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Thursday, 21 April 2011

Arguments for constrained capitalism in Asia

At last someone is finally talking some sense. The idea that the two economic powerhouses of China and India can enjoy the benefits of consumerism so long enjoyed by the west in the USA and Europe amongst others is something of a fallacy or perhaps a paradox. If these two countries were to actually achieve the same status as the average consumer in the aforementioned countries, the world would be on the verge of bankruptcy in terms of what natural resources would have to be sacrificed.

As writer and thinktank founder Chandran Nair says in his book "Consumptionomics", billions of Chinese and Indians may aspire to an American standard of living, but it will be a catastrophe if these aspirations are met

"It's a matter of numbers," Nair said on a visit to London to speak at the Royal Society of Arts. "What Europe and America does about restricting its impact on the environment is pretty irrelevant. The future will be determined by what happens in Asia. Three billion Asians want what you and I have, but there is not enough to go round. By 2050, there will be 5 billion Asians," says Nair, who grew up in Malaysia and now lives in Hong Kong.

You have to wonder what has happened to the world when just about anyone who is anyone wants the latest TV, car, house, and modern consumer lifestyle that goes with it? We have lost something when we are prepared to give up our humanity in search of material wealth. As he points out, there are more people in Africa and Asia who have a phone but very few taps with clean drinking water.

"If Asia continues like the west, the game is over; as people in Asia get richer, they eat further up the food chain. If 500 million Chinese want to eat just one seafood meal a week, it will empty all the seas of Asia. If Asians ate as much chicken as Americans, by 2050 that would amount to 120 billion birds a year instead of today's 16 billion. To aspire to the western model in Asia is a deadly lie.

But who will tell these people that they have come late to the capitalist party? And even if Chandran Nair is that person, will they listen?

"It's harsh for Asians to be told that as latecomers to the capitalist party they will never be able to attain that way of life taken for granted in developing countries," he admits, but they need to be told and they need to be educated to understand that their vision, their goal as developing nations is wholly unsustainable.

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