An Impromptu Rant From The Framing Business…
The cover of the newest issue of Time (January 22, 2007) says “Dawn of a New Dynasty” and the main story is about China becoming the new superpower in the world, overshadowing America. Much has been said about this in various publications for the past few years. Americans fear that China will become powerful and America will be left a second-rate nation, economically flaccid.
The New Superpower?
Some people debate whether or not China will have the ability to become the next superpower, and I think this debate is almost without merit. Assuming there will be a new superpower (see the next section), who else but China could it be? With over a billion people in the population, China clearly holds the easiest chance of achieving military greatness. If they were to invade a neighboring country via a ground force, how could China possibly lose?
Likewise, with the proper economic model, having one billion people feeding the system seems a sure way to achieve easy success. Think of each person as a generator (this is called biopower), but rather than electricity they are generating revenue. If revenue is generated, and China has more exports than imports, they will quickly take the lead. No other nation seems possible.
America could hold on to the reins temperarily. At most, I think America will lose control in thirty years, but that is an excessively generous estimate. Fifteen or twenty is more realistic. If we break countries down into “agricultural”, “industrial” and “service/information”, we will see two things. First, that America is mostly service-oriented today (rather than grow or build things we mostly just use the things grown or built) and as such is the richest — these jobs are considered more skilled and professional. But second, China is moving into a service environment while still maintaining adequate levels of agriculture and industry. This makes them self-sustaining while America quickly becomes reliant on outside forces. We’re already well aware of how oil prices are affected when left to outside forcers — what of other resources? China clearly has the long-term advantage.
Why I Don’t Care; A History
Some people have the idea that America will always (or at least should always) be the world’s richest country and the have the most powerful military. I think these same people have the idea that America always was the world’s only superpower. But as any historian will tell you, America was not always the most powerful and in actuality probably wasn’t until 1945 (post-World War II). Historically, the greatest nation is in flux, rarely lasting longer than a century.
The United Kingdom was most likely the most powerful economy prior to World War II, thanks in part to colonialism (consider their ownership of India and much of the Middle East). At one point the Dutch were the economic power. What of Spain, who funded Columbus? Do we recall France under Napoleon, probably the most powerful military since Alexander the Great.
This is why I “don’t care”, so to speak: America was a great nation before being the best military and economic force on the planet and will remain so after someone else (i.e. China) takes their place. The Netherlands, United Kingdom, France and Spain are all doing just fine today without having massive economies or militaries. America would be wise to follow their lead gracefully as we fade away.
Why I Don’t Care; A Note on Competition
American foreign policy has long acted under the idea that the world’s oil should enter the hands of American businessmen. American citizens paid little attention to this, not concerned about how gasoline was acquired as long as it kept flowing and the costs were affordable. But now as China is snatching up more and more oil, and this is affecting the prices, many Americans have begun to feel that the Chinese are moving in on “American” oil. But do we have a right to oil that no other country has? Of course not.
But as China wants more oil and prices continue to rise (although as I write this they have been declining) I see no harm. As stated above, that China would move into a position of power and require more resources is only natural.
But for the Americans who are worried about oil prices due to Chinese influence: relax. The assumption has long been that competition between companies creates better and more affordable products. Look at the technology we have amassed in the past decade — can you even remember the world without the World Wide Web anymore? And with regards to oil, as prices get out of hand, American companies will compete with each other for new technology — and they will also compete with Chinese companies, to the benefit of everyone. We are ushering in a new stage of transportation. While the outcry against globalization is growing (and I am a whisper amongst the scream), not all globalized things are bad.
The only real issue is can America adjust to being number two? Are we like the characters from the 2006 film Talladega Nights who think “if you’re not first, you’re last”? Or do we have the rationality of Europe and other modern technologically advanced countries and can co-exist peacefully without having to have all the best toys? I, for one, am comfortable not having to be first all the time.
What About Transnationalism?
The concerns seem to be focused on the dichotomy between “Americans” and “Chinese”. Any time I hear China’s growing power referenced, it seems to be in contrast to the idea of American power. This is a fair contrast and is worth exploring. But more importantly, I feel, is the issue of transnationalism, or “business” versus “consumer”.
As Chinese power grows, the power of the American will decrease. But what of America corporations that span countries or even continents? Corporations investing in China will likely profit, but at what price? Both Americans and Chinese consumers will be victim to the machine. While we are busy casting blame on China for doing what any country should be doing — trying to grow — we will not notice that American corporations and CEOs are the ones profiting most. The new superpower in the category of “nations” will be China, but the real superpower — even transcending China and America combined — will be a handful of large corporations that take money from both countries while giving relatively little back to the citizens employed by the very same company.
Are our worries focused overseas when the real problem is right here in America sitting behind a large desk in a comfortable chair?
There is no sense in irrationally fearing the inevitable or trying to stop something far too powerful to be stopped. Sooner or later, Chinese market forces and military capability will vastly outpower America. This might be slowed, but cannot be ceased. I do not fault anyone for trying to slow this down (America has as much right to defend itself economically as China has to pursue new economic territory), but what sense is there taking our frustration out on the Chinese? Would America not try to do precisely what they are doing in the same situation?
Instead, let’s focus on problems that are solvable and will be more beneficial in the long run. Let us push for the government and business to try and advance environmentally-friendly policies (such as Dell’s pursuit of carbon neutrality — not enough, but a fine start). Encourage energy and oil independence now, before a crisis erupts. And perhaps most importantly, push for corporations to be more open so they can be held accountable. Governments with no accountability are tyrannical — how can corporations be seen as anything different when their power begins to outweigh an administration?
Elliott, Michael. “The Chinese Century”, Time. January 22, 2007.
Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. Empire. Harvard University Press, 2000.