Two data points on China and jobs:
- BNET Pharma blogger Jim Edwards juxtaposes Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly's plans to slash 5,500 jobs in the U.S. and other developed countries with its goal of boosting its China division head count to 2,000, in part by doubling its Chinese sales force from 800 to 1,600.
- At Technology Review, University of Oregon physics professor Stephen Hsu excerpts a Chronicle of Higher Education article describing how the computer scientist Andrew Yao has assembled one of the world's leading departments of theoretical computer science at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Theoretical computer science -- the abstract, intensely mathematical subfield that is Mr. Yao's specialty -- is poorly financed in the United States. It wasn't originally a target area for China, either. But China has an approach different from that found in the United States: a desire to build outstanding institutions by attracting the leaders in a field -- any field...
That hunger translates into money for leading Western-trained scientists willing to relocate. "China is a very exciting place for science and engineering for people who have vision," he says.
The link between these two stories is how they cross athwart the classic framing that sees China as primarily employing its cheap labor and cheap currency to out-compete the West. Eli Lilly isn't looking to cut costs by moving to China, it is hoping to cash in on China's growing demand for state-of-the-art healthcare products. Meanwhile, it is slashing its U.S. workforce primarily because three of its biggest selling drugs, including the anti-psychotic Zyprexa, are about to lose their patent protection.
Likewise -- the flow of top theoretical computer scientists to Tsinghua has nothing to do with the inequities of globalization and everything to do with China's determination to pour resources into science and technology.
Which leads to one final observation. A question much asked lately -- and plaintively -- in the United States is: Where will we find the next driver of economic growth? Consumers are retrenching, the housing market will be stagnant for years, the dot-com bubble is unlikely to reflate -- it's just hard to see where a new flow of energy, excitement and potential profits will come from. But maybe we're looking in the wrong place. Maybe the next engine of growth will be the China boom.