From China Daily (March 24, 2017), “Dynamic national spirit drives China’s growth,” a discussion of The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream:
Tyler Cowen’s latest book has struck a nerve in the United States. He sees a failure of spirit underlying the many worrying trends his country has seen over the last 40 years – the lack of wage growth, declining life expectancy in some groups, increased inequality, growing monopolization of the economy, increasing racial and income segregation in schools and housing. …
Cowen, a frequent visitor to China, is a well-known free-market-oriented professor of economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, near Washington, D.C. His book – The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream – has provoked widespread discussion and has been reviewed and analyzed in all the leading newspapers and policy journals.
Cowen contrasts complacency in the U.S. with continued dynamism in China:
In contrast to his worries about the US, he writes: “Even with its recent economic troubles, China has a culture of ambition and dynamism and a pace of change that harkens back to a much earlier America. China, even though in the midst of some rather serious economic troubles, makes today’s America seem staid and static. For all its flaws, China is a country where every time you return, you find a different and mostly better version of what you had left the time before.”
Cowen sees a “make China great again” spirit than unifies elites and everyday people across China. Chinese people know the distant history of their country as leading the world in culture, agricultural productivity, and technology.
China has an advantage similar to America in the 1950s and 1960s where so many grew up poor and focused on working to get ahead. America’s Great Depression from 1929 to 1939 impoverished tens of millions and was followed by World War II.
After World War II, incomes and productivity improved across the U.S. economy through the 1950s and 1960s much as income and productivity across China has grown over the last three decades.
The China Daily on Cowen’s book continues:
He says that his experience at George Mason University leads him to believe that much of China’s dynamism comes from the opportunities it offers to non-elite young people.
“It is striking to me how many of the good Chinese students in the US come from rural areas and do not have very wealthy parents. They are not typically from the poorest families, but they are not just from the elite families in Shanghai.
“Part of it is the exam system. I think that for all the talk of corruption, China is fairly meritocratic in the sense that a smart person from a middle-class or poor family really can rise a great deal.”