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Friday, April 08, 2011


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I'd agree totally that America is under-investing in critical needs like infrastructure.

However, the American cities who display the most Chinese like ambitions and investments - like Houston, Texas - are among the most reviled of the left intelligentsia in America. This can't all be laid at the feet of the Tea Party, though they aren't my favorite group let's just say. It's the political left that is the most institutionalized anti-growth force in America, as they've prioritized "sustainability" and "growth without growth" and many other priorities above jobs and building our economy. The problem is that sustainability stops being sustainable right about the time you run out of jobs and money.....

Aaron, as you know, my take is that America's troubles are a thoroughly bipartisan affair. The reality is that for 1-2 percent of the American population, things couldn't be better, and, unfortunately, they have tremendous wealth, power and control right now.

The good news is that there are critical economic issues around which Main Street's left and right can easily align. Who isn't in favor of jobs that pay a living wage, excellent educational opportunities and a healthy living environment?

Main Street has the votes needed to change things. However, a middle class quality of life is not going to be handed to us on a platter. The challenges are significant. But I'm more optimistic than I was a year ago that an awakening is occurring and a national consensus is beginning to form about what has to happen to turn things around. First, there must be enlightenment. I appreciate the efforts of those like you and Mr. Longworth to speak plainly and provide a forum for thoughtful discussion.

I would be curious to know where you have traveled in China to have this vision of its undisputed success and impending dominance. I think you might be drinking the green tea-flavored kool-aid they are selling in Qingdao, Shanghai, and Beijing, which constitutes a fraction of the population and economy of the country. There are plenty of places to look for huge cracks in the Chinese 'miracle'--real estate vacancy rates, inefficiencies of government investment, and manipulation of statistics, just to begin.
Like most essays on China, you describe it as a place of rapid development and great constrasts/contradictions... okay, but what will come out of this complex brew? It isn't a straight-forward path to prosperity. The highways of China look great now but if you travel into the rural areas you will see that a) they are often built without good planning (lots of roads to nowhere) and b) they are not built to the same standards as our interstate system, so they will deteriorate much, much faster. Many things in China have beautiful facades but shaky bones.
Higher education is a great field to examine further--the reduced U of M budget can be contrasted to the bright new buildings of Chinese universities, but there is still a huge gap in human capital and institutional flexibility, with the exception of a few universities in Beijing & Shanghai. A country ranked 81st in the world in the UNDP education index is not to be greatly feared at this point, no matter how many pictures of gleaming labs they show off.

For a contrary take on Chinese investment and prosperity, see http://www.slate.com/id/2291271/

Roubini is probably as negative on China as RL is on the US. Both probably overstate their case a bit.

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