sábado, mayo 17, 2008

El nuevo equilibrio

En los últimos días, dos comentarios destacan el libro de Fareed Zakaria sobre el fin de la hegemonía de Estados Unidos. Sospecho que el comentario de Mario Diament en La Nación tiene inspiración en el anterior de Josef Joffe en New York Times. Sea así o no, son coincidentes en lo fundamental: la "declinación" de Estados Unidos no es tanto por su demérito, como por el ascenso imparable de varios competidores, particularmente China e India.
Sin embargo, Joffe destaca más lo que es el nucleo del pensamiento de Zakaria: las características del modelo norteamericano probablemente den bases más sólidas que las de sus mayores competidores asiáticos, y no será tan simple sobrepasarlo.
En el terreno económico, Zakaria relativiza la capacidad de China para superar a Estados Unidos:
As Zakaria memorably puts it, “China today exports in a single day more than it exported in all of 1978.” Authoritarian modernization just hums along. The Party’s message reads “Enrich yourselves, but leave the driving to us,” and most of 1.3 billion Chinese seem happy to comply — and to consume. With power safely lodged in the Politburo, China does not conform to the historical pattern of “first rich, then rowdy,” which led to Tokyo’s and Berlin’s imperialist careers.
So why worry? “The problem is size,” Zakaria writes. “China operates on so large a scale that it can’t help changing the nature of the game.” True, but let’s play another game, that of compound interest. China’s (nominal) G.D.P. is about $3 trillion, while America’s is $14 trillion. Assume indefinite Chinese growth of 7 percent. That will double G.D.P. to $6 trillion in 10 years and double it again to $12 trillion by 2028. Assume now that the United States will grow at its historical rate of 3.5 percent. By 2028, G.D.P. will measure $28 trillion. This is a silly game, but no more inane than those projections that see China overtaking the United States as early as 2020. American output would still be about one-quarter of the world total, the average for the past 125 years, as Zakaria reminds us.
En el terreno militar, la diferencia es mucho mayor:
What about the shifting tides of power? In the affairs of nations, “power” is more complex than in physics. The “hard stuff” — military clout — is certainly central. China’s defense budget may be the world’s No. 2, but in dollar terms, America spends almost as much as the rest of the world combined. Hence, might — at least American might — doesn’t just “grow out of the barrel of a gun,” as Mao Zedong famously had it; “it’s the economy, stupid.”
Pero el aspecto más importante radica en la educación, la investigación, la iniciativa en tecnología, las universidades:
let’s look at a related determinant of power: culture. Again, Zakaria proceeds more subtly than the run-of-the-mill declinist by stressing American advantages not captured by growth rates and export surpluses. He rightly takes on the old saw to the effect that China produces 600,000 engineers a year, India 350,000 and the United States only 70,000. This is true if you include “auto mechanics and industrial repairmen” in the Asian totals. Subtract them, and America “actually trains more engineers per capita than either India or China does.”
The larger point is that “higher education is America’s best industry” — never mind the creeping demise of Detroit’s Big Three. “With 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States absolutely dominates higher education, having either 42 or 68 percent of the world’s top 50 universities” (depending on who is counting). In India, he adds, “universities graduate between 35 and 50 Ph.D.’s in computer science each year; in America the figure is 1,000.” Now, Beijing is pouring oodles into its universities, but so did Austin, Tex., in the oil-rich ’70s, and Stanford et al. are still on top.

In the industrial age, hardware mattered; today it is software, a k a “culture.” This is a grab bag: skills, openness, innovation, opportunity, competition. “It’s brains, stupid,” Bill Clinton might exclaim today. And youth. China, Japan and Europe are aging rapidly; the United States will remain a young country way into the 21st century. And why? Immigration is “America’s secret weapon.” In my Stanford class, the A’s regularly go to students called Kim, Zhou, Patel or Vertiz; these are not the “huddled masses,” but their children — the gifted and hungry who will slough off the old and drive the new. “First rich, then fat and lazy” will not be America’s fate.

Joffe puntualiza esta distancia en su cierre:
And maybe it takes a Bombay-born immigrant like Zakaria, who went from Yale to Harvard (where we were colleagues) and to the top of Newsweek International, to remind this faltering giant of its unique and enduring strengths. America will be in trouble only when China becomes home to tomorrow’s hungry masses yearning to be free — and to make it.

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