Is China More Powerful Than America?

A fascinating new book argues that the United States has already been eclipsed as the world’s dominant economic power.

Simon Johnson

Chinese man working. Has the U.S. been eclipsed by China as the world’s dominant economic power?

According to Voltaire, the Roman Empire fell "because all things fall." It is hard to argue with this as a general statement about decline: Nothing lasts forever. But it is also not very useful. In thinking, for example, about American predominance in the world today, it would be nice to know when it will decline, and whether the United States can do anything to postpone the inevitable.

Contemporary commenters despaired of the Roman Empire for several hundred years before it finally collapsed. Could America find its way to a similar extension?

In terms of providing an essential structure for discussion of this problem, Arvind Subramanian’s new book, Eclipse: Living in the Shadow of China’s Economic Dominance, is a major contribution. (Full disclosure: Subramanian and I are colleagues at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and we have worked together on other issues.)

In particular, Subramanian develops an index of economic dominance that should become a focus of conversation anywhere that people want to think about changes in world economic leadership. There is no need to know any economics in order to be fascinated by this book: It is about power, pure and simple.

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