Suggested Discussion Questions
- Is the scenario Ann Bridges paints of a real problem with military procurement believable? If true, what are the implications for national defense without alternative sources for advanced weaponry? What other options might there be? Based on her depiction of the motivations of politicians, bureaucrats, and businesspeople of both countries, would those options be achievable?
- Given our 21st century lifestyle and economy relies on electronic gadgets, what would be the impact if we were unable to continue the path of ever cheaper, smaller, and more powerful tools? Would we simply make do with the current iteration? Compromise quality by using alternative materials? Be willing to pay more for our convenience? Fund basic science education in order to become self-reliant again?
- One of the issues only lightly touched on in this book, but which is an important parallel thread, is that of the “green tech” movement. If we need ever increasing amounts of rare earth metals for alternative energy, which in turn create a different kind of pollution in a different locale, is that really a good long-term solution? What might motivate technologists and environmentalists to educate (or not) consumers of the consequences of their buying decisions?
- For the last few decades, the concept of global trade has been the cornerstone of economic growth and political stability. In a world where sovereign nations may have a political, not just economic, agenda to establish power and influence, as Ann Bridges depicts through her characters, is global trade sustainable in the face of political disputes? Is the concept of economic warfare real? Is it the responsibility of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to change the status quo?
- Ann Bridges depicts the U.S. losing negotiating power due to its dependence on China’s manufacturing chain. In light of the ongoing disagreement over the South China Seas, do you agree with that premise? Can every disagreement be negotiated, or might war be inevitable?
- The role of Chinese women provides the backdrop for a discussion of true equality. Currently, Chinese women are paid equally, but are required to retire earlier than their male counterparts, and are still expected to care for the elderly family members. Does Ann Bridges paint a sympathetic portrait of aging character Han Mai grappling with the changing times? Do you believe Chinese women have more or better opportunities than American due to these policies? Why or why not?
- Rare Mettle brings forward the concept of China’s intrusive surveillance via drones and hacking, and the U.S. parallel development of enhanced video imagery. Whose responsibility is it to make sure that technology is not used to undermine the populations’ freedoms? The technologists, as shown with the character Alex Tran? Investors? Customers? Government? Watchdog groups?
- China is often touted as a better example of free market capitalism than many Western countries. However, Ann Bridges shows the political control of the Chinese Communist Party over its populous in a variety of negative scenarios. Do you think economic freedom begets political freedom, or vice versa?
- Rare Mettle paints an unflattering portrait of Washington D.C. politicians heavily reliant on contributions and favors from non-citizens, which results in questionable decisions. How much do you think money impacts economic and trade decisions? Do you think foreign money now dominates America’s elected representatives? If so, what can be done about it, if anything?
- A common problem with the fast pace of technological innovation is that it gets ahead of other, supporting industries. For example, establishing a new supply chain for products relying on rare earth metals would most likely take a minimum of 5 years, by which time that technology could be obsolete. Lifting regulatory restrictions would solve some of the problems relating to mining, but not all. What else could be done?