How will the United States react when China becomes the number one economy in the world?

It’s a very serious question, because the U.S. is a very dangerous country, that still operates on the assumption that it has a Manifest Destiny to dominate the world. When the reigning superpower confronts its economic second fiddle status in 2016, it could throw quite a troublesome tantrum.

In fact, the pace of Washington’s aggressions in the world seems to be mounting as it approaches inevitable eclipse by Beijing in economic output, as measured by the purchasing power parity [5] standard.

Business Week magazine pondered America’s decline relative to China back in October of last year, noting that China’s economy had been the world’s largest for hundreds of years, until it was overtaken by the U.S. in 1890 [6]. But, back then, despite China’s huge internal economic activity, the country was straitjacketed by Euro-American imperialism, unable to project power even within its own borders.

Economist Dean Baker took a look at the U.S. as number two, last week, and reported that, by some measurements, China’s economy is already 20 percent larger than the U.S. However, Baker doesn’t anticipate any huge disruptions in the life of the planet due to America’s pending loss of the top economic slot. He is mistaken. Baker does point out that "the growing power of China has already increased the options available to many countries in the developing world."

And that brings us closer to the heart of the growing crisis for the United States. It is a crisis, not of an ordinary nation state that happens to be an economic giant, but of a global system: imperialism, dominated by finance capital that is in the grips of a convulsive and, I believe, terminal stage of decay. "It is a question of the survival of their rotten system."

Having been forced, by capitalism’s inherent contradictions, to export production of actual goods to the South and the East – much of it to China – the Americans and western Europeans have lost their ability to dominate the terms of global trade – at least, by economic means. Their own multinational corporations have expedited the deindustrialization of the home countries.

The increased "options" that Baker refers to as being available to the former Third World – to Africa, Latin America and Asia – represent mortal dangers to the U.S. and its imperial junior partners. The Americans and Europeans cannot compete with China, India, Brazil and other rising economic players, and cannot sustain their inherently unstable, casino-like financial structures in the absence of ever-increasing profits. Colonialism and neocolonialism provided such profits, while locking the rest of the world in a straightjacket – like China used to be.

The imperialists have always rigged world markets to their own super-advantage. Otherwise, they cannot compete. So, it is not just a question of whether U.S. rulers will accept being number two. Rather, it is a question of the survival of their rotten system.

That’s why they spend more on weapons than the rest of the world, combined. And that’s why a United States in decline is a grave danger to the entire planet. It’s going to be a very rough ride down.

April 10, 2012