Martin Varsavsky has visited China and several other Asian countries in the past few days and had the opportunity to take notes about his own personal ideas on the main political, economical and cultural issues regarding the Asian giant. Varsavsky analyzes here a couple of brief bullet points on Democracy and Taiwan, cars, pollution and public health, and analyzes piracy, the yen, soy sauce, Mao Tse Tung, economic growth and (if it’s possible) liberty of press.
Mr. Varsavsky is the President of Safe Democracy Foundation and has founded six successful companies in 15 years. He is currently Executive President of FON.
I RECENTLY READ THAT DAVID SEDARIS MOVED TO PARIS and started writing on France only to be sorry a few months later he had so quickly written about Paris and ended up sounding like the typical American in Paris. Nevertheless because I belong to a more rare group, that of an Argentine in China I will dare to make a series of comments on China with the caveat that I am no China expert and have only been four times to China since 1988. My last visit ended yesterday.
CHINA AND CARS
China invested a lot in car plants. Chinese have bought cars like crazy during the last 5 years. In 1988 it was all bikes. Now it’s all cars. Madrid has one avenue, Castellana which is extremely wide and cuts the city in two. In Beijing a Castellana is a normal avenue. Most avenues have 6 to 8 lanes. This policy is not sustainable because China does not have the resources that it takes to make and use cars, namely iron, oil, oxygen… It is also dangerous. Since so many people in China just got a car for the first time it is probably the nation with most drivers in the world but also with the least experienced drivers. Moreover the conversion of bicycle nation to car nation seems to be the opposite of what the world needs. In Europe bicycle riding is on the rise, in China cyclists are a dying breed….literally.
CHINA AND POLLUTION
Mostly as a result of oversupply of cars and taxis and lack of a subway system, Beijing has an incredible level of pollution. Horrible. The worst I have ever experienced. Indeed when I was there last week even the Chinese newspaper in English that is put out by the government was saying that Beijing was experiencing the worst pollution crisis ever. The paradox of China is that government seems to intervene heavily in controlling unnecessary things, such as what people Google, and not in controlling necessary things, such as what people drive. Government intervenes in environmental policy much more in Europe than in China even though government in China is supposed to be more interventionist. I think that China has an amazing opportunity to lead the world in hybrid cars for example. In the perennial traffic jams of Beijing hybrid cars would do wonders for the environment. Why doesn’t the government act?
China seems to have a very unusual Communist health care system in which all health services are provided by the government (very Communist) but they cost a fortune to the average Chinese (very capitalist) and the average Chinese lives in fear of getting sick (very American).
How come the most populous nation on earth remains the most competitive nation on earth without government intervention in the form of anti trust? As we saw in the West capitalism tends to lead to quasi monopolies or oligopolies as the best companies simply win over everyone else (Microsoft and Google are examples) and sooner or later they end up being regulated as they accumulate enormous market share.
But in China this does not seem to happen. Without government intervention capitalism so far seems to work. Indeed where capitalism does not work in China is in the businesses in which government gave itself the monopoly (the election outcome business for example). Other than that there are no killer category businesses in China. America is the country of the killer category retailers, Walmart, Starbucks, Mc Donalds, u name it. But in China fragmentation rules. Even in the computer sector tons of brands compete selling their products through extremely competitive TINY outlets. I could not find one big computer shop in China. China’s brand of capitalism actually works very well.
WHERE IS THE SOY SAUCE?
Where’s the soy sauce? Isn’t Chinese food suppose to come with soy sauce? On