Hong-Kong-based social entrepreneur Chandran Nair was the odd one out at Friends of Europe’s policy summit on Europe and the Asian Century warning that Asia should not follow the Western example and continue on a consumption-driven economic growth path.
“I hope there will be no Asian century”, Nair said provocatively in his opening statement explaining that Asia does not need the “hubris” of “Asian exceptionalism” nor progress along the false trajectory of a resource-hungry economic growth model.
If in the future 5.5 billion Asians want to have an American or European lifestyle, “it is game over”, Nair claimed, taking the examples of car ownership and fish consumption in the OECD and extrapolating the numbers for China and India.
“Growth is the problem” and “greening” the economy by just producing more so-called “green” consumption is an “intellectual lie”, said the founder and CEO of the Global Institute for Tomorrow and author of the stimulating and very successful book “Consumptionomics: Asia’s Role in reshaping capitalism and saving the planet”.
According to Chandran Nair, the world is going through a fundamental economic crisis because it has started to hit its ecological and resource limits. Therefore, what we need is not more free market but “strong government” setting rules for restrictions and constraints and focusing more on social prosperity than on GDP-growth numbers.
“You had your 300 year party”, Nair told the Summit’s audience, “but that party is over”.
Nair’s analysis of where the world is heading when emerging Asia will adopt Western lifestyles is undisputable but one wonders whether Chinese, Indian and millions of other Asian citizens will have the wisdom and discipline not to join “the consumer party”. Even so-called “Asian values” might not be strong enough to resist the many temptations of consumerism.
Moreover, I am convinced that the debate about which form of political and economic leadership (democracy and free market versus “state capitalism”) will be most appropriate to put the world on a sustainable path needs much more innovative thinking than Nair’s thought-provoking statements. Where I do agree fully with Nair is that the fate of the 21st century will be defined by China, India and Asia in general. In that sense, this will still be the “century of Asia” but will it also be the “age of sustainability”?
Chandran Nair, Op-ed in New York Times: “Can the Planet Support More Americas?” (6 June 2011)
Asia Times Book Review: “Asians can’t have it all” (7 April 2011)
Financial Times: Book Review “Consumptionomics” (31 Jan 2011)
Friends of Europe Report: “The Nature of Growth. In search of a new framework for progress and prosperity” (2011)