Metal Intensity in Comparative Historical Perspective: China, North Asia, the United States & the Kuznets Curve
The aim of this paper is to investigate the likely future path of China’s metal intensity by referencing the experience of relevant peers through initial engagement with a technology-led strategy and beyond. This question cuts to the very roots of Chinese long run economic strategy and performance. The broad conclusion is that there is no ‘silver bullet’ quantitative model that captures the dynamics of metal intensity through the entirety of the industrialisation process. Even the identification of a robust non-linear long run relationship between steel intensity and income per capita in the United States, styled here as the “metal intensity Kuznets curve”, does not overturn this position. Each national industrialisation process, its entry into the global strategic transition and its relationship to metal intensity, appears to be sui generis and should be dealt with accordingly. China will not continue to follow a metal intensity path similar to Korea’s for more than another decade. After that point, similarities with the Japanese and United States’ experiences will increase, but a distinct Chinese character will develop. The peak in Chinese steel usage per capita should occur within a handful of years from 2020.
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