Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Fear of Asia

His humility notwithstanding, Jay Matthews, the education columnist for the Washington Post, would have made a pretty good economist:

I am not an international economist, to say the least. I had to struggle to get through Ec 1 my sophomore year of college. But I am a careful reader of the business and economic reporting of my newspaper, so I think I am qualified to ask two questions -- neither of which are answered in this report -- about those scary folk in south and east Asia.

Question one: Isn't the freedom and flexibility of American culture and politics, not the quality of our educational system, what has given us such power in the world? India appears to have adopted many of those freedoms and its people have a chance to be just as creative as we are. But I have spent much of my life studying China and I don't see any way that country is going to set its great culture free any time soon. The China brain drain will be in our favor until Beijing adopts democracy and human rights, and that will take a long time.

Question two: Even if both India and China do attain that potent blend of liberty and creativity, how exactly is that going to hurt Americans? Their economies are thriving because world commerce is losing its dependence on borders and tariffs, and the old way of thinking (accepted without question in this report) that if some poor countries get rich, then some rich countries, like us, are going to become poor. The experts on these issues that I find most persuasive point out that only countries cut off from the world economy, like North Korea, are declining, and that is because they are not globalized. Everyone else is discovering that the better off India and China and El Salvador and Tanzania become, the better off we all are. The more middle-class people overseas, the more customers there will be for the newest gizmos that our large and innovative middle-class country keeps coming up with.

From today's Washington Post.