Since 1991, China’s per capita income grew 15 percent annually, and its military spending rose 10 percent annually. By contrast, America’s per capita income and military spending grew at annual rates of 4 percent and 2 percent respectively. Yes, 15 is greater than 4, and 10 is greater than 2. What could be simpler?
But growth rates are not comparable. The average Chinese income in 2010 was $7,500. Fifteen percent of $7,500 is actually less money than 4 percent of $47,000, the average American income that year. Despite China’s higher growth rates, the average Chinese citizen is $17,000 poorer compared with the average American today than he was in 1991.
Over the same time period, Chinese military spending declined by $140 billion relative to America’s, even when excluding funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. China’s growth rates are high because its starting point was low. China is rising, but it is not catching up.