According to new data just released by the United Nations, China surpassed the United States in 2010 to become the world's No. 1 manufacturing nation, ending America's dominance as the world's largest manufacturer since the late 1800s (see chart above of the top five manufacturing countries). China's manufacturing output in 2010 of $19.222 trillion and 18.89% share of world manufacturing output of $10,176 trillion,was slightly ahead of America's manufacturing output of $1.855 trillion and 18.24% share of global manufacturing production.But note:
China's manufacturing workforce is estimated to be around 100 million and could be as high as 120 million, compared to America's manufacturing employment of about 11.5 million. Therefore, China is producing roughly the same manufacturing output as the U.S. but Chinese worker productivity is so low it needs 9-10 workers for every one American factory worker.So China's workforce is huge and not very productive, but cheap.
Even though China is now the world largest manufacturer, its GDP per capita of only $2,800 (data here from the USDA) is just now reaching a level of output per person that the U.S. achieved back in 1878, 133 years ago.Put simply having low productivity results in low income per capita. Paul Krugman makes the point when he writes,
Economic history offers no example of a country that experienced long-term productivity growth without a roughly equal rise in real wages. In the 1950s, when European productivity was typically less than half of U.S. productivity, so were European wages; today average compensation measured in dollars is about the same. As Japan climbed the productivity ladder over the past 30 years, its wages also rose, from 10% to 110% of the U.S. level. South Korea's wages have also risen dramatically over time. ("Does Third World growth hurt First World Prosperity?" Harvard Business Review 72 n4, July-August 1994: 113-21.)Thus in the battle to improve wages and the standard of living, China (and New Zealand) must improve its productivity.