Thomas Friedman continues his reporting from China. Writing from Dafen, home to knock-off masterpiece paintings, Friedman looks at how the U.S.-China relationship will change in the wake of the global financial crisis:
After all, it was China’s willingness to hold the dollars and Treasury bills it had earned from exporting to America that helped keep U.S. interest rates low, giving Americans the money they needed to keep buying shoes, flat-screen TVs and paintings from China, as well as homes in America. Americans then borrowed against those homes to consume even more — one reason we enjoyed rising wealth without rising incomes.
This division of labor not only nourished our respective economies, but also shaped our politics. It enabled China’s ruling Communist Party to say to its people: “We will guarantee you ever-higher standards of living and in return you will stay out of politics and let us rule.” So China’s leaders could enjoy double-digit growth without political reform. And it enabled successive U.S. administrations, particularly the current one, to tell Americans: “You can have guns and butter — subprime mortgages with nothing down and nothing to pay for two years, ever-higher consumption and two wars, without tax increases!”
It all worked — until it didn’t.