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Peak Talent

• March 21, 2014 • 9:43 AM

Japan reached peak talent in 1995. (Photo: BradBeattie/Wikimedia Commons)

Talent has replaced the depletion of natural resources as the world’s biggest crisis.

Talent is the new oil. Dear talent has replaced depletion of natural resources as the world’s biggest crisis. The geopolitics of energy pales in comparison to the geopolitics of talent. We will never live to see peak oil thanks to peak talent:

Demographers such as Michael Teitelbaum at Harvard Law School and Jay Winter, a history professor at Yale University, note that already more than half the world’s population lives in aging countries where the fertility rate is less than 2.1 children per woman—the rate required to replace both parents, once infant mortality is taken into account.

This is both an opportunity and a threat. On one hand, it could help preserve natural resources in nations that have been taxed by rapid population growth. But some economists blame a slowdown in population growth for contributing to such disparate events as the Great Depression and Japan’s sluggish growth rates in recent decades.

Some developing nations that built their economies on an expanding supply of young people entering the workforce are rethinking their growth plans. China saw its working-age population decline by 3.45 million in 2012 and 2.45 million last year—a cumulative decline of 0.63% since 2011 and a sign that expansion has ended. It is now relaxing its one-child policy and making it easier for people to move to its cities to try to boost productivity.

Japan hit peak talent in 1995. Next up is South Korea (2016) with Thailand not far behind (2017). Hong Kong is in a demographic death spiral. So much for the Asian Century.

The main hegemonic rival for the United States right now (besides some topless Russian guy resetting the rules to the Great Game) is China. China doesn’t have only a peak talent problem. China has a brain drain catastrophe:

Wang Huiyao, the director of The Center for China & Globalization, said the phenomenon threatens China’s long-term economic transformation. He’s urging the Chinese government to set up an immigration bureau and encourage more skilled foreigners to immigrate into China.

The U.S. is selecting talent from 7.9 billion people, but we are from only 1.3 billion,” he said.

Zweig, a specialist in China’s human resources said that China’s leaders are acutely conscious of the brain deficit, particularly at the upper end of the academic pyramid. “China is waging a talent war — it’s the most active state in the world in terms of reversing migration,” he said.

Emphasis added. If not for immigration, the United States would be facing peak talent. Given that leaving home is the default setting for college graduates, how can dying China compete? In the war for talent, China is firing blanks. Advantage America:

Other than wealth preservation, “people also go (abroad) for opportunities, quality of life, and where their skills are better valued,” said David Zweig, a professor and specialist in China’s human resources at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

As the Chinese saying goes, “painting on a little gold,” or obtaining a foreign education, is a highly prized maneuver.

Given the chance, many postgraduate Chinese students — and in particular Ph.D students — choose to stay put overseas, at least in the mid-term. Li, a journalism masters student, said “I like the culture in Hong Kong, it’s open and free. It’s unlikely this type of atmosphere will take root in China anytime soon.”

Globally, most highly prized maneuvers will happen in the United States, perhaps in the United Kingdom or Canada. How will China attract foreign-born college freshman? China is neither a site of talent production or talent refinement. As far as talent is concerned, China is a petrostate.

Jim Russell

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