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Your junk mail reveals a global shift of white collar work

[THIS WEEK] My work email address attracts a lot of spam. Aside from the usual wire transfer requests, offers of performance enhancers and other comic smuttery that sneaks through the filters, there’s a fair amount of unsolicited sales pitches for professional services

Recently, one of the latter surprised me. Rather than the usual scanning and accounting services from Bombay or Chennai, this was different. It was offering ‘advanced editorial services’. Pretty much exactly what I do, except not in that expensive first world place, London.

This email was from India, where a rapidly emerging professional services industry is impressing global investors. The eastward shift in goods provision over the last 20 years has taken the middle classes and their white collar jobs with it, both now big parts of once ‘developing’ economies.

Several recent books and an exhibition at the NLA offer insight into the biggest beast in the east: China. China’s opening up, its uptake of western brands, and aggressive city expansion (see Shenzen, below) has led some to suggest that China is coming round to the western consensus laid out by Francis Fukuyama in The End of History. Martin Jacques’ updated bestseller When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New World Order argues instead that the movement goes the other way: rather than China becoming more like the west, the west will have to become more like China. This is echoed in architect John Van de Water’s account of seven years working in China, You Can’t Change China, China Changes You (010).

Which brings me back to the spam. Why should our white collar jobs not go the same way as the bulk of our manufacturing? With more distributed suppliers, the average wage for a job can either stay pegged to the mores of western democracies, or gravitate down toward the median in cheaper territories. Which do you think will happen? 

Visit From Beijing to London: Exhibition of Contemporary Chinese Architecture 2012, 12 28 April, The Building Centre, Store Street, London WC1

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