David Brooks sees China taking role U.S. once played

David Brooks rears back every week or so and writes a column so remarkably prescient it makes a reader like me want to make jillions of copies and scatter them about the land to amaze and inform everyone lucky enough to get a copy.
His clear-seeing essay in Tuesday’s New York Times, titled “The Nation of Futurity,” says China has replaced the United States as the country that believes in its own future with an intensity that approaches religious fervor. He wrote:
“ ...The Chinese are now an astonishingly optimistic people. Eighty-six percent of Chinese believe their country is headed in the right direction, compared with 37 percent of Americans.
“The Chinese now have lavish faith in their scientific and technological potential. Newsweek and Intel just reported the results of their Global Innovation Survey. Only 22 percent of the Chinese believe their country is an innovation leader now, but 63 percent are confident that their country will be the global technology leader within 30 years. The majority of the Chinese believe that China will produce the next society-changing in-novation, while only a third of Americans believe the next breakthrough will happen here, according to the survey.
“The Cultural Revolution seems to have produced among the Chinese the same sort of manic drive that the pioneer and immigrant experiences produced among the Americans. The people who endured Mao’s horror have seen the worst life has to offer and are now driven to build some secure footing. At the same time, they and their children seem inflamed by the experience of living through so much pro-gress so quickly.
‘“Do you understand?’ one party official in Shanxi Province told James Fallows of The Atlantic, ‘If it had not been for Deng Xiaoping, I would be behind an ox in a field right now. ... Do you understand how different this is? My mother has bound feet!’
“ ... China, where President Obama is visiting, invites a certain sort of reverie. It is natural, looking over the construction cranes, to think about the flow of history over decades, not just day to day. And it becomes obvious by comparison just how far the U.S. has drifted from its normal future-centered orientation and how much this rankles.
“The U.S. now has an economy shifted too much toward consumption, debt and imports and too little toward production, innovation and exports. It now has a mounting federal debt that creates present indulgence and future hardship.
“Americans could once be confident that their country would grow more productive because each generation was more skilled than the last. That’s no longer true. The political system now groans to pass anything easy — tax cuts and expanding health care coverage — and is incapable of passing anything hard — spending restraint, health care cost control. ... ”

BROOKS, a cockeyed optimist and fervent futurist himself, concluded with a wish for “some leader to induce the country to salivate for the future again .... As the financial crises ease, it would be nice if Americans would once again start looking to the horizon.” To which we can only add a wistful amen.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.