Thursday, January 26, 2012

Should China lose for the US to win?

I cannot even remember the last time I watched the President's State of the Union address.  All the fake applause, and the monarchical settings just don't agree with me.  So, I know for sure that I would not have watched Obama's address, but would have read about it.

And that is what I did even while here on the other side of the planet from the US.

The first time I read anything about the SOTU was at a Facebook status message; my "cousin-in-law" (yes, I invented this relationship!) had a note that read:
"Lets not allow other countries to win the fight for the future"...really?? I did not expect this BS from BO.
And then I read a few more, and was particularly attracted to this blog post by an Economist correspondent:
Perhaps more distressing, he implied in several places that the reason to become more like China was that only by doing so could America defeat China, and others, at economics. Consider the line:
Our workers are the most productive on Earth, and if the playing field is level, I promise you – America will always win.
Leaving others, one is forced to conclude, to lose—not once, not occasionally, but always. And what is likely to be the outcome of unending defeat? Destitution? Are we to hope that other countries are left with no gainful employment opportunities at all? If that means dreadful poverty, then Mr Obama ought to be dragged before an international tribunal. But maybe it's not so bad, in which case we have to wonder why it's so damned important to "win" whatever contest it is we're having. Is the implication that it's possible to get by all right, to not be poor, without having lots of demanding manufacturing jobs? That doesn't sound so bad, actually; are we sure America doesn't want to sign up for that? Of course, if this is the nature of economic activity, and if America is determined to defeat other countries, it's worth asking whether it wouldn't make sense to deliberately sabotage other places, or bomb them; after all, it's hard to lose to a country whose people are dead. 
 He is bloody pissed, isn't he?  I think he is damn right to comment that way.

I concede that this is election year, when rhetoric heats up beyond the stratosphere.  But, come on. Really? This is the argument the professor-in-chief wants to provide?

But, the Economist's correspondent has more to say, and that is about the very sentence that PO'ed my "cousin-in-law"
Later, the president added:
Don’t let other countries win the race for the future.
The context, innocuously enough, was in calling for greater support for American research and development efforts. But the language of this statement is either daft or ghastly, depending on how charitably one is willing to read it. Is Mr Obama so dense as to miss that when America invents things other countries benefit, and vice versa? If a German discovers a cure for cancer, shouldn't we be ecstatic about that, rather than angry? Indeed, shouldn't we be quite happy and interested in ensuring that Germans and Britons and Indians have the capability and opportunity to develop fantastic new technologies? In the more nefarious reading, Mr Obama seems to accept that only relative standing really matters. A sick, poor world in which America always triumphs is preferable in all cases to one in which America maybe doesn't "win" the race to discover every last little thing that's out there to be discovered. And hell, one has to ask again whether the easiest way to prevent other countries from winning the race for the future isn't simply to blow up their labs.
... People who live outside of America are people just like Americans, and we should all rejoice in their rising prosperity, the more so when it occurs through additions to the stock of human knowledge that will benefit people everywhere. If an American president can't communicate that simple idea to his citizenry, out of fear that he'll be drummed out of office on a wave of nationalistic outrage, then he doesn't deserve to be president and his country doesn't deserve to win a damned thing, least of all the right to call itself "exceptional", a beacon of hope and freedom. A zero-sum world is a world without hope, and if Mr Obama is convinced that's what we're in then I don't see much need for him to stick around.
Ouch, ouch, ouch!

I agree with everything there, except that final sentence.  I want Obama to stick around only because the emerging set of alternatives are incredibly worse than him.

Greg Mankiw, too, didn't like them:
I was disappointed, and even a bit surprised, that the President adopted the xenophobic approach to outsourcing and international trade.  Usually, on issues of international trade, the President plays the role of grown-up and leaves it up to Congress to gin up populist ire.  That is true of both parties.  Recall that President Clinton pushed NAFTA through.
 But, Obama is not the only zero-sum game guy in town.

In Foreign Policy, Gideon Rachman (an Economist alum) writes about the end of the win-win world:

In my book Zero-Sum Future, written in 2009, I attempted to predict how the global economic crisis would change international politics. As the rather bleak title implied, I argued that relations between the major powers were likely to become increasingly tense and conflict-ridden. In a worsening economic climate, it would be harder for the big economies to see their relationships as mutually beneficial -- as a win-win. Instead, they would increasingly judge their relationships in zero-sum terms. What was good for China would be seen as bad for America. What was good for Germany would be bad for Italy, Spain, and Greece.
Now, as the paperback edition of my book comes out, the prediction is being borne out -- which is gratifying as an author, although slightly worrying as a member of the human race. The rise of zero-sum logic is the common thread, tying together seemingly disparate strands in international politics: the crisis inside the European Union, deteriorating U.S.-Chinese relations, and the deadlock in global governance.
Rachman seems to be analyzing the Euro Zone chaos, in which the northerners have to bail out the southerners, as somehow an example of the end of win-win. But, the Euro common currency and its related macroeconomic problems now is very different a situation from, say, the US-China trade issue that Obama views as a zero-sum game.  Reading Rachman, I am, like, WTF!  Rachman is all confused about the win-win or win-lose of globalization, depending on one's interpretation, and the international geopolitics in which he sees a non-zero-sum situation.  The only place where he seems to make sense is when he writes:
[WTO officials] dread the prospect of being asked to adjudicate a U.S.-Chinese dispute over currency -- fearing that any such case would be so politically charged that it could blow apart the world trading system.
Oh well ...

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