America and China: Two Peas Or One Chimerica?

It’s a nation with a mammoth economy, one that dwarfs its neighbors. Nevertheless, it’s also a nation that has been struggling with rates of economic growth that persistently under-perform expectations.

In addition, it’s a nation that must balance the dual priorities of economic vitality and environmental stewardship. Although its citizens demand jobs and prosperity, they also expect clean air, land, and water.

Finally, it’s a nation that has plunged head first into the online world of cyberspace, and yet it must balance the conflicting priorities of information accessibility and data security. Cyber attacks, in fact, have become as threatening to its well-being as traditional military assaults.

So which nation are we describing? America? Or China?

It’s America!

It’s America, isn’t it? After all, the United States still maintains the largest economy in the world. And yet its persistent federal budget deficits, global trade imbalances, and sluggish post-recession growth have led many to question the nation’s future economic prospects.

Yet American citizens demand high environmental standards, often choosing to sacrifice economic growth to protect their natural habitats. Energy fracking activities, for instance, have been banned in many areas because of concerns about toxic chemicals leaching into the water supply. And President Obama, under pressure from environmentalists, initially refused to approve a pipeline that would carry Canadian oil to the Gulf Coast refineries.

Furthermore, many believe that American firms like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google represent the entrepreneurial strengths of the American capitalist system. And yet companies throughout the United States, as well as governmental entities, are now threatened by hackers and other cyber security threats.

So the nation (described above) must be America. Or must it?

No, It’s China!

Let’s consider, instead, the nation of China. It maintains the second largest economy in the world, and it is expected to overtake the United States in several years. But its economic growth has recently slowed into the single digits in percentage terms.

Furthermore, the Chinese people have recently begun to advocate strenuously in favor of environmental protection policies. The air quality in Beijing, for instance, has become so poor that Chinese and foreign citizens have begun to avoid the city entirely. And a recent case involving thousands of dead pigs, dumped in a river that produces drinking water for human consumption, has highlighted concerns regarding water pollution.

Meanwhile, China’s internet industry has been buzzing with excitement over the potential Initial Public Offering (IPO) of Alibaba Group, a firm that competes with both Amazon and E-Bay. Its IPO is anticipated to produce proceeds of $100 billion for Alibaba’s current owners, which would represent a global record for such transactions.

Finally, a high profile general in the Chinese Army recently joined his American colleagues by declaring that cyber security is a critical concern for both nations. Many noted the similarity between China’s and America’s positions regarding this issue.

Two Peas? Or One Chimerica?

So what is going on here? Why are the world’s greatest capitalist nation and its strongest communist nation increasingly finding such similarities in their economies and in their societies?

Some may speculate that the two nations are independently but concurrently becoming more similar to each other. Proponents of this ”two peas in a pod” theory note that China is evolving from a developing third world nation into a fully developed superpower, and thus is inevitably adopting many of the characteristics of the United States, Japan, and other developed nations.

But Harvard University historian Niall Ferguson expresses a different perspective. According to Ferguson, the two nations aren’t becoming more similar to each other; rather, they are (quite literally) integrating directly with each other. Ferguson has coined the word “Chimerica” to describe a pair of nations that is quickly evolving into a single unified trans-global economic entity.

Furthermore, in certain industries, the United States is gravitating from a free market economy towards a state managed society. The Affordable Care Act, for instance, is arguably placing the entire American health care system under the direct oversight of the federal government. In fact, many conservative Republicans have referred to “Obama Care” as a socialist program.

Into The Future!

Will this trend extend into the future? Will China’s cities, perhaps, form an American style baseball league? Or will Chinese technology firms, perhaps, attract the attention of American consumers?

Unsurprisingly, these events are already in progress! The China Baseball League has been playing ball for over a decade. And Lenovo has surpassed Dell to become the second largest personal computer company; it is now challenging Hewlett Packard for the top spot.

Whether one ascribes to the “two peas” theory or to the “Chimerica” theory, one will likely concur that the economies and the societies of America and China are drawing closer with every passing day. Hopefully, this closeness will spark a penchant for cooperation in addressing our common global challenges.