The rise of China is directly tied to our own irrationality. The People’s Republic of China has become rich and powerful by serving as the reservoir of our contradictions. We wanted cheap products, no pollution, high wages and generous benefits. All these things are not compatible, so we outsourced our manufacturing to China and pretended that we could have it all. But all we got were cheap products, and the country we outsourced them to got the jobs and the national prosperity. We wanted to spend money without worrying about where it came from. Again we turned to China. And like the grasshopper and the ant, we sang and played all summer, while the ants worked and prepared for the winter.
We used China to escape the limits of reality, but there is no escape. Only temporary vacations from consequences. The PRC has made its own choices. It has chosen to compromise the lives of its people in order to amass wealth and industry by selling our own knickknack designs back to us. Now a generation of Chinese is preparing to reap the harvest of that industry. While we are in debt to that same industry. In debt to the banks who loan us the money with which we buy Chinese products and the government which collects taxes in order to repay China for the entitlement programs. And the banks are in debt to the government which bailed them out with China’s money. And the government is in debt to China.
The People’s Republic of China is no model of reason, but it understands choices better than we do. It left Communism behind in all but name, in order to gain wealth and power. And we left our wealth and power behind in all but name, in order to gain Communism. Without ever admitting it to ourselves, we traded a system that worked for one that didn’t. And our leaders used a Communist country to lessen the immediate pain of the transition. But what our leaders treated as waste products, manufacturing jobs and heavy industry, helped turn China into a superpower. We thought that we could have everything, the best of both worlds, cheap products and only high paying jobs or subsidized unemployment. And by believing that, we lost both the jobs and the products will follow once the PRC no longer needs to needs to keep its currency artificially low.
There is no such thing as too big to fail. Size only serves as a delaying factor. The bigger they are, the slower they fall. But they also fall harder. And size also dulls the speed of the response. The more space there is between the outer regions and the inner controlling sector, the slower the system is to respond to a crisis. We’re not too big to fail. We’re failing so slowly that it’s hard to see from the inside.
It comes down to choice again. If we’re going to escape from this trap that we have set for ourselves, then we’re going to make sacrifices. And our political system is poorly adapted to making sacrifices. The system we have is based on everyone getting what they want. On short term satisfaction over long term solutions. Plenty of Americans are out of work or living hand to mouth, but that deprivation doesn’t translate to the centers of power.
But we can’t afford to keep going the way we are. We are deep in debt and spending money that we don’t have. And we’re doing it because our system is built on spending money, not on saving money.
In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed that, “One of the greatest favors that can be bestowed upon the American people is economy in government“. He warned about “the stupendous sum of about 7 billion, 500 million dollars” that is taken from Americans. Today 7 billion dollars wouldn’t cover a day in the operation of the Federal government. If things keep going as they are, we might come to look upon the “stupendous” sum of 6 trillion dollars discussed now as equally minute. But it is not likely that day will ever come, because the camel’s back is too close to breaking under the strain.