What the U.S. can learn from China

China could become a new financial role model for the U.S.

China has been in the news a lot lately.

The massively populated country was the center of the recent controversy over Gmail accounts being hacked, as well as a staple of many recent columns by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times.

What comes to mind for the average person, including me, when thinking about China? Communism, rice-based diets and overcrowded cities are the associations some may have. However, this is a very oversimplified and distorted view of China, who has had serious recent economic growth and seems to be much more stable than the Western world.

While China has boomed in recent decades, there are still serious problems. As Thomas Friedman points out in his recent bestseller “Hot, Flat, and Crowded,” China was very much affected by the recession that took place in America.

The reason why so many Chinese citizens work in factories producing the everyday random “luxuries” that Americans use is because Americans buy these products. Because a majority of our nation needed to cut back on spending during the recent recession, the goods that were being bought from the Chinese were no longer seen as necessities. Factories and plants closed and an extremely large number of Chinese people were suddenly unemployed. Poverty and unemployment are still very big problems in China.

Troubles aside, the Chinese are taking important steps to ensure they don’t have an economic collapse akin to what we have seen in the U.S. China is keeping their inflation and growth in check. They realize that too much growth in too short of time cannot sustain itself. This is the wall Americans ran into.

For decades, Americans have lived beyond their means. We were the fastest growing country and as Friedman says, it was unregulated growth and was bound to falter given the way Americans were acting and spending.

Dr. Randy Groves, a Ferris professor of humanities, recently gave a lecture on China and the Silk Road. He gave a history of the Silk Road and the goods that were sold on it, and how they traveled across the country and the continent. A question came up, “What is the Silk Road used for today?” The answer: tourism. It is now a historical site for travelers to see how the Chinese used to do trading.

China is no longer the country of the Silk Road. They are a globalized, technology-driven society. iPhones, laptops and many of the other luxuries we have here are commonplace in China. They are also becoming more and more capitalistic. They still possess a more authoritarian government than us, but they have moved to an economic model similar to ours, only they are keeping theirs in check.

In a short and enjoyable book on China titled “China’s New Culture of Cool,” the authors show how the youth of China especially are becoming more independent and free-spirited than their ancestors. In a way, they are becoming more Americanized. Friedman has also pointed out how more of the world is acting like Americans. But if they are taking away the good aspects from us and leaving the bad, there is cause for concern.

In good part, it is the greed and purely individualistic attitude of Americans that caused the Great Recession of 2008. When talking to a friend recently about the healthcare debate, he became very frustrated about the fact that Americans want everything and aren’t ready to sacrifice anything. If we want a universal health care system, a change of mentality will be in order, as well as certain sacrifices. If we want a stable economy, we have to stop behaving so irresponsibly and think before we act.

If we want to return as the leading global superpower, we need to take a lesson from the Chinese. This does not mean we need to become an authoritarian society, it simply means we need to be more responsible and more cautious.