Several of my friends have told me that my blog has a doomsday-ish ring to it. If you think I sound like an alarmist, you should read a book called The Elephant and the Dragon by Robyn Meredith. Robyn is a foreign correspondent for Forbes magazine and reports on China and India. And I must say that she has done a fantastic job of recapping the development of China and India as the next economic superpowers. And the fact that she is reporting from the field, based on first-hand observations, does add credence to her estimates and projections.

Robyn has a couple of very innovative concepts she pushes through in her book. First, she calls the development of China (as the factory of the world) and India (as the back-office of the world) as the Third Industrial Revolution, at par with the developments in Britain in the 1800s and the assembly line invented by Henry Ford in the early 1900s. Second, she introduces the concept of the Disassembly Line. With recent developments in supply chain management, technology and network connectivity, one of the drivers behind the growth of China and India is the ability to disaggregate the manufacturing and back-office processes into more and more granular levels.

Just to highlight a few quantitative and qualitative observations that Robyn makes in her book:

  • China’s explosive growth is the result of decades-long planning & investment in infrastructure, shipping & port facilities. In 1989, China had 168 miles of expressways, but by 2004 had about 21,500 miles of expressways. This figure is expected to grow to 40K miles by 2010 and 55K miles by 2020 (comparable to the length of US Interstates)
  • India’s strength, on the other hand, is its educated, English-speaking labor pool, that has a culture of working hard and long hours. By 2030, India is expected to have the largest labor pool in the world topping at about 986M personnel
  • By 2030, the three largest economies in the world will be the US, China and India, according to the McKinsey Global Institute
  • There are significant downsides to this growth spurt as well.

    • Chinese banks are estimated to be holding onto over $900B in bad-loans, six times the size of the America Savings & Loan crisis
    • Pollution in both China & India is rampant. Most of the cities in the list of the 20 most polluted in the world are from these two countries
    • China, in an effort to maintain its grip on manufacturing for the world, is developing relations with & making huge investments in resource-rich African countries. Not all of this is good, as can be seen by Steven Spielberg’s recent resignation as the Artistic Director for the opening & closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympic games. China’s support for Sudan (oil purchases, weapon supplies) and the atrocities in Darfur were the issues here
  • There are some upsides as well. China holds over $1 Trillion in US treasuries, which in turn has kept the interest rates here low. This in turn has kept credit card & mortgage payments low for US consumers, fueling the housing boom over the past few decades

What does all this mean for the US? I mentioned in an earlier post that the only way for the US to stay competitive is to keep innovating. Robyn articulates this point much better by emphasizing that:

  • The US needs to get its act together in K-12 education. The university system in the US is exemplary but the public schools are not. All these years, I am sure you have seen reports in USA Today and the WSJ about how US students don’t compete well in the Math or Science Olympiads or that our 7th grade students read at the 4th grade level. Previously, we could afford to roll our eyes and turn the page. Not anymore. These comparisons are going to be the basis on which our kids will compete in the emerging global labor pool
  • The US needs to increase investments in basic research, not just product development. This is the kind of research that resulted in the development of the Internet. The US Federal Agencies have been scaling back on R&D investments in the last few years and that is just the wrong way to go
  • Given the surge in pollution and energy requirements in China & India, the immediate, tactical opportunities for US companies will be in the GreenTech and Energy markets

All in all, Robyn has done a phenomenal job of paraphrasing such complex issues as the emergence of China & India, projections for the next few decades and the implications for US companies & employees. Highly recommended reading.


Permalink 774 words by Sampath, 4241 views • Send feedback


No Pingbacks for this post yet...

This post has 29 feedbacks awaiting moderation...

Previous post: Competence and Independence The two key traits of a Management ConsultantNext post: The Chasm between Strategy and Execution