08 June 2008

Measuring Superpowers: Who Has the Biggest?

What qualities does a super power nation possess? How will we know when an emerging superpower outperforms a former leader? When will China finally emerge from corruption, pollution, and poverty, to take its place as world leader?

The Futurist
blog attempts to provide a basic framework for discussion, in an interesting update to its most widely read posting. Here is a ten point scaffolding for ranking superpowers:
1. Size of a nation's economy

2. Military capablity and readiness

3. Number of popular worldwide consumer "brands" (Coke, McDonalds etc)

4. Top Universities as household names

5. Center of gravity for scientific research

6. Immigration magnet, opportunity mecca

7. Leader in entertainment, culture

8. History of recent pivotal achievements

9. Uses own resources to solve problems of an ungrateful world

10. Willing to accept the full responsibility of world hegemony, and reside in the cross-hairs of other "wannabe's" without striking out wildly against challengers

_Futurist posting with links and graphics

Many people are willing to predict that China will surpass the US on one or two of the ten points by or before 2030, based upon simple extrapolations of current economic trends. But will that be enough to make China an important world center?

It takes more than a rapidly growing economic infrastructure, a massive buildup of cold war-era military assets, an army of "attack hackers" and industrial/military spies, and a huge industrial/scientific copy and counterfeit industry, to make a responsible world hegemon. China already out-pollutes the US, and is causing untold damage to Southeastern Asian rainforests and its own ecosystems.

The massive corruption within Chinese government and state-owned enterprises points to smoldering, deep seated problems which will not scale well. Recent shoddy construction--leading to at least tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths--were brought to light by earthquakes and an exceptionally cold winter. In the mad rush for "growth at any price", many Chinese officials and regulators at all levels are willing to cut corners and accept bribes--compromising the future health and safety of the people.

It is not necessary to believe that China will be broken up into competing warlord fiefdoms--as has happened multiple times in China's past--to be skeptical of the hugely optimistic predictions for China's future. It is only necessary to see the issue in a larger social and historical perspective, and to maintain a healthy skepticism toward information sources (Chinese government) that have proven unreliable, overly secretive, and outright misleading in the past.


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Blogger neil craig said...

By that definition the USSR was never a contender being top (arguably) in only #2 & nowhere on 3,6,7,9. At the time it definitely felt like a contender.

Monday, 09 June, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

True. Russian was never widely spoken, and only Russian vodka and caviar were widely sought.

Russia did have a large military and dangerous nuclear force. Russia controlled a huge part of the world, but its communist system suppressed all of the economies under its control.

If Carter had been re-elected US President in 1980, we would probably be looking back on a different history, however. The USSR might have actually made it to number 1.

Monday, 09 June, 2008  
Blogger neil craig said...

I think by Carter's time the USSR's economy was already starting to implode - they had entirely missed out on the computer revolution.

Had Brezhnev not replaced Kruschev it might have been early enough to have saved it. Brezhnev, even before he became brain dead was the bureaucrat's bureaucrat - a safe pair of hands who could be guaranteed not to do anything.

Even the best communist government is, over time, less efficient than a truly entrepreneurial one but that wasn't what they were competing with. Their competition was with the only one Earth anti-nuclear bureaucrats who having been running things since the 70s. Hence the rise of China.

Tuesday, 10 June, 2008  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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