Good and bad nationalism
By Scott Sumner
The Washington Post has an article discussing the competition between the US and China for pre-eminence in science and technology. While the US is still well ahead, China is progressing rapidly. This reminds me a bit of the space race between the US and the Soviets, after Russia launched the first satellite into space in 1957.
Competition can be a good thing, as long as it’s not a negative sum game. Unfortunately, in recent years the US shows more signs of trying to slow down China, rather than build up our own science and technology:
Under the Trump administration, many U.S. researchers say their work has been devalued, threatened by budget cuts and hampered by stricter immigration policies that could deter international collaborations and the influx of talent that has long fueled American innovation.
“We are in deep doo-doo for two reasons,” said Denis Simon, who has studied Chinese science for 40 years and is the executive vice chancellor of Duke Kunshan University. In his view, the White House, without a science adviser for more than a year, lacks scientific leadership.
And collaboration between U.S. and Chinese researchers is under threat, he said. Recent restrictions on H-1B visas sent a message to Chinese graduate students that “it’s time to go home when you finish your degree.” Since 1979, China and the United States have maintained a bilateral agreement, the Cooperation in Science and Technology, to jointly study fields like biomedicine and high-energy physics. In the past the agreement was signed as a routine matter, Simon said, but that’s no longer the case.
Oddly, recently proposed trade barriers do not seem aimed at protecting sectors with lots of vulnerable low skilled workers, but rather slowing the growth of Chinese technology:
Another bill would specifically restrict Chinese investments in the ten sectors targeted by the Made in China 2025 plan. If America does impose tariffs, they would also mainly focus on these ten industries. Nearly all the proposed duties affect high-tech products such as avionics and medical devices. Low-tech goods that China sells by the shipload would be mostly untouched. He Weiwen, a former diplomat, says that America’s goal is not to shrink its trade deficit but to impede China’s progress. He has a good point.
A good nationalism would focus on making the US better in absolute terms, while a bad nationalism would focus on making the US better relative to countries like China, even if all countries end up worse off.