How China's economy influences the US

But the success of American brands isn't a foregone conclusion. Americans who profit from the rise of China's middle class will be those who can see the world from a global perspective, says Fitz-Gerald.

"We're asking people to understand that a big change thousands of miles away is just as important as what's happening in their neighborhood," Fitz-Gerald says.

Investing in China

For investors, a global, interlinked economy can be a tricky thing to gauge because it's relatively new and incredibly complex.

On the one hand, Mittelstaedt says the high growth rates China experienced in the last 10 years are more likely to be replicated by poorer countries that are further down the development curve because those nations simply have more ground to close with the rest of the world's developed economies. The message: If you're looking for high-growth countries, you probably shouldn't look to China anymore.

But as Fitz-Gerald points out, it's hard to think of investments as being country-specific anymore.

"Even if you just invested in the (Standard & Poor's 500 index), you'd have a lot of exposure to China because a lot of those companies make more and more of their money in China," Fitz-Gerald says.

US jobs and China

But if the future of investing is going to grow more complex as China, the U.S. and the rest of the world's economies become more integrated, the future of work is also going to require a global outlook, one defined by uncertainty, at the moment.

"There's a lot of talk about when manufacturing jobs will come back to the U.S.," Fitz-Gerald says. "But the truth is that even without the last few years of crisis, the trend of globalization has meant that those jobs have been leaving the U.S. for more than a decade."

Tracking jobs lost to China isn't without difficulty or controversy. However, the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., calculated that between 2001 and 2008, the U.S. lost 2.4 million jobs as a result of increased trade with China.

But jobs lost to China aren't just about trade. The ongoing digital revolution also has changed the nature of work in the U.S., according to Fitz-Gerald, who points out that many of the jobs employers are looking to fill today didn't exist several years ago. But Fitz-Gerald says Americans who can adapt and learn new skills that are necessary for technology-intensive industries will be able to compete.

Right now, Fitz-Gerald points out, technology that allows mom-and-pop businesses to sell around the world are coming online, potentially opening doors in China for America's Main Street businesses.

"It's really a question of innovation," Fitz-Gerald says. "These are scary times, but there's a lot of opportunity for those who can innovate because countries like China represent big, growing markets."

But for those who can't or won't accept a new paradigm in which countries such as China share economic power with the U.S., Fitz-Gerald offers a lesson from history.

"Two hundred years ago, the U.S. was known for its cheap labor and European nations were the economic powerhouses that drove the world," he says. "Right now, we're at a crossroads, and we can either accept that the world is changing and adapt, or we can put our heads in the sand."


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