Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Return to the USA

After two great weeks in Beijing, I have returned to LA. While I couldn't access my blog or anyone else's blog while in China, I was able to post some insights about China at my Planetizen blog . I learned a heck of lot about Beijing and China. I spoke to dozens of scholars who were willing to answer all of my crazed questions. I gave seminars at several of Beijing's top Economics departments and made a series of new friends. I planned out several new papers that I will write with my friends and Siqi Zheng, Rui Wang and I made progress on several project. I even hope to write a short book some time soon called "China's Green Cities". I now have an outline for that book would do. At several of my lectures, students had copies of the Chinese translation of my book and I must admit that I was thrilled when a few of them asked me to sign their copies. I guess I am quite vain.

My Bottom Line is China's urban future is quite bright. While we have "greener" cities, China's 8% growth will continue. Will our 2% growth continue? While the U.S has great research universities, it is obvious to me that Peking University and Tsinghua Univ are getting their acts together and soon will be major research universities. After seeing Beijing and now understanding that China will soon turn inward in focusing its production on serving its own "growing middle class", I wonder what will be the comparative advantage for the U.S economy in 25 years? Of course, I didn't predict Google's rise back in 1990 and my predictive abilities are not as strong as Roubini, Krugman or Schillers but still I am worried.

Here in California, we have a seeming refusal of the median voter to invest in excellent public universities. If I argue that universities are the last U.S strength, am I wrong? Does the public recognize that these elite universities are costly but are a "good investment"? In California, there is the public perception that the President's Office in Oakland wastes an infinite amount of money and if this office could only get "lean and mean" that there would be plenty of money for UC Berkeley and UCLA and other campuses. I wish this is true.

I'm midly excited that the new school year is starting at UCLA but the big pay cuts have hurt my morale. Beijing has a very bright future and I'm a pinch envious of them. Ronald Reagan instinctively knew that people need to believe that it is "morning in America" rather than 3 minutes to Midnight. I'm not saying that we need a new Reagan but instead I want an objective reality that signals to me that our best days are ahead of us both for the UC system, UCLA and for the U.S economy as a whole. Decline is ugly and embarrassing.

Returning to Beijing, Beijing's traffic problem almost matches its pollution problem. I was hit by a motorcycle on their crowded streets but the streets are so congested that I was hit by a relatively low speed motorcycle.