Japan has confirmed it. China indeed emerged from 2010 as the world's second largest economy after the United States, at $5.88 trillion to Japan's $5.47 trillion. (In case you're wondering, that's just above 1/3 of the U.S. economy.) Last time when China overtook Japan in a single quarter in 2010, I asked the question "so now what?" Judging by some of the latest reactions from a small sampling of Chinese, helpfully compiled by the WSJ, they seem to largely reflect my previous sentiment. Anything but celebratory, the new status seems to only highlight the deficiencies, large and small, that have accompanied that stellar GDP performance.
This kind of self-deprecation is commonplace, and you hear Chinese officials often describe Chinese industry as "big but not strong," like a pliable giant that could stumble and easily hurt itself. And of course, the dearth of international Chinese brands has proven a huge conundrum for policymakers in China. At a hotpot dinner over the Chinese new year, I engaged with others in one of my favorite topics to explore: why China's cultural appeal (or "soft power") is not commensurate with its seeming economic heft. Since Japan is being used here for comparison, it seems to me that Japanese cultural products had much broader appeal and resonance globally at a similar stage of development. Not to mention the eventual "just-in-time" industrial model that found wide favor and spawned imitators.
It's certainly not for the lack of talent and creative energy in China. Check out, for example, these guys rap battling in Beijing. It looks like a scene straight outta 8 Mile, except replace a pale Eminem with a frizzy-haired Xinjianger Ma Jun (he might even be Uighur -- marginalized minority, liberated in hip hop?) schooling the other guy on stage.
Or what about this four-year old Chinese kid flooring an audience on the streets of LA with his Michael Jackson moves (the kid seriously breaks it down around the 2:15 mark).
One reaction, given the current breathless commentary on "China does it best" might be "Oh no, the Chinese are outmaneuvering us in rap and street dancing! They're training an army of 4-year-olds to erode our comparative advantage in spontaneity and bottom-up creative output! What's next, stealing our Broadway jobs??!!" I think Gary Shteyngart captured this exaggerated view of Chinese omnipotence best in his recent "Super Sad True Love Story", in which the denizens of a spiritless New York live in mortal fear of the Chinese central banker arriving to take his country's money back (which Ben Bernanke apparently revealed to be an eye-popping $2 trillion).
But in fact, these episodes demonstrate the acute resilience of American soft power and appeal. There's not much "indigenous innovation" in those videos, only talented co-optation of what was pioneered in the American urban cauldron. And those migrant worker DIY rockers I wrote about rode to fame on a cover rather than an original, and now seem to be facing copyright troubles. Nonetheless, these grassroots creative elements are highly encouraging. I hope sooner rather than later, China will be exporting products that are um ... more effective than that ad in Times Square during Hu Jintao's visit.
Note: the rap battle video is from photographer Matthew Niederhauser, who has done some great work on documenting the underground music scene in China. He has more at his site.
Damien Ma is a fellow at the Paulson Institute, where he focuses on investment and policy programs, and on the Institute's research and think-tank activities. Previously, he was a lead China analyst at Eurasia Group, a political risk research and advisory firm.
“A typical person is more than five times as likely to die in an extinction event as in a car crash,” says a new report.
Nuclear war. Climate change. Pandemics that kill tens of millions.
These are the most viable threats to globally organized civilization. They’re the stuff of nightmares and blockbusters—but unlike sea monsters or zombie viruses, they’re real, part of the calculus that political leaders consider everyday. And according to a new report from the U.K.-based Global Challenges Foundation, they’re much more likely than we might think.
In its annual report on “global catastrophic risk,” the nonprofit debuted a startling statistic: Across the span of their lives, the average American is more than five times likelier to die during a human-extinction event than in a car crash.
Partly that’s because the average person will probably not die in an automobile accident. Every year, one in 9,395 people die in a crash; that translates to about a 0.01 percent chance per year. But that chance compounds over the course of a lifetime. At life-long scales, one in 120 Americans die in an accident.
The president’s unique approach to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner will surely be missed.
No U.S. President has been a better comedian than Barack Obama. It’s really that simple.
Now that doesn’t mean that some modern-day presidents couldn’t tell a joke. John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton excelled at it. But Obama has transformed the way presidents use comedy—not just engaging in self-deprecation or playfully teasing his rivals, but turning his barbed wit on his opponents.
He puts that approach on display every year at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. This annual tradition, which began in 1921 when 50 journalists (all men) gathered in Washington D.C., has become a showcase for each president’s comedy chops. Some presidents have been bad, some have been good. Obama has been the best. He’s truly the killer comedian in chief.
It’s a paradox: Shouldn’t the most accomplished be well equipped to make choices that maximize life satisfaction?
There are three things, once one’s basic needs are satisfied, that academic literature points to as the ingredients for happiness: having meaningful social relationships, being good at whatever it is one spends one’s days doing, and having the freedom to make life decisions independently.
But research into happiness has also yielded something a little less obvious: Being better educated, richer, or more accomplished doesn’t do much to predict whether someone will be happy. In fact, it might mean someone is less likely to be satisfied with life.
That second finding is the puzzle that Raj Raghunathan, a professor of marketing at The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, tries to make sense of in his recent book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?Raghunathan’s writing does fall under the category of self-help (with all of the pep talks and progress worksheets that that entails), but his commitment to scientific research serves as ballast for the genre’s more glib tendencies.
Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.
Since 2013,the Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
A stranger going into one of these agencies during business hours is struck by the stupendous machinery at work before him. Rows of desks, private rooms, particular departments, scores of busy clerks, hundreds of interested searchers, are around and on all sides of him. A constant stream of busy men, young and old, is flowing in and out all day, and every manuscript volume, of which there are hundreds, seems to be the subject of eager examination.
A few lines beneath the enormous all-caps headline (“AGENCIES”), a series of truncated sentences in a large, bold type summarized the article: “Private Detectives Watching Business Men Day and Night—Spies Around the House and in the Kitchen—Questioning a Man’s Tradesmen and Pumping his Domestics—The Family History of Business Men and Their Wives Made a Subject of Daily Record, &c., &c.”
By speaking to the discontents of neglected groups of voters, the two men—who share little else in common—have both found political success.
The most important message from this year’s tumultuous presidential primaries may be that millions of voters in both parties have grown sufficiently disenchanted with conventional political options to vote for candidates who not long ago would have been considered beyond the pale of viable choices.
20 or even 10 years ago, both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders might have struggled to advance beyond the margins of their parties. Yet after this week’s five primaries, Trump has drawn just over 10 million votes and Sanders 9.3 million. Both have built followings that are not only large but also more impassioned than those attracted by their more traditional rivals, from Ted Cruz to Hillary Clinton.
In Trump’s aftermath, his enemies on the right will have to take stock and propose a meaningful alternative vision for the GOP’s future.
Donald Trump’s big victories in the Mid-Atlantic primaries don’t represent quite the end of the ballgame—but they come damn close.
And now Donald Trump’s many and fierce opponents in the Republican Party and the conservative movement face the hour of decision. Trump looks ever more certain to be the party nominee. Yet not perhaps since George McGovern in 1972 has a presumptive nominee so signally failed to carry the most committed members of his party with him.
So what happens now to those who regard themselves as party thought-leaders? Do they submit? Or do they continue to resist?
Resistance now means something more—and more dangerous—than tapping out #NeverTrump on Twitter. It means working to defeat Trump even knowing that the almost certain beneficiary will be Hillary Clinton.
When people see themselves as self-made, they tend to be less generous and public-spirited.
I’m a lucky man. Perhaps the most extreme example of my considerable good fortune occurred one chilly Ithaca morning in November 2007, while I was playing tennis with my longtime friend and collaborator, the Cornell psychologist Tom Gilovich. He later told me that early in the second set, I complained of feeling nauseated. The next thing he knew, I was lying motionless on the court.
He yelled for someone to call 911, and then started pounding on my chest—something he’d seen many times in movies but had never been trained to do. He got a cough out of me, but seconds later I was again motionless with no pulse. Very shortly, an ambulance showed up.
Ithaca’s ambulances are dispatched from the other side of town, more than five miles away. How did this one arrive so quickly? By happenstance, just before I collapsed, ambulances had been dispatched to two separate auto accidents close to the tennis center. Since one of them involved no serious injuries, an ambulance was able to peel off and travel just a few hundred yards to me. EMTs put electric paddles on my chest and rushed me to our local hospital. There, I was loaded onto a helicopter and flown to a larger hospital in Pennsylvania, where I was placed on ice overnight.