The last few weeks have seen the dramatic collapse of the Chinese stock market, following on from a period when Chinese growth has slowed. This in itself a marked change from previous decades, when massive demand from a fast-growing China pushed up raw material prices and boosted wealth all over the world. What does the future hold for China, and the other economies that have become so dependent on it? Will rapid growth return, or will it slow to normal levels? Or might the Chinese economy stagnate, as has happened to other areas such as southern Europe and Japan?
According to a new social theory known as “biohistory,” the meltdown of the Chinese stock market could be a sign of much worse to come. Biohistory is based on the idea that national wealth is primarily determined by the temperament of ordinary people, and that this temperament has biological roots. When people are hard-working, innovative and productive, the economy booms. When they come to focus more on lifestyle and self-indulgence, economies stagnate and even go backward.
This hard-working, productive temperament is largely the result of early life experience which has epigenetic effects. Epigenetics is the exciting new field which shows that the environment, even that of parents, can have radical effects on temperament by changing the way that genes function. People who grow up in hard times, with disciplined parents and traditional controls on behavior, have epigenetic settings that make them disciplined and hard-working. When times become easy and children are indulged, these settings change and the discipline is lost. This is what has been happening in China.
Chinese people have traditionally been hard-working and enterprising, which is why so many of them have flourished in southeast Asia and the West. China stayed poor in the Maoist years because socialist central planning took away all incentive for effort. Once released from this straitjacket, the hard-working and disciplined Chinese unleashed an economic boom. However, this in turn started to undermine the productive temperament that made the boom possible, just as it is doing in other wealthy nations.
But in China the problem is far more serious than in other countries, and for two reasons. The first is the “one child” policy, which has led to an entire generation of spoilt and indulged “little emperors.” The second has been the deliberate destruction, by the Communist Party, of traditional belief systems such as Confucianism which served to discipline behavior. Other belief systems such as Christianity and Falun Gong have been heavily discouraged. The result, given that Communism itself no longer holds people’s imagination, is a lifestyle for most Chinese focused only on status and pleasure-seeking.
In this respect, China is far worse off than other Asian nations which have achieved wealth, and so its decline is likely to be faster. If biohistory is right, economic growth will shortly be giving way to stagnation and decline
The effects on the world would be serious. First, because Chinese economic decline will hurt the economies of its trading partners and reduce the demand for raw materials. And second, because the Chinese Communist Party gains its legitimacy from economic growth. Once growth ends its obvious strategy to maintain power will be aggressive nationalism, taking advantage of relative American decline to expand at the expense of neighbors. Taiwan, Vietnam, and Korea are likely targets, given that China has historical claims to all of these countries.
One other possible avenue may arise from a program of scientific research which has been running in a number of Australian universities over the past eight years. If economic development has biological roots, as biohistory suggests, it may be possible to counter some of the ill effects of prosperity through biology.
Opinion by Dr. Jim Penman
(Edited by Cherese Jackson)
Dr. Jim Penman
Biohistory: Decline and Fall of the West
All Images Courtesy of Dr. Jim Penman