NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Americans have a curious habit. We envy and try to copy our fiercest enemies, as though they had some secret that was about to doom us.
We did it in the 19th century with England, then Germany. We did it in the 20th century with Russia, then Japan.
We think they're going to overtake us in every area. We see their top-down dictatorship as a model, and their rigid social structures as more stable than our own society, in this case because they keep turning out those great economic numbers.
It's time to stop fearing them.
I'm sure that any Chinese leader, from President Xi Jinping on down, would much rather be playing our economic poker hand than the one they have been dealt. While the U.S. faces 21st century problems, China is also facing everything that bedeviled our country at the start of the 20th century.
Labor unrest. Rampant corruption. Social unease. Choking pollution. Economic gains seem to paper it all over, but below the surface it's all there, and leaders may be as blind to some of it as their own people.
The "new cities" springing up throughout the eastern part of the country may be the best symbol for reality.
They were supposed to be model communities, clean and tidy, replacing peasant life with something resembling a suburban one. They're turning into slums, without an economic base, the Chinese equivalent of the "urban renewal" programs America undertook starting in the 1940s.