Category Archives: Consumer Behaviour

Changing the world is the only fit work for a grown man

That’s a quote from an ad man called Howard Luck Gossage (great name; great quote) and is the title of a new biography about him.

He ran his own agency in San Francisco back the 1960s when all the action was taking place in New York (Bill Bernback, David Ogilvy, Rosser Reeves).  He had, what seemed at the time and perhaps still now, some pretty crazy ideas about the way advertising should work, which now that I no longer work in an agency, seem exceedingly sensible.  From the book, they include:

Didn’t believe that it was all about growth and the money.  It was about maintaining the quality of the creative work and the culture of the agency.  The agency never grew to be more than 15 people.

He thought about the point of advertising.  As he put it “there is precious little awareness, and no real enquiry into the economic, sociologic or philosophic bases of advertising”.  I would say that this is still the case. I was raised to believe that the point of advertising is to make money for the agency and make money for the client.  No sociologic or philosophic enquiry there.

He believed that pumping out advertising with no real sense of who was receiving it and how it was being received was not only wasteful but unethical.  He said: “I will go further and say that it is not only wrong to attempt to influence an audience without involving it but it is unethical and dishonest”.  Strong words, but this kind of accounts for, at a guess, more than 50% of advertising these days.

He had a theory of the way things work (cybernetics, via Norbert Weiner) which could be applied to advertising.  Cybernetics (roughly) is about recognising that there are feedback loops in the natural world.  So for Gossage, he saw the creation of information loops as beneficial and indeed a life-enhancing way of making people respect others and accept responsibility for their actions.  So, his ads featured ways to engage the audience so that they could help create the next round of work.  No feedback, change the ads.  By involving the consumer and getting their input into the campaign, it was evident that they were enjoying the work and more work would evolve that encouraged further feedback.

In this “he viewed advertising less as a commercial bludgeon and more as a conversation between equals”.  And “people like to be treated as human beings rather than consumers and they react very well to it”.  ‘Go Compare’ anyone?

He was, perhaps unsurprisingly, anti-billboards because he believed that no media owner had the right to sell that media because a billboard interrupted a view that belonged to the people.

One of Gossage’s ads that stopped the Grand Canyon getting flooded

He ended up working on saving the Grand Canyon from getting flooded (via an ad campaign), then helped make the Sierra Club famous before using his skills to launch Friends of the Earth.  To him, this is what advertising should be for: “advertising was too valuable an instrument to waste on commercial products…it justified its existence only when it was used for social purposes”.

So, he said all this, but was also well ahead of his time in terms of thinking about social media, PR-generated stunts and interactive.  What’s interesting is that the back cover of the book is full of modern-day advertising greats talking about how great Gossage was.  For example, Jeff Goodby says “The best of Gossage is the best of advertising ever done, and what’s really amazing is the the work he did foretold what’s happening on the internet and social media right now”.   To me, it’s more interesting to take his thinking in the round – to consider the points that I’ve highlighted above, not just the interactive/social media bit.  It would make for a very different, more purposeful industry, where that purpose is beyond just trying to make money and sell stuff.  Maybe one day more of his ideas will come to pass.  I hope so.

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Free to go shopping?

Been thinking about this a lot recently and finding it very hard to describe and articulate, but here’s a go:

When it comes to what’s actually important and what makes us happy, do we really know?  I’m not entirely sure that we do.  I’ve decided this as a result of thinking about shopping and consumerism.  It seems to me that integral part of what Western society deems as important is to shop and buy things.  Either more things than you’ve currently got or better things that you’ve currently got.  And in buying those things you will be happier.  Having stuff – more stuff or better stuff – is a way to feel better.

To buy that new shirt to continue to be fashionable and feel good when you’re in the pub, or a magazine to know what’s fashionable or a new phone because it’s better at letting you stay in touch with your friends and feel connected.  It’s even called Retail Therapy because therapy is a way (apparently) to feel better about yourself.

So, buying things is correlated to feeling better.  I would suggest that we accept, blindly, that having more stuff is the natural thing.  It’s not even talked about.  It’s an unspoken narrative in our society.  It doesn’t need to be said or even discussed because everyone understands it and believes it.  Like the sun coming up in the morning.

And to a degree that is, of course, true.  Having a new thing can be great.  You go to the shop, you get to choose what you want, pay for it, take it home and use it.

But, what happens if you don’t buy anything new?  You don’t buy more or better stuff?  Typically this means you don’t have the means.  So, you’re either poor or unemployed.  Both of which are socially undesirable.  Or if you have got money and don’t buy more and better stuff then you’re a bit weird for not doing what everyone else does.

So, putting myself in the unemployed and ‘have the money to buy not buying category’, I currently haven’t bought any new clothes (except for some socks) or electronic equipment or just basically ‘stuff’ for about a year.  Still buy food, drink, travel and some second hand things, but no ‘more or better’ new stuff.

How does that feel?  Well, pretty good.  Which isn’t supposed to be the case.  Right?  If the narrative of shopping is that if I buy more and better stuff then I’ll feel happier, then the converse – not buying any new or better stuff should be that I feel worse.  Right?  I should, in some way, feel deprived, or left out, or somehow ‘lesser’ shouldn’t I?

Absolutely not.

Weird.

So, what do I feel about not buying stuff?  Unburdened by the need to.  Not having to spend (waste?) time engaging in deciding what to buy and then buying it.  Getting to enjoy, use and appreciate the stuff that I have got.  Finding interesting ways to use the stuff I have got to do new and different jobs that I might have previously bought something new to do.  Glad that I don’t have that occasional moment when I look at something and say ‘why did I buy that?’

But, perhaps the most interesting feeling that’s come up as a result of not buying more stuff is around freedom.

 Yes, I’m lucky enough to live in a democracy, get to vote and speak my mind, but when it comes to shopping, am I free?  The easy answer to that is ‘of course!’  I can go to any shop that I want and buy whatever I want (as long as I have the money).  However, the freedom that I feel is about the choice as to whether I want to shop or not, rather than the freedom to buy what I want when I go shopping.

This is vitally important distinction.

So, there is absolutely freedom around shopping.  But the freedom is around which of the many products that are available, is the one that I want?  I am free to choose the blue one or the red one.  Nike or adidas.  Apple or Sony.  Toyota or Honda.  And it takes a lot of tine energy to decide which is the best one to go for.

Buy to make you happy.  I’m free to choose which one I do buy.

However, I’m not free to decide whether or not I want to buy in the first place.  Will buying more stuff or better stuff make me happier?

This is not a question that is posed by our society.  At all.  Consider the evidence.  All the advertising and marketing spend, all the packaging, all the window displays.  They all are suggesting that we should buy them and in many instances, that what they are offering is in someway superior or different from the other available options.  The Ultimate Driving Machine.  Washes Whiter.  Refreshes the Parts Other Beers can not Reach.  They are all pushing the same thing.  That buying them is a good thing and will make you happier.

Where is any communication, from anyone, as to whether either buying more or better stuff or not buying more or better stuff is going to make you happier?

I can’t think of any.

So, I’m talking about a different sort of freedom.  If we were really free then we would be free to make that decision. Wouldn’t we?

I would contend that because there is no debate on this – one that stimulates a discussion so people can weigh up whether buying more and better stuff or not buying more or better stuff makes them happy – means that we are not free.  We don’t have the freedom to choose because we are only ever presented with one option.  Buy to make you happy.

I’m not saying that buying nothing makes you happiest.  That would be stupid.  Maybe a smart phone really does make you happier.  But does that sixth pair of jeans?  It’s not about absolutes, it’s about having a conversation about the principle and people deciding for themselves.

I think this is really fascinating.  We spend so much time shopping, talking about buying more or better stuff and spending money in the process in the belief that it makes us happier and we don’t even discuss whether it actually does.

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Rotten Apple

Quite a bit in the press recently about Apple and it’s lack of concern about how its products are made.  I think this provides a really fascinating moment in time for consumers to decide what they value.

Many Apple products are made in China.  There’s this chilling article in the New York Times that basically says that Apple are aware of and don’t care about the frankly horrendous conditions that workers making iphones and ipads have to put up with.  Part of this is due to the success of the products that mean that they are forced to make them faster than is safe.  So, for example, those cleaning iphone screens should use alcohol.  But, alcohol takes time to evaporate.  So as the article says:

“Investigations by news organizations revealed that over a hundred employees had been injured by n-hexane, a toxic chemical that can cause nerve damage and paralysis.  Employees said they had been ordered to use n-hexane to clean iPhone screens because it evaporated almost three times as fast as rubbing alcohol. Faster evaporation meant workers could clean more screens each minute.”

As well as this there are suicides, explosions due to aluminium dust that have killed workers as well as the 6 day a week, 12 hour days.  Basically, Apple supports 21st Century Work Houses.

As one former Apple executive puts it: “Most people would still be really disturbed if they saw where their iPhone comes from.”

So, what does all of this mean?  To me, what’s interesting is what will consumers do?

At what point, if at all, will consumers make a value judgement?  When will they, if at all, decide that the way the iphone 5 or ipad 3 is made runs against their sense of equality and justice?  Or is the fate and treatment of Chinese factory workers less important than their desire for the kit?

In a way and if you wanted to get all patriotic about it, the Declaration of Independence states:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”

 So, if ALL men and created equal (so that includes Chinese factory workers) then given the conditions that Apple are knowingly putting those workers through, Apple don’t support the Declaration.  They don’t seem to be big on Life (if the workers want to commit suicide), Liberty (forced to work 72 hour weeks) and it’s doesn’t seem the sort of conditions you’d chose to pursue Happiness.
Back to the consumers of Apple products.  If they are aware of the conditions of the workers, then, by association are arguably being un-American.

So, this is approaching Apple from one ‘negative’ angle.

What makes Apple even more interesting is fact that Apple products are made to be replaced on a short cycle.  From a sustainability point of view, it would be easy to argue that no other single company is more responsible for contributing to both our never-ending desire for more stuff that we arguably don’t need (we didn’t need a tablet before, but now we do), but also the desire to replace the perfectly workable stuff with new, flashier stuff.  E.g. iphone, iphone 3, iphone 3s, iphone 4, iphone 4s were all introduced in just over 4 years (2007-2011).

Given the amount of rare metals and resources that go into making Apple products, again, at what point, if at all, will consumers decide that the environment is more important than their desire to have the newest, latest kit, some of which they didn’t need before?

Is it possible to join these two points together?

If the mounting evidence of Apple’s business practices aren’t enough to get those people to stop buying Apple, the question becomes ‘How bad would Apple’s behaviour have to be in order to get them to stop buying Apple?’

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You are the most important person who has ever lived

Was talking to some students the other day and remembered that great John Berger quote about advertising – ‘Advertising sells you an unobtainable future’.  Just because Wayne Rooney wears Nike boots doesn’t mean that you’ll play like Wayne Rooney if you wear Nike boots.

Anyway, I’m currently doing some work with WWF around their ‘Think of me as evil?’ report and in it, it talks about the fact that a large amount of advertising appeals to ‘extrinsic’ values – namely it encourages us to be concerned with status and our outward appearance.  This is in opposition to ‘intrinsic’ values which are linked to being concerned with each other and the environment.  Broadly.  This makes intuitive sense, but what’s the reality?  So I decided to take a walk down the street and find out.  So, in a sort of GCSE Media Studies analysis, here’s what I saw.

There was a lot of, what can be regarded as ‘neutral’ messaging, just told you what’s available.  So, stuff like:

Okay, then I can buy that – it’s sort of ‘Just The Facts’ kind of work.  It’s public announcement advertising from the commercial world.  But, what about that extrinsic stuff?

As it turns out, there was quite a lot, so here’s just three:

Ummm, so, buy this hair colour and it ‘transforms’ you.  Really?  If I was being generous I could say that it’s true – it transforms your hair colour.  But, I think it’s fair to say that it’s trying to say a fair bit more than that.  But maybe it can.  Maybe changing your hair colour can transform you into a different person.

Next up is the end-line on a bus side for Pandora jewelry.  Buy Pandora and you are promised an Unforgettable Moment.  So, let’s be generous again.  Let’s say the most likely opportunity for that to be true is when someone buys it for someone else and in the act of giving it, it could be an Unforgettable Moment  i.e. the same strategy as a diamond ring when you ask for someone’s hand in marriage.  But, it’s not a diamond and it’s not asking a hand in marriage.  So, can that be true?   I think that Pandora is writing cheques it can’t cash (or at least guarantee) there.  It’s definitely closer to the ‘unobtainable future’ there, I’d say.

But, my personal favourite was this, for Venture portraits:

Run that by me again?  Your current family situation is the ‘most important story ever told’.   So, more important than ‘War and Peace’, the story of mankind, anything by Shakespeare, the Bible, Koran or the life story of Ghandi or Mandela or any other historically significant figure or even the person standing next to you?  Your family contains the ‘most important story ever told’.  Ever told.  If there was an Extrinsic Hall of Fame, this would be in it.

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How to get more people to act sustainably? Don’t talk about sustainability.

Here’s a very good, clear articulation of how to get more people act in a more sustainable way.

Caroline Fiennes of GlobalCool breaks people into three groups (called Value Modes) based on their broad motivations:

First group. People who care about things that are quite proximate to them.   Their primary concern is the safety and security of myself, family and nation.  Like rules and big into community.

Second group.  Primarily driven by the esteem and respect of others and therefore need to demonstrate their success.  So, big into fashion and social networks.

Third group.  Primarily interested in their intellectual and ethical imprint.  Interested in ideas and others even if they’ve never met them or are never likely to meet them.

So, who does the existing sustainability narrative talk to?  The third group and the third group only, of course.  It’s effectively missing out two-thirds of the population.  Talking about glaciers melting and people on the other side of the world just doesn’t connect those in the other two groups based on what they value.  They don’t really listen.  So, what to do?  She goes onto to give a couple of great examples of health advertising – e.g. communicating that you shouldn’t take Crystal Meth because it ruins your teeth is more appealing for people for whom appearance is important (the second group) than talking about how addictive it is.

Her point, which is obvious but very well made, is that you need to talk to people about what they care about in a way that engages with them as a means to do what you want (the obliquity strategy).  The health people don’t care what they need to say in order to get you to not take Crystal Meth, just that you don’t start taking it.  They’re happy not to talk about health in order to get people to be more healthy.  As she puts it – the important thing isn’t why you act in the way they what you, just that you do act.

Taking this to sustainability  an example of an ‘Accidental Environmentalists’ are kids who want to go to school on their micro-scooters because this is more fun than being in a car.  This has lead to an appreciable drop in car journeys in some areas of London.  You would never say to them that what they are doing is ‘green’.  But it is.

Commercial marketers have known this forever – they never talk about their agenda (we want to make more money) they just talk about your agenda – ‘You want to be popular?  Buy our product’.  And in doing so, we make more money.

She gives a bunch more examples and there’s loads more good stuff on their website, but in summary – to get more people to act sustainably, don’t talk about sustainability.  Simple really.

How long does it take to go sustainable? (part 2)

In this previous post I came to the conclusion that it takes a minimum of a year for someone to ‘go sustainable’.  This is because this is how long it’s taken me and I would regard myself as highly-motivated to do so – I’m doing the MSc and have LOTS of conversations about it.

It’s a fairly demoralising realisation – as that seems a long time in our short-termist society, but knowing the scale of the task is a great thing to know.

Further evidence for the this One Year Hypothesis come via a great conversation I had with Morag Watson at WWF. She talked about the excellent Natural Change programme that they’ve run in Scotland.  They describe it as follows:

The Natural Change Project was developed by WWF Scotland as a new and innovative response to the challenge of sustainability and to the growing evidence that current environmental campaigns are not resulting in the depth of behaviour change necessary to address this challenge. The project drew together seven diverse individuals from the business, charitable, arts, public, health and education sectors in Scotland. All were selected on the basis of being excellent communicators who were influential in their sector, but not particularly environmentally aware.  The purpose of the project was to encourage this group to think deeply about sustainability, to communicate through their social and professional networks and to share the changes in their thoughts and attitudes more widely through the forum of internet blogging.

They spent a total of 16 days together over the course of a year or so, a year that included a lot of shared conversations and thinking all grounded in trips to the wonderful area of Knoydart.  The group experienced some  some dramatic changes in the values and behaviours of the group.

Relating this to how you can communicate (or ‘engage’) with people, you broadly have 2 polar opposite options ‘Shallow and Many’ (mass advertising) or ‘Deep and Few’ (group therapy, for example).  Natural Change provides me with additional evidence to my own experience that the ‘Deep and Few’ option is the ONLY option that will work in order to make the necessary societal change to get people to change to be more sustainable – a deep, lengthy process in involving small groups of people.  This is because I agree with the Common Cause work in that the consumerist mindset and the extrinsic values associated with it are instilled in our society and within us from the day we’re born.  To get people to ‘go sustainable’ requires that they recognise and value intrinsic values instead of extrinsic.  This is obviously a big deal because it requires a basic rewiring in people’s heads as to what’s important – this sort of change is best done when supported by people undergoing the same transformation.

This all gets me to believe that getting people to turn down their heating or recycle their rubbish will have very little real, lasting effect in encouraging people to become wholly sustainable.  They are just mere actions that have virtually no impact on a person’s values.  An interesting question would be if you could get someone to turn their heating down, recycle more, buy organic, save water, drive less, go vegetarian, not to take foreign holidays etc etc., would they end up having intrinsic values?  Intuitively, I don’t think so – these actions are a multitude of ‘shallow’ and I don’t think all of that would add up to ‘deep’.

So, much more to think on with this, but if I continue down this way of thinking, then at least the challenge is clear – how do you do ‘Deep AND Many’?

How long does it take to ‘go sustainable’?

A lot of my posts have been in and around how you can get people to change their behaviour.  In particular, how can you get people to act in a way that is more ‘sustainable’.  To me this usually means buying less stuff or eating less meat.  I’ve been thinking about trying to solve this from an advertising or communications perspective because that’s where my (work) experience lies.  However, I’ve come to realise that thinking of the issue of sustainability through the lens of advertising is this is far too simplistic.

This is because advertising, on the whole, works by trying to encourage you to choose a brand when you are already thinking about buying that category.  So, feel like a pint?  Choose Stella over the others for these reasons.  Need to buy some washing powder?  Then this is why Ariel is the one to buy.

(I know this is a gross over simplication, but when you think about a lot of categories, it’s true – all FMCG, fashion, health and beauty, car insurance etc etc).

So, advertising is typically short form (from posters up to 30′ TV ads) which is proven (sometimes) to encourage people to buy more of a particular brand.  The important thing however is how much of the work the consumer has already done for the advertiser.  For example, the consumer is typically  a) in a ‘consuming’ mindset – they have money in their pocket  b) are in the environment (e.g. shop or online) where you are available c) are in the mood to buy from the category (e.g. after work in the pub, or in the supermarket doing the weekly shop).  As a result, all the advertising has to do is to tip people to buy your brand rather than the competitor, which are likely to be next to them.  It’s pretty simple job really.


Now consider that against communications to try and get people to buy less.  This is going to be far more difficult because it’s about reversing the ‘consuming mindset’.  To get people to consider whether or not they actually need to buy what they are thinking of buying in the first place.  It’s about getting people to value the value of ‘stuff’ and what role it plays in their lives.  As a result, it’s about consumerism and meaning and what’s important etc etc.  To do this is huge task that’s going to take a lot more communication than a 30′ ad or a poster.  So, how long does it take to think like this?

Not 30′, more like a year, I reckon.  This is because that’s how long it’s taken me.  To change the way I think about shopping and eating meat – such that I’ve reduced both by a considerable amount.  And I’ve been thinking about this a lot and talking to people about it a lot.  Now, it might be possible to get people to do it quicker than me – I hope so and I guess that’s the challenge – but the recognition of the time frame it’s taken me has helped me frame the scale of the task that faces us all.  It’s a big task.

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The Problem with Food Labelling

I talked to a few people about my week going ‘vegetarian’ (see previous post) and since then a few of them have asked ‘Are you still vegetarian?’  The answer to that is ‘no’, but, to me, the interesting thing is binary-ness of it.  It’s like you are either a vegetarian or not.  There is no middle ground in that you’re allowed have meat every now and again.  This seems like a bit of a problem if we’re going to try and encourage more people to eat less meat.

This is because being a ‘vegetarian’ seems to come with certain criteria.  Firstly, you’ve got to have a reason not to eat meat.  And that reason has to be quite strong in order to overcome the pleasure of eating meat.  And those reasons usually are (meat is murder; Climate Change; poor animal conditions; animals have feelings too).  Further, the vegetarian’s have their own bit on the menu (usually at the bottom), their own restaurants and their own brands (e.g Linda McCartney).  So, in many ways they are set apart and ‘different’ from the mainstream.  To what degree this is desired as a means to make a statement about themselves or to what degree this is merely for the ease of making choices, I don’t know.  But what I do know is that it makes them different and I don’t think that most people want to be seen as ‘different’.  Especially when it comes to something as basic and fundamental as food.  So, I think that the vegetarian’s are shooting themselves in the foot.  By creating segregation, they are deliberately creating a line that people will be unwilling to cross.  People don’t want the finality of restricting their choices.

So, one answer is to create a new ‘label’.  In walk ‘Flexitarian’.  It’s the term for vegetarians who eat meat now and again.  (Apparently Gwyneth is one darling).  Now other than it being the most ridiculous label I’ve heard in ages (Hi, no, I’m not a vegetarian, I’m a flexitarian), it just adds to the desire to cut things up into neat piles.  There are thousands of different foods which make up millions of combinations to eat.  To try and categorise what you eat seems a bit daft to me.

So, what to do?  Well, on the one hand I’m just going to keep my mouth shut and just cook and eat what tastes great.  However, people need to eat less meat. How to do that?   Using the stick of ‘vegetarian’ to seems counter-productive.  Perhaps instead it should be about how great meat tastes if you only eat it once a week.  Make it about the pleasure of rarity, rather than the evil of eating it at all.  Might just work.

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The machismo of nut roast

So, Nick Stern (of the IPCC’s Stern Review) says that the single thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint is to go vegetarian.  Now, I LOVE roast lamb and a bacon sandwich, so this could be hard.  But to do it for a week can’t be that difficult.  Can it?

So, this was the challenge.  I was to go vegetarian – and my friend Celia (who already is vegetarian) was to go vegan for the week.  Oh, when I say I was going to go vegetarian I mean ‘vegetarian’.  A fish is not a vegetable.

So, how was it?  It was pretty easy to be fair, but with only 2 ‘highlights’.   The first was a client dinner at The Summer House, a beautiful restuarant on the canal in Maida Vale.  The problem was that there were two vegetarian’s – Elinor who’s a permanent vegetarian and me, the fly-by-night one.  However, they only had one vegetarian option on the rather extensive menu and then they only had one portion of that one option.  So, we shared that – which turned out to be a rather weird deep-fried risotto cake – and got them to de-king prawn some king prawn and tomato pasta dish which we also shared.  So, thumbs down to The Summer House but thumbs up for getting on with your colleagues better.

The second was having Ross, Gordon and Ben round for Sunday lunch before going to watch the Man Utd v Chelsea game in the pub.  Now, it’s May and therefore the perfect excuse to have roast lamb – a double hit of manliness.  But no, it was nut roast recipe instead which is something I’ve never cooked before and only eaten once – at Schumacher College on week 3 of the MSc.  But, it was pretty special.  So, it was an afternoon of yin and yang as we ate nut roast and gravy (made with ‘nutrional yeast flakes'(?)) which tasted very good – good enough for everyone to stop moaning about the fact that they were eating nut roast.  Man Utd won the game and no-one went for a burger afterwards.  Or so they said.

So, what did I learn?  That going vegetarian was easy and from now on I’ll be eating a lot less meat than before, but when it comes to going out, I think I’m going to stick to the meat/fish options – it’ll make it more ‘special’.  Just like the bacon sandwich on the morning after the week was up.

(As a post-script to this, here’s a US magazine who launched a Go Vegetarian 30 day challenge)

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China to wage war with West over Climate Change

Naive thinking or bold prediction……

So, I’ve asked myself recently has been ‘Am I old enough to get by with out having to learn Mandarin?’

Hopefully, the answers ‘yes’ because I’m rubbish at languages, but The Economist has recently brought forward its forecast and has now stated that China will overtake the US as the world’s largest economy in 2019.  So, maybe not.

However, maybe this is a good thing as being the world superpower will allow them to save the world.  Literally.

There’s two bits of evidence to suggest that China will save the day. The first is a book called Consumptionomics.

Here’s the radio interview with it’s author.  What’s interesting about it is that it’s written by an Indian Management Consultant based in Hong Kong (rather than someone from LSE or Harvard) and basically he says that China and India cannot mirror the OECD countries in their level of consumption or we’ll run out of planet.  Nothing new there, but he goes on to say that China, with its style of government is in the best place to save the planet and indeed they’re already restricting car ownership.  He also makes some great points that India and China’s idea of what the ‘right path’ is has been determined by the West (i.e. consumption is good) and it’s time for the academics in those countries to step up and create their own sustainable future, rather than have their future dictated to them by the West.

This is all interesting stuff, then Tim passed this my way.  It’s an article in Time magazine about China banning ads that promote the luxury lifestyle because it encourages inequality and China’s number one priority is to build a ‘harmonious society’.

So, what does all of this mean?  Well here’s the prediction.  The USA is the current the world’s superpower but there’s only 307 million of them (4.5% of the global population).  A lot of their foreign policy is about protecting American interests and they’ve been pretty good at that.  Now, China has got a population of 1,331 million (19% of the global population).  So, America doesn’t have to worry about what happens at a global scale because they don’t have to think that big.  But China does.  So, if China pursues a sustainable policy now, what are they likely to see when they get to be number 1?  That they’re doing their bit to save the planet (and themselves) and given current trajectory, the US and Europe aren’t. And will China do?  How about ‘force’ the West to do what they say, for the sake of the planet.  Economic or military force, who knows?

That’s my prediction.

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