Credit: Photo courtesy of St. Martin's Press

As financial markets reel amidst the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, journalist Dexter Roberts is looking to the Chinese economy for signs of things to come.

Roberts is an award-winning journalist who spent more than 20 years reporting from Beijing, where he served as the China bureau chief and Asia News Editor at Bloomberg Businessweek. A Montana native, Roberts’ journalistic career spanned a period of rapid transformation and explosive economic growth in China, during which he reported on the country’s economy, politics, agriculture, and more.

Roberts, who now serves as a fellow at the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center at the University of Montana, is promoting his new book, The Myth Of Chinese Capitalism: The Worker, the Factory, and the Future of the World. The book makes the case that Chinese policies are actually restricting economic growth and contributing to widening class disparity.

“The myth, in sort of a nutshell, is that China is on an inexorable path toward a vastly expanded middle class,” Roberts tells Montana Free Press founder John S. Adams. But the economic reality doesn’t support that popular narrative, according to Roberts, who argues that “China is getting old before it gets rich,” and that the country is “relegating close to half [its] population to second-class status.”

Roberts also sees compounding problems in the country’s initial response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, telling Adams that, on the heels of President Donald Trump’s trade wars, the outbreak has the potential to upend the world economy for the foreseeable future. And he anticipates that the tumult could be felt here in Montana. 

“For a state like Montana, which has a large reliance on agriculture, there is a very obvious fit with China’s growth,” Roberts says. “I would be ready for the potential of real disruption in the economy going forward.”

Roberts’ conversation with Adams is featured in the latest episode of the Montana Lowdown podcast, a weekly publication of Montana Free Press

Alex McKenzie has worked with a diverse array of start-ups and nonprofit organizations. He is a former record producer and music journalist, has additional experience working in agriculture and food security, and previously operated his own dairy business. He lives in southwest Montana. Follow him on Twitter.