Wednesday, July 26, 2017

America's Future on China's Path

This is an article that’s been stumbling around in my head and on my desk for a year or so.  It’s about China’s move to assume and assert leadership dominance in a consortium of nations making up the majority of the world’s population, and its deepest well of potential economic opportunity.  Does America have a place in it?  I think it does, in spite of the incompetency of the current administration’s chief executive.  So here goes.

American political leadership is determined to turn the nation away from multinational agreements, in favor of bilateral agreements through which favorable terms can be arranged for American industry.  Getting involved in so many multinational schemes, it is said, has stripped the U.S. of it’s leadership dominance, threatened its independence, humbled its national pride, and shipped too many jobs overseas.  We can get all that back by playing our own game one-on-one with other nations because we are the biggest player on the field.  We are, but there are other big players out there, and maybe better ones.

Among them are the growing economic engines of Asia poised to make multinational partnerships work under the leadership of China and Japan.  Japan is primarily interested in reenergizing the Trans Pacific Partnership with an emphasis on trade agreements brokered by Japan.  China is interested in creating a 21st century version of the Silk Road emphasizing infrastructure development with China calling the shots.  It’s China that may offer the best opportunities for American investment, regardless of government policy: one of the advantages of a private market system in a democratic society where private macro economic decisions are influenced by national policy, but not dictated by it.  

Some perspective.  The U.S. Is a nation of about 325 million people, annual gross domestic product of a little under $20 trillion, and an annual economic growth rate hovering in the 2% range.  China is a nation of about 1.3 billion butting up against India with about the same number of people.  That’s 2 billion people led by governments intent on economic growth and prosperity.  While China’s annual GDP is about half that of the U.S., it has a lot of room for growth, which, though it has slowed down, is still cruising along at something over 6% a year.  Once a nation awash in poverty, coastal regions now have average per capita income in the range of $20,00 per year, and conditions in interior regions are improving.  To use an entirely inappropriate sports analogy, the U.S. has become the rumbling fullback, and China has become the scrambling quarterback.

So what is China up to?  What plays are they calling?  In 2013 they announced an initiative some called One Road - One Belt, and what a crazy idea it was. They had in mind creating partnerships with 60 countries to build transportation networks along six land corridors  and one water corridor to link the nations of mainland Asia with Eastern Europe, Eastern Africa, and the Mediterranean.  It would involve roads, rail, pipelines, modern air traffic control, and maritime routes at an estimated cost of almost $40 trillion.  To get it rolling, they created the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) that would underwrite a variety of public/private schemes in which China would take the lead (and profits), with other nations wading in as best they could.  Here we are four years later, and the idea no longer seems so crazy.  Maybe not all of it will happen, but some of it will, maybe most of it.  In any case, it will mean the majority of the world’s population and its fastest growing economies, will be led by China.  For the time being, America will be watching from the bleachers.

But it doesn’t mean American economic interests need be left out.  $40 trillion is a lot of money.  No one can come up with it, but savvy investors can take a part of it, and Americans have money to invest.  American companies have an enormous inventory of skills and technology to sell, along with quality equipment as good as any.  So even without a competent federal government leading the way, there are opportunities offering tremendous potential for American jobs and investment know how.  What it comes down to is that we don’t have to be Number One.  We have to be the best at what we are best at, letting others be the best at what they are best at. 

Reimagining what position America plays could move us from slow moving fullback to wide receiver.  What about scrambling quarterback?  Forget it.  It’s the wide receiver who knows how to take advantage of opportunities, catch uncatchable passes and score points.  And that, my friends, is the first sports analogy I’ve ever used, probably the last too.


In any case, opportunities such as this, in the political environment we now have, and the White House leadership we now suffer, could lead toward even more dictatorial corporate oligarchy, enriching some at the expense of others, but it doesn’t have to.  An energized electorate raising up political leaders intent on the good of the whole, with an emphasis on the well being of the most disadvantaged, can redirect American public policy toward the highest ideals of our democratic republic, while engaging with others to bring greater prosperity to ordinary people with whom we share this spaceship globe.  Those of us who acknowledging our ultimate loyalty to God alone, have a divine imperative to exercise our moral responsibility to be a part of it.  We may have a destiny beyond this world, but while we are in it we have a moral responsibility to it.

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