we should acknowledge that there is not an absolute read-across that ensures that size of economy = political power in the world. America may continue to be the world’s most powerful nation, for some time after its economy is no longer the biggest in the world – its network of alliances, its military and technological prowess, its position at the centre of international organisations may all help to ensure that.
That is Gideon Rachman in his FT blog. Ça va sans dire mais mieux en le disant…
Rachman links to this NPR discussion, in which he participated along with former Pentagon strategist Thomas P.M. Barnett. Whereas Rachman thinks the US’s unipolar moment has ended (see his recent FP article “American Decline: This Time Is for Real,” Barnett believes fear of China’s rise is overblown and the next three to four decades will continue to see US power preponderance.
James Fallows, over at his Atlantic blog, comments on Barnett’s take with a couple of interesting thought experiments aimed at better understanding China’s current situation. One of them is to imagine a US that would encompass the entire Western hemisphere:
If Americans wanted to imagine what it would take to be “strong” in the way China currently is, he said, all we’d have to do is think of moving the entire population of the Western Hemisphere into our existing borders. Every single Mexican. (Rather than enforcing the southern border, we’d require everyone to cross it, headed north.) Every Haitian, Cuban, and Jamaican. Everyone from Central America. All 190 million from Brazil. And so on. Even the Canadians. China, by the way, is just about the same size as the United States, though a larger share of its land area is desert, mountain, or otherwise nonarable.
If we did that, we’d be up to about a billion people — and then if we also took every single person from Nigeria, and for good measure everyone in hyper-crowded Japan too, we’d finally be up to China’s 1.3 billion size. At that point, like China, we’d have tremendous scale in everything. Rich people. Big businesses. A huge work force. Countless numbers of multi-million population cities. And we would also have a tremendous amount of poverty, plus pressure on resources of every kind, from water to food to living space. Just as China does now. Scale gives China some strengths. But it also creates tremendous challenges, as Americans would recognize if we thought about this prospect for even a minute. Seriously, reflect on this, and consider that it is China’s reality now.