Another war we don’t need

So, I have a question. When, exactly, did we declare war on China? Within the past few weeks it seems like the problem with our economy has changed from “it’s not good” to “it’s not going to beat China.” President Obama most famously echoed the concern during his State of the Union, hinting, not too subtly, that we need a competitive jolt to keep ahead of those crafty Chinese. He even called for a “Sputnik moment.” Things are never good when Cold War analogies start getting thrown around. Now, there are a couple of things wrong with this attitude. To start, it can be pretty misleading. Despite China’s impressive growth, it still, tragically, has a lot of economic problems. The International Monetary Fund has it placed as the 93rd richest country in the world in terms of per capita GDP. That puts it behind places like Thailand, Ecuador and South Africa — not exactly economic miracles.  To put this in monetary terms, the annual per capita GDP for China $4,283, not even one tenth of what it is in the United States. Most of China’s admittedly rapid progress has been catch-up growth. Their entire economy is still just two thirds of ours. Last year, the GDP of the United States was $14.2 trillion, compared to China’s $10.0 trillion. Which brings me to the second problem with the “beat China” attitude. We should be rooting for China’s growth, not against it. International development is not a zero-sum game. The idea that for China to get richer the U.S. needs to get poorer is, well, just bad economic thinking. No one worries that South Dakota’s growth — or Germany’s for that matter — will harm Vermont’s economy. The same logic applies to China. Its expansion means the world’s economy is slightly healthier. It means there’s more wealth sloshing around. More importantly, its growth means that hundreds of millions of people are living better lives, with more security, opportunity and wealth. Somewhere along the way, we got convinced this was a bad thing. It’s not. Of course at this point you start to hear about how China’s expanded power is going to destabilize the world, diminish our influence and on and on. Apparently the solution is to rattle their cage as much as possible now while we still have the chance.  Anyway, these China pessimists are at least right on one point. As nations like China, India and Brazil continue to expand, their influence will gradually crowd out ours. But considering the huge amount of poverty left in the world, a relative American decline is a price we should all be willing to pay for a generally richer world.