George L. Barnett: Why China is catching up
Published: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 2:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 2:29 p.m.
Day after day our newspapers and television news programs advise us that our economy is not rebounding very quickly. Not only that, but it seems that, even when it will have rebounded, it will not provide the same development of new jobs and opportunities that we became accustomed to during the second half of the 20th Century. We worry what will become of our children and grandchildren. Contrast those disappointing expectations with the report that during this year the Chinese economy is expected to surpass ours to become the largest in the world and projections of the Chinese expansion in the years to come.
There is no doubt that the average Chinese worker now has a standard of living that is lower than that of the average American, but if our economy is not growing and theirs is, how long will it be before the tables are turned and we are in second place, not only from a total economy standpoint, but in average income as well? How long before their medical care and their education surpasses ours? How long before their railroad systems and energy systems surpass ours?
Whatever the pace of change, the Chinese are catching up and it does no good to pretend that somehow, some way, the American system will withstand the challenge. We are not moving forward, at least not in any measurable way. The education of our citizens, once at the top of the world, has now fallen to mediocrity. The growth of real income of our population has declined to zero. The availability and quality of our health care is not keeping up with the rest of the industrial world. We are not developing alternate energy sources at a competitive pace. Discouragement and pessimism are rampant.
If the above statements are presumed to be accurate assessments, why is this happening to us, the greatest democracy? We set an example for the rest of the world for the entire 20th Century. Our ingenuity, our form of government and our moral strength rescued the world from fascism and communism . How can our system be failing us now?
All you need do to understand what is happening to us is to read a newspaper, listen to a radio or watch television news. There is virtually complete agreement that our government institutions do not respond to the needs of our people but only to the demands of our financial, commercial and industrial giants. For example: Instead of addressing only the needs of the American people, too much of the about to be adopted health care reform legislation has been structured to avoid negative consequences to pharmaceutical and insurance companies. Why will we not allow Medicare to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies? Why are we so concerned about whether the insurance companies or pharmaceutical companies will make a profit? Isn’t the making of profit the concern of business and not government? Business should worry about business. Government should worry about people. But it doesn’t. Conservatives have and will continue to argue against government control of business, claiming that it stifles business. But who argues against business control of society? And isn’t that what we have today? Who gets elected without the support of business and its contributions, either directly or through its powerful lobbies? Unfortunately, we have the best government that money can buy; and that government is bought by business in the form of political campaign contributions.
If we expect, if we hope to re-energize our society, to improve our education, to work for the “general welfare,” we cannot continue to allow business, large or small, to control our society. Some will say that if our government increases its control of business, that will stifle business. But if private ownership, entrepreneurship and individual initiative are as powerful as we believe, then business will find a way to work successfully with increased government control. Clearly, our governmental institutions have not been able to find a way to work successfully under the constant control and domination by business.
If you wonder why the Chinese are catching up to us, it is because their government controls business. Obviously, their government control of business has not stifled business. The people at the top of the Chinese government do not owe their positions to powerful economic interests; powerful economic interests owe their success to the Chinese government. I am not advocating that we copy the Chinese, I do not wish to have a totalitarian government in the United States, but at the same time, it seems evident that our existing model of the interaction of business and government is no longer working effectively. It is outdated and has to be changed. I know that conservatives will accuse me of advocating socialism, but that label is used simply to avoid rational consideration of ideas and is nothing but the argument most espoused by frightened people who doggedly hold on to the old, to the past and have no constructive solutions to offer. Ask yourself how it is that we are so ready to adopt new technology, like computers, cell phones, and the like, but are so stubborn in rejecting new philosophies and economic ideas?
While I must admit that I have no specific plan to offer to change the model that now governs the interaction of business and society, I am sure that our economists and political scientists will be able to devise one, but change it we must or we will find ourselves wondering what happened to the greatest society that the world ever saw.
George L. Barnett,
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