China: The World’s Next Great Consumer Society

David Leonhardt has a monster column in the NYT Magazine section on China’s burgeoning consumer society:

“To continue growing rapidly, China needs to make the next transition, from sweatshop economy to innovation economy. This transition is the one that has often proved difficult elsewhere. Once a country has turned itself into an export factory, it cannot keep growing by repeating the exercise. It can’t move a worker from an inefficient farm to a modern factory more than once. It cannot even retain its industrial might forever. As a country industrializes, workers will demand their share of the bounty, as has started happening in China, and some factories will start moving to poorer countries. Eventually, a rising economy needs to take two crucial steps: manufacture goods that aren’t just cheaper than the competition, but better; and create a thriving domestic market, so that its own consumers can pick up the slack when exports inevitably slow. These steps go hand in hand. Big consumer markets become laboratories where companies know that innovations will be tested and the successful ones richly rewarded. Those products can then expand into countries with less mature consumer markets. Look at the telephone, the personal computer and the iPhone and iPad, all of which were designed in the United States and are now sold around the world.”

I can tell this will be my plane reading from Chicago to NY.


In China, Cultivating the Urge to Splurge
David Leonhardt
Published: November 24, 2010

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