The Price of Everything

04 Mar 2005|Darrel Rhea

The growing impact of China on all of our lives has been frequent conversation here for a few years, but every few days it takes on a clearer focus for me. The most recent insight that stopped me in my tracks this week was a statistic that William McDonough and I talked about. Bill is one of the world’s leading architects and is currently designing new cities for China. He reported that the government will build housing for over 400 million people in the next 12 years.

Now, think about that: building housing for almost twice the population of the US virtually all at once. If you think about what that will do to the world’s demand for building materials of all kinds, you’ll quickly conclude that prices for many things you will need to buy are going to go up.

I was stunned by the scale of this undertaking — and was suspicious that Bill’s passionate advocacy for environmental issues might have caused some exaggeration, so I brought up the issue at breakfast this morning with a very senior official in the Department of Commerce who leads our trade negotiations. He thinks Bill’s numbers are conservative! The Chinese government’s campaign to pull 800 million people out of poverty is perhaps the world’s most ambitious “bottom of the pyramid” development program. What an incredible opportunity for design to create a sustainable, human environment.

It is becoming clear that China will be the driving global influence in the industrial economy. The US, fueled largely by California’s technology and entertainment sectors, will continue to drive the world’s definition of ownership of intellectual property. The collision of these forces will create conditions critical for business to navigate. How will it change your actions? What should you be doing differently right now?

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