Joseph Stiglitz, American economist and winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics, has written a thought provoking piece in January’s Vanity Fair. In it, he looks at America’s future now that China has overtaken it as the world’s largest economy. Most certainly, he predicts, “China won’t be able to accept the global system simply as it is, with rules that have been set by the West to benefit the West and its corporate interests.” (“The Chinese Century,” by Joseph Stiglitz, Vanity Fair, January 2015, pg. 42.) No doubt he’s right. The US has long been vigorous in its efforts to coontain China’s influence around the globe, most recently in its efforts to bar that nation from becoming a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement, though it is the leading economic power in the region. (Blog 11/7/13) We’ve also interfered with their interest the Senkaku Islands which Japan, our ally, also claims. (Ibid pg. 42) Adding to China’s concerns is US military power. According to Stiglitz, we spend “more on our armed forces than the next top 10 nations combined,” (Ibid, pg. 40.)
That said, it’s a wonder to me that we have any quarrel with China. Not only do we have strong economic ties, but we share many common traits. Like ourselves, China has long been a major polluter of the environment. Both countries have a judiciary system that is excessively unjust when it comes to crime and punishment. China outpaces us only slightly in the number people executed each year, but to restore the balance, the US is ahead in the number of citizens it sends to prison: “700 per 100,000 people.” (Ibid pg. 40) Also similar is the economic inequality among the people of both nations — the US having the greatest gap between rich and poor in the developed world. (Ibid pg. 40)
What we also share with China is a similar world view — playing a zero sum game where one must lose in order for the other to win. Stiglitz recommends that the US shift to “soft power,” using its cultural preeminence in economics, technology and political life to open channels of communication rather than create barriers like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. (Ibid pg. 42.) Influence and not dominance, Stiglitz advises should be our strategy.
Again, thinking as I do, I suggest we go even further. No more game of thrones. Let’s abdicate in favor of China. Let them inherit our crown of worries, beginning with the Israeli-Palestinian crisis or Russia’s passion to resurrect the cold war, complete with the threat of a nuclear holocaust. Above all, let China take on the bloody wars in the Middle East and the Jihadists who already sit on their doorstep. Being #1 isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. From where I sit, being #2 looks like a good deal.