Commentary

Can China learn to embrace chaos?

Can China learn to embrace chaos?
In this Jan. 17, 2013 photo, a man walks outside a construction site of a residential real estate project in Beijing, China. Photo: AP
Published: January 22, 4:37 AM
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China has once again reached a crossroads on its journey towards inclusive, sustainable prosperity.

At the Chinese Communist Party’s congress in November, the new leadership was tasked with plotting the country’s path for the next 10 years, which entails modernising China’s social, political and economic systems within the constraints of its history and changing geopolitical context.

A major challenge will be delineating the roles and responsibilities of the party, the state, the market and civil society.

Within the next decade, China’s leaders must design and implement reforms to combat corruption; support migration to cities; promote technological innovation; rebalance sources of economic growth; raise environmental and labour standards; and build the country’s social-welfare system.

To ensure a system’s sustainability, its design must account for what author Nassim N Taleb called rare “black swan” events — which, as the global economic crisis demonstrated, do occur, with devastating consequences.

But measures to make systems more “resilient” or “robust” would be incomplete. They should not only be able to withstand volatility; they should be primed to profit from stress and chaos.

FORCED TO BE DYNAMIC

Recently, Mr Taleb coined the term “antifragile” to describe a system that benefits from inherent uncertainty, volatility and disorder. He pointed out that, while rigid systems may seem more stable, they are not equipped to cope with unexpected shocks, making them fragile in the long run. By contrast, frequent exposure to localised, temporary volatility forces systems to become more dynamic and flexible, enhancing their capacity to thrive under pressure.

Given this, rather than allowing demands for maximum efficiency to push structures to their limits, redundancies (equivalent capabilities implemented in multiple ways) should be built into systems.

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