Tue, Nov 16, 2010 - Page 8 News List

Learning from China’s example

By William Stimson

It is evident now from this rare earth business and from the way Beijing is handling its green technologies in general that the US can no longer afford to see China merely as a cheap labor force or a huge market to exploit. That phase is over. This hardly means the US should view China as an enemy or a competitor, even though the Chinese military harbors that unenlightened attitude. That China poses a crisis to the US cannot be denied — but it happens to be exactly the crisis the US needs at this point to get itself out of the rut it’s stuck in.

To not waste this opportunity must be the US’ first order of business today. To rise to the occasion, it and its people must begin to approach China and the Chinese people in the way a student approaches a great master. The US must change its attitude and its system, as China has done. And it must do this, as China has, without altering its own basic beliefs.

For all the US’ recent failings in the Middle East and at home, democracy, human rights, personal freedom and entrepreneurship remain the cornerstones of the US way of life and the caldron of its amazing track record of creativity and success. These will inevitably prevail over the authoritarianism, censorship, indoctrination, corruption and injustice of the Chinese system — but only to the extent that the US manages to wrench itself free of some of its most cherished dogmas.

The market system is not all it’s cracked up to be. In the same way that enterprises in the US have failed to generate a new generation of antibiotics to fight emerging superbugs (perhaps because AIDS and cancer drugs are more profitable for pharmaceutical companies as patients take them for the remainder of their lives instead of just for a few weeks), it has failed to protect and sufficiently promote Silicon Valley’s edge in green technologies.

Rather than crying “Unfair!” when the Chinese government affords fledgling green industries the support and advantages they need to get on their feet, the US government should be doing the same.

In the end, these vulnerable new industries will benefit the entire country. The US cannot allow them to migrate to China. In the same way a dab of capitalism saved Chinese communism, a dab of socialism can save US capitalism. If the US government had no qualms about bailing out the big bankers, why should it balk at bailing out the green start-ups? What’s un-American about helping the small guy?

Similarly, the whole globalization mantra blithely misses the point that giving away jobs inevitably leads to giving away the grassroots experience that feeds innovation, creativity and the development of new expertise and products. By closing down its own biggest rare earth element mine and letting that operation go to China, the US forfeited its leadership in an entire technological field — and maybe much more.

Just as those in Detroit continued blindly down their market path until it was too late to see that big gas-guzzling cars were a thing of the past, Washington today can’t seem to grasp that across-the-board globalization serves the interests of the richest few in the US at the expense of the country as a whole.

To feed the creativity and innovation that are the US’ greatest advantages, it needs a wide variety of its own industries within its own borders, and it needs a range of its own labor on all levels so that things can be accomplished by American hands and American minds. To export the little jobs inevitably leads to giving away the big ones — and to becoming a second-rate country.

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