Ross Douthat Shows Trouble With Arithmetic In New York Times Column on China’s “Decade”

July 13, 2020

Ross Douthat has good news for folks who don’t like China. His NYT column yesterday told us that China’s economy will run out of steam in a decade and that the U.S. will again be able to reclaim world leadership after 2030. The problem is that the piece presents nothing to support this claim.

After telling readers that China is passing the U.S. for world leadership due to the inept presidency of Donald Trump, Douthat gets to the meat of his piece:

“It’s possible that we’re nearing a peak of U.S.-China tension not because China is poised to permanently overtake the United States as a global power, but because China itself is peaking — with a slowing growth rate that may leave it short of the prosperity achieved by its Pacific neighbors, a swiftly aging population, and a combination of self-limiting soft power and maxed-out hard power that’s likely to diminish, relative to the U.S. and India and others, in the 2040s and beyond.

“Instead of a Chinese Century, in other words, the coronavirus might be ushering in a Chinese Decade, in which Xi Jinping’s government behaves with maximal aggression because it sees an opportunity that won’t come again.”

The problem is that the cited piece for “China’s slowing growth rate” still has China growing close to 4.0 percent annually. That is almost 2.0 percentage points faster than the 2.1 percent growth rate projected for the U.S. in the last five years of the decade.

Furthermore, the U.S. economy is starting from a much lower base. In 2019 China’s economy was already more than 25 percent larger than the U.S. economy, while the U.S. economy is projected to shrink by 5.5 percent this year, China’s is expected to grow by 1.8 percent. It is hard to see how an economy that is starting from a lower level and growing at a slower pace, will pass a larger economy that is growing more rapidly. I guess it takes an NYT columnist to figure that one out.

One final point, there seems to be an obsession in the media with China’s lower birth rate and likely declining population. While the idea that this is a big problem for China is repeated endlessly, it really lead to the obvious question, why?

So the country will have fewer people. This will likely mean fewer people working in very low productivity jobs in agriculture and the service sector. And why exactly would this be a problem for China?

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