Kevin Drum considers the issue of does it really make sense to think of the United States as engaged in a clean tech race with China, Germany, and others. The level on which it clearly doesn’t make sense, is that China racing ahead doesn’t make us worse off. It’s not, in that sense, a real race. On the other hand, I think there are real benefits to being the first mover. One reason the US still does a lot of the high value-added stuff in product design and marketing for the sorts of gizmos that are likely to be manufactured in Asia is precisely that the United States spent decades leading the world in high-tech manufacturing. That foundation laid around a hundred years ago pays off lasting dividends today.
But fundamentally, the “race” metaphor probably makes the most sense as an analogy to something like the Olympics. People like to cheer for American athletes. And the Dutch cheer for their long-track speedskaters and the Canadians for their hockey team, and the Koreans for their short-trackers, and all the rest. On some level, it doesn’t really matter who wins. On another level, without the competitive spirit you wouldn’t have the games. So it makes for a healthy deployment of nationalist sentiments and national pride.