The Chinese Are Going to Kick Our Asses

We’re going to power our economy with scavenged energy[PDF] from intermittent, low-density solar and wind power. The Chinese are going to power their economy with eight-packs of nuclear reactors that they roll off assembly lines in vast numbers. 

We have a culture that holds engineers and inventors in contempt and views new technologies first and foremost as threats to be mitigated. The Chinese nearly worship engineers and inventors and adopt new technologies with a reckless disregard of all but the most gross dangers. 

Our best and brightest dream of going into politics or “non-profits” that exist largely to suppress commerce and invention. The Chinese best and brightest go into engineering and business and try to figure out how to make and sell things. 

Our intellectual class spends its time trying to generate contempt of our institutions, history and traditions and to shatter our belief in our own capabilities. China’s intellectual class spend its time creating and instilling a fierce confidence in their institutions, history and traditions and building a belief that they can accomplish anything. 

The Chinese have become the lean and mean, energetic barbarians sweeping down on a fat, decadent and leaderless civilization. They have the same cowboy attitude towards technology and commerce that drove America to the top in late 1800s. They are going to do to us what we did to Europe in the pre-WWII era and for the same reason. The difference this time is that the Chinese share no cultural bond to the rest of the world as America did to Europe. 

They will face political challenges in the short term, especially in a global recession, but long-term they will dominate for the simple reason that they will be able to keep the lights on and we won’t. 

I suppose we’ll learn to adopt an attitude of superior impotence just as the Europeans have done. China will do great things while we will claim we’re too wise and mature to attempt such things. 

We shall live in interesting times.

32 thoughts on “The Chinese Are Going to Kick Our Asses”

  1. Maybe demography will be their downfall. Countries on the rise don’t usually have falling populations and 20 per cent more young males than females (for other reasons that don’t speak well of the culture), with the attendant stresses that statistic is bound to put on any society. In the 70’s the cultural/economic models that were certain to render the tired old American one obsolete were those of Japan and Germany. A funny thing happened on the way to the superpower market!

    –I don’t mean this as American triumphalism, particularly, or as disagreement with the thesis that there’s some cultural rot going on among our intelligentsia. However, none of this seems to keep Americans from reproducing themselves (both sexes!) and struggling for a fuller life. At least out there in the hinterlands.

    Hypocrisy has its uses. The anti-technological platitudes young people mouth today probably don’t govern their choices in life any more than the platitudes of the New Left did yesterday or those of the preachers did the day before that. As Orwell said, our own experience of the natural demands of life keep blowing up all our theories on the subject.

  2. K.J. Webb,

    Maybe demography will be their downfall.

    I doubt it. Japan has grown increasingly powerful while undergoing a demographic implosion that dwarfs that of Europe. Energy is the ultimate source of economic, social and political power. We’re going to be wheezing along, starved for energy and the Chinese are going to be using military search lights in chandeliers at the local fast food joint. If you’ve got gobs of energy you can use machines to replace people. China already has more people than the entire western world. If they get even 70% of our productivity they will swamp us.

    Too many people in America treat energy as some kind of luxury product that we can get along without if we just tighten our belts a tad. California has not built a new power plant in nearly 20 years and wide swaths of the American polity admire them for that and seek to extend that to the rest of the company.

    It’s going to cost a great deal to manufacture anything America because our electricity is going to be 2 to 3 times more expensive than China’s. It’s just that simple. So, that means the Chinese can manufacture every thing from consumer goods to weapons at up to 1/3 the expense we can. Neither can we count on maintaining a technical hedge. Hell, 1/4 of engineers are Chinese and the Chinese education system is all business when it comes to math and science. They crank out technically educated people without caring about ethnic disparities of self-esteem.

    We’ve been too rich and too powerful for too long. We’ve forgotten what its like to be hungry and on the move.

  3. Nah. The Chinese are still stuck in the morass of familist corruption and arbitrary law. The Chinese people have put up with a huge amount of crap from the Party because their standard of living has risen steadily since Deng Xiaoping saw that there was a huge amount of low-hanging fruit to be gathered selling Chinese labor on the world market. But their prosperity has depended upon their being able to sell to a booming US consumer market. This is currently in the process of crashing. What this will bring, I’m not sure; but it probably isn’t going to be good.

    The Ghost Shirt Democrats are doing their dance, but the vast herds of union-member Democrat-voting buffalo will never return to the plains, and thei magic ghost shirts will not turn the ballots of angry voters into water iin 2010 and 2012. Of course, the Republicans could still blow it, but even if they do, the Democrats have shown in a few short weeks that they have no idea how to govern the country, just to loot it. They will be replaced, if not by Republicans, then by somebody else.

  4. I know this isn’t much of an argument, Shannon (but arguments are easy to make on any side of any question anyhow), but your last remark is one I heard made often in the late 50’s in west Texas, when I was growing up. Of course we were then berating ourselves for not being as tough, resourceful, committed, etc as the true believers and zombie workers of the Soviet Union. We figured we had lost the pioneer spirit, etc. I didn’t have much belief in that old argument, and I have a similar suspicion of this new one. But, then, if you live long enough, eventually the rumor of the dark night coming proves out, the clock strikes midnight and a new age dawns.

  5. The environmentalist drive to starve this country of energy is well on it’s way. Here in Southern Montana, an electrical co-op has been trying to build a generating plant that would make use of our plentiful coal. The cost estimates have escalated so much that they finally gave up on the coal, and now they say the plant will run on natural gas and have a “wind component”. The worst thing about this is that the ratepayers are now stuck with electric bills that have doubled and more in just a couple months to pay for all the cost increases. A guy I work with just got a bill for $380 a month, and he heats with wood. I’m afraid this will be the future for all of us. This is nuts!

  6. Jim Bennet,

    The Chinese are still stuck in the morass of familist corruption and arbitrary law.

    Well, Taiwan does okay. A China as productive as Taiwan would be an issue. The Taiwanese have had some success with “virtual corporations” which are teams of smaller companies that contract together for specific task. They use this to over come their cultural limitations on large scale organization.

    More importantly, if they have cheap abundant power and a pro-commerce culture, that can offset a great deal of inefficiency due to a lack of scale and corruption. Our power grid is being absolutely strangled. It doesn’t matter if you have a perfect libertarian paradise if you don’t have power.

  7. K. J. Webb,

    Of course we were then berating ourselves for not being as tough, resourceful, committed, etc as the true believers and zombie workers of the Soviet Union.

    Yes, I know each generation seems to face its own end of the world. The thing that bothers me about the Chinese (and other Asians) isn’t that they have a competing system but that their beating us at our own game using our own organizational tools.

    Secondly, the Democrats in the 50’s where not anti-American. JFK’s first response to evil was not to apologize for America’s sins. Indeed, America leftist of that era where very pro technology and pro-progress. They wanted to build and build big.

    That political culture has been completely lost.

  8. It’s not clear the Taiwanese model would scale up to the PRC’s size effectively. But even there, Taiwan is a follower economy, playing the same game — making existing products cheaper or better-honed. There have only been three societies since the beginning of the industrial revolution that have been (or were about to become) genuine leader economies — Britain, the US, and Germany. They had the mix of education, research establishments, risk capital and market mechanisms, entreprenurship, and above all technological entrepreneurial traditions to seize technical-industrial leadership. It’s a matter of debate as to whether the British and American social-economic systems should even be considered as separate,considering the very large flows of people, capital, and information that have always existd between the wto; the shift from Britain to America was in many ways more like a regional shift wthin a single economy. The Germans made a great run for leadership between, say, 1880 and 1920, but they lacked the maturity of political development to match the Anglosphere and ultimately paid the price for that. They were always a day late and a mark short, so to speak. And of course, on the military side, their lesson may be, “never bring a light tactical bomber to a strategic-bomber fight.”

    Thing is, the Germans had so many more of the characteristics needed to surpass us than the Chinese do today, and they still failed.

    Yes, they are doing the rational thing by investing heavily in nuclear power. But that’s an error that the US can rectify and quickly catch up on, although in the long run we may just invent something that trumps their card altogether, like practical fusion. I guess I don’t see the US as headed into irrevocable decline. All it took was the price of gas to go up to four dollars (a pittance compared to European prices) for the US to swing aound to enthusiasm for drilling. A perfect storm of problems, many of them short-term, swept the Dems into power, and derailed that puch for the moment. I am now coming around to the conclusion that they are too deluded by their own propaganda to exploit their current position properly to entrench themselves. I think they will be decisively rejected, more likely in four than in eight years, and the subsequent government will be much more pragmatic about doing what is needed.

  9. Yes, the Dems today are not what the Dems of yesterday were. The 1968 convention changed the party forever. The reality of governing in 2009 will have a sobering effect, however. They’ll either screw it up or make it work, or something in between. The proof will be in the pudding.

    We’re a bit too impressed by the professariat and aging hippie branch of the party. They’re emboldened now, true. There’s a tide flowing in their direction. You can’t resist it any more than you can resist the market (except intellectually). If, however, you believe in the fundamental good sense of the electorate, you know that tide won’t run forever. You can always “stand athwart history and cry stop”. It might help. In the meantime the ordinary transactions of life will go on as they always do. In the end the reality principle always prevails.

    That may sound like a leap of faith, but, if so, it’s one borne out by the history of the Republic.

  10. I think that any country would be wise to look to the strengths of other countries which is essentially what he is pointing out in this post.

    In the USA it is impossible to do any sort of infrastructure project; meanwhile in China they have built a gigantic system of cities, power and highways in record time.

    There is a risk / reward balance in any society and the US, from an infrastructure / expansion perspective is too far to the weak side.

    There certainly are many other elements of the Chinese system that we wouldn’t want to follow, but we need to learn from what they have accomplished.

  11. America’s great strength has been its ability to look to the strengths of other countries and to appropriate them either through imitation or directly via immigrantion. No other culture has the advantages of adaptability or assimilation that the US has.

    While I may not like what the US reinvents itself into, yet that is why I do not fret for its future. Obama is the dying gasp of the New Deal paradigm that is breathing its last. We will come up with something new when truly challenged that I cannot imagine, that when we have made the transition will leave us in a more commanding position than ever.

    Energy? Space based solar, nuclear, fusion, lifestyle accommodation, who knows?

    Our ability to change is why we are the last best hope for mankind. And why we ultimately threaten every other country in the world. We don’t intend to, but we can’t stop. We will change until we succeed. And that makes us, whatever we become, an irresistible force.

    The Chinese are changing quickly to become their version of what we were, but I doubt they can become what we will be before we get there. Look at carrier operations. They may be able to operate a CBG 10 years after we retire our last one in favor of? Submersible based UCAVs? Who knows? Playing catch up ball is really hard.

  12. What about the gender imbalance caused by China’s 1-child policy?…ie, too many men, not enough women. Isn’t this likely to lead to disruption by horny & frustrated men?

    Or is it maybe the other way around?..have American men lost their edge because sex is too easy for them & they’re not frustrated ENOUGH?

  13. Jennifer asked, “What about the gender imbalance caused by China’s 1-child policy?…ie, too many men, not enough women. Isn’t this likely to lead to disruption by horny & frustrated men?”

    I suspect China will continue doing what has already started, willy nilly: importing North Korean females desperate enough to exchange food and shelter for marriage with less desirable Chinese men, despite being despised as non-Chinese. At the moment there is only a trickle of females resourceful enough to make their way across the border without getting caught. No doubt after Kim Jong Il is acknowledged as dead, the grip of the North Korean generals will not be tight enough to keep that trickle from turning into a flood, all willing to take whatever they can get in return for not being sent back to the gulag that is North Korea.

  14. My major concern is the cultural shift that has occurred in America’s appreciation of technology and commerce. Corporations no longer run adds with visuals of their big and bold construction and technology, they run ads with with visuals of children running in fields with assurances from the company that they aren’t that interested in technology.

    I think that instead of the Chinese importing our culture, we’re importing theirs in the form of mandarinism. We’re creating a large, parasitic class of mandarins who are primarily focused on stopping people from doing things.

  15. Whoops, I didn’t complete that last thought.

    It will not matter about our advantages in commerce and technology if we develop a culture which says that commerce and technology are not desirable things. Neither am I comfortable about our ability to shake off entrench anti-productive political institutions.

    Look at Ohio. Every presidential election we get treated to the sight of the people of Ohio wondering why they have such high permanent employment, lack of investment etc and why they can’t recover their glory days of 1945-1970. Yet no one in the state seems capable of making any of the structural changes to their political-activist-union complex that cripples the state.

    America survived the implosion of the rustbelt states because we had political compartmentalization. Companies that failed in the rustbelt moved to the south and west. Now the same political-activist-union complex has crippled California and is damaging Oregon and Washington. Now the only major state were you can build a factory is Texas.

    I am greatly afraid that “America” itself has not changed course out from under the leftist assault, instead, the productive elements have simply relocated internally to get out from under the leftist suppression. We’re running out of room.

  16. America is the Land of Broken Dreams. In the fifties we boasted of a century of progrss. The atom would be tamed and provide peaceful, plebtiful, cheap nuclear power. Men would land on the moon, build cities on other planets and moons and harvest the asteroid belt. Miracles drugs would cure or eliminate the great plagues, extend life well past 100, and prevent aging. Supersonic commercial air travel to anywhere on earth in 3 hours or less. Cars that fly. “Futuristic” homes.

    The generation that protested the Vitnam war and idolized Chairman Mao destroyed all these dreams and made “Progress” a forbidden word. The amazing progress made from 1900-1969 was stopped. There has been almost no progress in aviation, automobiles, homes, medicine, art, highways, airports, fabrics, furniture, alcoholic beverages, public sanitation, traffic control, fragrances, style. The only businesses that have flourished are those too new to be regulated — computer, cell phone equipment, and the internet. Only the Federal government has made Progress as it extends its control into every facet of every indidual’s life in its quest for Total Control.

    The Chinese were backward in the fifties – millions were slaughtered each year by plague, famine, war and poverty. The Chinese have used seeds and medicines the US created to conquer famine and plague. The Chinese have made Progress. I hope they do more.

    I hope the Chinese, having suffered the horrors of life under Mao, realize these dreams. I hope they pick up the Torch of Progress which we cast aside. I hope I live long enough to see Chinese cities on Mars, Chinese cars that fly, Chinese tourists who can fly anywhere in 3 hours, Chinese miracle drugs and Chinese who live past 100, Chinese peaceful nuclear power.

  17. Shannon writes about the state of technology, commerce (and industry and manufacturing) in the U. S. “Now the only major state were you can build a factory is Texas. ”

    And, I’d add, in the so-called stimulus bill is there the slightest acknowledgment that special incentives to the enterprises mentioned above might be a good idea? Maybe I missed it. Maybe there are too few people from basic backgrounds of physical, “real” productivity. Maybe too many come from areas of personal, legal, and social persuasion.

  18. I reckon I’m stuck in a time-warp. It is natural for me to think of China as condemned forever to be a sodden mass of slogan-spouting peasants stupidly adored by a no less sodden mass of slogan-spouting campus radicals. The economic and social changes in China (and in due course, I must believe, the political changes) can’t seem to me anything but cause for celebration. The horny young men are the only ones who may have a problem with these deveolopments.

    The world of campus radicals is rather shrunken nowadays. They have to look to places like Venezuela for inspiration. Where are Che and Mao and Ho when you need them? Viet Nam is about as cheerful, thriving and Western a place as you can find on the planet. Better not to think at all about places like Iran, where the true subversives are the ones reading “Lolita” and “The Federalist Papers”.

    But back to America. Remember that the dead hand of the Left isn’t of recent vintage. Think of all those fellow travelers throughout the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Think of their long-held belief in the Soviet Union as the place where “I have seen the Future and it Works”. The utopianism, silliness and delusion of the Left will always be with us. I myself see that eternal phenomenon as something that speaks well for us. It is an instance of our natural tendency to self-questioning and self-correction. And correction of the correction will always come. We wouldn’t have had Reagan Republicans without the candidacy of McGovern. We wouldn’t have had a principled conservative intellectual movement except as a reaction to the unexamined liberalism which prevailed after depression and war.

    History is dialectical, someone once said.

  19. I’ve always thought that the Cold War imposed a certain necessary corrective discipline on the US. With that gone, we have the freedom to stagger into the gutter. China’s success will eventually re-awaken America’s prowess.

    I don’t care for the straight-line extrapolation in S.L.’s argument. History never seems to move that way. The Chinese have huge systemic problems, one of them being their preference for gigantic solutions. It now seems that the terrible Chengdu earthquake recently was caused partly by a huge new dam. And already the Three Gorges Dam is causing huge and costly problems… so much for “getting things done.”

    China is also using up its human resources at a tremendous rate. Smoking, alcohol, drugs, a bad diet, pollution, these are taking a huge and sad toll on the human future of China.

    I’ve found that most of the really keen China boosters have never been to China, at least not the real China beyond the maglev train from Pudong airport to Shanghai…

  20. My main argument here is that cheap, abundant power combined with a reckless desire for material improvement covers a vast number of cultural and political sins. If China has a culture that focuses on development and productivity while we do not, they can compensate for their coming from behind and their serious political and cultural short comings.

    I am not at all sure our political system will compensate, especially in the area of electrical power. California’s power shortages in circa 2000 were the direct result of decisions made back in 1980 during the height of the “energy crisis” when the planners assumed that electricity demand would be flat in future. (No, I’m not kidding) As a result, California built no new plants.

    Now we see the idea that we should block new coal plants because of global warming concerns and instead replace them with still hypothetical solar and wind sources. As I wrote before, its far, far easier to shutdown existing plants or prevent new ones from being made than it is to get an untested technology to replace it.

    We can see California on a national scale. Decisions made today to shutdown power generation will leave us crippled 20 years down the road. The Chinese and others who, even if they face great challenges now, make the correct energy decisions will have a pronounced advantage.

  21. David Foster,

    any particular reason for focusing on China rather than India as an emerging economic superpower?

    Mostly because seems to have these very grand and very real plans for power generation. Since an modern economy is basically a means of turning electricity into stuff, I say that the Chinese have the edge. As far as I know, the Indians have no plans for widespread adoption of nuclear power.

  22. One more thing that’s kind of worrisome is the growing preference for “staff” jobs rather than “line” jobs among the highly educated. (I use “line” here to refer to a job in which an individual has decision-making authority and accountability for the results of those decision, and “staff” to refer to a job which is basically advisory in nature.) There are a lot of people who are more thrilled by the chance to have *proximity* to some galactic decision (“should our company spend $10 billion on acquisition X”) than by the chance to have actual *ownership* of some less-galactic decision (“how many Gerbilator units should we produce this quarter, and what should we price them at?”) To some extent, this represents an attempt to extend the habits of school into the workplace; it also has a component of sheer cowardice.

    This phenomenon is at its peak in the “non-profit” world, but also exists in business (as in the example above) and in government…where many “elite” college graduates would be excited about writing a paper on “transportation alternatives for the nation in 2020” but would be most uninterested in being the Atlanta tower manager for the FAA.

  23. Mostly because seems to have these very grand and very real plans for power generation. Since an modern economy is basically a means of turning electricity into stuff, I say that the Chinese have the edge. As far as I know, the Indians have no plans for widespread adoption of nuclear power.

    I don’t know the precise details of their plans, but I am under the impression that India is doing a lot of R&D into the subject of thorium reactors, and that access to uranium for their various nuclear programs was one of the major objectives of the various agreements they were working out with the Bush administration.

  24. Phil Fraering,

    I’ll be pleased if India surges ahead but frankly given the dominance of Western educated leftist in their political system I don’t know if they can match China’s seemingly ruthless rush to industrialize and power. After all, India crippled herself for nearly forty years by trying to follow the democratic-socialist vision of European leftist. They’ve improved a lot in the last ten years but they still have a lot of drag.

  25. These problems have a LOT to do with the mindless “self-esteem-building” practiced in so many schools…like banning red pens for marking papers because it might be too upsetting, and endlessly telling kids how great they are whether they have done anything to deserve it or not. A person whose self-esteem is so high and fragile that he cannot cope with even the most minor sort of failure or criticism is certainly not going to succeed as a scientist or could they possibly cope with an experiment or a device that doesn’t work as expected? Nor is such a person suitable for most roles in commerce..imagine one of the fragile jewels of self-esteem as a commissioned salesperson or a factory or warehouse manager. Most of these people will gravitate toward staff positions (see my comment above) in which vague measurements, combined with reverence for credentials, protect them from ever really confronting their own performance. “Non-profit organizations” such as the various “think tanks” provide a haven for many such people, and often a very profitable one at the individual level.

  26. Sorry to rain on the self-pity parade, but:
    1 China has no stable rule of law. Capitalism cannot thrive or survive without enforceable contracts.
    2 Tyrannies are great at big public infrastructure projects like highways or the People’s power grid. Anyone want to guess what the quality management and contract management of these nuclear plants is going to be like? See #1.
    3 Many engineers in school != many talented working engineers. China’s vaunted educational system remains too centered on rote memorization (and possibly political content). Anyone who’s worked with Chinese graduate students can see both their talent, and the gaps in their education. And we’re seeing the cream of their crop.
    It’s good to keep an eye on the competition. But it’s too soon for hand-wringing defeat. Our government is going to lunge stupid and Socialist for two years…and then the elections will do a lot to reverse it. Smart people will continue to work and thrive here, because for all of America’s flaws, we remain one of the most free economies on the planet.

  27. “Now the only major state were you can build a factory is Texas. ”

    Y’all can go to hell; I’m going to Texas.

  28. Great article. China’s return to world dominance would only be bringing back the status quo that existed for much of human history. It was only the recent rise of the industrial west that (temporarily?) changed that order. The Chinese are smart people, with an average IQ significantly higher than that of Europeans/Americans.

    The West has dominated more recently because of the free market based institutions which release and encourage entreprenurial spirit. The chronism/family based Chinese system has shackled their potential. Will they reject the Confuscian status-based model and embrace the openness that has helped the West succeed?

    Taking Mark Steyn’s line that the US is the only non-imperialist super-power in history – which seems fair enough to us but heresy to the left – it would be quite a shock to the left (in particular) to see a real imperial superpower in action, which China would almost certainly be.

    On the other hand, the self-critical nature of the Anglo-West (this article being an example) makes linear projection from the current situation quite problematic. It’s a very non-linear system and could flip fairly quickly. Is The One the harbinger of Euro-sclerosis or is he the last of the leftist elite’s grasp on power?

Comments are closed.