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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Can the World Handle a Growing Middle Class in China?

It is frequently repeated that China is on course to grow old before it grows rich. The Chinese themselves are unlikely to share that sentiment and, with a new round of leaders coming into power soon, that is unlikely to be one of the national themes. Thomas Friedman was in China recently and he raises a very different equation--can the world afford the growing Chinese middle class?
“Success in the ‘American Dream,’ ” notes Peggy Liu, the founder of the Joint U.S.-China Collaboration on Clean Energy, or Juccce, “used to just mean a house, a family of four, and two cars, but now it’s escalated to conspicuous consumption as epitomized by Kim Kardashian. China simply cannot follow that path — or the planet will be stripped bare of natural resources to make all that the Chinese consumers want to consume.”
The Chinese are going to have to invent a new future, and they may be doing just that, according to Friedman.
So Juccce has been working with Chinese mayors and social networks, sustainability experts and Western advertising agencies to catalyze sustainable habits in the emergent consuming class by redefining personal prosperity — which so many more Chinese are gaining access to for the first time — as “more access to better products and services, not necessarily by owning them, but also by sharing — so everyone gets a piece of a better pie.”
That means, among other things, better public transportation, better public spaces and better housing that encourages dense vertical buildings, which are more energy efficient and make shared services easier to deliver, and more e-learning and e-commerce opportunities that reduce commuting. Emphasizing access versus ownership isn’t just more sustainable, it helps ease friction from the differences between rich and poor. Indeed, Juccce translates Chinese Dream as “Harmonious and Happy Dream” in Mandarin. (“Green” doesn’t sell in China.)
This kind of Chinese "exceptionalism" would be a welcome feature of the future.

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