Is Red China an economic paper tiger? I doubt it. But I do think China’s economic status is vastly overrated, and so does John Pomfret of the Washington Post. The emphasis of his article is on the lack of Chinese “brand names.” It also touches on the relatively small amount of Chinese direct investment overseas.
But the underlying issue, according to Pomfret, may well be China’s lack of successful innovation, which causes it to rely “on stitching and welding together products that are imagined, invented, and designed by others.” Its inability to innovate means, among other things, that China is trapped paying enormous amounts in patent royalties and licensing fees to foreigners.”
Why does it not surprise me that China, with its top-down system that Thomas Friedman so admires, has a problem with innovation?
Many of our readers will recall that, 20 years ago, Japan was touted almost universally as the emerging economic superpower. The Tom Friedmans of that era were constantly telling us that we needed to become more like “the Japan that can say no.”
It was James Fallows (formerly a speechwriter for Jimmy Carter) who led the intellectual charge against this trend. The title of his book — More Like Us — presented what proved to be the correct way of coping with Japan’s rather meager threat to our economic dominance.
I would submit that the same prescription applies today. We need to be more like us, not more like the Chinese or the Europeans.
Unfortunately, the current administration believes that, quite apart from its pragmatic doubts about the effectiveness of our economic system, we have a moral obligation to be less like us.
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