The U.S. has had the biggest economy in the world for more than a century, but most projections show that China will surpass us in about 15 years, as measured by purchasing power parity.
So what can New York learn from a city like Kaifeng?
One lesson is the importance of sustaining a technological edge and sound economic policies. Ancient China flourished partly because of pro-growth, pro-trade policies and technological innovations like curved iron plows, printing and paper money. But then China came to scorn trade and commerce, and per capita income stagnated for 600 years.
A second lesson is the danger of hubris, for China concluded it had nothing to learn from the rest of the world – and that was the beginning of the end.
I worry about the U.S. in both regards. Our economic management is so lax that we can’t confront farm subsidies or long-term budget deficits. Our technology is strong, but American public schools are second-rate in math and science. And Americans’ lack of interest in the world contrasts with the restlessness, drive and determination that are again pushing China to the forefront.