Earlier this month, at a fundraising event, President Joe Biden referred to the economy of China as a “ticking time bomb.” What are we to make of this remark?
But why did President Biden ridicule China publicly?
I’m no expert on international diplomacy. But with tensions rising between China and the United States, is a verbal poke in the eye wise? I’ve always thought President Theodore Roosevelt’s approach—“speak softly and carry a big stick”—makes more sense than provocative insults. I’m not sure what will be gained by taunting or provoking an adversary—especially when autocratic governments often resort to military aggression to divert their unhappy citizens from their economic woes. Badmouthing the Chinese economy almost seems juvenile, with the appropriate retort perhaps being, “Sticks and stones ….”
Here is a cynical thought: Perhaps President Biden is trying to convince the American public that he is tough on China when, in fact, he has not been so tough. Consider the Biden administration's removal of former President Donald Trump’s ban on TikTok, the shrinking of the U.S. Navy while China is rapidly expanding its navy, and energy policies (for example, restricting domestic production of fossil fuels and pushing Americans to increase the use of solar power with components produced in China).
There is another reason why President Biden’s public taunt of China is problematic. I’m thinking of the old saying, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” One can make a strong argument that the U.S. economy itself is a ticking time bomb and that the president is trying to deflect attention from our domestic economic problems by calling attention to China.
If there is one crucial economic truth American leaders should know by now, it is that the government cannot match the economic productivity of free markets. Socialistic systems stagnate and crumble because the political powers that be suppress free markets. For President Biden to be charging down the path of greater government control over the economy while warning of the dangers of China’s statist system is more than a little ironic. Economic principles are universal and cannot be ignored with impunity.
If China’s economy has become a “ticking time bomb” due to ill-advised and counterproductive government intervention, then a similar outcome awaits any economy, including the American economy, that practices similar interventions.