Is this the end of the world?

“Is this the end of the world?” asked my young friend from China. He received an MBA from a prestigious American business school a year ago, and has been working with an international corporation doing business in China.

His job will take him back to China shortly, which has caused him to wonder whether he should just go home to stay. While he works on the project for his company, he’ll be looking for a position there. His wife hasn’t learned English well enough to feel comfortable in the U.S., which is an added reason for them to re-locate to their homeland.

Citing the argument from When China Rules the World, I encouraged him to return, rather than face the unpleasantness that is unfolding here. I reminded him of the combination of intolerable national debt, unsustainable annual deficits, the bankruptcies of many states, and the overwhelming corporate and private debt that threatens to wreck the American economy for years to come. Not even factoring in a terrorist attack (which we have been told many times is inevitable), the creeping disaster in the Gulf of Mexico area, the economic collapse of Europe, or even war with China (which Chinese military leaders warn could take place if America continues to support Taiwan), I merely opined that China seems to be on the rise; he is Chinese; it makes sense to seek his fortune in a place with more potential.

On the other hand, he has doubts about such a move.

“Every time my Chinese friends and I get together,” he explained, “we discuss the question, ‘When will China collapse?’”

Not “whether,” but “when.”

Educated Chinese are worried about endemic corruption, housing bubbles, rural unrest, the gap between the rich and the poor (one of the worst in the world), resurgent government intervention in the market, ethnic tensions, and – perhaps most of all – an environment so polluted that the nation could become unlivable. In particular, the growing shortage of usable water threatens to undo all the economic progress of the past several decades.

I agreed with him about all this, especially the lack of water.

That’s when he asked, “Is this the end of the world?”