Why China Will Never Get Rich Working On The Assembly Line

from the ideas-matter dept

After China’s recent fiasco with faked semiconductor research, some are questioning the idea that China must become a technological innovator in order to advance economically. It’s an interesting question, since it would seem that the country is doing just fine hauling in billions of dollars from manufacturing and the supply of cheap retail goods. But this view misses the point about how wealth is created. When a worker works on an assembly line, their output is proportional to their input. If they work 16 hours, they produce twice as much as they would in 8 hours, etc. But when people work in areas that involve ideas and innovation, their output isn’t so limited. A brilliant chip design, for example, can be put into computers throughout the globe. If China is to continue raising the wealth of its population, it is important that more people there work in fields whose products can be extended beyond the limitations of time and place. Though they may have some hiccups along the way, it appears that they’re going in this direction.

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Comments on “Why China Will Never Get Rich Working On The Assembly Line”

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Jenifer says:

Re: How very elitist of you.

What gives us, as Americans, more of a right to “a US type of lifstyle.” than anyone else?

The Chinese politcal ambiguity of economic democracy, but social communism (or whatever social regime the are now under) is slowly but surely opening the doors for more and more of it’s population. In the end both can not continue to stand and my hope is the democracy will ultimately win out over all.

“I’d really rather they just stick to the assembly line work, whether that’s good for them or not.” You must be a liberal. Only a liberal would put their own agenda above the good of an entire nation.

I’ve sat with bated breathe, ready to see how China’s reasimmilation of a free Hong Kong would affect their social structure. Any improvement for the Chinese people will be a win for us. An educated population will only put up with oppression for so long.

Whether “China must become a technological innovator in order to advance economically.” or not, we should not sit back in our comfy life and deny the right of an entire nation to a comprable lifestyle.

A child born in China and a child born in American have the same “unalienalbe rights” Woe be unto the goverment that denies those rights. And woe be unto the individual that begrudges others that right.

WTF says:

Re: Re: How very elitist of you.

I’d like to hear your comments when your sitting there with 3 children and no one in the house can find a job. It takes an elitist to take the “Let them eat cake” approach and just say they should have the same rights, if your so into that approach take a flight out ther and help them out with any skills you may possess. Otherwise shut up and do what everyone else does, worry about yourself and family first, and the rest of the world second.

RoyalPeasantry says:

Re: Re: How very elitist of you.

“I’d really rather they just stick to the assembly line work, whether that’s good for them or not.” You must be a liberal. Only a liberal would put their own agenda above the good of an entire nation.

I really don’t care too much either way about this argument. But this here is too much. Only a liberal would put thier own agenda above the good of an entire nation? What!?!? I think you have your left and right switched around my friend.

Who attempts to screw their OWN nation over for profit? Big business. Who controls big business? Republicans for the most part. CONSERVATIVES.

Who refuses to reduce pollution in the US because it could hurt the American Economy? REPUBLICANS

I could go on and on… Try and get your facts straight next time…

asfasdfsd says:

Re: its china... come on!

That’s why it’s called “competition.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with defending one’s elevated standard of living by outcompeting everyone else. It would be different if we were talking about protectionist tactics (ahem *Japan*), but nothing says we have to roll over and play dead.

To that end, I’d suggest everyone tell your reps to back R&D funding at the university level.

AnonymousOfCourse says:

Re: its china... come on!

That’s exactly right. We’re a sovern nation. China pirates all of our technology because they need it and can’t afford or invent it themselves. If the government does not respect ours, why should we be willing to be the good guy and help them out knowing they will turn it against us to get what we have?

slick says:

Re: Well...

When you say “never” you really mean in the last couple hundred years right… because at one time China had the largest navy in the world and traded all the way to Africa. They invented gun powder, and countless other things. So when you say never, you just mean that you don’t study history.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Well...

China invented gunpowder – true. They neglected to find its true military use. Chineese were using it to create fireworks and scare mongolians. Mongolians got their hands on gunpowder and killed the shit out of the chineese with it. China invented the explosive powder, not think about how it could be used to change the face of the world.

axar harebate says:

spread the wealth

US of A is an immigrant nation built as a safe haven for those seeking freedoms and ultimately better lifes. And although ‘real americans’ try to cling to idea that it is their own and no one elses, they all fail because this nation and its effects are originated and spread via its very diversified (english, russians, asia, africans, india etc) population throughout the wolrd. we by the nature of our heritage cannot imagine to be outside of the world, we are the random sample of that world. if we share our enormous wealth (first of all we as americans might feel healthier, after loosing some pounds to the 3rd world), the world will turn that wealth into a bigger return and in turn share it with us. if we are the world leader, we can’t half ass it! we can’t be a greedy blood (oil) sucking monster, we must share…

freakengine says:

crippled by the communist culture

I work directly with a Chinese factory in my business, and let me tell you, directing the Chinese is a very difficult job. I applaud those companies that have been able to make it work. Their local level management (local in China that is) must be spectacular if they’re able to get quality output from their workers.

Perhaps it’s due to the industry in which I work (high-tech lighting), and the people there are quite good at repetitive tasks that require little analysis (i.e.-thought), but I’ve found them difficult to deal with, even to the point of resisting or ignoring direct requests.

I believe the problem is the communist mindset, wherein one cannot be fired, one’s place in society is assured, and innovation (at least in the “lower” classes) is discouraged. Even though their economy is making strides toward capitalism, their underlying culture remains largely apathetic. Who knows? Maybe this is a more peaceful way to spend one’s life, but it isn’t very productive and will continue to keep China off the world stage when it comes to real wealth building for many years to come. The Chinese people will just continue to be exploited by American industry and their own government.

Tarzan says:


“the world will turn that wealth into a bigger return and in turn share it with us.”

Yeah right. Our country is so great because of capitalism, not wealth redistribution like China/USSR/France and all of the other communist/socialist countries that have tried that path. Let the free market dictate the future and innovation and hard work will prevail. If American keeps getting lazier and acting like spoiled rich kids, we WILL lose our wealth. But if we wake up and work as hard as some of our LEGAL immigrants (India/China) then we will continue to prosper.

People need to quit complaining about the petty problems in our lives and take a look at how much better we have it than 90% of the rest of the world.

What! says:

Come on!

What makes you think that China has no technological innovation? Here are just a few things for you to think about:

– China is producing the world’s first Green (eco-friendly) train.

– The worlds largest dam is being built in China (one dam will provide 10% of China’s power

– One of only four countries to launch a human into space, on their own.

– Orange Chicken! Who would have ever thought oranges and chicken would go together so well.

China is a production leader but it is far from becoming a production country only. Do not let the news of the week (faked semi-conductor) cause you to have an uneducated opinion.

Jerry the German-American says:

Re: Come on!

So what if they are producing a “Green” train, so what if the three gorges dam is the biggest damn damn in the whole damn dam world…

Are those ventures economically viable? Those ventures will likely never make enough money to pay for themselves and they will be propped up as state run ventures.

Just remember this: No one other than perhaps the Non-EU Irish (Ireland, not the British Northern Ireland) have a work ethic comparable to the U.S. Our economic freedom and very low tax rates(compared to the rest of the world) coupled with that work ethic will sustain us for a long long time as long as China remains a communist minded country. I left Germany after re-unification because I could not stand to have to work with people who grew up in east germany. Communism made them totally apathetic about caring about their work quality / production.

Air says:

Re: Re: Come on!

The point is these are innovations that do not produce waste (except the chicken). Clean energy, compare a comparable country to China, such as India and you would find few innovations. Just as many people (give or take a few million), but their is little emphasis placed on making changes in their society (Cast system, is still in place in most of the country). Unlike China, who has gone from a Monarchy to a Republic to a Communist dictatorship to what it is becoming today all within 60 years. That’s progress!

Joe Smith says:

China's progress

China does not need to worry about trying to be on the cutting edge of innovation for a long time. That might raise the standard of living of a few. They can carry on applying the lessons learned by the West over the last 300 hundred years to increase the incomes of the bulk of their people for a long time before they have to worry about trying to be innovation leaders.

MP says:

American lifestyle is not self-sustaining for the

The simple fact is that the world can’t sustain the american lifestyle. If China’s how many billion people all take on the american lifestyle the whole world would die in a matter of a generation. I’m not saying that they aren’t entitled to the same lifestyle that americans have, just that it is not possible to do that and have the world survive.

That being said, americans need to adjust their lifestyle to better serve the earth if we, as a species, are to survive another 1000 years…let alone 500.

(And even if americans lowered/decreased the cost of their lifestyle it would not allow china to come to an even level with the US, to do that americans would be practically where china is now.)

Sean (user link) says:


As much as I would love to see China propser even more than it is now, I see one downside to this. THat downside is the fact that they are under a Communist government. If they get too big, and technologically advanced then we may see another World War on our hands. I’m not saying China is bad people, because I know 99% of them arn’t. But if you take any look at their numbers, and their army, if they got too advanced they would obviously want to take more room for their people who are already crowded. And like in WW1, it would just cause alliances to get pissed off and we have WW3 on our hands.

That’s my opinion.

Joe Smith says:

Re: Hmm

But if you take any look at their numbers, and their army, if they got too advanced they would obviously want to take more room for their people who are already crowded

That will be a problem between the Chinese and the Russians and the rest of the world won’t give a shit and will stand aside.

WW3 happens only if the Chinese decide to retake Taiwan by force and the rest of the world tries to stop them. Right now an attempt by China at reunification by force would probably be the end of China as a nation for the time being.

graphictree says:

Re: Re: Hmm

But surely the ‘rest of the world’ (I presume you mean the USA and Tony Blair) only attack countries that can’t fight back? (Afghanistan, Iraq, Grenada, Nicaragua the list goes on – you’ll not find any big ones with powerful armies in there!). China could walk into Taiwan and no-one would bat an eyelid. They might fume and splutter in private but ‘the poowers that be’ are too busy making money of out links with Taiwanese and Chinese factories to really care.

Reading this forum really depresses me … some of the arguments seem dangerously insular … way beyond the caricature ‘American’ attitude that we hear of in Europe…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Hmm

China could walk into Taiwan and no-one would bat an eyelid

You were replying to my post. Frequently brevity gets in the way of balance.

An earlier post had suggested that China would trigger WW3 by seeking “living space” for its people. My view was that that was not likely since the most likely target would be Russia and the “rest of the world” would not intervene in such a conflict. Most of the rest of the world would not be capable of any intervention and even the western powers would have very limited means of intervention in such a ground based conflict.

The most likely scenarios for the start of a world war (that is a war which draws in multiple significant powers on both sides, has a large theatre of combat and threatens the survival as nations of some of the participants) seem to be:
1. Chinese invasion of Taiwan which would likely bring in American air defence of Taiwan followed by Japanese, Australian, and British contributions and possibly Canadian. (It would be basically a Sino-Anglo war but it would still be a world war.)
2. A nuclear strike on a Nato country which could be traced back to a national government in an Islamic country would automatically bring all of Nato to bear on the offending country and might draw in the Islamic world.
3. A nuclear strike by North Korea on South Korea or the United States. The resulting retaliation might draw in China.
4. An American attack on Iran which then draws in other parts of the Islamic world.

Chinese expansion into Russia is not nearly as likely to result in a spread of conflict as any of these other scenarios.

DBA says:

You've got to be kidding

Let me just start by saying that in the past I’ve respected the insight of Anonymous Coward. Until now. Most of the statements demonstrate just how naive and stupid the large majority of you are. China is about 50 years behind us. Our system of government is about 50 years out of date. Americans are no more materialistic than anyone else, we’re just disgustingly open about it, like it’s something to be proud of. It simply is. The average joe in China has been conditioned for generations to not give a shit because if he did he would be different and that would be really bad. In fifty years, China will enter a golden period of unprecedented growth, followed by a period of getting their ass kicked by god know who. And let’s state the incredibly obvious while we’re at it. If you are doing well right now, the system is the greatest in the world. If you’re struggling because we don’t make ships and submarines and towels and anything else, the system sucks. But the truth really is that the made in the usa movements from the seventies were an effort to keep real demand for products made here. Now they’re being made in China. Why? Because you would rather go to Walmart and buy the Chinese product because it’s a buck cheaper than the American made product. Our own desire to cut our expenses led to the increase in the trade deficit.

Well, I’ve wasted enough time on this.

China Law Blog (user link) says:

Innovation in China

China’s education system does not, for the most part, encourage innovation. It tends to favor obedience and rote memorization. It is slowly changing. Much of the innovation we are seeing today from China actually is coming from overseas Chinese and those who left China at some point for their educations and have returned.


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