One phrase I have heard frequently from well-to-do Chinese business people is 钱无祖国. Roughly translated into English, this means that “capital has no homeland”; it largely goes wherever it can get the best return for its owners.
The flip-side of this statement is that the nation-state, this political entity which has been so important for the past 500 years, is gradually losing power and influence. As technology enables individuals more and more, governments and large organizations lose power, influence and attraction.
How many bright young people have you met who said “I want to work for a large organization?” In the tech sector, the number is small; most prefer to work at startups. I predict that this trend will soon spread to media and other fields. It’s just easier to get things done and you don’t need to share the profits among as many people.
This is what those who criticize the article about sovereign wealth fund stakes in Google and Apple don’t understand. When a corporation’s shares are traded on the open market, a corporation is no longer just a national entity, it is a global entity. Apple and Google are global corporations, not American corporations. Their owners, shareholders and employees are global, not just American. They just happen to have their main domicile in the US and were first incorporated in the US and are subject to US laws, but that’s it. Only if capital restrictions are put in place can you prevent anything like the scenario I have put forward from taking place. If the US were to do that, it would amount to the US government admitting that globalization, a policy that all US administrations have pedaled to the American people for the past 50 years is wrong and is bad for America.
Doug Rediker has an excellent article about the difference between how national banks and investment banks see this trend.
If there is one area where many Americans have fallen woefully short it has to do with educating themselves about the importance of managing your finances in a smart manner. Roger Ehrenberg draws an excellent picture of how the subprime mortgage mess grew, and how most Americans are responsible.
The same rules of economics which apply to individuals also apply to countries and nation-states. Foremost among these is the rule that if you remain a debtor over a prolonged period of time, you lose control of your own destiny, and become subject to the whims of others.
The pendulum has now swung in China’s favor; in the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, China was the economic basket case. For the most part, Chinese have learned the importance of savings and not going into debt. Will the next generation of Chinese remember this lesson? Time will tell.
Americans need to face up to this unpleasant reality, and the sooner the better. The first step to recovery is to recognize that one is in trouble and needs to change current behavior.
The old ways just don’t work anymore.