Pundits frame US-China competition in economic, military and diplomatic terms. But it’s actually about something far more important.
In trade, both countries have lopsided accounts, meaning neither can manage its economy without the world’s consent. Decoupling is undesirable for everyone involved. It may be impossible given international debt, non-fiat digital currencies, massive multinationals, and the accumulation of wealth across borders.
It’s not about governance either. The US isn’t as agile as it believes. While government leadership changes every few years, a small cadre of unelected technocrats writes and shepherds policy over decades.
As technology changes what governments can and should control, companies are taking on traditional governance responsibilities, regulating currencies and marketplaces. They stimulate consumption with a granular, real-time finesse that national policy never could. Both governments feel the tail wagging the dog and will eventually reassert control over their national technology infrastructure.
Each nation justly chides the other for structurally disadvantaging minorities. History in both countries shows that rights are a fluid conversation that evolves with economic and technological progress.
So if these aren’t the locus of competition, what is?
It’s about resilience to rogue waves. All the trends described above are individually manageable waves of change, but they become unmanageable when they collide to create massive shocks – rogue waves. Resilience is the only metric that matters when a sea change like Covid-19 wells up. As the world moves faster and becomes more connected, we’ll see more frequent rogue waves.
Each is a network threat requiring the ability to recover from repeated shocks. All must be solved with collaboration, not coercion or puffery. No one wins if the world loses.
Resilience is the foundation of power, not growth. If you can’t play, you can’t win. The US didn’t win the Cold War. The Soviet Union lost. Its zero-sum mindset caused it to overstretch, then an energy shock broke it. Money, might and influence can turn change into growth but first, you need to survive it. You need to be the leader with the life jacket.
Jonathan Brill is an expert, adviser and speaker on resilient growth and innovation amid uncertainty. He is the author of Rogue Waves: Future-Proof Your Business to Survive and Profit From Radical Change