The reasons Time magazine gave for naming Ben Bernanke its Person of the Year centered on the Fed chairman helping to “ensure that 2009 was a period of weak recovery rather than catastrophic depression.”
For similar reasons the magazine listed on its list of runners-up “the Chinese worker,” a nod to another factor – or rather tens of millions of them — in keeping the world from tipping into the economic abyss.
In its motivation, Time mentioned the term baoba, or “maintain eight”, a reference to China’s 8% growth targets and said, “A year ago, many thought hitting such a figure in 2009 was a pipe dream. But China has done it, and this year it remains the world’s fastest-growing major economy — and an economic stimulus for everyone else. Who deserves the credit? Above all, the tens of millions of workers who have left their homes, and often their families, to find work in the factories of China’s booming coastal cities.”
The nomination might have seemed weirdly anonymous, lumping together under one label millions of individuals who might have little in common except as a symbol, but Time accompanied the entry with eight (ba!) photos of workers at an LED factory in Shenzhen, an apparent attempt at giving “the Chinese worker” a face (though it’s still not clear who would have been invited to the awards ceremony if there is such a thing).
But as heroic as the Chinese worker is, it deserves to be said that without massive stimulus efforts by the Chinese government that started late last year, he or she might not have a job to go to. Indeed, in the early months of this year, jobs were lost to the tune of 20 million-plus. Also, workers in the coastal factories, which make many of the goods China exports, are dependent on global demand rather than a driver of it.
Still, China has certainly driven much of the economic discourse this year. On the list of Time’s “People Who Mattered” was People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan. Motivation: “Even with China’s growing international economic clout, the mandarins who run the rapidly growing economy tend be faceless — and cautious to the extreme. That’s why when Zhou Xiaochuan publicly called in March for the U.S. dollar to be eventually replaced as the globe’s reserve currency, the world took note.”
The March proposal, which is still widely discussed, brought home the image of China as an increasingly assertive participant on the world economic stage, one calling for a global economic order less dominated by the U.S. and other wealthy nations.
In a poll on Time’s Web site to let readers weigh in on who they think was the most influential person in 2009, Zhou was in ninth place at last look (the list was topped by Chesley B. (Sully) Sullenberger, the pilot who successfully landed a US Airways plane on the Hudson River last January), showing that while non-Chinese still dominate Time’s influential-people lists, at least China’s equivalent to Bernanke has acquired name recognition.