Which Way China… and the U.S.
Yesterday afternoon, a coworker and I were discussing a plaster molding that was sagging off a large house’s dining room ceiling. He expressed surprise that the installers would rely entirely on adhesive to keep the heavy decoration attached, and although I shared his distrust of goop, in building, I pointed out that it had held up for a hundred years or so. The conversation turned toward the impressions that future carpenters might have of our work, a century on.
We were standing in the remodeled house’s kitchen, which has brand new “green friendly” bamboo cabinets, and having just read about Rhode Island students’ lack of substantial progress on standardized tests, as well as this George Will column, I quipped that a future owner will feel right at home when China takes over the country:
Fogel finds many reasons for this, including the increased productivity of the 700 million (55 percent) rural Chinese. But he especially stresses “the enormous investment China is making in education.”
While China increasingly invests in its future, America increasingly invests in its past: the elderly. China’s ascent to global economic hegemony could be slowed or derailed by unforeseen scarcities or social fissures. America’s destiny is demographic, and therefore is inexorable and predictable, which makes the nation’s fiscal mismanagement, by both parties, especially shocking.
With no reason to know the basis for my comment, my coworker asked whether China’s ascendancy would prove that communism had won the competition with capitalism. It’s an interesting question, although I’d been thinking less in predictive terms of cultural competition than in the terms of our nation’s appropriate response to trends in the present. I’d have been more prepared had Jonah Goldberg posted this reminder of an old column before my lunch break:
Ask yourself this: Why are we in this financial crisis?
Any short list of reasons would include a lack of transparency in markets and regulatory rule-making; collusion between business and government; the politicization of lending practices (including the socialization of risk and the privatization of profit through giant governmental entities like Fannie Mae); and, of course, simple greed.
Does anyone honestly think China doesn’t have these problems ten times over? It has no free press, no democratic accountability, and no truly independent regulators.
On China’s end, two things are likely to happen before it overtakes the United States: Either the country will collapse of its own weight (à la the U.S.S.R.) or its culture and political system will change to be more in keeping with the U.S. tradition. My own country’s side of the equation concerns me more. It’s a matter of some debate whether the United States continues to be an adequate example of democratic capitalism. As China strives to build the benefits of capitalism on a communistic base, we’ve been striving to lash the free market to the goals and mechanisms of big government.
It may turn out that this century will determine whether either trajectory can reach the liberal promised land of Heaven on Earth, or whether both will land in that fabled ash heap of history.