In Partial Defense of 44 Percent of All Americans

James Fallows has a fascinating post up about new poll results suggesting that 44 percent of Americans believe that China is the world's biggest economic superpower. Only 27 percent believe that America has the world's biggest economy. Jim notes:

You could address this point with, you know, "facts." Almost no one in the United States is a peasant farmer. Most people in China are. Nearly everyone in America has indoor plumbing. Most people in China don't. Japan has one-tenth as many people as China, yet its economy is larger -- the second largest in the world. America's is of course largest of all, three times larger than Japan's and about four times larger than China's. Name 20 large American corporations that do business worldwide. Without trying, you can probably name 50. Try to name even 10 from China. Name the most recent winner of a Nobel prize in science from a Chinese university or research institution. (Hint: this is a trick question.)

Jim titled his post "At last there's proof: 44% of Americans are crazy." I would demur on this point, for two reasons. One, we have lately been inundated with data suggesting that China owns a great deal of our debt, and that bank safes in Shanghai are stuffed with dollars. This could obviously lead people to believe that China owns us.  Two, when most Americans shop, particularly in places like Wal-Mart, they can't help but notice that an incredible variety of generally-crappy, but sometimes-not, goods are made in China. This firsthand exposure to Chinese manufacturing power can have a distorting effect on the way we understand the international economic order. So I would say that this 44 percent of Americans isn't crazy, just misinformed. On the other hand, if you told me that 44 percent of Americans didn't believe that global warming is caused mainly by human activity, then I would agree that this 44 percent is crazy. But it's not 44 percent, of course. No, it's 53 percent of Americans polled who don't believe that humans are causing global warming.