Will having China as a geopolitical enemy help revitalize the United States?

“Probably not” is the conclusion of my latest Bloomberg column.  Here is one excerpt:

The Soviets had a string of leaders who were well-suited to play movie villains. Stalin murdered millions and radiated evil. Khrushchev was more moderate in terms of domestic policy, but in New York he banged his shoe on the table and shouted “We will bury you!” He also moved Soviet nuclear weapons into Cuba. Brezhnev came across as a crusty, malevolent stiff.

Chinese president Xi Jinping, in contrast, looks and acts not much different than many other world leaders. The standing joke in China, though often banned on Chinese social media, is to compare him to Winnie the Pooh because of his posture, his walk and what sometimes appears to be a kind of ambling geniality. As for earlier Chinese leaders, post-Mao, most didn’t have much of a profile in the U.S. at all.

Do read the whole thing.  International rivalries can indeed help make countries great, but so far the American rivalry with China is not having that effect, and probably will not anytime soon.

Note furthermore that China’s “low publicity” approach implies the biggest China hawks and warners should be those who know the country relatively well (as opposed to the usual equilibrium where the expats are more sympathetic), a regularity which I believe is born out by the facts (thanks to D. for this point).

Comments

“...movie villains...murdered millions”

Nice to see where your moral compass finds true North.

The lovely people of MR have moral compass, I can't say the same about our amoral leader whose lodestar does not point True North. Resist we must.

- Mike Pence aka Yo Boy Mike

"Chinese president Xi Jinping, in contrast, looks and acts not much different than many other world leaders."

While threatening occupying Tibet and Macao and threatening Vietnam and other Asian countries. While imposing Beijing agenda on America media and stealing American jobs and business. While incarcerating Muslims and forcing Christians to worship Xi and Satan.

Want to revitalize America and make the world a better place? Support representative Captain Bolsonaro for president in Brazil. He understands that Brazil and America are -- as they were in WW II -- natural partners in the fight against totalitarianism. He vouched to face Red China, oppose Masonary, Satanism and witchcraft, defend Christianity and block key Chinese investments in Brazil. His motto is "Brazil above everything, God above everyone". He will slash taxes, rise tariffs, goose military expenditures and make social programs and public services more efficient. He has vouched tofight crime and help every honest Braziian get at least a gun for self-defense.

In fairness, many (most?) people view the Chinese treatment of Tibet, Xijiang, Inner Mongolia, (Manchuria, etc) as not that different from how Spain deals with the Basques or Catalonia. (Or France and the Bretons, and others.) They'll argue that suppressing local languages, discouraging separatism, and so on aren't that different from what European countries have done, even if most European countries have eased up on that recently "China is still a developing country and can't be expected to X." (where X is an civil liberty.)

Note that even most of Korea and Vietnam were Chinese vassal states at points in history. So people will find reasons to explain why it isn't really an empire, or at least not different from other modern Old World multiethnic nation-states with legacies of territorial changes.

The diference is, Red China threatens Civilization itself.

What about the re-education camps for Millions of Uighurs?

Meh, I can see the positives.

Teaching Muslim terrorists not to be Muslim terrorists sounds like a win-win to me. This is better than feckless Trump's weak Muslim ban.

Supporting the little Fascist Bolsonaro is not going to do anything to help defeat the big, fat Communist Pooh.

We are entering a new phase for China, from the phase in which China produced goods for American firms (e.g., Apple i-phone) to a phase in which China produces goods for China firms. Most American scoff at the idea, believing as they do that China is inferior and cannot produce goods on its own but can only copy American goods. We will see. Which phone will American consumers buy: the ultra-expensive i-phone (the latest are off the charts expensive) or the very good and much cheaper alternative, the x-phone (x for president Xi Jinping)? With his trade war with China, Trump is at once at war with American firms. Once we are in the new phase, be prepared for a real (trade) war. That should revitalize America. [As I commented earlier this week, there has been a spate of articles in the NYT recently highly pessimistic about China, one article in which the author predicts runaway inflation in China and another in which the author predicts revolution in China. Revolution!]

Trump's policy moves these days are looking more and more like an own goal. Let's take America's most successful trillion dollar companies, Amazon and Apple, and handicap them with boneheaded moves by the US government. Let's also make Americans pay more for goods ala tariffs. Trump is worst than a socialist.

Hey, doesn't Yuri Andropov at least deserve a bit of mention for advocating crushing the Prague Spring and being the head of the KGB before reaching the top Soviet leadership position?

Brezhnev was just a bumbling car collector compared to Comrade Andopov, at least when it comes to comparing resumes and crushing the enemies of the revolution with an iron will.

I am also in the "probably not" "anytime soon" camp. As a general rule regarding military spending and development, power/force projection costs about 5x what access/area denial costs. Access denial doesn't have the same development or logistical headaches as force projection, and access denial is what China is all about.

There is no one on earth currently who can or could match the USA on force projection and that is very unlikely even in the long term in my opinion. To move in this direction would require a very very good reason on China's part.

That said woe to us or anyone else who gives China that reason. They will never repeat the "Century of Shame" and are very serious about protecting their Pacific interests. Their Pacific sphere of influence is where I see future clashes between the USA and China, and that is where the Pentagon sees them too.

I agree. That could be our answer to the question “…what is one mainstream or “consensus” view that you absolutely agree with?"

Even apart from the force projection vs. area denial asymmetry, total China's military spending rivals US's, contrary to popular wisdom. The raw spending numbers typically don't account for purchasing power parity (PPP) and neglect that US personnel costs (pay and benefits) are much higher than China's. At PPP, 2017 US vs. China defense spending is only 606B vs. 435B. Non-personnel US spending was only 356B, less than China's total spending. It's unknown how much of China's defense spending is for personnel, but it's believed to be a much smaller fraction than for the US. See here: [https://breakingdefense.com/2018/05/us-defense-budget-not-that-much-bigger-than-china-russia-gen-milley/].

So, it appears that we haven't needed to "give China a reason" to boost their force projection capabilities. I think it's pretty well accepted that China's ambitions include a "blue water navy" (one capable of projecting force globally). They are farther along than perhaps most people realize: [https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/chinas-blue-water-navy-catching-up-with-the-us].

The fact that people may not generally perceive China as engaging in a massive military build-up may point to the success of their "low publicity" approach. "Pretend inferiority and encourage [your enemy's] arrogance," Sun-Tzu.

Yes, it is in fact a smaller fraction, but Chinese personnel costs have been rising, just like labor costs in China in general. Almost a decade ago or longer there was great consternation within the PLA because they decided to down-size the army by about 500k in order to boost spending on personnel, improve professionalism, and increase operational flexibility. 500k!!! I was in Shenzhen at the time and it was all people could talk about.

It is also well known that much of China's defense spending is "unaccounted" for in the sense that it is not domestically or internationally available to anyone outside the intelligence community, but those communities know about it.

China wants a blue water navy but they are only reaching parity with the US in terms of raw tonnage/#'s of ships. Their capabilities are still quite far from the proficiency/lethality of the US Navy and PACCOM has been working for a decade or longer on those scenarios. If it went super-heated China would likely lose 1/2 their surface tonnage and all their submerged, and they know it. PLAN aviation is a joke, and is still not an effective part of their projection capabilities, only area and local denial. Their low-publicity approach may be working with us but their neighbors (especially Japan) are catching on.

Great publications surrounding Air-Sea Battle (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AirSea_Battle) on the subject from War College, USNI and others. Too many to list but strategic minds are abuzz...

Perhaps it is outdated but I recall that graphic that showed US carriers compared to every other carrier in the world (https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/carriers.htm). I think when we hear China is 'catching up', we should ask do we mean Netflix is catching up to traditional TV or Bing is catching up to Google?

What I do wonder, though, is whether China will 'catch up' with a category shift the way the US basically stumbled into navel dominance in WWII by almost accidentally realizing aircraft carriers were much more important than battleships.

I can half imagine some future where a 'carrier' is actually a dozen smaller ships that emerge from underwater and launch a bunch of drones against a US carrier group only to split apart and submerge before incoming US anti-ship missiles can find a target. The 'floating city' of the traditional aircraft carrier might become irrelevant.

There is nothing accidental about the US’ rise to naval dominance. The greatest naval thinker of the 19th and 20th Century, Alfred Thayer Mahan, was an American, and the US Navy has a record of excellence going all the way to Stephen Decatur.

Big carriers are just as much of an anachronism today as battleships were in 1941. They are sitting ducks to hyper velocity missiles and need to be replaced by swarms of cheaper drone platforms. The Chinese are not seeking carriers for force projection, and have taken up the concept of unsinkable carriers in the form of artificial reefs.

Well, the unipolar world has been way more awful than anyone would have guessed in 1991.

I've set this link to 1991

https://www.gapminder.org/tools/#$state$time$value=1991;;&chart-type=bubbles

Hit play.

Holy cow that is awesome. What is really interesting is to go much further back on that chart to the Taiping Rebellion (China) and the Spanish Flu epidemic...wild. Buy year...since 1991 it has been pretty much a solid B Line to the North East for almost everyone.

Thank you for that link. I'm saving that.

Great link, thanks.

That's mesmerizing...wow.

Is another way of putting this that China has learned from the USSR's mistakes?

No, he's learned from the cooperation and conflict between the Democrats and GOP since 1917.

1917, the railroads were so bankrupt they were disfunctional so a total government takeover made them the envy of the world by 1920 until 1960, when the US was stealing Hitler's autobahn which hurt railroads.

Over the same period, the US policy of industrialization moved half the population off the farms. Hoover was a big friend of business, making huge business loans to promote slashing labor costs. Cousin FDR worked to increase labor costs by greatly expanding production by more investment and higher labor costs increasing consumer demand. Like in China, FDR couldn't drive up consumption of frugal Americans seeing so many sinking into poverty, but exports to the UK then war put people to war, which put so much money in worker saving while making them suffer deprivation led to consumption driving demand on top of continued national policy of high investment.

China has avoided war, but it's replicated 1920 to 1970 in about 25 years.

I remember Milton Friedman circa 1970 arguing for changes in the US that conservatives argue China should do in recent years.

Less investment: too much capital producing too much at zero economic profit with workers paid too much driving too much consumer spending driving too much demand, too much investment, and ultimately inflation, and debt growing as fast as GDP.

Too much wasteful spending on science, like going to the moon, producing too many wasteful unneeded consumer products driving too much wasteful consumer spending.

China today has inflation and debt like the US circa 1970.

And a culture war over civil rights.

Xi Jinping is pretty much China's Reagan. Reagan actually believed in the New Deal, just not the industrial policy response to addressing civil rights.

Reagan wanted to pound down the nails sticking up, the non-white men who were seeking a place at the table, mixing metaphors. Reagan and Xi used external enemies to distract from internal conflicts and create jobs for favored constituencies. Trump is trying the same, but badly, like a bull in a China shop.

Xi is certainly trying to avoid the decline that Reagan set in motion.

For example, while Elon Musk, helped by the anti-NASA Bush policy direction and the Obama pro-NASA policy has taken over the US rocket leadership, and while SpaceX is setting a new launch record, Xi has overseen China beat SpaceX in growing it's launch rate. China uses three rockets while SpaceX uses two variants of one, but China space program is hitting it's circa 1970 NASA greatness.

Of course, Elon Musk isn't a real American, so SpaceX isn't the American space leader the GOP wants. Xi has the space industry Trump wants, one he could claim all the credit for. Elon has revealed himself to have Trump's personality, so Trump will never get to claim credit for anything SpaceX does even if paid by NASA. The tweet storm after SpaceX launches people to the space station should be entertaining, unless Twitter freezes Trump's account, and Trump loses his voice and can't make phone calls.

China has their own issues with a rapidly aging population and pollution. Let's see how they handle those issues and the resulting health crises they will cause before we determine how they might compete with America in 20 years.

No health crisis in China. Air and water pollution have significantly declined since they peaked in the 1990s. China's life expectancy has risen from 70 years in 1990 to 77 today and that will climb to 90, 100.... and beyond! They will be rejuvenating along with everyone else.

"A United Nations panel estimated earlier this month (August 2018) that China has detained as many as 1 million Uighurs in internment camps and “reeducation” programs."

Our relationship with China has not evolved as many thought it would, towoard a conventional territorial competition. Instead what has emerged is an ideological threat, one which explores just how much freedom is necessary for progress and prosperity.

It might show that entirely revocable freedom, freedom without guarantee, can get people working. That's sad, because the argument that real freedom was necessary brought more of it.

The idea that freedom is more than an option is important to guaranteeing our own.

How many blacks did the US have in chains, how many still in chains, many for economic crimes, just buying and selling stuff, how many native people's.

Trump has banned from the US the Muslims China has detained, because Trump considers them terrorists who are inherently an existential threat to Trump's America. Basically China's leaders agree with US leadership under Trump.

TC writes a blog post from China a few days ago, and now is writing pro China articles in US media.

I think he might be held hostage in a Chinese airport, as in, "Hey Prof you can leave the country, just hit send on this article with your name on it."

You joke, but here is a serious article about American academics' self-censorship on China: [https://newrepublic.com/article/150476/american-elite-universities-selfcensorship-china]. It's entry visas, rather than exit visas, that some academics fear losing.

Btw, I wouldn't classify TC's article as "pro China". He is discussing the American public's perception of China, not his own. I doubt TC evaluates foreign regimes based on whether the leaders look like movie villains or Winnie the Pooh.

'but here is a serious article about American academics' self-censorship on China'

Well, you can also read Prof. Cowen's own words on the broad subject - 'I don’t approve of Chinese censorship, but the VPNs are in fact illegal. It hardly seems unreasonable for a major company to follow the laws of the country it is operating in, even if those laws are unjust or imprudent.

Go back to the banned status of Bloomberg View in China, which is also a ban on some of my writings. (My educational videos are also blocked because they are on YouTube.) Does that mean I should stop having my books translated into Chinese, or that I should refuse to speak at Chinese universities, on the grounds that they do not present all of my written product? No, hardly anyone behaves that way, nor should they. I prefer to try to communicate with the Chinese -- including listening to and learning from them -- as much as I plausibly can.' https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-08-02/don-t-be-too-hard-on-apple-for-bending-to-china

In other words, Prof. Cowen will accommodate himself to circumstances as a matter of principle.

"It's entry visas, rather than exit visas, that some academics fear losing."

Maybe if we call it "political correctness" someone will get excited.

Khrushchev gets an unfairly bad rep. He was definitely rough around the edges mostly due to his lower class, peasant background. But a lot of it is exaggerated. The "We will burry you" comment is a mis-translation. It was intended to mean "We will outlive you" which is in-line with Marxist theory of communism supplanting capitalism. It shouldn't be interpreted as "We will be the instrument of your violent end".

Moving nuclear weapons to Cuba was a reasonable attempt to make up for the USSR's disadvantage in the nuclear arms race and the presence of American missiles in Europe (Turkey especially). You can say that it was provocative but not taking the opportunity to play that card would have been big misstep. But ultimately, Khrushchev doesn't get the credit he deserves for helping to diffuse the crisis by backing down and negotiating with the Kennedy administration.

But will that change when the establishment gets total control again and Russia becomes our geopolitical foe?

"Geopolitical" is the wrong word. Russia too is an ideological foe, now pushing a really basic kleptocracy and oligarchy .. and appealing not to the masses, but the (would-be) billionaires of the world.

Or those conspicuously in their debt.

The great ideological battles are done. Pretty much every developed or developing country is a mixed economy with activist government to keep everybody on the tax farm and prevent the rich from becoming poor. The only fight left is who gets to live where and run things.

and prevent the rich from becoming poor.

Nothing prevents 'the rich' from losing their assets if they're heavily levered or their assets are not diversified. (Or if they require nursing home care unexpectedly).

“Conspicuously “? Really...

Let me just say: citation needed.

Ha!

If someone rises to the fly of "conspicuously in their debt," that is a certain proof in itself.

Who were *you* thinking about?

Of course, China is oligarchic, it is corrupt and it is kleptocratic! At least this is the overwhelmingly dominant perception of Chinese.

On topic, we face a strange situation in ideology, where, having the opinion class seems to have placed China arbitrarily into a box marked "authoritarian, competent, meritocratic technocracy" and Russia into a box marked "oligarchy, corruption, individual repression, nationalism". And the present day Centre-Left, which is the present day Centre, of course aligns more against that which seems to repress social minorities and favor business and the nation, than that which seems to strip freedom.

But this does not reflect the reality where these nations are not really particularly different on these axes, and neither is "more" the ideological enemy of the West on these axes (other than that Russia has less actual power).

Even experts become infected and witter on, for instance, as if the rise of the oligarchs in Russia since the 1990s on the back of seizing formerly nationalized resource wealth for private ends were a particularly unique phenomena and not the same old story as we see across the world, and in China.

If the Americans were to come to fear the Chinese, I predict it would be by way of the Australian and New Zealand media, where there are efforts to a) encourage Chinese immigration to these countries and b) to influence the Chinese diaspora in these countries to support Chinese Communist Party positions. Whether very real fears of Chinese influence in Australia and New Zealand make it over here to the US remains to be seen. There is certainly strong incentive for US corporations, the media, and universities to keep fear of the Chinese to a minimum.

At some point, presumably American attitudes and policy will be shaped by substantive factors rather than superficial features like whether particular leaders look more like movie villains or Winnie the Pooh. Substantive factors might include, for example, treatment of Uyghurs and Tibetans; organ harvesting; massive buildups of missiles, aircraft carriers, and other advanced offensive weapons; propensity to make provocative territorial claims; and massive propaganda and information warfare campaigns that include censorship and control of information even in the US.

On this last point, recent examples include China's government successfully regulating content on US websites of US airlines, China's ability to prohibit US-based Marriott hotel employees from "liking" twitter posts about Tibet and, perhaps most alarmingly, widespread (apparently) self-censorship among American academics regarding China. This last example is discussed here: [https://newrepublic.com/article/150476/american-elite-universities-selfcensorship-china]. China can foster a "low publicity approach" more easily when academics trade silence on China's worst abuses in exchange for travel visas.

Tyler is correct, though, when he points out China's incrementalist approach to militarization and expansionism in contrast to the old Soviet Union's bluster and openly declared ambitions for global domination. Putin has also learned this lesson as evidenced by his incremental annexation of Ukraine and incursions into Syria. Both China and Putin see that the American approach to conflict and hard decisions is to kick the can down the road whenever possible (not just in foreign policy) rather than adopt a long-term coherent strategy where criteria for decision making is determined by progress towards some overall goal, such as creating a stable world order for free nations for example. China and Putin both realize that the best way to achieve their respective geopolitical goals is through a sequence of incremental steps, each one small enough to elicit only another round of American can-kicking.

Another example of incrementalism used to exploit can-kicking would be North Korea's nuclear program. First, acquire conventional weapons that can reach Seoul. Use that conventional threat as a deterrent to US action so that NK can develop short-range nuclear, capable of striking S. Korea and Japan. Use the nuclear threat against S. Korea and Japan as a deterrent to US action so that NK can develop long-range nuclear ICBM capable of reaching US. Each step individually was too small to provoke an effective US response to stop it. All the steps taken together, though, allowed NK to achieve or come close to achieving its goal of acquiring long-range nuclear ICBMs.

The Chinese and warm and fuzzy right now but they also depend on US trade to grow their economy and military. We'll see what happens if and when China feels that they can challenge the US on Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Of course, the point is to not wait until it's too late to recognize the threat. Sun-Tzu: "Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win." You think the Chinese are aware of their greatest military strategist's teachings?

A proper rivalry requires a certain amount of mutual admiration. China may admire America (or at least certain aspects it), but America does not admire China.

The economic threat has been played up recently, but the problem is Chinese products are perceived to be mostly off-brand, cheap and disposable. Compare this to the Japan anxiety of the 1980s. The Japanese were (supposedly) beating Americans on quality. Japanese consumer brands became well known and trusted. How many Chinese brands have become as respected as Toyota or Sony? Yes, many brand name electronics such as the Iphone are assembled in China, but Apple is an American company and brand so the Iphone is perceived as American.

The military threat is even more unbelievable to Americans. Recent Chinese history has not been filled with great military victories. Also, east Asians are perceived to be physically small, effeminate and nerdy. Why would big dicked Chad fear the virgin nerd?

@Chuck: "east Asians are perceived to be physically small, effeminate and nerdy"

@Sun-Tzu: "Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate"

Virgin nerds have semiautomatic AR-15s loaded with 50 round clips where they can take out 10-15 Chads and Staceys in a blink of an eye. You might not have seen the news lately but this incel violence is real in North America. They have no such thing yet, in "effeminate, nerdy" East Asia.

Tragically, Asian countries had had plenty of experience with this kind of thing,:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsuyama_massacre

Thirty dead in 1938 Japan because the murderer had trouble getting laid.

Aggression and violence due to real or perceived sexual failing is nothing new or confined to one culture. Levels of practical response may show some variation.

I doubt an international rivalry would revitalize America. While we had our rivalry with the Soviet Union, we had the quagmire in Vietnam and the malaise of stagflation. On the other hand, the 90s were a more optimistic and congenial time because we had no international rivalries and people were focused on improving their material well-being rather than chest-thumping with other countries.

International rivalries are the justification for the nation-state. They're necessary to intimidate the proles into giving up their wealth and freedom to the ruling classes. Mutual antagonisms are what keeps drones like the upper echelons of the military dining for free, traveling for free, being housed for free and getting to play with new and exotic machinery for free. A dedicated government p.r. effort keeps these faux heroes, and their descendants, in clover for a lifetime. In the absence of the nation-state and its phony rivalries they'd simply be cops or thugs.

China is not a geopolitical enemy. China is a creditor.

In a very it's our currency but your problem kind of way

Actually Stalin murdered millions and radiated benevolence and geniality. That's part of the reason he got away with it.

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend who recounted an earlier meeting with another friend of his who just returned from teaching a course on entrepreneurship at one of China's universities. He also teaches at USC.

He said that the students were more dedicated, hardworking and innovative than the US students and pointed out that China's 5-year plan is to become "technologically dominant" in the world. As China graduates more STEM people in 2 weeks that we do in a year, they may be able to do it. They are apparently also devoting trillions of dollars to upgrading the quality of management as part of this plan.

China wants to be the high tech center of the universe and may achieve it as our political idiots want to force our innovative companies to manufacture in the US and spend years and years trying to get permissions to build a 50,000 person factory, while China is taking market share with greenfield facilities build in 3 mo. https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-09-12/china-is-not-america-s-next-great-enemy

Note: as economist define innovation and the A in their growth models, it is not creative ideas in the lab but creative ideas that passed through the government regulatory bureaucracy and actually impacting the economy. Our high tech sector is almost totally limited to areas where the regulatory bureaucracy is minimal. For example, you can design a chip and have someone outside the US build the factory to actually make the product and not have to face all our regulators in a multi-year permission/permit process.

We are just starting to see leadership from China is some areas of biotechnology and other areas of high technology like G-5. They
don't have the regulatory bureaucratic system we have slowing down the evolution of biotechnology so we can expect major real-world
applications from China long before our FDA, USDA, EPA, NOAA, FWS, and dozens of other agencies get their acts in gear.

For a specific example, China-based businesses are spending billions on offshore aquaculture and even building systems for Norway and other aquaculture producers. Worldwide aquaculture is the fastest growing food production sector at close to double-digit rates, but in the US our insignificant aquaculture sector is shrinking as regulators have made it effectively impossible to obtain permits for things like offshore net pens.

Note: the US imports about 90% of our seafood consumption and 50% of that is aquaculture product. Our aquaculture is only a fractional part of the 10%. Aquaculture is not a low wage country product unless you say Norway, Japan, Singapore, etc. are "low wage" area when trying to justify our slow response when we have the largest EEZ (ocean economic zone) in the world.

Trillions of Yuan, not trillions of dollars.

Not sure if this info has reached your bubble yet, Ty, but the US economy has been skyrocketing since November 2016. (No one knows why.)

But thanks for the "revitalization" idea! Better late than never!

"If the lack of an external enemy since the end of the Cold War has made America weak and feckless..."

Huh??

Since the "end of the cold war" all we've heard is a rising claim of existential threat of destruction from non-white people and Muslims, reaching the extreme of Trump.

The difference is the claimed threat from the USSR resulted in paying Americans and immigrants to work building a better America, better infrastructure, better educated, better health, better science, better factories and products.

After the cold war, it was all about keeping out customers and cutting labor costs and putting more Americans out of work and into poverty. At the peak of the cold war, US policies were focused on increasing costs, increased spending, to prove we were willing and able to out produce dveryone else.

Reagan was a New Dealer who didn't want the costs, but he still believed we could do things.

He was replaced by conservatives who claimed America can't do anything and we shouldn't force anyone to pay to try. However, based on the nukes, and global military presence, made at great costs before Reagan, the belief has been the US can simply demand everyone not do things we consider a threat.

That has failed to counter Mexican workers or Muslims, nor China which is willing pay the high costs of paying Cheese workers to build a better bigger China.

Tyler, while it is not relevant to the points you are making -- or maybe it is -- Khrushchev never 'banged his shoe on the table and shouted “We will bury you!”'. You are conflating two separate things. Shoe wielding at the UN and a statement -- not a shout -- at the Polish embassy in Moscow four years earlier. Here is the wikipedia page on his "We will bury you" remark:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_will_bury_you

I suppose cartoonist propaganda can always be applied anywhere but a difficulty I have is that the USSR, in addition to 'cartoon villains' also had a globalist ideology, which plausibly did post a threat to the US.

We now know the reality is that despite an ideology that said national borders didn't matter, Stalin was quite xenophobic and more often than not dropped the ball when it came to the international aspect of communism. For example, groups in the US could not get support from the USSR unless they toed the Moscow line with unquestioning loyalty, which made it impossible for them to gain anymore than trivial credibility with the US population. Today we see a lot more sophistication, where Russia will troll both right and left...to undermine the US.

But in terms of a new Cold War....I'm not seeing what we are going to fight over. Both Russia and China have regional interests they are willing to fight for, but neither seem to have any global vision they want to shape the world into. Going to actual war over tariffs or who gets to build worldwide infrastructure projects in developing nations does not, I think, seem to be something that is likely to rally much populist anger.

I'll put this in the category of "wild speculation," but if carbon tax and "carbon adjustment tariff" can be turned into a stick on hit China with on trade, I'd wager the political right could have a "we have always supported a sensible climate policy" moment.

Hard to have a rivalry with a country whose food everyone knows and loves. Not too many places in America without a Chinese restaurant.

yes, making China (or in future India) an enemy won't change the fact, that US won't be the world first economic power by 2050s ( hey, it's just 30 years ahead, same as it passed since dissolution of USSR). So future role of US in the world will be quite different from what it was past 100 years (that what we call american century really)
by 2050 both China and India would be 1st and 2nd world economies.
So the major Trump problem is that it is unattainable to make xxi century to be like xx century. US won't be an undisputed no 1 economy and world power. what could revitalize US in xxi century is quite different from what revitalized it in the past. While in xx century US was a hope for say much of the Africa, now it is China which emerges as major african partner
And it does not seem, that any politicians in US contemplates what it is to be USSR ( second or even third power) of xxi century. One outcome might be production of many Brezhnevs and Khrushchevs (and hey, Trump is already start to fit a picture of bizarre second world economy leader, there could be much more movie villain like characters produced by US in the future)

It sounds like you're talking about a movie villain.

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