In 2010, China’s urban-dwelling population surpassed its rural population, marking a monumental demographic milestone in the country’s history.
Just three decades prior, China looked markedly different. Only 20% of Chinese citizens lived in urban areas, and many of today’s metropolises were still small villages.
Since then, huge swaths of the population have moved from farmland into cities, a shift that is still causing many urban areas to swell in size. Case in point is the growth of Guangzhou, which lays just north of Hong Kong. From 1980 to today, more than 18 million people moved into the city. A 40-year-old born in Guangzhou will have seen their small, regional city mushroom into one of the largest urban amalgamations on Earth.
Of course, this is just one example of a process that has been altering the landscape of cities from the coast of the South China Sea out to the Eurasian Steppe.
The One Million+ Club
According to Demographia’s World Urban Areas report, there are now 113 urban areas in China that surpass the one million population threshold. In comparison, North America and the EU combined have 114 urban areas that surpass one million people.
Below is a full breakdown of China’s one million+ club:
The massive scale of rural-to-urban migration isn’t just a major development within China, it has no parallel in modern history.
Since 1980, over half a billion people have moved from the countryside to an urban center. The construction of these new cities took a staggering amount of raw materials. Few data points highlight the scale of construction better than China’s cement production in recent years.
In 2018, Chinese construction used about 8x the amount of second place India, which has a similar population size.
Megacities on Megacities
Cities with over 10 million inhabitants are defined as megacities. China is already home to six megacities, with another three urban areas well on the way to achieving that status.
In fact, some megacities within close proximity have grown so large that they are merging into contiguous urban areas. The most prominent example of this phenomenon is in the Pearl River Delta region of China.
The Pearl River Delta region is not only home to the megacities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen, but also a number of other sizable cities that are quickly merging into a unified continuous entity containing up to 50 million people. Demographia still considers most of these cities to be separate labor markets — but as more connections form across the region, the Pearl River Delta could be poised to become the largest unified urban area in human history.
As megacities like Shanghai and Shenzhen have grown and developed, they’ve also become more expensive places to live and do business. The economic evolution of these cities has created opportunity for smaller, less developed cities to woo both residents and businesses.
This natural reshuffling has led to impressive growth in cities further inland like Zhengzhou, which sits 350 miles (630 kms) east of the coastline where many of the country’s largest cities reside.
Using the “build it and they will come” approach, the city converted a 160 square mile (410 sq km) patch of empty land into the Zhengzhou Airport Economy Zone (ZAEZ). The project has proven wildly successful, and the city even has the nickname “Apple City” thanks to the presence of Foxconn (which produces the iPhone) and a cluster of other smartphone manufacturers.
This airport-centered zone was developed with the full political and economic backing of Beijing as part of a broader effort to increase economic activity in China’s interior cities. Zhengzhou has nearly tripled in size over the last decade, a powerful testament to the shift in economic momentum.
China’s Inland All-Stars:
|Urban Area||Population 2010||Population 2019||Change (2010-19)|
Compare the numbers above to fast-growing cities in the U.S., such as Las Vegas or Phoenix, which managed 33% and 12% growth respectively over the last decade.
If this trend continues, China’s one million+ club will most likely expand once fresh census data is released in 2021.
Prediction Consensus: What the Experts See Coming in 2023
Using our database of 500+ predictions from reports, articles, interviews, and more, we highlight what experts think will happen in 2023
Prediction Consensus: What the Experts See Coming in 2023
In this, our fourth year of Prediction Consensus (now part of our more comprehensive 2023 Global Forecast Series), we’ve learned a few things about the universe of predictions, experts, outlooks, and forecasts.
- Experts are reasonably good at predicting the future one year out, though they are also in a strong position to help shape the future through their influential thought leadership and actions.
- Situations can and will flare up in unexpected ways, which can have knock-on effects on the whole system (e.g. COVID-19, Ukraine invasion).
- Experts are just as susceptible to hype as the rest of us, as evidenced by the glut of Web3 predictions in 2022 and AI predictions this year.
Of course, we’re susceptible to hype as well, which is why we asked ChatGPT to write the intro to this article:
Not bad. But, simple curiosity aside, it’s the practical considerations we’ll focus on today. This article serves as an overview of how experts think the markets will move, how trends will develop, and which risks and opportunities to watch over the coming 12 months.
Let’s gaze into the crystal ball.
The Economic Vibe Check
First, we’ll look at some big picture themes, and how experts see them playing out over 2023.
Inflation: This was the top economic story of last year, so it’s a natural starting place. Many of the expert opinions in this year’s database (now at 500+ predictions) are pointing to inflation easing off as the year progresses*. On the downside, few predict that inflation will drop back down to the 2% range that Fed policymakers favor.
GDP: Forecasters have been revising their economic projections downward in recent weeks. The latest was World Bank, which now sees global growth declining to 1.7% in 2023, down from 3% just six months ago. Most of the predictions in our database see global economic growth in the range of 1.5% to 2%.
Recession: As 2022 came to a close, the broad sentiment among experts in the financial industry is that recession is all but inevitable in developed markets this year. As dawn breaks in 2023, a few analysts now feel that the U.S.—and possibly Europe—could narrowly avoid recession.
Markets: Experts on Wall Street and beyond are cautiously optimistic about equities, and after the worst year on record for bonds in 2022, most analysts are declaring that “Bonds are back”.
*Interestingly, this was also last year’s prediction, but the scale of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a curve ball that caught many experts off guard.
AI is Eating the World
Jobs being displaced by automation is far from a new theme, but given the exponential improvements in AI in recent years, the risk to entire industries feels more existential today.
As an example, let’s consider art and design. One of the ways many illustrators and artists earn a living is through commissions—essentially being hired and paid to create a specific piece of art in their style.
Today though, free, powerful AI tools, such as Midjourney, allow users to generate high-quality art in an infinite number of styles with just a few clicks. Real art will never truly go out of style, and accomplished artists will always attract an audience, but this one example shows how quickly technology can disrupt an industry. (Artists can take solace in the fact that AI is still comically bad at rendering hands.)
Of course, there are obvious positive aspects to this technological advancement as well. Generative AI tools are useful for generating ideas and mock-ups, and even functional snippets of code. AI systems like AlphaFold unlock a world of possibilities in scientific domains.
From the hundreds of predictions we evaluated, it’s clear that experts view AI as a major catalyst this year. AI start-ups are forcing Big Tech to innovate faster, and employees are finding new ways to use AI-powered tools to increase productivity.
Experts predict that AI will impact peoples’ lives in a much more visible and tangible way in 2023 than in past years.
The China Factor
As world’s second largest economy and linchpin of global trade, events in China have a major impact on the world economy.
Xi Jinping’s reversal of Zero-COVID restrictions should drastically change the trajectory of the country’s economy. For one, reopening will unleash a flood of household spending and consumption.
China’s reopening will also impact other economies as well. For example, the resumption of travel will be a boon to destinations favored by Chinese vacationers. Economically, Hong Kong stands to benefit immensely—its GDP could jump upwards of 8% after reopening is complete. Emerging market commodity exporters could see a lift as well, though inflation could be reinvigorated as a result.
In the U.S., a storm is brewing over the extremely popular video app, TikTok. Many experts predict that regulators will either ban the app altogether in 2023, or force the sale of the company to an American entity. Regardless how that situation plays out, it underscores the souring relationship between the U.S. and China. The rivalry will continue to have ripple effects on the global markets throughout the year.
Energy was the S&P 500’s top performing sector two years in a row, and many experts feel that more growth is on the horizon.
The global system that supplies us with energy is breathtakingly complex, with a lot of unpredictable factors at play. Of all factors, conflict can create the most volatility, and 2023 has a number of geopolitical risks that could impact energy supplies. First, Europe will continue to diversify its energy imports away from Russia. Recently, liquefied natural gas from the U.S. has helped fill gaps.
Next, Iran could be a flashpoint in the Middle East this year. A brewing conflict in the region could cause instability, which will have knock-on effects on the energy industry—particularly in the event of attacks on oil and gas infrastructure.
Here are a few other factors to consider this coming year:
- The U.S. Energy Department will aim to replenish its Strategic Petroleum Reserve
- Easing of U.S. sanctions on Venezuela could lay the ground work for increased oil production
- In post-Zero-COVID China, economic activity will increase, pushing up demand
- In the UK, the energy price guarantee will rise in April, meaning higher energy bills for households
The Elon Playbook
After a lull in December (nobody wants to be the company that fires people during the holiday season) tech and tech-adjacent companies have resumed their zealous slashing of headcounts.
There had been a slew of layoffs already in 2023, topped by Salesforce, which is trimming 7,000 jobs, and Amazon, which is cutting 18,000 roles—primarily impacting the corporate side of the business.
Given the influence of Elon Musk in the tech industry, many experts are suggesting that his strategy of ruthlessly slashing headcount at Twitter might serve as inspiration for other technology leaders.
Employees in the tech industry are very well compensated, and many were hired during periods of intense competition between companies to attract talent and capture market share.
During a downturn, it’s tempting—and often necessary—for companies to course-correct. There were also predictions that the whole start-up and investment ecosystem could be switching from a hypergrowth to a value-focused mindset, which is a theme that is worth consideration in 2023.
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