Ways that China is surpassing the US

by Wei_Dai1 min read4th Nov 201919 comments


PoliticsIndustrial Revolution
Personal Blog

[Edit: Changed the post title from the original article title to something more meaningful.]

I came across this article today, and I have to agree with it strongly based on my own recent trip to China. The update it triggered for me is the realization that China is genuinely doing better than the US on many fronts, most importantly on governance. How/why did that happen? Did anyone or any political theory predict this ahead of time? (In case it's not clear, this is not meant to be a rhetorical question. I'm surprised and confused and am wondering if someone or some theory can offer an explanation.) What does it imply for things like AI governance and global coordination on x-risks?

Below I'll quote two sections that summarize most of the article. Click the link above for the full text.

China is changing in a deep and visceral way, and it is changing fast , in a way that is almost incomprehensible without seeing it in person. In contrast to America’s stagnation, China’s culture, self-concept, and morale are being transformed at a rapid pace—mostly for the better.

For Americans, this transformation towards competence and prosperity should be the more worrying thing about China. We aren’t well-coordinated with China, and it is starting to surpass the U.S. in important ways. If we ignore this point by focusing only on the moral negatives, of which there are many, we risk underrating the competition until it’s too late, or failing to reflect on the importance of solving our own mounting problems of governance.

More optimistically, we should study Chinese development as a positive example of how to do better on the things that America has been fumbling recently: infrastructure, growth, industrial policy, and positive transformation of everyday life. America has been a shining beacon of this kind of development in the past, and can be again, if we’re willing to look closer at what China does right.


If I’m being honest, China’s success scares me. There is something deeply disconcerting about watching China surpass America in the ways it is. China is transforming fishing villages into major industrial cities, while we fail to build high-speed rail or new housing. How are we going to catch up?

Is it really as bad as it seems? I understand the instinct to avoid the topic, disbelieve it, and play it down. I’ve even had the instinct to stay quiet about China’s progress myself: I worry that no one will appreciate the reminder. Perhaps this is why we’ve heard so little about this aspect of things.

But if we’re going to build a good society in America, we have to face these things head-on.

In the U.S., we face an ongoing crisis of governance. We need to understand our own failures, and we need to grapple with unexpected demonstrations of success—even if they come from non-liberal societies.

China’s success challenges our implicit ideology and deep-seated assumptions about governance. It needs to be studied—not just to bring about better coordination, but because in its accomplishments, we may find important truths needed to bring about American revitalization.