A Face in the Crowd

Continuing from yesterday on China, I’m wondering about the types of innovation that China’s economy will be good at. In the varieties of capitalism framework, coordinated market economies like Germany and Japan are good at incremental innovation, while liberal market economies like the U.S. and Britain are good at radical innovation. So what kind of innovation would a hybrid state-led Chinese model be good at?

I’m sure there are comparative political economists who have good answers to this, but I naively wonder if it isn’t mass-based innovation, the kind driven by sheer numbers of people. I think this recalling the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. The film director Zhang Yimou put together a multi-multi-million-dollar ceremony of amazing scope and grandeur. And one of its central features was the coordinated action of all…those…people!

It was breathtakingly innovative, leveraging a vast and seemingly malleable labor pool to achieve effects that can’t be achieved any other way. Talk about scale!

So I’m thinking Chinese innovation – in the varieties of capitalism sense – is about offline crowdsourcing: throw a bunch of people at the problem. Or rather, think of problems that require tons of people acting in concert to solve, and go solve those.

Tomorrow I’ll explore the implications of this approach for philanthropy and the social sector.


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