The Midwest’s revenge

If growth is a common concern for China and the United States, current trends put them on opposite valuations. The first is disturbed by a modular GDP, while the second sees encouraging signals, even if very far from Beijing’s. Obviously, absolute value doesn’t count: the US cannot grow by 7.5% (the number expected for China). It only needs to sustain its standard of living, international supremacy, and conserve its technological leadership. If this is the battleground in the war with the second biggest power, the US has something to smile about, albeit relative and limited. Industrial production in China grew 6.9% last August with respect to predictions of 8.7% and 9% for the preceding month. It’s the lowest value in 6 years, which is to say, since the start of the crisis.  To confirm the data, the production of electricity has diminished 2.2% on an annual basis. Simultaneously, real estate sales shrank 10.9% over the first 8 months of the year. China’s premier, Li Keqiang, doesn’t seem too worried. His objective is to maintain growth sufficient to avoid social tensions. But, fears are growing and many analysts believe that it’s increasingly likely that the government will need to inject money into China’s economy and seek refuge in the traditional policy of towing investments.

 Instead, industrial production in the United States is growing constantly, and has almost reached pre-2006 levels. It’s not an exciting figure, but it needs to be assessed that in 2009, the number had declined by 21 percentage points. In those years, the decline of American manufacturing seemed unstoppable. The Midwest was a symbol of this, especially the Great Lakes region. The industrial heartland was photographed in empty warehouses, obsolete smokestacks, desperate protests, and unemployed workers. Today, the situation has improved, but it’s certainly not resolved. It will be impossible to see the same autos produced in Detroit, but the automobile industry was saved and has restarted creating wealth and jobs. The industrial belt is experiencing better results than the rest of the country and the availability of low-cost energy from shale gas has revitalized these old industries.

 Beyond the numbers, there’s a less resigned air that’s more inclined to pride, rolling up sleeves, even to the point of autarky. The conviction that delocalization—especially to China—favored multinationals but not the country seems to prevail, and that the loss of manufacturing jobs was not compensated by new opportunities in the services industry, exactly what opening up China suggested. Without reticence, it’s generally accepted that the agreement to accept China into the WTO was overly generous. Especially with mid-term elections coming up, nationalistic themes—declared as the population’s interests—are at the center of the debate. In this framework, it’s hard to imagine new concessions to China or signing multilateral agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Congress didn’t grant Obama a delegate, and its majority privileges internal politics. No country will negotiate with the US when the agreement needs to be approved by a reluctant Congress. Therefore, it’s very likely that the US will return to areas in which they excel: industrial innovation and extraordinary agricultural capacities. China and all of Asia will need to open up to the US’ surplus out of necessity. Even today, foodstuffs are the primary voice in the commercial flows between Washington and Beijing. If these motivated predictions should become reality, the US would experience a confirmation and rebirth. Silicon Valley’s ideas would continue, albeit realized in the industrial crucible that gravitates toward Chicago. With the same optimism, the operation would be completed by the other part of the Midwest—the Great Plain’s immense fields—with its abundance of tractors, harvesters, ears of wheat, and the middle class.