The Sinocization of America
Instead of decoupling, a strange convergence
In the 1970s and ‘80s American companies studied how to be more like Japanese companies. Quality control was the mantra, and even though Iowa-born W Edwards Deming created the vaunted 14 points of quality management, Americans had failed to implement these ideas at home. However Deming found a ready audience in Japan where manufacturers, especially in the automotive industry, were trying to catch up with the US and Europe. I worked with both US and Japanese auto firms during this time of transition and saw first-hand their incredible efforts. Buyers who once shunned products made in Japan began to prefer Toyota’s to Fords.
As sales of Japanese products including electronics improved, we feared that Japan would become number one and replace us on the global stage. Never mind that Japan has half the US population, virtually no natural resources, and a language that will never be a second tongue. Nevertheless there were hysterics about Japanese investments, even though land bought in Manhattan could scarcely be airlifted to Tokyo.
Following in China’s Policy Footsteps
Something similar is happening now in the US with China, although unlike Japan’s meteoric growth in the 70’s and 80’s, China’s economic model is not just slowing, it is treading water. As our dependence on China has grown, we tend to exaggerate its strengths and underestimate its weaknesses. While decrying authoritarianism, we have consciously or unconsciously begun to admire or copy certain aspects of Chinese governance. More specifically, US officials, who have been buffeted by political turbulence, exogenous shocks, and a rate of technological change they likely find impossible to keep up with have cozied up to some Chinese domestic policies. There are at least three that come to mind: