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China’s Really Big

By Taylor Marvin

Image from Wikimedia, by user Roke.

World population. Image from Wikimedia, by user Roke.

Over at Clyde Prestowitz’s blog at Foreign Policy, Iowa State electrical engineering professor Vikram Dalal has an interesting letter outlining why the decline of America’s manufacturing sector is potentially disastrous for the future prosperity and stability of the United States. Many of his points are good ones, especially coming from someone involved in educating future engineers, but one jumped out at me:

“What that in turn means is that more R&D gets done in China, and more industries move there, because that is where the workers will be. The United States is going into a death spiral. I have the attendance record of the recent Materials Research Society conference in San Francisco. It is probably 60 to 70 percent Chinese. Americans were rather scarce.”

What’s important to remember is that China is really big, and the United States will never have more than a fraction of its population. Given that the US population is less than 25% of China’s, we’d expect that a conference that proportionally represented Chinese and Americans (and no one else) to be about 80% Chinese. If world living standards keeping rising and barriers to international travel continue to precipitously fall we can expect the proportion of Americans involved in international research or production in any field to fall. Americans and European have historically been massively overrepresented in international activities because until about the last three decades other regions tended to be too poor, isolated or politically unstable to participate in meaningful ways in the global economy. There’s not much America can do to halt that, nor should we. The American period of global economic dominance in the 20th century was in many ways a aberration caused by the repeated destruction of non-US industrial bases, and rising global incomes and educational levels and accelerating globalization are a profound gain in aggregate human welfare.

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