Friday, March 06, 2009

China Job Fair and What It Means for the World

A poignant picture of a recent job fair in Beijing can be seen in today's newspapers - thousands queuing up and are being held back by policemen. Despite Wen Jiabao sounding as bullish as ever, the job situation in China are turning bad, and this may have enormous implications for China and indeed, for the rest of the world.

Recent visiotors to China are talking about poverty in urban areas and very low income most working people usually have. I have also heard stories about migrant workers being sent back home, their benefits unpaid. The stories about the job fair are unusually bleak - visiting scribes wrote about people's desparation in getting something going. It clearly seems that the slowdown has finally reached world's factory.

Jobs, as they stand, are people's opium. I am paraphasing Marx consciously, because in our age, a job is a person's identity, basis of faith and existence and social circle. Losing a job is like destroying someone's persona - turning him/her into a non-being. So, as the jobs go, it is not just the paycheque that goes with it; it takes with it the whole connection to the global economy, the raison d'etre for complying to social norms, of being a player. Those queuing up outside the job fair are outside the global economy and those thousands have no interest in keeping the system going as it is today.

And, in China, this is a dangerous thing. Democracy has many faults, but it has one over-riding advantage over all the other known systems - it provides a peaceful way to voice grievances and keep the society going. The Chinese system of governance has none of these safeguards. The government in China has tried to forge a ruling coalition, along with the military and the new rich, to keep the system going. But then, as Machiavilli, the old fox, said - for safety, don't stay in a fortress because a seize can be laid; for safety, stay among the people. The Chinese government built a string fortress and lived there happily ever thereafter.

However, all of us reading the newspaper and writing blogs, doing our jobs, want the world to go on as is. We want stability, continuity, even permanence. The situation in China is classic - this is the world's manufacturing heartland and the production engine of its prosperity and we see the graphic image of how many people are being left out of the prosperity train.

This isn't good news, no way. There have been several predictions of China imploding, which has not come true. So, we shall stay away from there, though it always remains a possibility. But a more dangerous possibility is a change in the government and power passing over to a group which does not want to play the game by the rules. Recessions always bring madmen into power: the question this time which country will start it. China stands a very good possibility - and madmen at the helm in China can destroy the world. One would pray that things will not come to that point.

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