Only a few years ago pundits were sure that the United States was losing to Asia and Europe and had to emulate their more state- directed economies to remain competitive. Now the conventional wisdom is that America is number one and that the rest of the world should adopt its more laissez-faire approach. In fact, neither caricature is right. Asia was booming and now it is slumping, but it will be back. Europe's underlying ossification will persist. But most important, while the U.S. economy is in a period of robust growth, nothing fundamental has changed. Its long-run growth rate has not accelerated, productivity has not risen, and the structural unemployment rate has fallen by one percentage point at most. Come the next recession, all this triumphalism will seem silly.
Despite widespread fears about China's growing economic clout and political stature, Beijing remains committed to a "peaceful rise": bringing its people out of poverty by embracing economic globalization and improving relations with the rest of the world. As it emerges as a great power, China knows that its continued development depends on world peace -- a peace that its development will in turn reinforce.
Pundits point to the awesome growth of East Asia's economies and fret that the West cannot compete. But there is nothing miraculous about the successes of Asia's "tigers." Their rise was fueled by mobilizing resources - increasing inputs of machinery, infrastructure, and education - just like that of the now-derided Soviet economy. Indeed, Singapore's boom is the virtual economic twin of Stalin's U.S.S.R. The growth rates of the newly industrialized countries of East Asia will also slow down. The lesson here for Western policymakers is that sustained growth requires efficiency gains, which come from making painful choices.