THIS BRAVE NEW WORLD: INDIA, CHINA AND THE UNITED STATES
By Anja Manuel
Simon & Schuster, $27, 349 pages
On a crisp November morning last year, when Donald Trump’s candidacy was little more than a cloud the size of a man’s fist — and the fist of a man with tiny hands, at that — it occurred to me that if it ever did take off, a lot of its success would be due to his strongly protectionist stance on global trade. My moment of revelation came, not after immersing myself in balance of payment and jobless statistics, but while getting dressed.
It dawned on me that, on that particular morning, I was wearing underwear made in Canada, an Oxford cotton shirt produced in India, heather-brown trousers from Bangladesh, a tweedy sports jacket “assembled” in Honduras, a Chinese necktie, and suede wingtips made in Brazil. Even the wristwatch I was wearing that day consisted of a Japanese quartz movement housed in a Chinese case with an “alligator” strap of unknown — but almost certainly non-American and non-reptilian — provenance. Despite their foreign origins, which I’d been mostly unaware of at the time of purchase, nearly all of these items bore the brand names of familiar American companies that, like the makers of Donald Trump’s men’s fashion line, had outsourced production to cheap overseas factories. Even my very nice Sheaffer fountain pen — a proud old brand long produced in Iowa — turned out to be the joint result of outsourcing to the Slovak Republic and Thailand. Other than my skin, the only thing I was wearing that was made in the United States was a lowly pair of socks.
All of which underscores the double-edged nature of free-trade globalism central to Anja Manuel’s concise, informed book on the potential benefits and hazards of a new world economic order that promises to be anything but orderly. As Ms. Manuel conceded in a recent interview, American companies have indeed, “moved blue-collar jobs to cheaper markets,” but singling out China for punitive tariffs “would just move these jobs to other low-wage countries, not back here.” The long-term solution to blue-collar joblessness is a drastic overhaul of the American education system at the primary and secondary levels so that high school graduates will be equipped with essential knowledge and skills applicable to rising rather than sinking industries and technologies.
Meanwhile, our trade with China and, to a lesser extent, India, “makes many products we love much less expensive — middle class Americans have almost thirty percent more ability to buy goods precisely because of our trade with the world,” while U.S. companies’ exports to China and India support many jobs here at home. American aviation giant Boeing, for example, “sells more than a quarter of its commercial planes to China and India,” while Chinese investment has “directly created more than 80,000 jobs in America” with U.S. exports to China indirectly supporting “hundreds of thousands more.”
China and India are already the world’s two most populous nations and, according to Ms. Manuel, “in a decade or so, they will be the world’s largest and third largest economies” — at least if you believe in theoretical projections that have no way of foreseeing internal political convulsions, seismic disruptions of the global economy and all of the other variables that have proven most futurists wrong most of the time. Variables aside, however, Anja Manuel is right about the economic and strategic shift that sees Russia as a militarily aggressive but economically feeble shadow of its former self, most of Europe sinking into a bog of unaffordable entitlements supported by a shrinking work force, and an America somewhere in between: not firing on all cylinders at the moment but still much more productive and competitive than Europe and geographically, diplomatically and economically better positioned to prosper in tandem with Asia’s two rising giants.
After delivering a standard potted history of China and India’s differing past relationships and interactions with western powers — wrong in the occasional detail but a pretty good general summary — Ms. Manuel outlines positive steps enlightened American leadership could take to create her envisioned “brave new world” of peaceful cooperation. Calm, common sense — always in short supply in presidential campaign seasons — is the key, she argues, requiring patience and moderation balanced by firmness and clarity of intent: “We should communicate clearly when we plan to push back on aggressive behavior, and then do so jointly with other countries” and we should “look for opportunities to find common ground.”
Perfectly sensible advice, that, though you’re not likely to hear much of it from the candidates between now and November.
• Aram Bakshian Jr., an aide to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, writes widely on politics, history, gastronomy and the arts.