It's Not Just the U.S. Educational System...

Late last year I was somewhat cross with the American public, wondering about our collapsing educational standards and sources of basic info, in light of the Pew study showing that 44 percent of Americans thought that China was the "world's leading economic power." My perhaps intemperate response at the time:

More here and here and here.

Now it turns out that it's not just us. According to the redoubtable Lowy Institute in Sydney and its just-released annual survey of Australian opinion, a full 55 percent of Australians think China is the world's leading economic power, followed by 32 percent choosing the United States (then eight percent for Europe, three for Japan, two everything else). Download link at Lowy's home page.

Of course you can understand this reaction: China is on the move, its scale is immense, according to news reports and coverage of the Beijing Olympics and Shanghai Expo it seems to be able to achieve whatever it wants. But it also has just now surpassed Japan in total economic output -- with ten times as many people (to support) as Japan has. I will say for the millionth time that it is one thing to take China very seriously and prepare for a world in which it plays a major part. It's something else to imagine it already having solved its many and profound (environmental, social, even economic) challenges. But, we'll all see -- maybe the Aussies are more attuned to shifting realities than the Yanks are, or maybe they're getting carried away.
Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her middle school. Then Humans of New York told her story to the Internet—and everything changed.


A History of Contraception

In the 16th century, men used linen condoms laced shut with ribbons.


'A Music That Has No End'

In Spain, a flamenco guitarist hustles to make a modest living.


What Fifty Shades Left Out

A straightforward guide to BDSM

More in Global

From This Author

Just In