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Questo articolo è stato pubblicato il 16 gennaio 2013 alle ore 16:23.


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 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.

Recently, 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 localized, 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. These low-cost measures nurture long-term antifragility, while capturing future upside gains that could compensate for black swan events.

Antifragility is crucial in large economies like China, where administration is largely centralized, but activities are dispersed among families, civil society, markets, and the various levels of government. China’s greatest challenge lies in balancing its decentralized, family-based traditions with its centralized governance, thereby developing in its institutions the kind of antifragility that is already present in its culture.

China has been struggling to balance centralization and fragmentation – that is, control and uncertainty – throughout its long history of rising and falling dynasties, domestic decay, and foreign invasion. While the open, meritocratic selection of scholar-officials helped to sustain China’s closed dynastic governance structure for more than 2,000 years, it could not offset the system’s growing fragility under the Qing Dynasty, as territorial gains increased the empire’s population from 150 million to 450 million. Rampant corruption, rising social unrest, and the inability to resist modern Western powers ultimately caused the dynasty, and the world’s longest-lasting bureaucracy, to crumble in 1912.

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