Frank Feather is a business futurist, with a remarkably accurate 30-year forecasting track record that often defies conventional wisdom. He is ranked as one of the “Top 100 Futurists of All Time” by Macmillan’s Encyclopedia of the Future. A best-selling author and dynamic keynote speaker, Feather was born in the UK but is now based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He has consulted to companies including Ericsson, IBM, Ford, Nokia, and Shell. Continuously since 1984 he has been special adviser to China on economic modernization and market reforms, and he has seen many of his ideas implemented there. He previously worked for Barclays Bank, Toronto-Dominion Bank and CIBC.
China has a remarkable and unmatched 30-year track record of doubling and quadrupling its gross domestic product. In 1978, the country’s GDP was US$147 billion and falling, per capita income was only US$190 a year, and more than 250 million people were living in abject poverty. Adjusted for inflation, the country’s per capita output in 1977 was no higher than it had been in 1957.
Undaunted, China set itself some audacious goals. It aimed to quadruple its GDP between 1980 and 2000, something it had achieved by 1996. It then determined to double its output between 2000 and 2010. Again, the goal was achieved ahead of schedule. The country’s next goal is to quadruple GDP between 2000 and 2020 and to achieve “moderate prosperity.” China’s long-term 70-year goal, laid down in 1978, is to boost its per-capita GDP to that of medium-income countries by 2050, a goal which it will almost certainly surpass before the self-imposed deadline.
Wave-Like Economic Development
China’s overall economic strategy is simple. It is based on the “third wave” concept developed by the futurist Alvin Toffler in his book by the same title, published coincident with reforms in 1980. The book was translated into Chinese and read by every mainland Chinese politician and academic and “third wave” became part of the vocabulary.
Toffler’s three waves are agriculture, industry, and services. China set about modernizing each of these sectors, shifting workers from the first to the second, and then on to the third wave. Since 1979, the mix of workers engaged in each type of activity has been transformed: the percentage of the workforce in farming has fallen from 47% to 11%; the percentage in manufacturing has fallen marginally from 39% to 49%; while the percentage engaged in services has soared from 14% to 40%. By comparison, the number of service workers in the US economy surpassed those in manufacturing in 1950, and the third wave service sector now employs 82% of the US workforce.
On my first lecture tour to China in 1984, I was asked: “What comes after the Third Wave?” In response, I developed a six-wave model, which China now uses. While client privilege prevents me from divulging how China applies this, I broke the burgeoning third wave sector into two waves (services and high-tech) and added two new waves (leisure/tourism and outer space). These six waves are described in my book Future Consumer.com, which was also published in China.
China’s strategy is to develop these six waves, in order to build a post-industrial society. It also aims to become energy self-sufficient and to clean up its environment. Today’s emphasis is to further modernize industry, to grow the high-tech, service, and tourism sectors, and to continue with the push into aerospace.
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