I'm with Robert Samuelson: Sputnik Scare, Updated (Washington Post, May 26).
Samuelson reminds us about the sputnik scare of the late 50s and concerns over Japanese competition from the late 1980s, providing a context for current concerns over Chinese growth.
...Do China and India threaten us economically? Possibly, though not in the usually imagined way. Their low wages and rising skills will continue to cost us some jobs, especially in an easily interconnected world. But if global trade were reasonably balanced, we should roughly gain what we lose. Countries that export would spend their earnings on imports.
Unfortunately, trade isn't well balanced. China and many Asian countries (though not India) run huge surpluses; they sell more than they buy. That's why the Bush administration is rightly pressuring China to revalue its currency, which would make Chinese exports more expensive and its imports less expensive. The danger is that the China bloc destabilizes the world economy -- not that it soon overtakes us.
On being overtaken, history teaches another lesson. America's economic strengths lie in qualities that are hard to distill into simple statistics or trends. We've maintained beliefs and practices that compensate for our weaknesses, including ambitiousness; openness to change (even unpleasant change); competition; hard work; and a willingness to take and reward risks. If we lose this magic combination, it won't be China's fault.
Thanks to Craig Newmark for letting me know about this column.
(By the way, I was curious about the origin of the "pants" expression I used for the title. I found it at this Ohio State University football web site: "The inaugural season [1934 - Ben] for coach Francis Schmidt is one that sparked a couple of great OSU traditions. OSU's teams had been losing to Michigan regularly, and Schmidt made his famous quote “They put their pants on one leg at a time same as everybody else" to indicate that UM was human and could be beaten.")