More on Imagining America as China

Following this item and this, suggesting that to match China's population and scale, the United States would need to pack the entire population of the Western Hemisphere into our territory, plus everyone from Nigeria and Japan, a few more reader messages. First, from an American who lives in Europe:

>>I write country risk reports for a living, so I'm always looking out for good country-to-country analogies. It's funny how we only accept the complexity of other countries when we directly compare them to the complexities of our own.<<

From a reader in North Carolina:

>>Interesting thought experiment. Of course, all of those people would have not just gotten here overnight. It also needs to be understood that, unlike the US, China has a civilization going back for thousands of years. They have had to work out how to feed a dense population on limited land without destroying its fertility - something that a lot of former civilizations never did figure out, which is why they are "former." This was all discussed in great detail long ago by King's "Farmers of Forty Centuries." How we farm, how we eat, and how we live would all have to be totally different - and would have had to have been such going way back in time.
Because we have had far more land and other resources per capita than have the Chinese, we've been able to get away with a much less efficient, much more extravagant, and much more wasteful way of life (and ways of doing just about everything, really) than have the Chinese. Geography is, to a considerable extent, destiny, especially when paired with demography.<<
From an American who has lived for years in Asia:
>>The comparison is interesting. There are some elements in addition that might be mentioned.

1. Our equal population would have comparatively more wealth to use for improving its infrastructure, as China's economy is much smaller. Bad off as ours are, we still have less infrastructure to build.

2. Wealth in China is even more concentrated in the pockets of a small minority than it is in the United States. Bringing in everyone from the rest of the hemisphere, and further augmentation from Africa and Japan, might move the US further toward that same extreme.

3. China, at one time, was united behind its government. Not any more. Perhaps, in this respect, the two countries would be nearly the same.

4. The United States would suddenly be in the same situation as is China regarding shortages of water.

5. China has a unifying, nearly common genetic makeup, language, and culture. The US doesn't, and the new US would have even less. I doubt we could survive the exhilarating internecine battles.<<
From a reader in New Jersey:
>>I had one observation on your interesting thought experiment.... although the idea of cramming 1 billion people into the contiguous 48 states may seem like a nightmare to some Americans, it is worth remembering that people can live successfully in places with a high population density and enjoy a high level of prosperity and personal security; one need only to look at the European Union. The population density in Germany is about 580 people per square mile, six times that of the US, and over one-and-a-half times that of present day China. However, despite the wealth of many EU countries, the high density does to lead to key differences between the EU and US. High levels of civilian gun ownership are not tolerated in most EU countries, and generous social policies serve to maintain an elaborate safety net for the poor. In a densely populated society, social inequality is more visible, and in most cases the government is expected to actively redress that.<<
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.

What LBJ Really Said About Selma

"It's outrageous what's on TV. It looks like that man is in charge of the country."


What LBJ Really Said About Selma

"It's going to go from bad to worse."


Does This Child Need Marijuana?

Inside a family's fight to use marijuana oils to treat epilepsy


A Miniature 1950s Utopia

A reclusive artist built this idealized suburb to grapple with his painful childhood memories.


Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her school. Then the Internet heard her story.

More in Global

From This Author

Just In