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Five Things: Social Mood Fuels the China Bull


What can the US learn from China?


Social Mood Fuels the China Bull

"China, despite its 5,000-year burden of history, has emerged as a dynamo of optimism, experimentation and growth," enthuses a Time magazine piece about China. "It has defied the global economic slump," the article continues, "and the sense that it's the world's ascendant power has never been stronger." The US, by comparison, is situated much differently. According to Time America, it "seems suddenly older and frailer," our "national mood is still in a funk," the economy "foundering," our politics "as rancorous as ever."

And so, deeply ensconced within our dark national cocoon, we look outward, to the far east, to China, for any glimmer of light. Time magazine (TWX) quickly points out, China is an authoritarian nation ruled by a Communist Party, one that deals ruthlessly with any challenge to its hegemony. It's also a developing country, one that by US standards of living is relatively poor, with an aging population, widespread internal corruption -- though let's be careful throwing too many stones from this glass house, eh? -- and an emerging environmental problem.

But let's not focus on those obvious issues right now, the article says. After all, we're in a vile and hateful mood and we need some good cheer. So Time presents Five Things the US Can Learn from China. The list could have been pulled from a textbook on Socionomics and a chart of positive social mood. Let's take a look at these one-by-one:

1. Be ambitious

According to Time:

Some economists believe that given its stage of development, China spends too much on expensive items like high-speed rail lines. But step back from the individual infrastructure projects and the debates about whether a given investment is necessary, and what's palpable in China is the sense of forward motion, of energy.

Approached from the conventional perspective of causality, as Time magazine does, this seems to be an interesting point to make... the motion and energy of China, the ambition. However, when viewed in Socionomic terms, a different viewpoint emerges.

Conventional causality holds that a booming economy makes people increasingly optimistic. Socionomics flips that around. Increasingly optimistic people create a booming economy, take more risk, become more ambitious.

The Time article bemoans the loss of our own positive social mood:

There's no direct translation into Chinese of the phrase can-do spirit. But yong wang zhi qian probably suffices. Literally, it means "march forward courageously." China has -- and has had for years now -- a can-do spirit that's unmistakable. Americans know the phrase well. They invented it. It used to define them.

Indeed. But a "can-do spirit" only defined Americans when social mood created the conditions necessary for it to do so. Now that social mood is transitioning to negative in America, caution is creating a deep recession, outrage is seeking to root out scandals.

2. Education matters

Ignoring the fact that Chinese schools are heavily geared toward rote memorization and mechanical training, the article chooses to focus on the fact that China now has a 90% literacy rate among children. Prior to 1950, 80% of the Chinese population was illiterate.

Certainly dramatic strides have been made since 1950, but the educational system in China is designed to foster conformity, computation, and obedience, which is fine if you want to train people to build a less expensive mousetrap, but not if you're trying to innovate.

The herding toward creating a global manufacturing base is itself problematic. China is building capacity under the assumption the US will be consuming at a much higher rate in 10 years than seems likely if we're indeed in the midst of a secular consumption downturn.

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