How Economic Superpowers Rise

Anti-Japanese riots across China have heightened tensions in Asia. Indeed China-mania, a mixture of hopes, but mostly fears, is sweeping the world due to China’s rapid economic rise. Should the world really be more fearful than hopeful?

Americans fear their markets being flooded by Chinese goods. Mexico, Brazil, Central Europe, Indonesia, and even Sri Lanka are worried about competition from lower wages. Europeans may be more cheerful, believing that the Chinese market will open not only for European engineering products and machine tools to equip the new workshop of the world, but also for luxury goods and even the tourism demanded by a new and affluent Chinese middle class. Everyone feels that a seismic shift is under way.

Such rapid industrial rises are rare, but not unprecedented. The most interesting analogies are Germany’s rise in the 19th century and Japan’s in the 20th.

Even prior to that time, England was the economic Wunderkind of Europe. What had been an offshore European island with bad weather emerged as the world’s major economy, whose products, from textiles to railroad equipment, came to dominate world markets. England was a pioneer in industrialization, and was deeply shocked by the presumption of newcomers who soon entered the same stage.