It is quite amusing to think how even 20 years ago, people we talking about how Japan was going to eat our lunch and that everyone should be taking the time to learn Japanese, that we should emulate Japanese business practice, and that America was in hopeless decline. At the same time, the decade before had seen an endless stream of books talking about how Japan was going to become the world’s number one economy, about have Japan’s combination of government influenced markets and top-of-the line technology, as well as an artificially cheap currency was going to push America off her pedestal.
Indeed, the joke has been made, and rightly so in many cases, that if someone wants to publish a book or an article about China today, all they need to do is take something written about Japan in the mid 1980s and then <<FIND>> <<REPLACE>> “Japan” with “China.” The funny part is some of the articles are so strikingly similar it is not inaccurate.
Americans are generally an alarmist bunch. As George Carlin once quipped, “Americans panic easily.” We tend to think of ourselves as the greatest country in the world yet at the same time we worry constantly about being unseated by another country. It is as though not being number one in everything would somehow make the United States less of a great country.
On the other side of the coin, let’s look at China. China is a 5000 year old country that has been politically unified in its more-or-less modern form since 221 BC. Did China’s poverty make it less of a great and proud nation? No. Will China as number one change the fact that China has a long and proud history? No.
In the modern world we obsess about rank and status. I think for the sake of sanity, the US and China should look to their own needs and stop obsessing about the way we compare with others. If we do our own business well, the rankings will take care of themselves.
More to come on economic bellyaching…