America Throws in the Towel

April 8, 2011

Here’s a striking, troubling argument about the U.S. in the world economy from Richard Longworth who keeps a blog called The Midwesterner. It provides an interesting counterpoint to James Duderstadt’s masterplan for education in the global Midwest.

America Throws in the Towel

Everybody knows that the United States, and especially the Midwest, is in a competition with China and other emerging nations to survive and thrive in this new global economy.

Everybody’s wrong.

Any race requires two rivals, each running flat out, each determined to win. Anybody who spends time in China — as I have in the past month — knows that the Chinese are treating this race like the economic Olympics, with their eye fixed on the finish line. But anybody who travels the Midwest — as I do constantly — knows we’ve stopped competing — indeed, have made a policy decision to give up.

Basically, American has thrown in the towel. We owned the 20th century, but we’ve conceded the 21st century to China.

Granted, China has a bottomless bank account, including $1 trillion of our money, while both our federal and state governments are too strapped to find the cash for investment. In other words, we can’t afford to compete, even if we wanted to.

But this debt is both cause and effect of our wayward ways. While China was joining the global economy and building the foundation of its current growth, the United States was cutting taxes, fighting two unfunded wars and promoting the mother of all housing bubbles. When the global recession began, the United States — the world’s biggest economy — landed in a slump that continues to this day. China — the second biggest economy — kept the stimulus funds flowing and barely slowed up.

The comparisons between the world’s two largest economies are stark — and, for Americans, distressing.

China is rising, America declining. China is investing, America disinvesting. China is looking to the future, America unable to cope with the present. China is building a middle class, which embraces 300 million people and is growing: America’s middle class, supported by the industries of the past, is vanishing. China is spending on the building blocks of that future, such as education and infrastructure. America — both Washington and the state governments — is focusing spending cuts specifically on these keys to future economic strength.

Beyond that is the psychological difference. China is simply an ambitious country. It’s hungry and raw and scrapping, with its eye on the prize. How long has it been since those words applied to the United States?

China has woken from two centuries of sleep and is hard at work. America, having dominated the world economy for the past century, seems tired, out of ideas and out of energy.

America has no real game plan for the new economy. China has lots of plans. America seems to be betting that these Chinese plans will fail. Certainly, China faces many barriers — corruption, pollution, population pressures, a dictatorial government. Americans assume that our system — democracy and free markets — is so obviously superior that we’re bound to win.

Maybe we wi…

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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