If China Didn't Exist Economically, We'd Have To Invent It

Readers who grew up in the 1970s and 80s likely remember a frequent comment from their elders about a failure to finish one’s meal: “There are millions starving in China.” Fast forward to the present and China’s still poor, but it’s exponentially better off than it once was. Thanks to an evolving embrace of economic freedom and free markets, the country once defined by starvation and death is now a crucial part of any discussion about global economic growth. 

Basic logic dictates that China’s rise from misery is a wonderful thing. Human flourishing is on its own beautiful, plus every day that the Chinese get up and go to work is a day that Americans get a raise. With the Chinese eager to consume the world’s plenty, they’re naturally producing feverishly in order to attain that same plenty. Americans gain from Chinese production and similarly benefit from their fascination with all things American. There are countless examples, but at present, there are two times more Starbucks in Shanghai than in all of New York City. 

Is all of the above a good thing? Without a doubt. Only a truly heartless human being would bemoan the growing prosperity of a country that not too long ago was the picture definition of desperation. 

The China "Problem"

Even if his characterization of liberals, populists, and conservatives is true, truth itself is not arrived at with a show of hands.

Yet there are doubters. While it’s hard to imagine he doesn’t at least somewhat cheer China’s emergence from destitution, Bard College professor Walter Russell Mead wrote in a recent op-ed that liberals, populists, and conservatives “increasingly agree” that “America must do substantially more to counter an increasingly authoritarian, mercantilist, and aggressive China.”

If Mead is to be believed, there’s a downside to China’s prosperity. Professors say the darndest things. 

Indeed, it’s seemingly been forgotten by Mead that even if his characterization of liberals, populists, and conservatives is true, truth itself is not arrived at with a show of hands. Serious thinking crucially informed by doubt is the path to knowledge, yet Mead’s op-ed gave the impression of certainty about China not just being a problem, but a problem about which most elite thinkers agree. Mead’s alleged consensus is what should have the scholar doubting his deeply-held beliefs, but that’s not the case.

About the professor's economic analysis, he regularly references China’s “mercantilism” in the op-ed, but fails to explain what he thinks it is, or what he thinks it means. If it’s China’s decision to peg its currency to the dollar, then it should be said that China’s doing what dozens and dozens of countries similarly (and correctly) do.

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