China appears to be hitting its stride as an economic power, while the United States and European Union seem to be losing the independent spirit that once made them great, according to speakers at the Agricultural Economic Symposium in Destin, Fla., recently.

Market analyst Richard Brock, president of Brock Associates, said that China is one of the few countries in the world showing significant economic growth. The willingness of the Chinese people to achieve financial success is showing up as an 8 percent annual growth rate in the country’s gross domestic product.

Meanwhile many European countries seem on the verge of economic collapse, as governments ponder how they can continue to pay out entitlement programs for growing numbers of people. Brock says the United States is about 10 years away from experiencing the same problem.

In the United States, much of the looming problem has to do with the large number of Baby Boomers facing retirement, along with advances in medical technology that have resulted in people living longer, Brock says.

“In 20 years, the number of people aged 72 will double from what it is today. You can see why there is concern. People are living longer. The entitlement problems, like Medicare and Social Security are going to be a huge problem.”

“We have a government spending crisis,” said Randall Hertz with Hertz Farm Management. “Today, 60 percent of Americans are taking more from the government than they’re putting back in.”

 Brock noted that from 1950 to 2008, what the government received through taxation exceeded government outlays (spending) by an average of 10.53 percent. Estimates of the last two years indicate that in 2009, outlays exceeded receipts by 67.1 percent, while in 2010 outlays exceeded receipts by 71.9 percent.

Despite this, some parts of the U.S. economy are still hanging in there, according to Brock. U.S. agriculture continues to enjoy historic commodity prices, which is a good thing as long as prices remain high.

Input costs rising

“The risk for producers is having their input costs continue to rise, then have prices collapse,” Brock said. “You go to a negative return very quickly. This is a cyclical business. This is going to happen.”

Farmland values, which can be a barometer of the economic health and wealth of the farming economy, are also strong, according to Hertz. “The Midwest saw a rise of 10 percent to 20 percent in value in 2010.”

Much of the value is due to high commodity prices, but Hertz doesn’t believe lower prices would necessarily cause a large decline in farmland values. “I certainly wouldn’t expect it to do what it did in the 1980s, when we had a 70 percent decline in values.”

As far as the overall economy is concerned, the U.S. housing market is showing some signs of recovery, with consumers starting to think about purchasing new homes. Brock says a rise in interest rates could jump start those sales. “This will be an incentive to get into the market, because consumers act when they think their costs are about to go up. When the market gets going again, interest rates will go up again. Then we could start to see some inflation.”

Brock says today’s prospective home buyers are different from those of six years ago. “The new generation doesn’t have the same lifestyle we did. They don’t like the big houses. They love to travel.”

The stock market is also suffering from a lack of investment. Brock says that in the past, money flowed out of the market during events like Sept. 11, but after a period of time, the money generally always flowed back in. But the losses from the 2008 declines in value ran many people out of the market, and they haven’t come back.

“People are afraid of the stock market right now,” Brock said. “Many of the losses were from investment in banking stocks. I know a lot of people who were expecting to retire in a few years had to go back to work.”

Meanwhile, China’s societies trudge ahead with a spirit that would make any American pioneer proud.

Annual Chinese automobile sales are now estimated at 160 percent of current U.S. sales. And the Chinese aren’t just buying low-cost, economy cars. There is a lively market for high-end, luxury automobiles, Brock noted.

China’s growth is helping keep the U.S. economy on its feet. But it’s a risky one, according to Brock. “I am concerned that so much of our economy relies on one customer. The biggest risk to the U.S. economy in 2011 is a sharp deceleration in China’s economic growth.”