In the Arena

A Big, Big Story

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Given all the war and economic frustration and tumult, an absolutely crucial story–one that may have tremendous impact on our economy in the long-term–is taking place in China: the revolt of Chinese workers, in industry after industry, against the squalid working conditions and lousy benefits. The New York Times has been doing a good job of watching this. Today’s installment is about a protest by bank workers who’ve been downsized.

Why is this important? Because China is, in effect, a libertarian paradise for employers. The application of environmental and job safety rules is spotty to non-existent. If the workers get angry enough, the so-called “communist” government–which fears chaos more than anything else–may have to respond with something more than the usual violence…that is, an actual social safety net. I’ve always believed that as China developed a middle class, it would have to change–those people would demand higher wages, protections for their savings, stability in the workplace and so forth. That’s what has happened in Japan and Korea. It’s beginning to happen in China now. It could lead, over time, to a greater degree of democracy–as it did in Korea. It could also lead to an explosion that will dwarf Tiananmen Square.