Obama, China, and Wishful Thinking About American Jobs.

President Obama says he wants to "rebalance" the economic relationship between China and the U.S. as part of his plan to restart the American jobs machine. "We cannot go back," he said in September, "to an era where the Chinese ... just are selling everything to us, we're taking out a bunch of credit-card debt or home equity loans, but we're not selling anything to them." He hopes that hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers will make up for the inability of American consumers to return to debt-binge spending.

This is wishful thinking. True, the Chinese market is huge and growing fast. By 2009, China was second only to the U.S. in computer sales, with a larger proportion of first-time buyers. It already had more cell-phone users. And excluding SUVs, last year Chinese consumers bought as many cars as Americans (as recently as 2006, Americans bought twice as many).

Even as the U.S. government was bailing out General Motors and Chrysler, the two firms' sales in China were soaring; GM's sales there are almost 50 percent higher this year than last. Proctor & Gamble is so well-established in China that many Chinese think its products (such as green-tea-flavored Crest toothpaste) are Chinese brands. If the Chinese economy continues to grow at or near its current rate and the benefits of that growth trickle down to 1.3 billion Chinese consumers, the country would become the largest shopping bazaar in the history of the world. They'll be driving over a billion cars and will be the world's biggest purchasers of household electronics, clothing, appliances, and almost everything else produced on the planet.

So this will mean millions of American export jobs, right? No.

Why that's not the case, after the jump.

--Robert Reich

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