When the shoe was on the other foot (A suggestion for Chinese trade negotiators)
By Scott Sumner
US trade negotiators complain that China is stealing or borrowing Western inventions without sufficient compensation. How might the Chinese negotiators respond?
Here’s my suggestion. The Chinese might want to ask how much China has been compensated for its inventions. How much did the West pay China for the secret to making gunpowder? How much did the West pay China for the compass? How much did the West pay for the secret to making silk? How much did the West pay for invention of paper? How much did the West pay for the moveable-type printing press? How much for the secret to making porcelain?
Of course the answer is always zero. These ideas were either stolen or borrowed from China, with no compensation. Perhaps we could pay China 1 cent for each sheet of paper used in the West, for a period of 17 years.
I understand that today there are many more inventions going in the other direction. Even so, these Chinese breakthroughs were not in areas of trivial importance. The ability to win wars, to explore the world, and to disseminate ideas via cheap books played a big role in the West rising to global domination in the centuries after 1450. A domination that allowed the British to makes lots of money selling opium to the Chinese.
And note that the Chinese do pay some money to Western firms like Apple and Microsoft. The West paid precisely zero for these key Chinese inventions.