Does America need a “tiger mother” economy?

January 20, 2011

Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington has triggered debate about whether the United States should copy his country’s hands-on, interventionist economic model. But the Middle Kingdom’s feisty “tiger mothers” may provide a better guide for Washington policymakers than turning to Big Government, Chinese style. A new book extolling their tough-love approach could help America escape its debt trap and boost growth.

America is in a funk, beset by deep fear of decline and widespread worry that the economy is hopeless offtrack. This new Age of Anxiety started with the 2007-2009 financial meltdown. The crisis and subsequent government bailouts prompted some in the U.S. to wonder if their steadfast belief in minimal state intervention had run its course. To make matters worse, while America plunged into its worse downturn since the Great Depression, China kept right on growing and adding to its massive dollar hoard.

But the solutions to America’s long-term economic woes won’t be found by aping the mercantilist industrial policy coming out of Beijing. That’s how poor countries play catch-up, not the way rich countries lead and innovate. Even China understands at some point it will need to export less, consume more and loosen its financial system to more efficiently allocate capital.  Indeed, the U.S needs to push China much harder to open up its markets and dismantle its “Great Protectionist Wall.”

So rather than turn to Hu for answers, ask author Amy Chua. The child of ethnic Chinese immigrants, Chua is critical of the lax parenting style of many American parents. In “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” she says they’re too quick to praise mediocrity and too reluctant to enforce sacrifice for better academics. In short, Americans are not preparing their kids as well as the Chinese are to compete and succeed as adults.

Whether the thesis is true or not, Chua’s critique still manages inadvertently to capture the essence of what’s wrong with U.S. economic policy. Too much spending and consumption today, too little savings for investment tomorrow. A dysfunctional education system. A tax code that rewards lobbying over productivity.

Americans need to demand more of themselves and of government, even if that means some days of unpleasant sacrifice. Chinese mothers, according to Chua, set high expectations of their children because nothing helps confidence like achieving what didn’t seem possible. That spirit would serve the United States well about now.

4 comments

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[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tom Gerald, Antony Last and Daryl Tremblay, James Pethokoukis. James Pethokoukis said: Does America need a "tiger mother" economy? http://tinyurl.com/4vhjs3q (from my Reuters blog) [...]

Wow! Good article.

Our Idaho Governor has invited China to mine precious metals in this state, and it appears they are going to take him up on it. So is “mother” coming to the U.S.?

Posted by Krahn | Report as abusive

[...] Pethokoukis asks the question, Whether the thesis is true or not, Chua’s critique still manages inadvertently to capture the [...]

We who are Depression babies had “Tiger Parents.” We knew delayed gratification. It worked. Today’s parents and those ready to become parents (their children) are of the McDonald’s generation and want it all now. Many, not all, but many feel that they “are entitled” to certain things and whine when they don’t get what they want. Tough love does it every time in every society. It used to work here and still does, if allowed to flower.

Posted by neahkahnie | Report as abusive

Krahn, if it is illegal for an American company to mine in China, why will the people of Idaho allow a chinese company, who have the worst environmental records in the world next to some African countries, mine in the US? If the Chinese can’t open up their mining, we shouldn’t. The people of Idaho should protest their every move.

Posted by hujintaosson | Report as abusive

neahkahnie, the only ones addicted to entitlements in the US are inner city blacks and corporations who think they need tax breaks to hire. Corporations are addicted to tax breaks, and when they don’t get their way, they leave the country. In fact, the US has the lowest corporate taxes in the developed world when you take into account the loopholes. People fail to realize this. Everyone else is still working their butts off, and considering the rise in US efficiency, they are working more than they have ever worked. People like you are buying into the corporate rhetoric that dominates news sources like reuters, fox, and CNN.

And if you think America’s youth are the McDonalds generation who wants everything now, i suggest you come and visit me in China. The youth here are so spoiled that I can’t see a good future for China at all. QQ anyone?

Posted by hujintaosson | Report as abusive

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