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    Just imagine…

    April 2019

    Just imagine …- as we know, there are known knowns – there are things we know we know – we also know there are known unknowns – that is to say we know there are some things we do not know – but there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know … and now let’s speculate … if …

    The October Revolution, organized by Vladimir Lenin exactly a century ago, is still relevant today in ways that would have seemed unimaginable when Soviet Communism collapsed. Marxist-Leninism (albeit in the unique capitalist. Maoist form) still propels China, the world’s surging hyper power, even as that same ideology ruins Cuba and Venezuela. Meanwhile, North Korea, a dystopian Leninist monarchy with nuclear weapons, terrifies the world.

    But Lenin’s tactics, too, are resurgent. He was a sophisticated genius of merciless zero-sum gain, expressed by his phrase “Kto kovo?” literally, “who, whom?” asking the question who controls whom and, at that point of time, more important, who kills whom. President Trump is some ways the personification of a new Bolshevism of the right where the ends justify the means and acceptable tactics include lies and smears, and the exploitation of what Lenin called useful idiots. It’s no coincidence that President Trump’s chief campaign strategist, Steve Bannon, once boasted “I am a Leninist.”

    One hundred years later, as its events continue to reverberate and inspire, October 1917 looms epic, mythic, mesmerizing. Its effects were so enormous that it seems impossible that the Russian Revolution does not offer plenty economic lessons. It remains one of the greatest experiments in economic and political history. A bloody civil war, the abolition of private property, the creation of a command economy with near full state ownership, price regulation and the elimination of markets.

    One hundred years on from the Russian Revolution, three main lessons emerge from the 75-year Great Soviet Experiment. They are not rocket science but worth re-stating.

    First, industrialization through terror is inefficient. Second, without terror the command economy eventually flags and goes bankrupt. Third, lack of political competition creates a rigid governance system unable to make necessary reforms.

    The first is probably the least obvious. Stalin accomplished industrialization and eventually led the Soviet Union to victory in the Second World War. His method was top – down and, in the words of the writers Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, “brutal but effective”. The benefit of centralized economic control is that it allows you to move 25-30% of the labour force from farm to factory within just one decade. However, a recent study found out that this did not work as planned: the gains from moving resources to industry did not make up for destroying productivity within both agriculture and industry. Terror is brutal and effective in moving resources, but it is not productive in organizing them efficiently.

    The net economic benefits of Stalin’s policies were trivial – and this is not to mention millions who perished due to repression and famine. Also, the Soviet Union could not win the war alone – resources and equipment provided by the US were essential in beating Hitler.

    And now just imagine that everything could have come totally different as there was nothing inevitable about the Bolshevick revolution. By 1917, the Romanov monarchy was decaying quickly, but its emperors may have saved themselves had they not missed repeated chances to reform. The other absolute monarchies of Europe – the Ottomans, the Habsburgs – fell because they were defeated in World War I: Would the Romanous have fallen, too, if they had survived just one more year to share in the victory of November 1918?

    By 1913, the czar’s secret police had disrespect and vanquished the opposition. Just before the fall of the czar, Lenin reflected to his wife that revolution “won’t happen in our lifetime.” Ultimately, it was spontaneous, disorganized popular uprising and a crisis of military loyalty that forced Nicholas’s abdication.

    When that moment arrived, Lenin was in Zurich, Trotsky in New York and Stalin in Siberia. Lenin initially thought it was “a hoax”. He was lucky that Germany inserted him like a bacillus (via the so-called sealed train) to take Russia out of the war. Back in Petrograd, Lenin, aided by fellow radicals Trotsky and Stalin, had to overpower erring Bolshevik comrades, who proposed cooperation with the provisional government, and force them to agree to his plan for a coup. The government should have found and killed him but it failed to do so. He succeeded.

    Even the “storming” of the winter Palace – restaged in a1920 propaganda spectacular as a people’s triumph – was no storming at all. Lenin rages as it took days to seize the main building of the government, while the palace itself was taken by climbing through unlocked windows, undefended except for adolescent cadets – followed by a bacchanalia, with drunk Bolsheviks slurping the czar’s chateau d’ Yquem 1847 out of the gutters.

    October might have heralded a short-lived interim, like so many other failed revolutions of that era. Any coordinated attack by white armies, the other side in the Russian civil war, or any intervention by Western force would have swept the Bolsheviks away. It all depended on Lenin. He was very nearly overthrown in a coup by rebellious coalition partners but he made his own luck, though, by a combination of ideological passion, ruthless pragmatism, unchecked bloodletting and the will to establish a dictatorship. And sometimes, he just got plain lucky, on August 30, 1918, he was shot while addressing a crowd of workers at a factory in Moscow. He survived by inches.

    Had any of these events failed Lenin, our own times would be radically different. Without Lenin there would have been no Hitler. Hitler owed much of his rise to the support of conservative elites who feared a Bolshevik revolution on German soil and who believed that he alone could defeat Marxism. And the rest of his radical program was likewise justified by the threat of Leninist revolution. His anti-Semitism, his anti-Slavic plan of Lebensraum and above all the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 were supported by the elites and the people because of the fear of what the Nazis called “Judeo – Bolshevism.” Without the Russian Revolution of 1917, Hitler would likely have ended up painting postcards in one of the same flophouses where he started. No Lenin, no Hitler – and the 20th century become unimaginable. Indeed, the very geography of our imagination becomes unimaginable.

    The East would look as different as the West. Mao, who received huge amounts of Soviet aid in the 1940s, would not have conquered China, which might still be ruled by the family of Chiang Kai-shek. The inspirations that illuminated the mountains of Cuba and the jungles of Vietnam would never have been. Kim Jong-un, pantomimic pastiche of Stalin, would not exist. There would have been no Cold War. The tournaments of power would likely have been just as vicious – just differently vicious. The Russian Revolution mobilized a popular passion across the world based on Marxism – Leninism, fueled by messianic zeal. It was, perhaps, after the three Abrahamic religions, the greatest millenarian rapture of human history.

    And in the present, China’s goal is to dominate Eurasia by relegating Russia to a second – tier power.

    China’s “one Belt, One Road” initiative, an economic expansion plan that follows todays trade routes of the medieval Tang and Yuan dynasties across Eurasia, is overly ambitious because, like all grand strategies, it is aspirational.

    This new Silk Road serves several goals of China’s leaders, who are intent on making their country a full-fledged superpower. It is a branding operation for many of the roads, bridges, pipelines and railroads that China has already built, linking it with the former – Soviet – controlled countries of energy – rich Central Asia. In the process, One Belt, One Road seeks to develop – and at the same time surround – the Muslim region of China that abuts Central Asia.

    Further Westward, China intends to create an organic alliance with Iran, a state that because of its immense size, location and population, as well as its long imperial tradition, functions as the fulcrum for the Middle East and Central Asia. The longer Chinese goal is to dominate Eurasia, which means relegating Russia to a second – tier power.

    China and Russia share a land border of more than 2,600 miles, an interminable stretch of birch forest separating mainly the Russian Far Eastern from Chinese Manchuna, whose particulars were formally agreed upon only in the last decade. In 1969, the dispatch of about 30 Soviet divisions to this border, and China’s development of 59 divisions in response, deepened the Chinese – Soviet split and allowed for President Richard Nixon’s opening to China and his détente with the Soviet Union.

    In few areas is the Russian state so feeble as in its far east. The ethnic Russian population is only an estimated 6million. Chinese migrants are moving steadily north into this vastly under populated Siberian back – of – beyond, rich in the natural gas, oil, timber, diamonds and gold that China covets.

    At the same dime, China is vanquishing Russia in Central Asia. In the last decade the China National Petroleum Corporation has become Central Asia’s main energy player. China pumps Kazakh oil to Europe and also to China through a pipeline, and the Chinese transport natural gas from Turkmenistan to western China. Chinese money has also been coursing through Central Asia to build power grids and transportation infrastructure, altering the landscape and forming the backbone of the One Belt, One Road plan.

    The prize is Iran. Lying at the other end of Central Asia from China, Iran has 80million people and straddles the oil and gas fields of the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf, providing Beijing with the incentive to build rail lines through the Iranians plateau, make energy deals with Tehran, use Chinese state companies to excavate Iranian mines, and send armies of entrepreneurs there.

    Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union, including Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, was formed in 2014 to counter China’s growing influence in Eurasia. Russia is not only losing out to China in its Far East and Central Asia, but in Europe, too. While Moscow has been undermining the independence of the former Soviet republics in the Baltic and Black Sea basins through subversion and military incursions, Beijing has been strengthening trade ties throughout Europe. The Trump administrations aversion to free trade – combined with its apparent ambivalence about defending European allies – has provided China with an opportunity in Europe, further enhancing Beijing’s plan for the western terminus of One Belt, One Road. China’s gains will weaken not only American influence in Europe, but Russian influence, too.

    For example, Greece, because of its tensions with the European Union and its Orthodox religion, should be drifting closer to Russia. But it is slipping into China’s economic grasp, as the part of Piraeus becomes another western endpoint of the new Silk Road. China is also competing for nuclear power plants and other energy infrastructure in Bulgaria Romania, Poland and the Czech Republic. President Vladimir Putin’s compulsion to challenge the West – while China under President Xi Jinping is quietly on the march all around him demonstrates his strategic short sightedness at a time of Russian economic vulnerability.

    China and Russia refer to their relationship as a “comprehensive strategic partnership “, in while Russia supplies oil to China and the two countries hold joint military exercises. And, officially their relationship has rarely been better. But trade is lopsided China’s favor; the fall in energy prices has made China considerably less dependent on Russia. Russia sells arms to China’s adversaries, India and Vietnam. And China has copied Russian weapons designs. These deeper geopolitical realities mean China and Russia will be only allies of convenience. And because the Beijing – Moscow rivalry is long-term, understated and focused on remote terrain, thus lacking in appeal for the news media, it is easy to ignore.

    China can be stopped only by two scenarios in our opinion – its own internal demos – or an uncontrollable situation with North Korea. As Samuel P. Huntington wrote in his classic 1968 study, “Political Order in Changing Societies,” the more complex a society gets the more responsive its institutions must become, otherwise the creation of a large middle class is destabilizing.

    China’s autocrazy, precisely because of its success, could face a crisis of legitimacy as social, ethnic and religious tensions intensity in both Han and Uighur areas, especially in the event of any further slowdowns in economic growth that thwart the rising expectations of its people. That’s why the ultimate success of One Belt, One Road will be determined less by what happens in Central Asia and elsewhere – apart from North Korea – than by what happens inside China itself.

    With the threat of another Korean War looming, the US – China summit in Beijing will be the most important in decades. Most western commentary on North Korea has focused on President Donald Trump’s warnings of “fire and fury” to combat the regime’s nuclear threat. But the Korean crisis poses a huge risk to China and to the success of One Belt, One Road. If a war breaks out, China will literally be on the frontline – potentially exposed to nuclear fallout, refugee flows and dramatic skills in the regional balance of power.

    These acute risks have produced a startling variety of opinions among Chinese experts about the best way forward. There are some who even argue that China and the US should co-operate in joint military operations against North Korea. Others take a completely different line-contending that Washington’s policy is leading to disaster, and that it is dime for Beijing to break publicly with the US.

    Beijing’s official position avoids either of these dramatic alternatives. Instead, the government of President Xi Jinping is pressing to restart diplomacy through a “freeze for freeze” policy. The idea is that North Korea would freeze the development of its nuclear weapons, in return for the US freezing military exercises that alarm Pyongyang. In principle, this seconds like a decent idea. In practice, neither North Korea nor the US seems willing to take the steps needed to make the policy work. Given this reality, the Chinese are having to consider other more radical alternatives. One senior official argues that by agreeing to US demands for tougher sanctions are North Korea; China has lost its influence in Pyongyang. So, the official argues, China should now attempt to rebuild ties with the Kim Jong Un regime – even if that means antagonizing the US administration.

    But, among Chinese academics, there are eminent figures who take a radically different position. These hawks argue that a nuclear North Korea is a profound threat not just to South Korean, Japan or the US – but to China itself. In strategic terms, the growing North Korean threat may well persuade both South Korea and Japan to acquire their own nuclear weapons – which would sharply increase tensions with East Asia. Chinese experts also fret about the dangers of a North Korean nuclear test going wrong, or of an accident of the Yongbyon nuclear facility, near the border. Any such development would pose serious environmental risks to China. “Yongbyon could be our Fukushima,” worries one academic –referring to the 2011 nuclear accident in Japan.

    North Korea is now estimated by the Chinese to have 40 to 60 nuclear weapons. If any were used during a conflict, the risks to China would be enormous.

    All of this leads some Chinese experts to consider a radical alternative – perhaps Beijing should co-operate with the US, in joint military action, aimed at toppling the Kim regime and seizing its nuclear weapons. Such a strategy would allow China to take active steps to defend its own security. Rather than helplessly watching a conflict unfold from the sidelines. Offering to ally with the Trump administration might also allow China to secure a new “grand bargain” over the postwar arrangements. The Chinese could, for example, look for guarantees that US troops would withdraw from a unified Korea – and might also seek concessions on other regional security issues, such as the status of Taiwan or the South China Sea.

    The United States in such a scenario, which has longtime allies to defend against Chinese bullying in East Asia and against Russian bullying in Central and Eastern Europe, is helped by the quiet geopolitical rivalry between Beijing and Moscow would lose ground. Because the contest between China and Russia is largely determined by their geographical proximity and therefore must persist, America will have the greater possibility to maneuver, hardening or softening its position toward each power as the situation demands, as long as they have sufficient influence in the region.

    So the United States must only prevent China from dominating the Eastern Hemisphere to the same extent that it has dominated the Western Hemisphere. But it must do this without selling out Central Europe and ports of the Middle East to Russia.

    The solution to this conundrum for the United States lies outside geopolitics. It is precisely because Washington has no territorial ambitions in Eurasia that Americans are not viewed with suspicion by local populations there the way the Chinese and Russians are. By relentlessly promoting free trade, human rights and civil society America will gain credibility with societies undergoing rapid social transformation across the region, especially in the Middle East.

    This is how the United States going entry into the Eurasia without crudely trying to balance one power off against the other at a moment when the Chinese. Russian rivalry is far more subtle than it was in Nixon’s time. The very economic development that China promotes will make societies along the path of the new Silk Road – particularly in the sterile dictatorships of Iran and Central Asia – harder to manage, and thus to rule.

    The next big question for America and Mr. Trump is how he will be able to balance the extreme trade deficit between the US and China, as the major US tech giants like Google, Facebook including its messaging service “whatsApp” are all banned in China. If the political influence might be limited for Mr. Trump and the US in Asia, how the US can at least increase the economical influence in the region, especially in China who arms to lead the world through artificial intelligence by 2030.

    Google, after exiting China more than 7years ago is taking its boldest steps to sneak back into China – and this time it’s not with their search engine. Instead, Google’s ingress is centered around artificial intelligence. The internet giant is actively promoting TensorFlow, a software that makes it easier to build artificial intelligence (AI) systems, as a way to forge business ties in the world’s largest online market. It’s a wide pitch targeting China’s academics and tech titans. At the same time, Google parent Alphabet Inc is adding more personnel to scour Chinese companies for potential AI investments.

    “China is a tremendous opportunity for any company because it is by far the single largest homogenous market”, said Kai Fu Lee, who headed Google’s China operation before the company left in 2010. The market dwarfs any other, given how many Chinese people are online, and data from that “can be used to advance products, especially those relating to artificial intelligence (AI).”

    A more active Google in China does not guarantee a profitable Google in China. The company’s primary mechanism for cashing in on its AI tools, it’s could – computing business, can’t be accessed by developers in China without overseas servers or technical tricks to work around the country’s Great Firewall, Laws and technology that control the domestic internet and block some foreign websites. Google also faces stiff home – grown competition, mainly from search nemesis Baidu Inc, in the race to create the most popular foundational tools for inventions like voice-controlled speakers and self-driving cars.

    Still, Google is clearly interested in re-igniting its business in China. It pulled its search engine and many other services from the mainland in 2010 over government censorship. In the year since, Google has explored several paths for re-entry, with little success.

    China has become the biggest market for smartphones running Google’s Android software, but without Google services. “I’m committed to engaging more in China,” Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive officer, said in a recent interview. “We’ll thoughtfully figure out how to engage deeper, and I don’t know what the answers are.”

    Rather than another splashy product launch, Google’s latest China strategy is a gross roots effort focused on getting developers in the country trained and hooked on its AI building blocks. It’s similar to the way business software start-ups get employees using their services before corporate IT departments notice. Once the tools become popular, companies often accept the technology and sign up for full service.

    In the past month, several of Google’s US-based engineers have given at least three detailed briefings at TensorFlow developer events in Beijing and Shanghai. Two of those were invited – only, with attendees asked not to record, photograph or even blog about the sessions. Google said it supports developers using TensorFlow anywhere in the world, and isn’t focusing on China specifically.

    The latest tactic fits with Pichai’s mantra that Google be “AI-first” – an effort to re-orient its web services from world where people type on screens to one where they talk to an array of devices. TensorFlow, which Google began, offering free in 2015, is a cornerstone. The tools have become wildly popular with developers and inspired imitators. This year, Google’s could service began renting access to a new chip optimized for TensorFlow.

    It’s hard to find a place as fertile for AI as China. The country has one of the fastest growing TensorFlow developer communities in Asia, despite the fact that Google’s cloud services are unavailable there. The Chinese government has made AI a national priority.

    Scores of Chinese companies are deploying machine-learning systems AI software that automatically adjusts to data – to update banking services, identify faces in crowds and control drones. Matroid Inc, a machine-learning start-up in California, hosted a conference on TensorFlow in March. Jeff Dean, a revered Google engineer, spoke and posted his presentation slides online. Within an hour, the slides were translated into Mandarin and went viral on the Chinese social network WeChat, said Matroid’s CEO Reza Zadeh.

    Chinese developer Jiang Jun attended a TensorFlow event on October 24 in Shanghai featuring Google employees. He’s a senior engineer at Ele.me Inc., a food-delivery app valued at 6billion US-Dollar and backed by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.. Much of Ele.me’s systems are built on TensorFlow.

    Outside China, a start-up like this might use servers from Google’s cloud business to run its app. But China’s Great Firewall blocks Google servers, so Jiang’s team has modified the code in some of TensorFlow’s tools so the software no longer tries to access files from Google’s servers and instead runs on Ele.me’s domestic servers. “Before this year, Google didn’t pay too much attention to doing activities in China because, although they know China has a large market size, they know they can’t do a lot of things because of the firewall,” Jiang said after the TensorFlow event. “So when Google comes to China to introduce TensorFlow it is, in my opinion, more pure because it cannot get that much money.” Even if Google’s cloud business was allowed to put servers in mainland China, local rivals like Alibaba now sell cheap cloud – computing products that would make it hard for the US Company to turn a profit, he added.

    “But all of us developers are always waiting for Google to come to China to introduce more TensorFlow technologies and products,” he said. “Google’s cloud solutions are so cool and its tools are so convenient.”

    As interest has grown, Google is going on a hiring spree, recently pasting AI job opening in several Chinese mega cities. The company as started sending more staff there, too. In recent months, members of Google’s corporate – development team and Alphabet’s private equity arm, CapitalG, have met with AI companies based in China. One person described these efforts as “information-gathering” and said neither investment arm has decided to enter financing rounds recently. In 2015 Google invested in Mobvoi, a Chinese start-up run by former Google engineers that places AI – powered chatbots inside smartphones, cars and other devices.

    Google’s latest China effort may fail like its previous attempts – and the country’s response to the company’s most public event there earlier this year isn’t encouraging either. An AI system developed by Deep Mind, Alphabet’s AI research lab, trounced China’s human champion in a game of ‘Go’, offending some senior officials. The episode also helped spark a government – funded push to dominate the technology.

    That hasn’t deterred Google. The company has pitched Alibaba and Tencent Holdings Ltd. on using TensorFlow, an attempt to spread the software through the ranks of China’s largest tech firms. TensorFlow has been downloaded more than 7.9million times so far, from both its own servers and outside sources and the company is pleasantly surprised by the early uptake. Ricky Wong, an investor who after works in China, analyzed the location of the first 5,000 developers to access the tools and found more came from Beijing than all of Silicon Valley.

    Early interest helps Google in China, but Baidu introduced its own AI toolkit, called PaddlePaddle, last year. The spread of Baidu’s tools among developers has outpaced Google’s this year, according to one person familiar with Google’s internal figures. For some AI researchers in China, Baidu’s success reflects a loyalty to local offerings and caution with reliance on foreign tools, said Jiebo Liu, on AI expert who studies China at the University of Rochester. “They might use TensorFlow for prototyping,” he said. But if they want to put something in a product, they use their own.”

    And that is where the US, European and other world politicians should focus on. China is by no doubt an export nation and has not only with the US a huge trade surplus. China itself is so highly interesting consumer market, especially for the big tech companies from the US, where access to the Chinese market is getting denied, as it is not an open market. Today, we have a different, much more sophisticated war – a different battle field, an economic war which is ruled through market capitalization, influence and market access. And China is buying this that access through its tech giants like Alibaba and Tencent in the US. Tencent, the Chinese company behind the popular messaging platform WeChat, has built a more than 2billion US-Dollar stake in Snap, the California-based paint company of Snapchat, in a move that could see the groups collaborate on gaming and news.

    In its latest quarterly filing, Snap said Tencent had built a position of 145.78million non-voting shares in recent months, equivalent to just 12% of the company’s basic stock and 10% of its fully diluted share count. Tor Tencent, Snapchat is an innovative company with a huge user base in western markets and Tencent saw an opportunity between both companies with news feed and mobile game publishing. The Chinese group had been an investor in Snap for several years before the latter went public in March 2017. The latest increase in its stake means the Los Angeles – based company now has two key corporate shareholders, with Tencent from China joining Comcast, the US cable group that invested 500million US-Dollar through its NBC Universal unit this year, which represents just one quarter of Tencent’s investment.

    Tencent become one of the world’s most acquisitive tech companies, as well as force behind some of the China’s biggest digital, social media and gaming platforms. It generated 4.3billion US-Dollar from games just in the second quarter of this year, mainly supported by the runaway growth of its Honour of Kings franchise. The capacity to distribute content such as games or news feed would bring it exposure in the US and Europe at a time when Tencent is pushing its credentials as a source of content. Snap’s user base pales beside that of WeChat, which has 963million monthly active users. However, most of those users are domestic; international users are almost wholly among the Chinese diaspora or those doing business in China.

    The second big Chinese tech giant is Alibaba. In November is ‘Singles Day’ in China which Alibaba, the biggest Chinese ecommerce giant has turned into the world’s biggest fashion and gift-buying extravaganza. Chinese shoppers spent astonishing 18biliion US-Dollar online on November 11 last year alone, 82% using mobile devices. This year, 140,000 brands, including 60,000 international names, are offering 15million items for sale. Single Day is an expression of the power of Chinese ecommerce, which would be a paradise for the US tech giants if they would have access to this market.

    The number, although huge, understate the significance of the phenomenon. China is experiencing a consumer revolution, comparable to the one that happened in Europe in the 18th century, culminating in the 19th century invention of the department store. Alibaba and competitors such as JD.com are making ecommerce not merely efficient but entertaining.

    Note the contrast with online shopping in the US and Europe, which draws its appeal from scale and price, rather than entertainment. If you desire fun, visit a shopping mall or a fashion boutique, if you want something cheaply and conveniently, go to amazon to get it delivered. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, has everything he can to eliminate the frictions of shopping.

    The difference reflects the gulf between the US, Europe and China in the development of physical retailing. Americans and Europeans have many choices of places to shop, so Mr. Bezos first focused on the efficiency that only a digital platform can deliver. China in comparison is a less mature market outside the big cities and Alibaba’s Tmall and JD.com sell global brands online that shoppers cannot otherwise buy. These companies have to offer the entire experience of shopping, including the fun of browsing and discovering things. Alibaba calls this “new retail”- the integration of ecommerce with stores, with apps and augmented reality and without any competition from one of the US tech giants. The growth of shopping in China mirrors the past. “Novelty, fashion, adoption and innovation – the fuel of consumer societies – were the product of east – west exchange. The 18th– century revolution started with the import of spices, coffee and tea to Europe, along with porcelain from China.”

    Shopping as theater reached a climax in 1852 with the opening of Le Bon Marché, a department store in Paris designed by its owner Arstide Boucicout to be a “cathedral of commerce.” He wanted shoppers to wander through his different departments “in this organized disorder, lost, driven, crazy “and” succumb at the sight of things which grab them on the way.”

    Europe’s consumerism grew out of urbanization: growth of cities where people could both make and spend money. A similar phenomenon is occurring in China. Morgan Stanley estimates that private consumption could reach 47% of the country’s gross domestic by 2030, with most consumption growth in lower-tier cities to which people are flowing from rural areas.

    The twist in past – revolutionary China was that everyone had to dress like a peasant; on Singles Day, the new middle class can please itself. This raises a question for a society that still counts itself as being under Communist rule. The 18th– century upsurge in consumerism predated the industrial revolution, and some historians argue that one led to the heavy demand for imported goods provoked technological advances in British manufacturing.

    For now, Singles Day and the rise of the new middle class fits with efforts to change the balance of China’s economy. It seems so far not to clash with the president’s ideology of “Xi Jinping thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era”. China’s recent version of sumptuary laws – a purge of corruption and lavish spending among party cadres – touched only an elite.

    But you never know where a revolution will lead…