Steve Chapman

Having abandoned the communist ideology of the past, China's rulers have managed to retain power partly by delivering ever-increasing prosperity. If the economy suffers a "hard landing," the people may be less willing to indulge autocracy.

A serious slowdown of that kind is no longer out of the question. China can't keep selling abroad if the rest of the world can't afford to buy its goods.

It's common wisdom in Beijing that the economy needs to shift away from its traditional engines, exports and investment, and toward greater consumer spending at home. But saying it and doing it are not the same things.

Americans, after all, know they need to put the federal government on a sustainable fiscal footing to avoid runaway debt or crushing tax increases. But that understanding hasn't yet forced the budget choices that must be made. We find it easier to put off the pain in hope of a miracle.

China faces the same temptation to avoid what needs to be done. Chovanec explains why: "The shift is disruptive at a micro level. There are winners and losers. You wouldn't want to be an exporter or a real estate developer or a heavy equipment manufacturer."

Nor would you want to be a worker at a company that is forced to downsize. Change means uncertainty, unemployment and hardship.

It's particularly hard to embrace change when the old way of doing things has worked so well. Not long ago, the assumption in America was that we no longer had to worry about severe recessions. That assumption held up, until the day in 2008 when it didn't.

The Chinese should keep in mind that there are two occasions when a country has to brutally acknowledge its errors and correct them: when it fails, and when it succeeds.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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