I’m sure that there have been more stunning examples than provided by Michael Schuman yesterday on Bloomberg.com of a writer unwittingly devastating the very argument he’s seeking to make. But even in the fields of trade and globalization policy analysis, which have demonstrated an unusual power to turn otherwise working brains into neural oatmeal, I’m equally sure they’d be hard to find.
Schuman, a well regarded Beijing-based journalist and student of China and its relations with the United States, sought to show that both Americans and Chinese could come to regret deeply any policy or policies that produce a result he views as alarmingly likely – an unwinding of the thick web of economic ties created in recent decades between them.
Strangely, the author does a good job of explaining why the bilateral relationship has benefited China, correctly observing that “Open access to the U.S. market has been a cornerstone of China’s growth since the 1980s.”
Indeed, he goes on to point out that: “No ambitious Chinese company could claim to be truly global without a U.S. presence”;
>that “Restricted access to the U.S. would force Chinese and foreign companies to reorder their supply chains in a host of sectors, from electronics to clothing to toys, dealing a serious blow to Chinese manufacturing”;
>and that losing share of the U.S. market “would also dent China’s hopes of becoming a global hub for cutting-edge products. Without competitive access to the American market, at least some of the capacity that could’ve been built in China would have to be located elsewhere.”
But it’s precisely because the costs to China would be so great that his claim of comparable losses for the United States is so weird. Specifically, if China can’t rely on selling much to Americans, is it really reasonable to expect its share of global middle class spending to surge, as Schuman expects, and to become a titanic new market that could be denied to U.S. business?
If American trade restrictions prevent Chinese entities (I resist calling them “companies” or “businesses” because they have nothing in common with commercial organizations originating in national economies dominated by market forces) from becoming genuinely global players, including in high tech sectors; if they cause worldwide supply chains to start leaving or skipping China; and if China’s growth therefore is seriously slowed, where are all those new Chinese middle class consumers supposed to come from?
Similarly, if such trade curbs can crimp Chinese entities’ ambitions to invest in the United States and elsewhere abroad, then it’s implausible to think that the American economy could lose out to other economic competitors on much in the way of new capital inflows from China. (And that’s of course assuming that Americans should even want China’s state-controlled economy to create a major footprint in their own.)
This latest version of Trade Derangement Syndrome doesn’t stop with these internally contradictory claims. For example, Schuman also speculates that, if U.S.-China economic ties wither, the PRC’s continued rise to major power status might not remain so peaceful, and that “outright conflict could become more likely.” Evidently, he’s unaware that it burgeoning integration with the American economy has not only made China more prosperous, but strong enough militarily to start challenging the U.S. position in the East Asia-Pacific region.
But the author’s inability even to recognize these clashing positions, much less attempt to reconcile them, deserves special attention because they show how little genuine scrutiny trade and globalization cheerleading receives either from the policy community that generates it, or the mainstream media that showcases so much of it.
Democracy, one of America’s leading newspapers has taken to warning, “dies in darkness.” But given the importance of a truly free marketplace of ideas, and the central role that the mainstream media is supposed to play in fostering such exchange, it’s also clear that democracy can die from intolerance and groupthink, and from the intellectual arrogance and laziness it encourages.