Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Peking Duck, anyone?

Following last year's posting on Ducati Spa's proposed floatation on the Hong Kong stock exchange, the Financial Times has reporting that move is likely to be sidestepped by an outright sale to an existing car manufacturer. Given the AMG connection Mercedes are the obvious first-guess, but it would be a brave (and naive) person who'd bet against an Indian or Chinese factory stepping in. Should we care?

If it's China, definitely. Their view on copyright and patent law is simple; it plain doesn't exist. Yet we let them manufacture pretty much anything designed in the west to save us money (and lose jobs that we then have to replace with welfare) in the name of a free market; that's fine in theory, until the resulting wealth gets passed to a few already wealthy individuals while handing over our supposed advantage of a better educated and more skilled workforce. This could be a once-and-for-all abandonment of the technological advantage the west has enjoyed since the industrial (maybe even agricultural) revolution.

The second problem is China isn't a free market - their currency is deliberately undervalued and human rights just don't exist over yonder great wall. You don't even need to visit Hong Kong anymore to see the Chinese making something for a western company, then flogging the "run ons" (stuff made cheaply at the end of a production run) via eBay or as illegal counterfeits (except they're not counterfeits) in markets across the world. What can we do? Same as we did during the Cold War - not build production lines in places where we might live to regret it. Problem is we already owe so much money to the Chinese we've probably let the chance pass.

And that's the other thing to fret about - listen to the news and just about every business that goes belly up (including football clubs!) does so because it can't service massive debts, even at the peppercorn interest rates they have to pay. Story's the same every time - sharp young suit persuades private equity backers there's a fast buck to be made, huge wall of cash looking for a return above 2% leaps at the chance, and then...oblivion. Normally I don't loose too much sleep over this sort of stuff, because economies can usually fix themselves given time. But if Ducati goes, or just becomes a brand that used to build and race motorcycles out of Borgo Panigale, the world will be a poorer place

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