Guo said that to Americans, the Chinese economy might seem strong because China’s leaders rarely hesitate to prop it up with short-term measures — whether bailing out state-owned companies or building too many bridges.
He offered an analogy to describe the two countries: Imagine two children on a playground. One has parents who are constantly hovering, making sure she doesn’t fall and scrape herself. By contrast, the other child’s parents give her more distance, letting her fend for herself. She stumbles and cries more often, but when she becomes an adult, she’s more resilient.
In Guo’s view, the helicopter parents are the Chinese government, while the other parents represent Washington. In the end, he said, the U.S. economy will be stronger.
There are obvious limits to the analogy — for one, the U.S. government didn’t hesitate to intervene in its own dramatic way after the financial crisis. But Guo’s perspective reflects how many Chinese feel: that despite slower U.S. growth right now, the fundamentals of the nation’s economic and political system are far stronger than China’s.
Indeed, many experts argue that China’s problems are deep and difficult to solve. Its economy in particular faces some potentially wrenching changes as it tries to wean itself from the country’s two biggest engines for growth — exports and state investments in infrastructure — and rely more on consumer consumption.
There’s another problem that won’t be easy to address, and it’s one shared by the United States: income inequality.
China’s Gini coefficient — a widely used barometer for income inequality ranging from 0 to 1, with a higher number indicating more inequality — was 0.438 in 2010, according to the International Institute for Urban Development in Beijing. The American score, by comparison, was 0.469, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A figure higher than 0.4, some experts say, puts a country at greater risk for social disturbances.
In both countries, inequality has fueled populist anger. While in the United States, resentment is directed at Wall Street, in China the target is the Communist Party. People spoke less to me about wanting a democracy than they did about the abuse of power by their current leaders. Chatter about corruption is a constant theme on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter. Online commenters recently singled out a local official who was flaunting luxury watches that together cost many times what the average Chinese earns in a year.
“If someone is a rich man, you can assume he has a government background,” said Jimmy Wu, founder of a chemical company in Dongguan.