More on Imagining America as China

By James Fallows

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.<<
 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/01/more-on-imagining-america-as-china/69669/