Anthony Hilton: Work hard, live longer and prosper – it's the Asian way

My Week Gresham College professor Doug McWilliams, whose day job is running the Centre for Economic and Business Research, has a habit in his lectures of dropping in factual nuggets that send a shiver down your spine, And as the theme of the series is how the world has to change under the impact of the biggest-ever economic shock – the rapid rise of Asia – he has lots of material.

He was at it again on Wednesday evening in a lecture at the Museum of London, when he explained that one of the reasons the shock is so great is that it is so rapid. When prosperity comes gradually, societies tend to ease up: people work less hard, they spend more on social welfare, they save and invest less. In Asia, in contrast, the people have become rich so fast that they have not forgotten what it was like to be poor, so they have not eased up at all. As a result, they have become hyper-competitive.

Thus in Singapore GDP per capita is 30 per cent higher than the UK, while in Hong Kong it is 50 per cent higher. Yet they both work as many hours a year as they did when they were poor. Our year would have to last 17 months to put in the hours they do in 12.

And yet they live longer. In fact, Hong Kong residents live longer than anyone in the world, and two years more than we do. In Singapore they have an extra 12 months… which if McWilliams is to be believed, they probably spend working.

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