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In Line Behind a Billion People: How Scarcity Will Define China's Ascent in the Next Decade [Kindle Edition]

Damien Ma , William Adams
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nearly everything you know about China is wrong! Yes, within a decade, China will have the world’s largest economy. But that is the least important thing to know about China. In this enlightening book, two of the world’s leading China experts turn the conventional wisdom on its head, showing why China’s economic growth will constrain rather than empower it. Pioneering political analyst Damien Ma and global economist Bill Adams reveal why, having 35 years of ferocious economic growth, China’s future will be shaped by the same fundamental reality that has shaped it for millennia: scarcity. Ma and Adams drill deep into Chinese society, illuminating all the scarcities that will limit its power and progress. Beyond scarcities of natural resources and public goods, they illuminate China’s persistent poverties of individual freedoms, cultural appeal, and ideological legitimacy — and the corrosive loss of values and beliefs amongst a growing middle class shackled by a parochial and inflexible political system. Everyone knows “the 21st century is China’s to lose” — but, as with so many things that “everyone knows,” that’s just wrong. Ma and Adams get beyond cheerleading and fearmongering to tell the complex truth about China today. This is a truth you need to hear — whether you’re an investor, business decision-maker, policymaker, or citizen.

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From the Back Cover

“The hardest challenge in making sense of China’s potential is balancing an awareness of its strengths and possibilities with an appreciation of the obstacles and pitfalls it confronts. Damien Ma and William Adams have found a wonderful, original, and convincing way to portray this tension between China’s strengths and its vulnerabilities. I hope that anyone who plans to do business with, or even think about, China will read their book.”

—James Fallows, The Atlantic Monthly, author of China Airborne


“If you want to know what keeps Chinese President Xi Jinping awake at night, read this book. It describes the daunting economic, environmental, social, and political problems facing China with lively, jargon-free writing and highly informative facts and graphs. A readable, balanced and comprehensive account that I’ll recommend to anyone traveling or doing business in China, and to college teachers.”

—Susan L. Shirk, Chair, 21st Century China Program, Ho Miu Lam Professor of China and Pacific Relations, School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, UC-San Diego


“Looking at China through the lens of scarcity rather than abundance is like seeing an infrared picture of a familiar landscape; all sorts of unfamiliar features pop out. Ma and Adams offer a comprehensive, absorbing, and richly detailed account of the many problems on China’s horizon, without falling into boosterism or prophecies of doom. Above all, they underline time and again how China’s scarcities will reshape the global landscape. A valuable read.”

—Anne-Marie Slaughter, Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University; former director of Policy Planning, United States Department of State


“Damien Ma and William Adams provide an important lens for understanding China’s realities and its future potential. While most of the world’s attention has focused on China’s astonishing growth, Ma and Adams concentrate on the various types of scarcity—from physical resources to social capital to values and political institutions—that confront its leaders and citizens alike. The volume paints a realistic and sobering picture of the country’s profound challenges; it then concludes by placing the future squarely in the hands of political leaders who can still tap huge unrealized potential if they boldly adopt the right reforms. Overall, a stimulating and provocative analysis.”

—Kenneth Lieberthal, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution


“If you think of China as a country of unstoppable economic and political might, read this book and reflect again. Plain sailing does not lie ahead for Beijing. Adams and Ma argue convincingly that dealing with resource scarcities, as well as social and environmental problems, will almost inevitably replace maintaining high output growth as Beijing’s principal preoccupation. Their picture of social and economic conditions in China today and challenges facing the country is in my view remarkably accurate, comprehensive, and up-to-date. The economic miracle of the past three decades has not only reduced poverty on an unprecedented scale, but also generated social tensions and scarcities of many things, including clean air and water, arable land, many raw materials and public goods such as social justice, social security, food-, drug-, and workplace safety, healthcare and education services. The book explains the paradox of rapidly rising living standards on the one hand and growing social unrest and mistrust on the other. It also points to the international spillover effects of scarcities in China. A very readable and important new book on China.”

—Pieter Bottelier, Senior adjunct professor, Johns Hopkins University; former chief of World Bank Resident Mission in Beijing


“The authors decipher, in a very crucial way, what will really drive China as it becomes the largest economy in the world. China’s pace of growth will not be the issue, but understanding the levers of government, society, and business in China is instrumental for anybody who wants to be part of such an unprecedented growth story. A must read for business executives who are serious about doing business in China in the coming decades.”

—Mark Goyens, Former Asia President of Bekaert, currently business advisor to multinational corporations on growth strategies for China, based in Shanghai


“This book, which draws on the authors’ many years of living in China and their close personal and professional relationships there, is not just another polemic damning or praising China. It instead illuminates the realities and anxieties of a country poorly understood beyond its borders.”

—Zhang Bin, Senior Fellow, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; Head, Department of Global Macroeconomics, CASS Institute of World Economics and Politics


China will soon have the world’s largest economy. But that’s the least important thing to know about China. This book reveals why China’s economic growth will constrain it, not empower it–and why China’s future will be shaped by the same reality that has shaped it for millennia: scarcity.


Damien Ma and William Adams drill deep into Chinese society, illuminating each of the scarcities that could limit China’s power and stall its progress. Beyond scarcities of natural resources and public goods, they explore China’s persistent poverties of individual freedoms, institutions, and ideological appeal–and the corrosive loss of values amongst a growing middle class shackled by a parochial and inflexible political system.


Everyone knows “the 21st century is China’s to lose”–but everyone’s wrong. Ma and Adams get beyond cheerleading and fear-mongering to tell the whole complex truth about China. These are truths you need to hear–whether you’re an investor, business decision-maker, policymaker, or citizen.


Will China dominate?


Can China survive?


Understand all the sources of scarcity reshaping China’s future:


• Resources

• Food

• Labor

• Social welfare

• Education

• Housing

• Ideology

• Values

• Freedom


About the Author

Damien Ma (Chicago, Illinois) is currently Fellow at The Paulson Institute, where he focuses on investment and policy programs, as well as the Institute’s research and think tank activities. Previously, Ma was a lead China analyst at Eurasia Group, a political risk research and advisory firm. He specialized in analyzing the intersection between Chinese policies and markets, with a particular focus on energy and commodities, industrial policy, U.S.-China relations, and social and Internet policies. Before joining Eurasia Group, Ma was a manager of publications at the U.S.-China Business Council in Washington, D.C. He writes regularly for The Atlantic Monthly Online and has been published widely, including in Foreign Affairs, The New Republic, Slate, and Foreign Policy. Ma is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.


William Adams (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) is currently Senior International Economist for The PNC Financial Group. At PNC, Adams serves as spokesman on global economic issues and is responsible for its forecasts for China, other major emerging markets, and the Eurozone. Formerly resident economist at The Conference Board China Center, Adams has published extensively on China’s economic and financial reforms. He is a center associate and advisory board member of the University of Pittsburgh Asia Studies Center and a member of the economics advisory board of the Duquesne University Palumbo Donahue School of Business.


Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2703 KB
  • Print Length: 343 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0133133893
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Up to 5 simultaneous devices, per publisher limits
  • Publisher: Pearson FT Press; 1 edition (26 Aug. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #505,695 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Good summary of China's challenges 11 May 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The book provides an excellent summary of the manyfold challenges that the Chinese leadership and indeed the entire world will have to face in the coming decades. Thanks to the team of authors who have both a Western and a Chinese background the book is able to bridge the cultural gap between the Western view of China and the domestic view of the people living in the world's (second) biggest economy. This ability to discuss the challenges of China both from a Western perspective as well as a Chinese perspective is what makes this book so valuable to Westerners.

Reading this book provided me with a lot of insights on well-known challenges in China like the need to replace unsustainable investment spending with more consumption or the environmental challenges of China as well as less well-known challenges like the flood of highly trained university gradates that cannot find enough jobs because of the country's specialisation on low cost production of goods. Such episodes are, however, where the weakness of the text enters, in my view. The book draws little to no comparisons to previous episodes of emerging markets in Asia like Japan in the 1960s or South Korea that managed to transform their economy from a low-tech, low-cost manufacturing economy to more high-tech manufacturing. It is unclear whether China will be able to achieve the same feat in the future. Also, the authors put very little analysis behind the possibilities and threats of a more open economy in China with less regulated capital flows and the possibility of Chinese academics to freely leave the country and look for jobs elsewhere.

Overall then I consider this book a very valuable work for everyone interested in the challenges China faces, but with a broader scope and more analysis it would have been even better.
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5.0 out of 5 stars We need more of this kind of writing about China 16 May 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a great book which lays out the real facts about China's current social, economic and political situation and what that means for its near future.

It is written in a very accessible style, but also contains plenty of statistics and some charts, and it is very well referenced, as such it is suitable for both academics and for “normal” people who are generally interested in China.

The book is unbiased (as unbiased as any book about politics and economics can realistically be!), and does not make any prescriptions for what China should do in the future, but instead indentifies problems that China is likely to encounter in the near future, if its economic and political policies remain unchanged.

One thing that I particularly like about the book is that it presents a real picture of what China is actually like for most Chinese people. More and more often these days writing about China, seems to be stuck in the Beijing/Shanghai elite paradigm; there is lots of talk about China's massive technological developments, the ever growing affluent middle class, and the reasonably liberal lifestyles that Chinese people today are enjoying. The general message seems to be that China is only a little bit behind the "West" (indeed ahead of it in some respects e.g. high speed trains) and will over take it very soon and usher in the Chinese Century.

If these writers could be bothered to sit on one of those amazing high speed trains for just 3 hours going west to Anhui province they would see what live is really like for the majority of Chinese people...
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
a jumble of newspaper articles and a great deal of duplication wrapped in a style almost as smug as the economist
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must-read China book 29 Oct. 2013
By Dukestudent - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Authors Damien Ma and William Adams masterfully capture the economic, social, and political challenges facing China in the next decade. They have successfully crystallized views held by veteran China watchers and made it accessible to the general public in crisp prose. In doing so they recast the American public discourse about China away from the trite bulls vs bears debate about China's growth to a more productive discussion centered on China's scarcity. Highly recommend!
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars for china nerds and newbies alike 2 Nov. 2013
By peripatetic_14th streeter - Published on
An easy and enjoyable read that provides a balanced perspective on China's rapid rise and accompanying challenges. Written by two knowledgeable sinophiles, the book looks at China from the viewpoint of scarcity. A mix of history, politics, economics, and tidbits, this book has just the right amount of story-telling to keep the average reader (me) engaged, while teaching even the most avid china nerd a thing or two about China. It's a must-read if you want to understand contemporary China in all its facets and a great book for new students of China.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I strongly recommend this book 17 July 2014
By Paul B. Bell Jr. - Published on
This book does an excellent job of both explaining how China so successfully navigated the challenges it faced during the 30-plus years of Reform and Opening and laying out the challenges it is facing as China enters a new period under Xi Jinping and his successors. According to the author’s data-based analysis, China’s immediate future will be characterized by an increasing scarcity of the things that the people of China most want. The authors identify three classes of scarcity: economic, social and political. In the economic realm, China faces simultaneous increasing demand for and decreasing supplies of natural resources, including land, water and energy; food; and labor. In the social realm China is facing scarcities in social services, including medical services and eldercare; education; and affordable housing. In the political realm the authors cite scarcities of political ideology, unifying values and the individual freedoms being increasingly demanded by China’s growing middle class. During the first three decades of the Reform and Opening Period, China has been kept on track by Deng Xiaoping’s grand bargain with the Chinese people: if the people put their faith in the Communist Party of China, the people would benefit from both economic prosperity and social stability. The authors conclude that this “grand bargain is now showing signs of wear” and the Chinese people want more. For the 300 million members of the new and growing middle class, economic growth is no longer enough. They want an improved “quality of life, open debate, transparent information, media freedom and legal protections.” China’s 260 million migrant workers and their mostly rural families want what the middle class already has. It seems clear that the Party and the government will need to implement significant reforms if China is to remain on the path of continued prosperity, stability and modernization. The authors conclude that the Party has a 70% chance of getting it right and making the radical reforms that will be necessary to forge a new grand bargain with its people and maintain the mandate to govern. The result will be an increasingly prosperous and free China that is “well on its way to becoming a high-middle income country, propelled by a formidable and competitive economy.” The authors believe that there is a 25% chance that fear within the Party of losing control will lead to cautious and piecemeal reform that focuses on the economy but delays doing anything about the growing non-economic demands of the people. The authors see the consequences of political reform being delayed as having a negative effect on China’s economy, making it even more difficult to meet the looming challenges. They see only a 5% chance that resistance to change among Party hardliners will be so strong that reform is blocked, which will lead to political and economic paralysis and stasis, with unpredictable, but probably devastating consequences.

The consequences for what happens in China have broader implications for the rest of the world. What happens in China no longer stays in China. According to the authors, China now imports half of its oil, 60% of its soybeans and nearly all of its iron ore from other countries. China’s voracious and growing appetite for raw materials of all sorts cannot but effect both the availability and price of those goods for the rest of us. As the authors note: “Each Chinese only needs to consume half as much as an American to shake global energy and food markets.” Moreover, anything that leads to political and social instability in China would have international consequences.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in thinking not only about China’s future but how China’s future will affect the future of the world. The book is written in a popular style that makes the complicated economic data that underpins the authors’ arguments accessible to most readers.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars China the Juggernaut 17 Jan. 2014
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Having just returned from China, this book fascinated me by covering the story of China becoming an industrial juggernaut. The speed with which China has developed into a modern country has never been seen before in the world. We, meaning all the other countries of the world, may need to stand in line behind the billion people of China to get the natural resources we will need to make life liveable. The authors look at the pluses and minuses in China today. They basically tell in detail what has been going on within the country and the meaning that that could have for the rest of the world. China has many problems to address and these problems are worsened by the fact that the population is just so huge. A very interesting read for those who want information about China and its development.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smart book on China 10 April 2014
By NHK - Published on
Like many books on China, Ma and Adams' this one is driven by a strong premise - that scarcity and China's ability to tackle the challenges presented by scarcity will define the country's future. Unlike most books on China, Ma and Adams avoid the usual, reductive pitfalls of the "China's global ascendance is unstoppable" versus "China is on the verge of collapse" dichotomy by leveraging the premise of scarcity to take an even-handed and far-reaching look at China during a particularly important moment along its growth trajectory.

In Line behind a Billion People is particularly effective because it tackles the biggest questions about China's future in the methodical and grounded manner of experienced "real world" researchers, accustomed to having to explain China to those looking to invest or do business in the country. What emerges from the book's treatment of economic, political and social scarcity is a sense of the speed of change in China, and how nimble China's leaders will have to be to keep up.

Without sacrificing a measure of levity and perspective which makes In line a more compelling read than many of its contemporaries, Ma and Adams have produced a very credible argument for what will prove the defining tests for China and its leadership in the near future.
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