Why We’re No Longer Number One
Last week World Bank economists predicted that China would soon displace the United States as the world’s largest economy. The fact that this one-time economic basket case is now positioned to surpass the US is one more sign of the damage done to American prosperity by welfare, warfare, corporatism, and fiat money.
Some commentators have predicted that China’s reign as the world’s largest economy would not last long. This may be true. While China has made great strides since adopting free-market reforms in the 1970s, China is still run by an authoritarian government whose economic policies distort the market in order to benefit state-favored industries. These state-favored businesses are often controlled by politically-powerful individuals.
What many of these commentators fail to notice is that the American government pursues many of the same flawed policies as the Chinese. For example, because of the increase in regulations, subsidies, and bailouts, many American businesses are putting more resources into manipulating the political process than producing goods and services desired by consumers. Many big businesses even lobby Congress and the federal bureaucracy for new regulations on their industries. They do this because big business can more easily absorb the costs of complying with the new regulations that force their smaller competitors out of business.
China is regularly criticized by American protectionists for subsidizing its export industries. However, the US government does the same thing via programs such as the Export-Import Bank. China is also criticized for manipulating the value of its currency to make its exports more attractive to foreign consumers. This may well be true, but China is hardly unique in this respect. Throughout its history, the Federal Reserve has manipulated both the domestic and international economy, often working in partnership with foreign central banks.
The Federal Reserve’s inflationary policies benefit big banks, politically-connected businesses, and big-spending politicians at the expense of the American people. Anyone interested in helping improve the American people’s economic situation should focus on changing America’s monetary policy, not China’s.
Ironically, many of the same politicians who denounce China’s monetary policy benefit from Chinese purchases of America’s debt. If China stopped making large purchases of US debt, the Federal Reserve would be forced to monetize even more debt, thus risking hyperinflation. So the best thing Congress could do to make it more difficult for China to manipulate the global economy is cut federal spending.
One advantage China has over the US is that the Chinese government does not waste money on a hyper-interventionist foreign policy. The United States government spent approximately $752 billion on the military in fiscal year 2013. In contrast, China spent approximately $188 billion. While China may be increasing its military spending, it has a long way to go to catch up to the United States.
It is difficult to see how the American people, other than those who run or work for the military-industrial complex, benefit from this spending. Military spending, like all government spending, hampers private sector growth by taking resources away from investors, entrepreneurs, and consumers while contributing significantly to the national debt. In contrast, a return to the policy of peace and free trade would allow those resources to be used by entrepreneurs to create new businesses and new jobs.
News that China is soon to surpass the United States as the largest economy in the world is a stark reminder of how the American people are harmed by the welfare-warfare state, crony capitalism, and fiat currency. The only way to avoid continuing collapse is to finally reject an interventionist foreign policy, stop bailing out and subsidizing politically powerful industries, and restore a free market in money.