what, when and where to buy goods — a decision taken earlier by the state which has driven the retail revolution. But he points out that they still have to learn to make standardised and identical goods as the same brand looks and tastes different in different locations. This has led to the growth of one of biggest markets for ‘fakes' that has proliferated at the cost of quality and has led to substandard products such as baby food that affects babies. This is what is referred to as the Shanzhai culture, earlier used for bandits who fled and hid in mountains.

The same culture has also led to the growth of extreme markets (as the author calls them), which do flourishing business such as wet nurses, maternity clinics to determine the sex of babies (given that there is a preference for boys), sex trade, organ sales and trade in endangered species. Therefore, while China has created lots of jobs and shown growth, the repercussions in terms of quality, faking and scant respect for the future of the environment have been sore spots that spoil the party. Yet, you can never ignore China which will continue to guide global economic growth.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 16-04-2012)