How Resource Scarcity Constrains China

Damien Ma and William Adams’ In Line Behind a Billion People explores how scarcity—in terms of not only natural but also economic, social and political resources—”will define China’s ascent in the next decade.” The authors talk to Christina Larson at Bloomberg Businessweek:

are the most concrete example of how scarcity limits China, so let’s start there. What do you see as China’s most serious environmental constraints?

Damien Ma: No matter which way you slice it, China just has a low natural resources-to-population ratio to begin with. You could say that China’s “default setting” is resource scarcity—about the only thing it has in abundance is , which is also why it uses so much of it. But the reason this is going to be an ever-larger problem is [that] China’s current growth model has severely exacerbated resource scarcities, from to land to energy. And we suspect the full ramifications of that growth model on limited resources are going to be more evident in the coming decade as the country reckons with the environmental and resource cost of that growth. Not to mention how the intensification of effects could put further pressure on this kind of scarcity. […]

[…] The last section of your book discusses how scarcity affects Chinese politics. Can you explain what you mean by “political scarcity”? Do you thinks China’s current leaders are adequately aware of the implications and able to manage the risks—and for how long?

Ma: What we really mean is a scarcity of the kind of institutions that increasingly middle-class Chinese people demand. Put another way, this is a supply-side governance challenge. The Chinese government must now deal with a much more pluralistic society and , which may no longer be entirely convinced of the old growth-for-stability bargain that’s been the status quo in authoritarian China for the past several decades. […] [Source]

Ma and Adams also discussed the book at China Real Time last month. Excerpts have been published at The Atlantic, giving a broad overview of economic, social and political aspects of scarcity, and at Foreign Policy, focusing on the challenges presented by China’s surging food consumption.