Sunday, July 31, 2005

Ben Stein Makes a Point

And it's a good one:
But suppose that it does happen. Suppose that China becomes a larger economic power than the United States. Suppose, in our great-great-grandchildren's day, that the average Chinese citizen is about as rich as the average American. How would it hurt us? Why would we be worse off? If the Chinese were richer, they could buy more from us and employ more of our workers. They could buy more of our stocks. They could tour our beautiful nation more.

The fact that our neighbors are worse off does not make us richer, and the fact that they are better off does not make us poorer.
On the other hand, we have the DLC's Edward Gresser:
Ten years ago, Madeleine Albright famously called America the "indispensable nation." The United States had the world's most competitive economy and its deepest pools of money. American universities housed the most sophisticated scientists and our firms the most celebrated inventors. American defense and foreign policies shaped the world's response to the Asian financial crisis, the Bosnian War, and the exploration of Mars.

But just a few years later, the sun is suddenly shining on China[.]
I'm not exactly sure what to make of this very common style of rhetoric. Gresser makes good points: in the U.S. we have waning government research budgets, waxing deficits, an administration uncommitted to (real) free trade, a worsening education system. But why does it have to be couched in this nonsense about world leadership?
One is the Bush administration's apparent belief that there is no competitive challenge and the United States need not be concerned. If we deny the existence of a challenge, we will never meet it -- and as time passes, America's role as the world's leader in science, finance, and security will fade.
If that's the Bush administration's belief, I'm going to have to agree with them. I'm not sure if this is xenophobia or what. For some reason, we just can't stand to have another country make more discoveries, have more GDP per capita, more volume on their financial markets. Consider the cases of Canada, England, Germany, France and so forth. I don't think you can say that citizens of these countries are any less happy than Americans. They don't have bleeding-edge economies, but they are basically satisfied. If they have high unemployment rates it's because of domestic trade-offs they've made between jobs and job security.

This is not to say that we shouldn't try to do our best to have quality education, more money going into science, freer trade, and a well-managed macroeconomy. Those are among the *most important* things that we should be doing. And we should try, as much as is feasible, to keep productivity racing along. But we shouldn't be scared if some other country maybe kinda looks like they might be better in one of those things than we are. Ben Stein concludes:
But another factor is even more important: personal responsibility. Americans who want to make sure they stay well off accomplish nothing by worrying about China. But we can certainly learn something from China. Individuals and nations become rich by investing in human capital - getting a good education, learning good work habits, saving and investing prudently and living healthy lives. Any young Americans who want to keep up with the Chinese can get a good education, work hard, save as much as possible, invest prudently - and they will be just fine now, in 25 years and in 50 years.

The moral here is simple: learning from our friends, the Chinese, means something. Fearing and envying them means nothing.

1 Comments:

Anonymous dick said...

Henry... I have to agree wholeheartedly with your observations and conclusion. Americans are saturated with the "my team is better than yours" attitude... we have a group ego problem. Globalization could/should bring greater equality to the world in a century or two... less us versus them and more just plain us. Self preservation plays a stong part in the human psyche and condition. I suppose it's the strongest motivator. It's the pure animal in us. Group perservation gains teeth... actions can be (should be) illustrated or defined on a scale of one-to-ten ... animal/instinctual at number one, logical/ethical/educated at number ten. China is moving up the scale, while we might be moving down...relative positions on the scale in flux... Einstein had it right..."alles ist relativ"...

9:52 AM  

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