China as a vervet monkey
I was reading the 900 page tome The Evolution of Childhood on the flight over and came across a passage about yellow baboons and vervet monkeys that reminded me of China. Seriously.
See, there's a difference between how the two species mature. While the yellow baboon takes years to grow up, learning from its parents about behaviors and its surroundings, vervet monkeys "race to maturity" in the words of author Melvin Konner. As a result, they end up learning a lot less, particularly about their surroundings and most importantly about food. While yellow baboons end up knowing hundreds of food sources, vervet monkeys, as a result of their growth bias, end up with just a few. Thus, populations of vervet monkeys get almost completely annihilated when one of those food sources disappear. It's a boom and bust cycle caused by the desire to get big fast -- which is very similar to what you might say about what's facing China today.
China, for the past 20 years, has been a vervet monkey racing to maturity feeding on the cheap food of export manufacturing. And when demand for Chinese-made goods dropped last year, it moved onto to the cheap food of cheap money. Both are unsustainable and unless the country moves in a more diverse direction (a la the baboon), it will be volatile going forward. Of course, China is trying to transition (see the recent currency move and focus on domestic demand), but it is somewhat a race against time.