Monday, June 05, 2006

Caution: Economic work zone ahead

In Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria predicts the end of American economic dominance.

Well, Americans have replaced Britons atop the world, and we are now worried that history is happening to us. History has arrived in the form of "Three Billion New Capitalists," as Clyde Prestowitz's recent book puts it, people from countries like China, India and the former Soviet Union, which all once scorned the global market economy but are now enthusiastic and increasingly sophisticated participants in it. They are poorer, hungrier and in some cases well trained, and will inevitably compete with Americans and America for a slice of the pie. A Goldman Sachs study concludes that by 2045, China will be the largest economy in the world, replacing the United States.

He goes on to discuss our relative weaknesses in science and engineering as compared to developing economies. I for one welcome his pessimism, and I look forward to seeing more of it. Americans neurotic when it comes to our standing in the world. When the competition comes knocking our door, we collectively freak out and throw ourselves into the practice of getting ahead. It is our form of economic renewal, and it is somewhat unique to us. Other economies must get very depressed before they begin to renew. In the United States, paranoia kicks in and acts as the spark for renewal.

Zakaria points out this American paranoia in the article, but I'm not sure he truely understands it. His concern is that we aren't paranoid right now, in advance of the coming storm. That isn't really the American way. We feel no sense of urgency until we perceive that the competitor is knocking down our door, even if he isn't. Over the coming years, I think we'll see that old paranoia kick back in. Yes, we have some competitive disadvantages with the Chinas and Indias of the world, but Zakaria really glosses over how far those economies have to go yet, even if they are currently making gains.

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