Monday, January 07, 2008

To die of success

"The greatest challenge to the world is not US$100 oil; it's getting enough food so that the new middle class can eat the way our middle class does, and that means we've got to expand food output dramatically(...)That will be done with more fertilizer, with genetically modified seeds, and with advanced machinery and technology". BMO strategist Donald Coxe

The latest generation of Chinese-Americans, many of whom grew up in the restaurants their parents worked in, are increasingly choosing legal and medical careers over the kitchen. As a result, Chinese restaurants have been relying even more on imports from Hong Kong, Taiwan or mainland China.

But the sizzling economy in China has raised the incomes and profiles of the best chefs, who now find it less desirable to leave their families and friends halfway around the world.

Several major restaurant owners in the city said salaries for Chinese executive chefs range from $42,000 to $50,000, depending on the size of the business, a 30% rise in the past five years. In China, top chefs are getting close to those amounts, while the cost of living in cities like Beijing and Shanghai is still a lot lower. New York Daily News
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When I was a little boy, oh so long ago, my grandmother, who followed in the great culinary traditions of Scotland and Ireland, used to encourage me whenever I refused to eat some little horror that she had dished up, by saying, "think of all the starving millions in China!". Think indeed.

It is true that in the last two hundred years countless millions of Chinese have starved to death in many famines that swept that country. The same of course was true of the other Asiatic giant, India. Both countries were synonymous with dramatic poverty or at the best a picturesque, austere simplicity. Certainly western imperialism had much to do with the poverty of countries that had been prosperous for thousands of years before the industrial revolution.

Globalization has changed all that, instead of simply providing
raw materials and captive markets for our manufactures China and India, and the rest of Asia, have become seamlessly integrated into our economies and hundreds of millions of their citizens are now part of a global middle class with middle class aspirations. Naturally the new middle classes of China and India want to eat the same food as the American and European middle classes eat -- they probably always did -- but now they can pay for it.
I stood in Zhang Meidi's cabbage patch, kicking the dirt with my boots.(...) This is China's bread basket. Wheat has been grown here for thousands of years. But Zhang Meidi has given up on it(...) The prices in the market were good these days, she said, but not for wheat.(...) She started by giving me a lesson on China's food chain. First, she explained, people in China now had more money so they wanted to eat better things, more meat and more fruit and vegetables. That is why she is growing cabbages. Her little handkerchief of land would grow enough wheat to earn about £200 ($395) but, by planting cabbages, she had almost trebled her earnings. And, in the summer, she would grow tomatoes and earn almost £700 ($1,300).(...) Zhang Meidi and her neighbours were being swallowed up by the city. Urbanisation and the creeping desert in the north mean that China is losing 25 million acres (10m hectares) of farmland a year. And just as the amount of land is shrinking, the demand for food is getting greater. When she was younger, Zhang Meidi explained, her family would only have meat on special occasions. Pork would be served when guests arrived or during China's big national holidays. Now it was on their dinner table two or three times a week.(...) Over the next 12 years, an estimated 320 million people will move to cities. As one analyst put it, a country larger than the United States will be created by new urban Chinese by 2020. And when they come to the cities, these new arrivals - almost instantly - start eating more protein. Now that they no longer grown their own food, and with more wages in their pocket, their diet changes. So Chinese people are eating less wheat and fewer grains in general because they are upgrading to meats, especially pork. But that pork comes from hungry pigs who consume a lot more grain.(...) And other crops will follow. The days of food self-sufficiency in China are numbered. So, like the rest of us, China will turn to Australia, Africa and South America to fill its belly. It is small wonder that food prices are climbing everywhere, not just here in China. BBC News
And it isn't just food.
Virtually every automaker on earth will keep a close eye on the Indian Auto Show in New Delhi, where Tata plans to introduce what it's calling the People's Car on Jan. 10. The industry is looking to emerging markets for growth, and many companies are gearing up to build cars that can be sold at rock-bottom prices—in both developing countries and more established markets. Toyota and Volkswagen's Skoda subsidiary are planning small cars for India. Suzuki says it will soon cut the price of its cheapest model in India. And Renault-Nissan has teamed up with Indian motorcycle maker Bajaj Auto to launch a $3,000 car next year. "If Tata can do it, we can do it," says Renault-Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn. BusinessWeek
Is there enough oil on earth to fuel an India with as many cars per capita as the USA or Europe? Is there enough air in the world to breathe after those cars pour their exhaust fumes into it. Is there enough grain in the world to feed all the pigs that the Chinese could eat? Is there enough water to water that grain? Are we about to run into the theories of Karl Marx like a speeding truck running into a wall of cement?
The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere. The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country.... It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.
It took along time, but that prophesy has finally been fulfilled. We are very, very close to finding out now whether or not our immense well being has always been predicated on the misery of others. And we are also close to finding out whether or not the whole thing will come crashing down around our ears if the others come to live as well as we do or even dream of doing so. DS

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