Rich Countries in the Grip of Zero-Sum Thinking About Chinese Economic Growth

The way countries get richer, more or less, is that they get better at producing goods and services. This is excellent news for the population of those countries, but it’s also good news for just about everyone else. Except according to the latest Pew survey, when it comes to economic growth in China many don’t believe it:

Concerns about China’s economic might are high among publics in the U.S. and Europe. In most of these countries, majorities or pluralities consider China’s growing economy a bad thing for their countries. Respondents in France are the most likely of all the countries surveyed to be concerned about China’s economic prowess (67%). In Britain, the public is divided on this issue, while in Russia, a plurality think China’s growing economy is a good thing for their country (49%).

In several developing countries, majorities consider China’s growing economic strength a good thing. Notable exceptions are Turkey (60%) and India (56%), where majorities are concerned about China’s economic might. Majorities or pluralities in every Middle Eastern, African and Latin American country surveyed see China’s growing economy as a good thing for their country. In Asia, Pakistan, Indonesia and Japan are also largely positive.

I think this is a very serious misunderstanding on the part of Americans and Europeans. China becoming better at producing goods and services is good for us since it allows us to consume more goods and services. At the same time, it in no way detracts from our own ability to produce goods and services.


What’s more, beyond those narrow economic considerations, growth in China is strongly positive-sum in a number of other domains. A richer China will, for its own selfish reasons, be host to increased quantities of scientific and technical research that will increase the overall stock of human knowledge in a generally beneficial way. A richer China will also produce additional works of culture that will enrich our lives over and above whatever economic value they might have. Economic growth in China and other large poor countries is one of the most promising phenomena of our times and it’s a very big problem that people don’t generally understand it that way.