An Economy On Fast-Forward

Dec 6 2012 @ 8:29am

Fallows takes a close look at China:

Ten years ago, Chinese factory life stood comparison to the "dark Satanic Mills" of William Blake’s England in the early 1800s. Five years ago, I was struck by the parallels with accounts of Chicago packinghouse life in the 1890s. Now I see a counterpart to the American 1920s, with the first sizable generation of moderne post-rural life. In September, after turnover surged at many Chinese factories, PCH commissioned a nongovernmental organization to do a survey of worker attitudes. I sat in on a focus group from the factory discussing the findings. It’s not the long hours we mind, most of the workers said; according to the survey, fully 80 percent welcomed an average of two or three hours of overtime a day, because of the extra pay that meant. But we still want to "have a life," they told the survey takers. The No. 1 item on their wish list was more organized social activities on the weekends, and singles nights and mixers for all the unaccompanied young men.

China’s economic and social maturing, tumultuous or smooth as it may turn out to be, will certainly affect the world division of labor. Some very low-skill jobs may move to very low-wage economies, such as Burma, India, and parts of Africa; some will move to inland China; some will be automated or done by robots; some will stay in China, but at higher costs. But some of the next round of jobs that might have moved to China will be more attractive for producers to keep in the United States.