if we take economic competition with China seriously

The population of the Peoples Republic of China is about 1.4 billion. The population of the US is around 330 million. So China is about 4.2x our size. If we assume that brainpower is distributed more or less evenly around the world (I’m not sure why we’d assume otherwise), China has over 4x the really smart people that the US does.

How can the US overcome this disadvantage in numbers? Two ways:

–persuade really smart foreigners that the US is a land of opportunity and induce them to emigrate, and

–ensure that everyone in the country has an opportunity to get a good education, so they can contribute to economic growth afterward graduation.

To my mind, the poster child for how not to do things is Japan. There, a hidebound, traditionally pro-business, right-of-center party has controlled national politics for decades. It’s basic agenda: anti-women, anti-minority, anti-immigration (gaijin = human-like things that emerge from the darkness), protection for the politically powerful heavy manufacturing industries whose prime was in the 1970s-1980s. The result for Japan has been thirty years and counting of economic stagnation, a now massive national debt and a substantial decline in living standards due in part to a 30% depreciation of the national currency.

The plan that spawned this epic disaster is remarkably similar to the Trump agenda. Several exceptions: the industries Trump favors had their heyday in the 1950s; Trump’s white racism is overt; he advocates violence against domestic political opponents as well as foreigners and minorities; his incompetence as a businessman, so his 1930s-style tariff “protection” has ended up hurting the industries he favors as well as the rest of the country.

An ugly picture–made worse by his insinuations that he will use right-wing extremist militias to overturn the election result if he loses.

What is perhaps most surprising is that until the pandemic struck a majority of Americans approved of Trump’s orchestration of this incipient economic train wreck.

A major source of Trump’s appeal, I think, has been his promise to improve the lot of chronically economically depressed areas of the country still suffering from the demise of heavy industry that began over a quarter-century ago. The US has been unique among world powers in its failure to provide economic assistance to these regions, with both Democrats and Republicans complicit. As has been the case throughout his career, Trump’s promises have been empty. In fact, he has made the situation worse–although the harm he’s done has been offset somewhat by belated arrival of recovery from the 2008-09 downturn in these areas in 2016-17. Two implications: if we are to keep pace with China we can’t allow this large fraction of the population to remain unproductive; and continuing the abandonment of the rust belt keeps the door open for the next poleznyy idiot who comes along.

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