Chinese Professor

Doug Mataconis passes along this ad from Citizens Against Government Waste:

It’s probably a pretty effective ad – James Fallows thinks it’s an instant classic – but I found it also kind of bizarre. I mean, it’s not entirely implausible that someday a Chinese professor will be giving a high tech lecture on the downfall of America – but would he really critique America along these lines? Government spending, taxation, stimulus – these aren’t exactly policies that the Chinese government would oppose given the massive amount of state control the Communist Paty exerts over every facet of Chinese life, given their own stimulus efforts and so forth (though I suppose a future Chinese regime might have morphed into something entirely unlike its present form).

The debt fear-mongering makes more sense, but loads of debt in the hands of the Chinese doesn’t lead to some sort of indentured servitude. China needs its export to survive and they can’t export to an enslaved American populace. But that’s not really the point of an ad. These are meant to strike fear into the hearts of voters, and this one will probably do that just fine.

My exit question: if in a hypothetical future, a Chinese professor is giving this lecture for real – what would he identify as the causes of American decline? And I don’t mean to ask what you think the causes will be, but how do you suppose the Chinese would analyze said decline?

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
TwitterFacebookRedditEmailPrintFriendlyMore options

30 thoughts on “Chinese Professor

  1. Assuming that the current government is still in charge they will say it is because democracies can’t make hard choices. That and they will criticize our “colonial wars of conquest”. A refusal to face reality is the theme they will emphasize.

    Report

  2. The question is impossible to answer. We don’t know how America falls – does it lose wars, ala Germany, Japan, Napoleonic France or the Spanish and Byzantine Empires? Does it literally fall apart, ala the Soviet Union and Rome? Or does it whimper into oblivion, following the British and Dutch examples? The immediate circumstances of America’s fall will determine how the fall is interpreted – particularly if our Chinese professor is lecturing less than 10 or 20 years after this collapse happened.

    Report

  3. What thatPirateGuy said, basically. I’m not so sure that the mythical future superpower china will care much about our “colonial wars of conquest”, though, since they’ll likely be fighting their own at that point.

    What gets me about this ad is that it’s set twenty years in the future. That seems like a ridiculously short span of time for the collapse it suggests. It may be memorable and iconic now, but in 2030 it will seem pretty silly. Contrast that with LBJ’s daisy ad–with half a century of hindsight, the idea that different leadership in the sixties might have lead to nuclear war doesn’t seem farfetched.

    Report

  4. Probably something along the lines of…

    “The ideal of self-reliance and the value of the individual that was once a great American strength gave way to a culture of narcissism and self-indulgence that couldn’t square with the reality of their collective needs.”

    Report

  5. Just to be different — Their refusal to stop burning hydrocarbons in the face of overwhelming evidence. In an act of incredible karmic justice, the changes in global rainfall patterns devastated their agricultural base while allowing China and its newest vassal (ahem, protectorate) Vietnam to thrive.

    Report

  6. Well, debt could certainly be part of it – it was for Great Britain, and debt at 100% of GDP is getting pretty substantial. Added to that, it would be the consistent failure to acknowledge the need for trade-offs and hard decisions, continued wars in the Middle East (including probably Iran) and consequent further-skyrocketing military spending, and general imperial overstretch, compounded by rising oil prices. Possibly exacerbated by electing people with no prudence and no understanding of governance.

    Report

  7. Actually, there is already a debate within China about the nature of the post-western world, and the path by which it will be achieved.

    You might find the following (all from the People’s Daily) interesting as popular indications of the much deeper debate:
    “The U.S. Hegemony ends, the era of global multipolarity enters”
    http://english.people.com.cn/90002/96417/6599374.html

    “West risks its own downfall with arrogance”
    http://english.people.com.cn/90001/90780/91343/7162863.html

    “Senior Colonel: China should displace U.S. to be strongest country militarily”
    http://english.people.com.cn/90001/90776/90786/6906179.html

    Report

  8. The Chinese professor of the future will be flabbergasted that America got its house in order released its creativity and out-paced them as their bubbles burst, and their people rebel against authoritarian control. He will say he was sure that a managed economy had the advantage over flexibilty and chaotic freedom, but now he realizes that America must be destroyed.

    Report

  9. Sounds like yellow fever again. The all wise Asian man knows everything. See The Karate Kid, the old Chinese guy from Gremlins, and a million other cliches. I seem to remember a movie from the 80’s, Gung Ho? about straight laced, hard working Japanese businessmen who took over an American auto plant populated by the typical ‘lazy Americans’ pre-Cheers crew. Hows that takeover by Japan going? I lost track of it.

    Report

    • @Boonton, Japan has the strongest currency in the world, dominates the automobile market, has developed infrastructure which makes the U.S. look like Chad, and probably made the computer you used (or a good part of it at least) to write that comment. I would bet yen (the dollar is far too volatile right now) that your digital camera is made in Japan.

      Those are just the things you use and notice. Were you an engineer, an astronaut, a citizen of a Gulf Arab state, or in the shipping industry, you might have heard of a company called IHI. They make a significant portion of the world’s largest ships and suspension bridges, contributed to the construction of the International Space Station, most of the world’s desalinization facilities; a significant portion of the airplanes you have traveled in use engines assembled by GE using IHI-constructed parts. (full disclosure: I worked at IHI as a liaison between IHI and GE.) IHI is just one highly-specialized Japanese engineering/technology company that has no equivalent.

      It’s interesting that you chose an American auto plant as an example because the Japanese actually DID take over a huge portion of what was once the great American auto industry. No matter how much we keep trying to prop up Ford or Chrysler of GM or whatever, the facts remain, most Americans drive Japanese cars, (and most of these Japanese cars are now manufactured in Pennsylvania and Ohio btw).

      Not only is this because the Japanese “kaizen” model is superior in terms of efficiency, but their ideas are better! We always rip on the Japanese for being shameless uncreative conformists because they all wear the same suit, but when it comes to manufacturing electronics, from the transistor radio to Nintendo to building small fuel-efficient cars (instead of “Suburbans”) in the face of growing reports of peak oil, global warming starting to be taken seriously by the international community, increasing radicalization in the Middle East, and knowledge of the rapidly-developing and increasingly automobile-loving megacivilizations of China and India, we’re fucking dodos compared to the Japanese.

      That’s how the takeover by Japan is going: everything you use is Japanese and American manufacturing has little value other than nostalgia.

      Report

      • @Christopher Carr, And yet Japan isn’t in quite great shape. And despite their noble commitment to technology and science they have been bumped to #3 by China in terms of raw economic size.

        Look the doom and gloom cliche is a bit too played out for me, esp. the ‘Roman Empire’ variant where the US is always ‘falling’ yet its supposed replacements never seem to be able to remain stable (Japan, China, the EU, Germany, and so on).

        In terms of economics the US has a lot going for it. But yes if all countries in the world adopt full market systems and get their legal systems and political systems as good as they can then all economies would be roughly equal with population size determining who is biggest. China’s a long way from that.

        Report

        • @Boonton, I’m in agreement with you that the doom and gloom stuff is fairly unwarranted, and I’m kind of a China bear when it comes to this kind of short-run declinism nonsense. China has four times as many people as the U.S. and ten times as many as Japan. GDP is not the metric we should be looking at. I don’t think this means that we have nothing to learn from the Chinese and Japanese though; we could stand to emulate either or both countries’s infrastructure policies; and despite being one of the most expensive countries in the world, Japan kills it at manufacturing both consumer products and high high high tech stuff efficiently and creatively.

          Report

      • @Christopher Carr,

        I work for a Japanese company (medical electronics), boss squared is based in Tokyo, speak a little Japanese (though I can only read Romaji; $%#$% kanji), and all in all like Japan and the Japanese a great deal. That said, you have a seriously hyperbolic view of Japan’s technical dominance in the electronics field. Computers manufactured in Japan being sold anywhere but the domestic market? AFAIK all Toshibas and the high end Sony VAIOs are still manufactured in Japan; that’s about it – everything else is manufactured in the PRC (sometimes final in HK) or Taiwan. Significant subcomponents, meh – Japan has < 25% world market share in DRAM, possibly some the disk drives, maybe the battery if a laptop – that's about it – certainly not the CPU, major system chips, LCD if any. Smartphone/etc. – more likely than not contains Japanese flash and maybe battery; that's about it. Digital camera, if it's any good, probably yes. Camcorder – maybe, but my latest is a Samsung.

        Regarding the field I know, medical electronics: rough guess would be in the developed or rich world regions that don't have significant domestic/regional producers (e.g. the Gulf, South Korea, Australia, Singapore) the Japanese companies' market share is probably below 10%, certainly below 20%: US and to a lesser degree European companies still dominate.

        Report

        • @bayesian, You’re kind of cherry picking examples there my statistically-inclined friend. Japanese personal computers suck. Nerds here don’t use them. I’m also well aware of the tendency to outsource non-technical manufacturing to China (that was my wife’s job before we started manufacturing babies.) The intellectual property, the patents, the bottom line, the cutting edge: spread between U.S., Europe, and Japan. My post above was specifically about the automotive market. I don’t think anybody could make a case that automobiles are not disproportionately dominated by Japanese companies, and that this domination doesn’t come from the very stereotypical cultural traits often used to deride the Japanese.

          Report

      • @Christopher Carr,
        (sorry, can’t nest comment further, this is in reply to your reply to me)

        Your [first] comment may have been “specifically about the automotive market”, but you are the one who claimed that a Japanese company “probably made the computer [Boonton] used (or a good part of it at least) “, which I consider falsified (and, bluntly, an example of posting without thinking – the fact that you were responding to nationalistic chest pounding by Boonton is no excuse :} ). You also brought up the digital camera, which I agree with if you’re just talking about the digital camera market, but I took the computer+digital camera “examples” to be proxies for the entire high tech/high margin consumer electronics market, to which I gave some counterexamples to your thesis (my not-particularly-informed perception is that Japanese _do_ dominate the high end consumer A/V market, but I mostly try to limit myself to topics I know something about).

        BTW, what’s the Japanese automobile operation in Pennsylvania? Honda’s in Ohio, Indiana and Alabama; Nissan in Tennessee and Mississippi; Toyota is Kentucky, Alabama, Indiana, and Texas; Mazda owns no US manufacturing (shared factories with Ford, none located in Pennsylvania) Mitsubishi in Illinois; Subaru in Indiana (JV with Toyota); Suzuki is in Canada. Whom, or what facility, have I left out?

        Regarding IHI, of course I knew about IHI turbochargers and turbine engine components. I didn’t know about their other heavy engineering activities (e.g. the shipbuilding, oil/LNG terminals, etc.); you inspired me to read a little and now I know something more, so thanks for that.

        Report

        • Mr. Carr,
          I definitely value not making up facts far more than I value not being an asshole (n.b. obviously the goal is to do neither). Nonetheless, I rose to your bait and for that I both apologize and congratulate you on your play. Also, I thank you for the useful reminder that my deep aversion to making up facts (and shame when I discover that I have done it myself, which happens all too often) is quite unusual (even in real life, let alone on the Internet). My inability to remember that very important fact is at least as much a problem as any asshole tendencies.

          At any rate, I agree that further discussion of the claims in your pithy initial comment, and what the facts behind the claims suggest for the 21st C world economy, is probably pointless. Pity that.

          p.s., my *guess* re the Pennsylvania thing is that at one point you knew of VW’s unsuccessful US assembly operation in PA in the Eighties (AFAIK, the first foreign controlled mass market automobile operation in the US since the Twenties), and that somehow that fact got detached from its proper context and washed up next to the Japanese. If that guess is correct, and of course it’s just a guess, that might tell you something useful about how your argumentation machinery works.

          Report

        • Why *thank* you, Jaybird (flutters eyelashes, hairtossing being out of the question with my 1″ cut).
          Hadn’t refreshed so I didn’t see your comment before my most recent to Mr. Carr. Sorry about the diversion from the original topic, which is a damn good question.

          Report

        • @bayesian, Your [first] comment may have been “specifically about the automotive market”, but you are the one who claimed that a Japanese company “probably made the computer [Boonton] used (or a good part of it at least) “, which I consider falsified (and, bluntly, an example of posting without thinking – the fact that you were responding to nationalistic chest pounding by Boonton is no excuse :} ).

          I don’t mean to do any uncalled for chest pounding but I do think discussions like this tend to loose objectivity. A flashy product or industry (computers, cars, cell phones etc.) gets a lot of attention and because one country is ahead in that product the impression gets out that their economy is ‘better’. This is a very faddish view of the economy.

          There is an objective measure of the economy and that is GDP. In general a country has three things that determine its GDP. Its population (labor force). It’s capital. It’s ‘skill’ at putting the two together. The first two are easy to directly measure, the last isn’t but there is a nifty indirect way to at least factor out population as a factor, GDP per capita.

          Relative to the US both China and Japan have less capital per person. You get fantastic growth just getting up to the ‘best in class’. That by itself is not amazing. The USSR achieved rapid growth in the 50’s for the same reason. If you have a guy plowing a field with a mule, giving him a tractor is going to increase his output dramatically period. That’s true in a market economy or a planned one.

          While both economies have enjoyed rapid growth, neither have equaled the US. In China’s case part of that is that it is still accumulating capital. But neither are equal to the US which is around $48K. Japan is $38,455 and China is far behind at $3,267. Yes maybe China has a smattering of stuning factory cities making some people very rich and lifting millions out of poverty. China’s rise is stunning but keep things in perspective. China’s stunning rise is due to its stunning stuntedness from the days of Mao where the country was probably equal to North Korea in its economic mismanagement and misery.

          Keeping things in perspective China still has a lot of growth to go but it probably won’t match the US. Sorry its still mostly a planned economy where freedoms are starting to be established but aren’t really secure quite yet. If China gets as much capital per person as the US it will do a lot better than $3,267 per person per year but its not going to do $49K.

          In theory if every country achieves the US’s ‘skill’ at putting capital and labor together then the largest economies in the world will be based on population, nothing more. (Well actually developing countries still have to accumulate capital, but that comes)

          Report

        • @bayesian, My bait? My play? I was responding to a comment that severely misunderestimated the impact of Japanese companies on manufacturing worldwide. I wasn’t making any strong claims about what kind of computer Boonton has. (How could I know that?) Suggesting his computer and/or its components could be Japanese was basically indirect rhetorical flourish meant to imply that the Japanese actually do have a disproportionate share of the consumer electronics industry. The comments about Japanese car company plants in “Pennsylvania and Ohio” were not in reference to any specific plants (Frankly, who cares?) but simply meant to show that most Japanese cars manufactured for he U.S. market are manufactured in the U.S.

          You then triumphantly focused on the immaterial aspects of my comment and corrected me, after which I admitted that I was lazy about correctly representing details because I didn’t really care. I then thanked you for providing the correct locations of Mazda factories or whatever.

          You then danced on my corpse. I wasn’t really expecting anyone to be offended by my incorrect characterization of Boonton’s computer or my failure to provide the correct locations of Japanese auto plants in the U.S. I don’t think I deserve to be personally insulted because of that.

          Report

        • @bayesian, Boonton, value of capital per person is a relatively meaningless statistic to use in this case, considering that currently in the U.S. there is a major mismatch between capital and labor, i.e. we have all these machines and no one is working them. The machines in Japan, on the other hand, are being worked far more efficiently than the machines in the U.S.

          When it comes to manufacturing high-tech consumer products for export, the Japanese dominate. Companies like Sony, Toyota, and Panasonic are market leaders in the U.S., while our biggest manufacturers still manufacture largely for the domestic market.

          Manufacturing exports is so important to Japan’s economy that Japan’s leaders are willing to go into huge debt just to keep the yen low so that those companies can continue their dominance of foreign markets.

          The point is not that Japan and China are better than us; the point is that we dismiss them as worse than us; Japan now competes with the U.S. and generally wins. China may do the same someday, with a lot more people.

          Report

        • @bayesian, Christopher, why this mercantile focus on export and manufacturing? The model is pretty simple, GDP = f (K,L,P)….i.e. GDP is generated by a function of capital, labor and ‘know how’ in putting the two together efficiently.

          If the US was leaving capital idle, then you’re right a more efficient country would beat the US in GDP per capita provided it could match the US’s capital. Why is Japan lagging behind by nearly $10K? China has an excuse, they really just began their industrialization and are still building up their capital. Japan’s been at it for 30 plus years now. If capital is so efficiently used in Japan why doesn’t it flow there until each Japanese worker has as much capital as a US worker and they get more GDP per capita because they know how to use it more efficiently?

          And why are we focusing only on manufacturing? About 76% of the US economy comes from services. Only 40% of China’s does. If we aren’t operating with a bias that only manufacturing is ‘real’, then the US’s ability to put capital and labor together to produce services (and yes services require capital too) is more important since a larger portion of its GDP depends on services.

          Report

      • @Christopher Carr,

        Oh, my. There’s rather a lot there, and I question how much value there is for either of us or the League’s readership in carrying on. OTOH, your home blog (Dispatches from the Wild Wild East) is damn impressive (e.g. your review and metareviews of “the Cove)”, so maybe there is some value yet.

        Your original comment to Boonton is marinated in hyperbole. I’m not sure you chose that rhetorical style, but I attempted to ignore it and focus on the empirical claims you were making.

        1) OK, so your “indirect rhetorical flourish” turned out to have a rather poorly chosen target for the point you were trying to make insofar as the generic US home PC/laptop, for which Boonton’s hypothetical machine was a proxy, doesn’t have much Japanese content. My “cherry picked statistics” came from actually looking for the facts – before this morning I had no idea that the Japanese market share in DRAM had fallen as much as it has (for those playing at home, roughly 55% Korea, 20% Japan, 15% US, 10% Taiwan; the main Japanese DRAM manufacturer just recently announed that they’re going to start taking stakes in some of the Taiwanese companies). Historically at least DRAM and microprocessors have been the process drivers for most of the semiconductor industry, so Japan’s lost ground compared to the Eighties is IMHO of some significance.

        I have no actual knowledge about what fraction, either by sales volume or gross margin, of the world digital camera market is manufactured in Japan – some quick googling suggests that most are. I would have guessed the lower end ones were manufactured in China, and it seems my guess would have been wrong; I made an attempt to, you know, find the relevant facts rather than assert non-facts. So indeed you have good odds on your virtual bet on Boonton’s camera, had someone taken it; now you would need to make the case, which perhaps could be made but the facts aren’t in evidence yet, that Japanese dominance in digital cameras is somehow more salient than for example US/European/Korean world dominance in phone handsets (where Japan is approx nothing outside of the domestic market).

        2) Re IHI, your former employer, I would be interested in a cite to back up the claim that they (manufactured) “most of the world’s desalinization facilities”. Googling “IHI desalination” I find some plants they’ve done in the UAE, Saudi, Kuwait, but it’s odd that googling “world desalination market share” can’t seem to find a report that lists IHI as a major supplier (http://www.pikeresearch.com/research/desalination-technology-markets is the most recent one I found that lists companies; most of the market research reports have to be bought). Again the things you learn: I had no idea that European companies (French and Italian) were so big in the desalination market. Korea didn’t surprise me, nor, sadly, did the near absence of US companies (only GE listed).

        3) Regarding the (world) automobile industry and Japanese companies’ place and trajectory in it, since you appear(ed) to be holding yourself out as some sort of expert, it seemed plausible that you might know where their plants are located. I already knew a few of them just from general knowledge, and it didn’t take long to look up the remainder. One pattern you might note is that all except Mitsubishi’s (and Honda Marysville) are located in the greater South (which includes Indiana :} ), which is one of the things that helps the transplants keep the UAW out and also helps keep their wages somewhat lower. Don’t underestimate the advantage of the younger workforce and no UAW on the transplants’ cost structure vis a vis the former Big Three in the US market.

        As far as “knowledge of the rapidly-developing and increasingly automobile-loving megacivilizations (??) of China and India”, I have no idea how one would quantify that knowledge, nor translate it into market share or net present value gross margin. An actual argument would probably require locating some actual market share figures/trajectories for those two automobile markets.

        But a serious question for you – why do you suppose the all-conquering Japanese Big Three (or one of the lesser players for that matter) haven’t been especially successful in another big emerging market, namely Brazil (where the players are Fiat, VW, GM, and Ford in that order, those four having 71% unit market share as of a few months ago)? By unit sales Brazil is roughly tied with Germany for number four worldwide, behind China but far above India.

        Report

  10. Pingback: Is it just me? | A Voice in the Crowd

  11. They would criticize the willful ignorance of the American people–some through apathy and others through embracing hate and anger over easily tangible facts. They would say that capitalism, although more correct than communism in regards to taking into respect: human greed, created certain faucets in our society which would profit from the ignorance, disharmony and squabbling of our people, and then capitalized on the momentum by bankrupting and taking over everything. They would say that their system of changing and finding a balance between communism and capitalism (which I think they will at some point), saved themselves from America’s fate.

    And in this regard, the corporations and political machines (which became one and the same) preyed on the American people (who were already becoming lazy in their comfort) successfully due to the citizens being too busy fighting amongst themselves due to relentless hate propaganda to see what was actually happening in front of them.

    This is why I’m no Democrat–I’m a moderate, but I hate Republicans (which would make the latter tell me what a ‘lib’ I am it seems). They have been spreading misinformation and hate as a unified machine for at least a decade and all for the benefit of their party and associated corporations and super-rich.

    Report

Comments are closed.