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Back In Shanghai
-By Caleb Jones
Back in the 1990’s, there was a chunk of worthless swampland across the main river in Shanghai called Pudong. It looked like this:
I’m visiting there now, and just a few days ago, I took a picture of it. It now looks like this:
Not bad for a bunch of backwater communists who only discovered capitalism 38 years ago.
Now here’s the weird thing. My country, the good ‘ol USA, discovered capitalism 241 years ago. Does this mean the Chinese are 203 years behind us? Nope. Technologically and economically, the coastal Chinese are literally right behind us, and in some ways have already surpassed us. While my fellow Americans are getting fat, stupid, and delusional, worrying about transgender bathrooms, universal basic income, and worshipping saviors with funny names like Obama and Trump, the Chinese are hard at work, quietly taking over the world.
As I type these words, I’m sitting here with my laptop, right in the middle of those buildings, looking out through 10 foot tall, panoramic glass walls, looking at, literally, the tallest and highest-technology skyscrapers in the world.
To the right of me are three buildings located in a triangle next to each other; the Jin Mao Tower, the Shanghai World Financial Center, and the Shanghai Tower. Those would be, respectively, the 10th tallest, 5th tallest, and tallest (if you measure where humans can actually go) buildings in the world. (The picture at the very top of this article is the pic I took of all three of them.)
To the left of me is the building where James Bond swam in that pool in Skyfall.
Over there is the building Tom Cruise swung across in Mission Impossible 3.
And over there is the Oriental Pearl Tower, a weird-ass thing that looks like a spaceship that changes colors constantly; it’s the fifth tallest tower in the world; far taller than literally any building on the entire American West Coast where I'm from (Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Portland, you name it, we've got nothing that comes even close).
Right in front of me is a small park ringed by 16 skyscrapers that are taller than most anything in most major American cities, New York included. The buildings here and the outdoor areas around them have escalators that have weight sensors, so they stop moving if no one is standing on them. Like in Hong Kong, often there are no buttons on the elevators; they already know what floor you’re going to based on your RFID keycard.
This part of Pudong, called Lujiazui, is my favorite single spot in the world...
...all where there was nothing but trees and mud back in the 90’s.
Do we, in the US, have anything that compares to this unprecedented technological and economic growth?
Does anywhere in the West?
That’s just in the last 20 years. Can you imagine what they’ll do in the next 20, as compared to what we will do in the next 20?
It won’t even be close, folks.
Last Friday I was working late into the evening in one of those skyscrapers. I had a direct view of a skyscraper right across the street, and could see into hundreds of offices through the clear glass windows. At 5:00pm, I expected most everyone to get up and leave, like they would where I come from.
No one left. I could see all the Chinese office workers still hard at work at all of their hundreds of desks.
At 5:30pm, same thing. At 6:00pm, same thing. I didn’t see one worker leave. I finally left at 6:30pm. Most of the Chinese employees were still there, still working.
This was a Friday evening! In the US on a Friday evening, that building would have been an abandoned ghost town by 5:20pm at the latest, leaving only a tiny few workaholics. (And don’t even get me started about what it would look like in Europe.) Yet in China, everyone stays and works, late into the evening, even on a Friday.
The complacent, slowly collapsing West doesn’t stand a chance against this level of motivation.
I’m not saying the Chinese are prefect. They’re pushy, crass, and impatient. They smoke and spit. They’re way too loud, yelling, and I mean yelling at each other and into their phones even when they’re not upset or excited. I spend several weeks at a time in Chinese countries and I admit this can get a little annoying after a while.
But, think about what the average American acted like 38 years after discovering capitalism. Do you think the typical American in 1814 was a class act? Heh. Anything but.
“But China has a real estate bubble and rich people are leaving and their environment sucks and...”
Oh yes, China has its problems, big ones, and many will get worse. But don’t forget, on America’s journey to number one, we had bloody civil wars, extreme depressions, world wars, assassinations, bubbles, civil unrest, and all kinds of horrible shit... and today, we rule the world.
China will have its problems too. And it will rule the world soon anyways, just like we did.
That’s why I’m here and not in my slowly dying country. I prefer to be where a civilization is growing, not dying.
But that’s me.
Call me crazy.
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ChinaExpat 2017-04-16 07:51:17
I'm in China as well. More or less agree with what you're saying. If China can make it another 10-15 years before the bubble pops its gameover for the west. If it pops in the next 5 years China may not survive in its current form. The only keeping the communist party in control is its ability to provide unwavering and strong economic growth. If this ends before the country gets rich enough to develop its own industries and companies (the vast majority of their companies are government funded/work with government funded companies) then the country will probably have a few lost decades like Japan did. Actually, I'd probably be worse as Chinese people have no loyalty and anyone that could would go overseas. However, if they can grow for another 10-15 years they'll probably be able to develop their consumer and start-up sector enough to be able to weather the much needed recession.
Lionheart 2017-04-16 08:11:48
Hi Caleb, what's the best way for a westerner to begin to position oneself to take advantage of economics opportunities in China?
James 2017-04-16 09:02:51
How multicultural is shanghai?
Tony 2017-04-16 12:33:17
That's what big government can do for you 🙂
Steve 2017-04-16 17:30:42
Those fuckers stole the CN Tower from Toronto!
Caleb Jones 2017-04-17 14:39:36
Hi Caleb, what’s the best way for a westerner to begin to position oneself to take advantage of economics opportunities in China?There is no "best" way, but the easiest way would be to (carefully) buy Chinese stocks, ideally with healthcare or pollution controls. Gotta be careful though, China's on the edge of a huge bubble right now.
How multicultural is shanghai?It isn't. Everyone is Chinese; foreigners are very rare for a city this size. Hong Kong and Singapore are far more multicultural.
That’s what big government can do for youNope. The US government is 36% of GDP. In China it's just 14%. We have far bigger government in the US than in "communist" China. It's not even close. http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/us_20th_century_chart.html http://www.theglobaleconomy.com/China/Government_size/
noob 2017-04-17 15:06:10
>Yet in China, everyone stays and works, late into the evening, even on a Friday. The complacent, slowly collapsing West doesn’t stand a chance against this level of motivation. ^ Is it from actual self-motivation or societal based 'rules' or regulated work hours that keep them late in their offices? In Japan and S. Korea its not unusual to be working 10-12 hours because 'thats what you're suppose to do' type of SP and most of them hate it driving them to stress, depression or opting out of the work force all together.
Caleb Jones 2017-04-17 15:32:58
Is it from actual self-motivation or societal based ‘rules’ or regulated work hours that keep them late in their offices? In Japan and S. Korea its not unusual to be working 10-12 hours because ‘thats what you’re suppose to do’ type of SP and most of them hate it driving them to stress, depression or opting out of the work force all together.Yep, it's all Chinese Societal Programming, of course. It's cultural. And no, it's probably not healthy on an individual level. That doesn't matter to my main point, though. In terms of long-term future growth of a society, at the moment, bullshit Chinese SP is superior to bullshit Western SP.
ChinaExpat 2017-04-17 21:50:16
>Nope. The US government is 36% of GDP. In China it’s just 14%. We have far bigger government in the US than in “communist” China. It’s not even close. This is totally incorrect. Government spending accounts for well over 50% of GDP in China. The country is dominated by state-owned firms. The article below talks about how State-owned firms could make up as much as 60% of GDP, have a debts of around 115% of GDP, make up 70 per cent of corporate borrowing, and have 55% of corporate assets. http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2016/05/17/chinas-soe-sector-is-bigger-than-some-would-have-us-think/
Caleb Jones 2017-04-17 22:16:27
government spending accounts for well over 50% of GDP in China...The article below talks about how State-owned firms could make up as much as 60% of GDPUh, no, that's not what your article says. I suggest you re-read it carefully. It says that corporate entities that receive *any* government funding (even a small percentage of funds coming from the government) *might* make up as much as 60% of GDP, not that 60% of GDP goes to government agencies or SOEs. (That's why the article specifically says "non-wholly state-funded LLCs included" and breaks out the three categories of state, private, and "mixed.") Those are two completely different numbers. On top of that, it would be hard to argue that a toy company (for example) that receives some government funds is the equivalent of a government agency that builds roads or fighter planes. One is government, the other is just corporatism (though I agree both is technically government spending). Regardless, there's no way that government makes up literally 60% of China's $11 trillion GDP. Not even close.
ChinaExpat 2017-04-18 22:44:00
Ask anyone who does any business in China or has studied the Chinese economy. As someone who has done both I can promise you that they will tell you that they will say the Chinese government makes up more than 14%, 36%, and likely even 50% of GDP. No point in arguing with someone who is brazen enough to say that Chinese government spending only 14% of GDP.
Caleb Jones 2017-04-18 22:57:44
I don't care what people say. I only care about verifiable facts and statistics. The ones I've seen show 14% of GDP. Could the real number be higher? Sure. But if you're seriously saying that it's 60%, that the Chinese government seriously spends $6.6 trillion a year, you'll have to provide facts and stats to back that up. (And what your friends say doesn't count as facts or stats.)
David 2017-05-04 23:30:27
Wow. Im curious about one word. Its the most important word to any economy, business, or system of humans: Incentive. If you can incentivise people financially, or culturally, or spiritually, even emotionally... to participate in your movement, society, or economy, it will be virtually unstoppable. Thats why the west is failing. Too many factors are taking away our incentive. Hows your mandarin?
Mike Hunter 2017-10-29 10:46:06
Last Friday I was working late into the evening in one of those skyscrapers. I had a direct view of a skyscraper right across the street, and could see into hundreds of offices through the clear glass windows. At 5:00pm, I expected most everyone to get up and leave, like they would where I come from. No one left. I could see all the Chinese office workers still hard at work at all of their hundreds of desks. At 5:30pm, same thing. At 6:00pm, same thing. I didn’t seeoneworker leave. I finally left at 6:30pm. Most of the Chinese employees were still there, still working. This was a Friday evening! In the US on a Friday evening, that building would have been an abandoned ghost town by 5:20pm at the latest, leaving only a tiny few workaholics. (And don’t even get me started about what it would look like in Europe.) Yet in China, everyone stays and works, late into the evening, even on a Friday. The complacent, slowly collapsing West doesn’t stand a chance against this level of motivation.I'm finishing my masters degree in Accounting and study with Chinese international students. They all want to stay in the United States because of the things you mentioned. My Chinese cohort would agree with your observations but phrase things very differently. To sum it up they complained that jobs are very competitive; and they have to work long hours for very little pay. Not exactly a good deal for workers. If you're an entrepreneur or business owner however I could see how you would love the business environment in China. As long as you are able to maintain a good relationship with the government.
Joe Malone 2017-11-25 07:29:32
What you are writing about china right now is what people basically said about japan in the 1980s. China has a lot of ticking time bombs that are latent. Maybe they will succeed, maybe they will not. There is a lot of ineffiency in the japanese / korean styles of work. I wouldn't be so certain about it, but it's definitely a chance!
Caleb Jones 2017-11-25 10:43:16
What you are writing about china right now is what people basically said about japan in the 1980s.Yes, but Japan didn't have demographic and economic fundamentals in place like China does now. Very difference scenario.
I wouldn’t be so certain about itI'm not certain about it; I'm just following the probabilities, as always.