China is not likely to surpass United States as global economic superpower, new book predicts

By Steven Levingston

Joel Kotkin has some reassuring words for Americans worried that their country is in decline.

In a book due out next month, the international futurist says China isn't likely to overtake the United States as the world's economic superpower in coming decades, countering predictions of some forecasters who believe the Chinese economy will be the global leader by 2020.

In "The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050," Kotkin also projects that over the next 40 years the United States will not suffer as much as its global competitors from the burden of an aging population.

Kotkin, a presidential fellow at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. and an adjunct fellow with the Legatum Institute in London, bases his forecasts largely on population trends, fertility rates and immigration patterns. He sees the U.S. population hitting at least 400 million by 2050, an increase of roughly 100 million from today. In his largely upbeat account, which will be published in February by Penguin, Kotkin argues that population growth will be a boon to American prosperity, competitiveness and ingenuity. He notes that increased numbers of Americans will place strains on the environment, the energy grid and city housing, but he believes the challenges will spur innovation and technological advancement. And a larger, more diverse population will fuel America's future dominance, Kotkin says.

The U.S. fertility rate remains the highest of advanced countries, Kotkin writes, 50 percent higher than that of Russia, Germany and Japan. He projects that the Russian population will shrink by 30 percent by 2050 because of low birth and high mortality rates. The fertility rate in the United States also is well above the level in China, Italy, Singapore, Korea and almost all of eastern Europe. The U.S. population, Kotkin says, will enjoy the added benefit of continued large-scale immigration. "In advanced countries a rapidly aging or decreasing population does not bode well for societal or economic health," Kotkin writes, "whereas a growing one offers the hope of expanding markets, new workers, and entrepreneurial innovation."

China is undergoing one of the most dramatic demographic shifts, Kotkin writes. Its one-child policy is pushing the country toward a rapidly aging population by 2050. The United Nations predicts that about 30 percent of China's population will be older than 60 by mid-century. "Some have predicted that China will become the world's largest economy as early as 2020," Kotkin writes, "but this ... is far from certain. Earlier predictions of eventual Soviet, European and Japanese preeminence, after all, proved staggeringly off the mark. ... [China's] lack of democratic institutions, its cultural homogeneity, its historic insularity, and the rapid aging that will start by the 2020s do not augur well for its global preeminence."

Kotkin acknowledges that the United States will have to cope with its aging population in coming years, but its drag on resources will be less severe than in other countries. He says that a third or more of the populations in many European and East Asian countries will be over the age of 65 by 2050. By comparison, the over-65 set in the United States will make up a fifth of the population. Offsetting the aging population will be a millennial boomlet, as Kotkin calls it, between 2010 and 2020 when American baby boomers' children will be having kids.

Kotkin's analysis of population trends indicates that nearly 50 percent of the U.S. population will be nonwhite by 2050, up from 30 percent today. The diversity will be an engine of dynamism, in Kotkin's view. "By midcentury the United States will be a predominantly 'white country' no longer but rather a staggering amalgam of racial, ethnic, and religious groups, all participants in the construction of a new civilization."


By Steven E. Levingston |  January 26, 2010; 5:30 AM ET Politics , Steven Levingston
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I think our high fertility rate is too much of a good thing. Like in the film, "Idiocracy", natural selection does not necessarily reward those with the highest IQ, but rather those who reproduce the most. The two are generally mutually exclusive.

Posted by: rlmayville | January 26, 2010 11:14 AM

nice.

Posted by: AreYouKiddingMe1 | January 26, 2010 11:15 AM

There are some blaring errors regarding the content of the article. The article mentions that the USA has the highest fertility rate in the developed world, but what it failed to mention is that a large proportion of this fertility are among the poor and the illegal immigrant. Both sectors are showing abysmal educational records. The article does not mention that the impact of the current crisis on our future nor the decrepit educational system. Though it is true that European and some Asian nations will feel the effects of an ageing population none of them are in the unique situation of being one of the richest nations and having a third world poor and illiterate neighbor with hardly any border security.

Posted by: rsbnola | January 26, 2010 12:02 PM

There are some blaring errors regarding the content of the article. The article mentions that the USA has the highest fertility rate in the developed world, but what it failed to mention is that a large proportion of this fertility are among the poor and the illegal immigrant. Both sectors are showing abysmal educational records. The article does not mention that the impact of the current crisis on our future nor the decrepit educational system. Though it is true that European and some Asian nations will feel the effects of an ageing population none of them are in the unique situation of being one of the richest nations and having a third world poor and illiterate neighbor with hardly any border security.

Posted by: rsbnola | January 26, 2010 12:03 PM

Oh, Joy! I can hardly wait until 2050! Imagine how much more pleasant, dynamic and wealthy the US will be when it is more crowded and more ethnically diverse. The sooner the US becomes Brazil-with-Snow, the happier we'll all be!

Posted by: pmendez | January 26, 2010 12:23 PM

The single largest threat to mankind is overpopulation. A 30% increase in population in a nation that has the highest per capita use of natural resources does not bode well for us.

Whether we like it or not, we are going to have to reduce the population. We can do this ourselves by self-control in our breeding practices and immigration policies, or nature can take care of this problem for us. Frankly, I would rather chose to have one less child than to starve like a deer in an over-sized herd in the middle of winter.

Posted by: JoStalin | January 26, 2010 12:46 PM

What are his projections for automated labor? The next two decades will flip productivity assumptions on their head. Advances in robotics and AI, mainly fueled by our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will tumble over into light manufacturing, textiles and warehousing. Assembling cell phones and TVs, sewing sneakers and even basic retail will be done by robots. Historically, automating one job led to completely new jobs. A general purpose robot, as opposed to a single purpose assembly line welding-robot, can replace nearly all jobs an uneducated or poorly educated human can perform. So what happens then? And does it mean a shifting of production out of Asia and back to Europe and the US as labor savings evaporate and transportation costs and flexibility become more dominate?

Posted by: caribis | January 26, 2010 1:58 PM

The most important thing to become a leader in the world for the USA is to enhance and refine the education process for the whole of its population, taking into account: imagination, cultural diversity, honesty, freedom and scientific knowledge.

The second thing to do is to preserve and learn from indigenous people all over the world, how to develop a world in which food, energy, water, medicine, air and beauty are fully organic and sustainable.

Posted by: iragam | January 26, 2010 2:47 PM

It won't be that crowded. China puts a billion people in less space and India a billion in one-third the space we have. Young population is definitely a better indicator of prosperity than older, shrinking population.

Posted by: gingles | January 26, 2010 3:01 PM

Demographics - the study of populations - are poorly understood in America. Ever since 1968, when Paul Ehrlich wrote his book - The Population Bomb, so-called intelligent and educated people have been fooled into believing there are too many people in America. This is hogwash. Ehrlich predicted we would all be dead by starvation by now due to overpopulation.

Europe, China, Russia and Japan all stopped having babies in record numbers or limited their family size to one or two children. They are already beginning to suffer from the consequences of this myth. Europe is already being overrun by Muslim immigrants and terrorism due to this stupid book.

The only thing that has saved America's bacon from this calamity is Latino immigration. Latinos believe in larger families and don't believe teenage pregnancy is bad. It has nothing to do with education levels, because it is part of their culture to have larger families.

Posted by: alance | January 26, 2010 3:27 PM

rlmayville- making a claim that 'Idiocracy' is somehow at all accurate is frankly idiotic.

IQ is not a static number, and education and socioeconomic improvements can increase it. You make the baseless claim simply because the poorer and less-educated part of the population is increasing faster right now, but provide them with education and means to improve their lifestyles and plenty of them are likely smarter than yourself.

Posted by: Comunista | January 26, 2010 4:19 PM

For China to surpass the US as the largest economy in the world is really not that big of a deal. In fact, it doesn’t take much considering it already has a population 4 to 5 times bigger. China's current national nominal GDP per capita is about US$4,000, once it crosses the "developed" threshold of US$10,000+, its economy will likely rival that of the US in absolute size. China’s economic development is similar to that of earlier Japan and East Asian tigers like S. Korea, Taiwan. When their GDP per capita reached about US$4k, they were all able to pass the US$10k in about 10 years. It is very reasonable for China to reach that level in 10 to 15 years as there is still a relatively easy decade of growth left on back of industrialization and urbanization it the country's interior. For China to truly surpass the US, it needs to attain per capita income similar to that of the most advanced economies such as the US, Japan, Germany, etc. That will likely take more than a decade or two.

With regards to China’s aging population and demographics, one very important factor is that such outlook is solely based on the official size of China's current population of about 1.3bn people. Most demographics experts have long argued that China's true population is vastly understated. The current official population is based on the last reliable census done in the 80s and assuming the one child policy has worked to near perfection (evidence suggests otherwise, especially in the rural area). Demographics experts estimate China's true population is likely around 1.5-1.6bn, an estimate that various Chinese government bodies have indirectly acknowledged. This "additional" 200mn to 300mn can drastically change the outlook and analysis of China's future demographics.

Posted by: geopolitics | January 27, 2010 3:10 AM

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