Chris Van Es

China’s Antifragile Ambitions

In order to secure long-term prosperity, China must enhance its systems' "antifragility" – that is, their ability to benefit from uncertainty and stress. But success will require balancing China's centralized administration with its decentralized family-based traditions – a challenge with which China has struggled for centuries.

HONG KONG – China has once again reached a crossroads on its journey toward 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 ten years, which entails modernizing China’s social, political, and economic systems within the constraints of its history and changing geopolitical context.

By any standards, the reform agenda is ambitious – especially given a fragile and unaccommodating external environment. Within the next decade, China’s leaders must design and implement reforms to combat corruption; support migration to cities (such as liberalizing the house-registration system); promote technological innovation; rebalance sources of economic growth; raise environmental and labor standards; and build the country’s social-welfare system, including health care, education, and social security.

To ensure a system’s sustainability, its design must account for what 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.

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