Category Archive for: China [Return to Main]

Sunday, November 08, 2015

'Grasp the Reality of China’s Rise'

Larry Summers:

Grasp the reality of China’s rise: ...In the years ahead, China is likely to account for between one-third and one-half of growth in global incomes, trade and commodity demand, and its significance will only increase... I returned last week from a trip to China with the dispiriting conclusion that the world lacks shared understandings regarding goals for the evolution of the Chinese economy...
The first issue ... is whether it is the objective of the United States and the global community to see China succeed economically..., or whether it is our objective to contain and weaken China economically so that it has less capacity to mount global threats. This is seen in Beijing as a live question... The world cannot expect economic cooperation from Beijing if its objective is to inhibit Chinese economic performance. ... None of this is to say the United States does not have valid concerns...
Second,... the ... reforms that are necessary if China is to grow sustainably and strongly over the next decade ... will surely take a toll on growth in the short run. This ... will reduce demand for imports from the rest of the world and raise China’s trade surplus. ...
The world is likely to be well-served by recognizing that its deepest interests lie in China pursuing ... reform, even at the expense of modest reductions in China’s contribution to global demand ... and possibly more exchange rate depreciation than we would prefer. ...
Finally,... the United States’ failure to provide the necessary congressional approval to allow China’s voting power in the International Monetary Fund to rise above that of Belgium’s suggests a troubling indifference to global reality. ...
Today the perils of the future have much to do with China’s rise and with the worlds of commerce and economics. Let us hope that we find the wisdom to manage them well.

Monday, October 26, 2015

'Economic Cycles in Ancient China'

From the NBER:

Economic Cycles in Ancient China, by Yaguang Zhang, Guo Fan, and John Whalley, NBER Working Paper No. 21672 Issued in October 2015: We discuss business cycles in ancient China. Data on Ancient China business cycles are sparse and incomplete and so our discussion is qualitative rather than quantitative. Essentially, ancient debates focused on two types of cycles: long run political or dynastic cycles of many decades, and short run nature induced cycles. Discussion of the latter show strong parallels to Jevons’ conception of sun spot cycles. The former has no clear contemporary analogue, were often deep in impact and of long duration. The discussion of both focused on agricultural economies. Ancient discussion on intervention focused on counter cyclical measures, including stockpiling, and predated Keynes and the discussion in the 1930s by centuries. Also, a strongly held belief emerged that cycles create their own cycles to follow, and that cycles are part of the inevitable economic order, a view consistent with Mitchell’s view of the business cycle in the 1940s. Current debates on how best to respond to the ongoing global financial crisis draw in part on historical precedents, but these are largely limited to the last 150 years for OECD countries and with major focus on the 1990’s. Here we also probe material on Ancient China to see what is relevant.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

'Official Statistics Understate Chinese Unemployment Rate'

From the NBER Digest:

Official Statistics Understate Chinese Unemployment Rate: High and rising unemployment in China created by massive layoffs during major changes in the structure of its labor market is not reflected in government figures.

China's real unemployment rate is much higher than the official rate and, when correctly measured, is much closer to that in other nations at similar levels of development, according to "Long Run Trends in Unemployment and Labor Force Participation in China" (NBER Working Paper No. 21460). The study estimates that the actual unemployment rate in 2002-09 averaged nearly 11 percent, while the official rate averaged less than half that. Moreover, despite some reports to the contrary, by 2009 China's labor market had still not recovered from huge layoffs that occurred during the later 1990s and early 2000s as the nation transitioned from a government-controlled economy to one in which private enterprise and market forces were more at play.
"The official unemployment rate series for China is implausible and is an outlier in the distribution of unemployment rates across countries ranked by their stage of development," write researchers Shuaizhang Feng, Yingyao Hu, and Robert Moffitt. "We find that, by approximately 2002, the unemployment in China was actually higher than that of high income countries, exactly the opposite of what is implied by the official series."
The official unemployment rate in China, which is based on registered unemployment figures, has long been viewed with suspicion. Various private studies have tried to come up with better estimates. This paper uses for the first time a nationally representative sample of registered urban residents–the "hukou" population–based on urban household survey data, supplemented with weights derived from the decennial census. The study derives a much different picture of how Chinese unemployment has evolved since the mid-1990s.
The authors describe three distinct periods in China's labor market. The first–from 1988 to 1995–was characterized by an economy dominated by state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Unemployment was low: their estimate suggests an average of 3.9 percent while the official average was 2.5 percent. Then in 1995-2002, the unemployment rate rose rapidly, by one percentage point per year, as SOEs shed massive numbers of workers and rural migrants flooded the cities in search of jobs. SOEs went from employing 60 percent of China's workforce in 1995 to 30 percent in 2002. Yet the official unemployment rate reflected none of that volatility. Unemployment peaked in 2003 and began to fall in later years, by the authors' calculations. It nevertheless still averaged 10.9 percent for the 2002-09 period while the official average was only 4.2 percent.
Compared to other nations with similar gross national income per capita, China's unemployment rate in 2009 was relatively high. The authors nevertheless caution against making direct comparisons with unemployment rates in other countries, because China’s urban household survey data do not define labor-force status in exactly the same way that many developed nations do.
Some groups had worse unemployment rates than others in the transition years from 1995-2002. The study estimates that the jobless rate was 18.3 percent for non-college-educated young women and 14.5 percent for non-college-educated young men. In contrast, the estimated rates were less than 2 percent for older college-educated men and women, whose advantage was evident both before and after the transition.
"Overall, we see that people without college degrees, younger people, and females systematically face more slack labor markets than their more educated, older, and male counterparts," the authors conclude. "The most striking pattern is that younger people had very high unemployment rates, especially for more recent cohorts... Even at the age of around 30, the 1970s female cohorts had roughly a 10 percent unemployment rate, as compared to only 3 percent for females born in the 1960s."
Unsurprisingly, some regions fared worse than others during the transition. The Northeast, South Central, and Southwest regions of the country saw the largest increases in their unemployment rates during the 1995-2002 period. These were also the regions with the greatest number of SOE layoffs. In the Northeast region, for example, some 7.3 million workers were laid off during the period–42 percent of its total SOE employment in 1995.
While China's unemployment rate has soared since the mid-1990s, labor force participation has dropped. Participation averaged 83.1 percent around 1995, fell dramatically during the transition, and stabilized at around 74 percent during the 2002-09 period. Young people were hit especially hard by the layoffs during the 1995-2002 period. The labor force participation rate of young men and women, with and without college education, all fell by more than 10 percentage points.
"The results suggest that cohort differences might be in play and that the younger generation may have faced higher cost and/or lower benefit in participating [in the] labor market," the authors conclude.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

'The China Debt Fizzle'

Here at the University of Oregon, one of our specialties is developing models where agents in the macroeconomy don't have rational expectations, instead they learn about the economy over time. Of course, these models need to be taken to the data to see if people do actually learn in the way the models predict. But if the data sets contain too many "Very Serious People", the tests will surely fail. They learn nothing from experience:

The China Debt Fizzle, by Paul Krugman: Remember the dire threat posed by our financial dependence on China? A few years ago it was all over the media, generally stated not as a hypothesis but as a fact. Obviously, terrible things would happen if China stopped buying our debt, or worse yet, started to sell off its holdings. Interest rates would soar and the U.S economy would plunge, right? Indeed, that great monetary expert Admiral Mullen was widely quoted as declaring that debt was our biggest security threat. Anyone who suggested that we didn’t actually need to worry about a China selloff was considered weird and irresponsible.
Well, don’t tell anyone, but the much-feared event is happening now. As China tries to prop up the yuan in the face of capital flight, it’s selling lots of U.S. debt; so are other emerging markets. And the effect on U.S. interest rates so far has been … nothing.
Who could have predicted such a thing? Well,... anyone who seriously thought through the economics of the situation ... quickly realized that the whole China-debt scare story was nonsense. But as I said, this wasn’t even reported as a debate; the threat of Chinese debt holdings was reported as fact.
And of course those who got this completely wrong have learned nothing from the experience.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

'Economic Importance of China'

Jim Hamilton:

Economic importance of China: How important would an economic downturn in China be for the United States? Paul Krugman reviews some of the reasons why the United States perhaps shouldn’t worry too much...
I’ve long believed that to understand business cycles we need to consider not just net flows but also gross interdependencies. A downturn in China will affect some businesses much more than others. If specialized labor and capital do not easily move to other sectors, that can end up having significant multiplier effects.
For example, while China may only account for 15% of world GDP, it has been a huge factor in commodity markets over the last decade. ... Of course, lower commodity prices [from the slowdown in China] will force layoffs for oil companies and miners but leave more money in the hands of consumers. However, additional spending from that channel has been more modest than many of us were anticipating.
Another concern comes from financial linkages. A Chinese downturn will unquestionably be a big hit for certain financial institutions. Exactly who those will be and what it means for the rest of us, I don’t know. As Warren Buffett observed, “you only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.”
The bottom line is that an economic slowdown in China already is a very big deal for some U.S. workers and businesses. I don’t know what the ultimate implications for the U.S. of a significant recession in China would be.
But things I don’t know cause me to worry.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

'Chinese Spillovers'

Paul Krugman:

Chinese Spillovers: China is clearly in economic trouble. But how worried should we be about spillovers from China’s woes to the rest of the world economy? I have in general been telling people “not very”, although it’s a bigger issue for Japan and Korea. But Citi’s Willem Buiter suggests that it could be a quite big deal, leading to a global recession. ... So could he be right?
Let me start with the case for not worrying too much, which comes down to the fact that China’s economy, while big, is still a small fraction of the global economy...
One possibility is ... that a Chinese slump could, via its impact on commodity prices, do a lot more harm to some other emerging markets than the above analysis suggests. I’m still working on this, although so far I don’t seem to be finding much there.
Another possibility is an international version of the financial accelerator. As Buiter points out, many emerging markets seem to be vulnerable thanks to private-sector foreign currency debt (which was so deadly in 1997-98). ...
Maybe, also, we could see some version of the financial contagion so obvious in the 1990s. Troubles in Brazil might make investors leery of other emerging markets, driving up interest spreads and forcing fiscal austerity that worsens the downturn. Or for matter, to the extent that the same hedge funds have been buying assets in a number of emerging nations, losses in one place could force them to liquidate assets elsewhere, causing a sort of global debt deflation. That was a popular story in the 1990s...
Overall, I’m not convinced of the Buiter thesis; China still seems to me not big enough to bring down the rest of the world. But I’m not rock-solid in that conviction, largely because we’ve seen so much contagion in the past. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

'Less Worried about a Hard Landing for China'

SF Fed President John Williams on China:

China, Rates, and the Outlook: May the (Economic) Force Be with You: ...China has garnered almost as much editorial ink in the past month as U.S. presidential candidates—which may or may not be a complimentary comparison. I don’t want to sound pejorative by calling some of the commentary “hand-wringing”—though to be fair, some of it has been downright apocalyptic—but I don’t see the situation as dire. I’ve said publicly over the past few months that after going to China, and after talking to academics and officials there, I came away a lot less concerned than when I arrived. And I have to say that recent events have not changed my thinking to any serious extent.
This is where I’ll reuse one of the more helpful quotes for forecasting: “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” With the dangers of prognostication acknowledged, I’ll tread into that territory anyway.
The China story is remarkable, and its growth over the past 30 years has been unprecedented.5 But now China’s at something of a crossroads, facing tradeoffs in their goals, dealing with a new normal for growth expectations, and pivoting to a new source of economic momentum.
It’s important to see the situation not through the filters of our own paradigms, but from the perspective of China’s unique position. China is not the U.S. Or the U.K. Or Japan. Its goals, structure, government, and place on its growth trajectory are very different, and looking to impose foreign expectations on China’s markets or actions can lead one astray.
Growth versus reform
In a nutshell, China is facing a tradeoff between its short-term growth goals and its longer-term reform agenda.
China’s government has made it abundantly clear that it is willing to intervene when necessary, ensuring that growth stays on its target path, even if that means extending the timeline on reform. That willingness to do “whatever it takes” to keep growth on target is what made me less worried about a hard landing for China.
Of course, that very disposition for intervention is the source of much hue and cry on this side of the globe. China has made important incremental steps on the road to liberalization, and from the perspective of a fully open, free-market, Western-oriented paradigm or advocacy, the recent stock market interventions seem anathema to that goal. But that’s a view through a narrow lens that may obscure the bigger picture.
For all its moves towards liberalization, China’s markets are not the same as ours. Yes, they have a reform agenda, but it’s a mistake to think that in the foreseeable future China will have fully open capital and financial markets in the way that we in the U.S. and other countries think about them. They are relaxing their grip on the exchange rate—allowing the renminbi to respond to economic news, letting its value be more market-determined—and as a policy approach, this is a positive; it’s something we as economists wanted to see happen. But it’s very clear that China is not going to let its exchange rate float completely freely. They’ll continue to have buffers to ensure that, should some dramatic event unfold, they can step in again and stop that interfering with their other goals. To some extent, we can see these moves as something akin to beta-testing liberalization. It is happening, which is a remarkable shift. But completely free, open markets are not in the cards, and the government has made clear that those are not their intention.
This, incidentally, is why talk about the renminbi replacing the dollar as an international reserve currency is unrealistic. The role of a reserve currency is to be a harbor during a storm; it’s where people flock when the unexpected happens. As we saw in the financial crisis, as we’ve seen in other crises, the market’s instinct is, when in doubt, go to the dollar. As long as China has controls in place to mediate the free flow of money, the dollar will be the refuge, not the renminbi.
In the context of China’s dual—oftentimes conflicting—goals, the recent stock market intervention by the government should be seen as what I believe it was: A move to keep growth on pace. It’s a pattern we’ve seen before. When the Chinese authorities see growth struggling, or other economic warning lights, they take steps, including reversing or postponing reforms, to keep growth at pace. Fiscal and economic policymakers can pull a number of levers and the Chinese government has proved again and again its willingness to do just that.
China’s growth rate
In balancing these objectives, the Chinese government has realistically moderated its expectations for growth. For decades we all marveled at China’s double-digit growth, and there was, perhaps, some expectation that it would persist in perpetuity. But growth like that is unsustainable. If you look at the progression of Japan, for instance, from the 1960s to the 1980s, or South Korea from the 1980s to the 2000s, you see the pattern China will likely follow.6 At low income levels, growth can be rapid, because low domestic wages make exports very competitive and there is so much untapped potential in moving workers to more productive pursuits.
But as income or GDP per capita rise, these advantages begin to ebb, and growth naturally slows. The pattern is clear, with a rapid decline in the growth rate and eventual leveling out as domestic income and wages rise. This is the natural progression of economies moving into maturity. The further they have to go, the faster they can grow; but once they’ve come to a place like Japan or Korea—that is, around 80 or 90 percent of U.S. per capita GDP—their growth expectations will be lower because they’re closer to the finish line. China obviously isn’t close yet, but it’s a good indicator of how much further it can go. What China’s accomplished has been amazing—but we also called Japan a growth miracle and Korea’s success was remarkable as well. There were challenges along the way for both countries, but ultimately, what slowed growth was entering the middle-income bracket and the inevitability of slower growth for wealthier countries.   
The officials and economists I spoke to in China know that not only are the days of 10 percent growth behind them, but that it will move below the current 7 percent target. Seven will likely become 6, which will become 5, and so on as their economy moves into a middle-income economy and progresses to a high-income one.
Shift in focus
Of course, China faces challenges in continuing that advance. One is a refocus of its economic engine. Given the global environment, how do they successfully pivot their economy to more domestic consumption, moving the emphasis more toward services and away from manufacturing? That’s clearly a challenge, but also a central objective of the government.
For people who have concerns about China, one of the red flags they point to is that industrial production has slowed a lot, more so than the economy overall. I fall on the side of commentators who’ve pointed out that this isn’t surprising.7 China’s been talking for years about switching from industry to services. They’re moving from making steel and concrete to making consumer goods. One of the interesting things I heard this summer was the plan to build more tourism in China for China. That’s something that’s virtually nonexistent at the moment. They don’t have the abundance of recreational resources we do; in California alone, you can go skiing or surfing, to wine country or Disneyland. As high- or low-brow as you want it, we as Americans have become incredibly used to spending our leisure dollars domestically. That’s something China’s looking to do for itself.
When you look at where China’s priorities lie—in switching to services, in expanding tourism—it makes absolute sense that industrial production is slowing.
Liberalization and the impact of risks from abroad
I’ve mentioned that China is seen by some as a risk; but conversely, what effect does U.S. policy have on them? Right now, China is more susceptible to the shifts in U.S. monetary policy. But as they liberalize their exchange rate, it will automatically adjust to changes in situations around the world. This is a huge advantage and an automatic stabilizer. When China pegs to the dollar, they’re too linked to U.S. policy, so that when the U.S. tightens or loosens, they effectively follow suit. By allowing market-based influence, China will have a buffer when the U.S. economy is moving in a different direction than theirs. And that’s going to make it easier in the end for China to manage its economy.
An outside observer might ask why they haven’t done this already. I think that China was wary that unpegging would’ve interrupted the double-digit growth. When a country’s exchange rate and capital flows suddenly start shifting around dramatically, it can interfere with the ability to deliver on growth targets. As China’s growth targets have come down, and as they begin to shift away from an export-reliant economy, instead fueling itself via domestic consumption, they can start allowing their exchange rate to move—though again, it won’t be the free floating exchange rate that we have.
This is all just one economist’s take. ...

Friday, August 28, 2015

How Rubio Would Deal With China

In the WSJ, Marco Rubio says Obama hasn't been tough enough with China on economic issues:

President Obama has continued to appease China’s leaders ...[with] his insufficient responses to economic ... concerns

What would he do?

For years, China has subsidized exports, devalued its currency, restricted imports and stolen technology on a massive scale. As president, I would respond not through aggressive retaliation, which would hurt the U.S. as much as China, but by greater commitment and firmer insistence on free markets and free trade. This means immediately moving forward with the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade agreements.

So, unlike Obama, who wants to move forward immediately with the TPP and other trade agreements, he'd move forward immediately with the TPP and other trade agreements.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

'Stupid China Stories'

Paul Krugman:

Stupid China Stories: So a stock crash in China triggered a big decline around the world..., why should events in China matter for the rest of us?
Well, you and I might think that it’s because China is a pretty big economy... So when China slumps, you can and should expect knock-on effects elsewhere.
But trust the Republican field to declare that it’s all Obama’s fault. Scott Walker wants Obama to cancel a state dinner with Xi; Donald Trump says that it’s because Obama has let China “dictate the agenda” (no, I have no idea what he thinks he means). And Chris Christie says that it’s because Obama has gotten us deep into China’s debt.
Actually, let’s play a bit with that last one, OK? You could, conceivably, tell a story in which America becomes dependent on Chinese loans; then, when China gets in trouble, it demands repayment, pushing us into crisis too. But any story along those lines has a corollary: we should be seeing a spike in US interest rates as our credit line gets pulled. What you actually see is falling rates: ...
Oh, why am I even bothering?...

Friday, August 14, 2015

Paul Krugman: Bungling Beijing’s Stock Markets

The Chinese leadership appears to be "imagining that it can order markets around":

Bungling Beijing’s Stock Markets, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ... Is it possible that after all these years Beijing still doesn’t get how this “markets” thing works?
The background: China’s economy is ... slowing as China runs out of surplus labor. ... The ... problem is how to sustain spending during the transition. And that’s where things have gotten weird.
At first, the Chinese government supported the economy in part through infrastructure spending, which is the standard remedy for economic weakness. But it also did so by funneling cheap credit to state-owned enterprises. The result was a run-up in these enterprises’ debt, which by last year was high enough to raise worries about financial stability.
Next, China adopted an official policy of boosting stock prices... But the consequence was an obvious bubble, which began deflating earlier this year.
The response of the Chinese authorities was remarkable: They pulled out all the stops to support the market — suspending trading in many stocks, banning short-selling, pushing large investors to buy, and instructing graduating economics students to chant “Revive A-shares, benefit the people.”
All of this has stabilized the market for the time being. But it is at the cost of tying China’s credibility to its ability to keep stock prices from ever falling. And the Chinese economy still needs more support.
So this week China decided to let the value of its currency decline... But Chinese authorities seem to have imagined that they could control the renminbi’s descent, taking it a couple of percent at a time.
They appear to have been taken completely by surprise by the market’s predictable reaction; namely, the initial devaluation of the renminbi was ... a sign of much bigger declines to come. Investors began fleeing China, and policy makers abruptly pivoted from promoting currency devaluation to an all-out effort to support the renminbi’s value.
The common theme in these wild policy swings is that China’s leadership keeps imagining that it can order markets around, telling them what prices to reach. ... Do the country’s leaders really not understand why that won’t work?
If they really don’t, that’s a big concern. China is an economic superpower — not quite as super as the United States or the European Union, yet, but big enough to matter a lot. And it’s facing tough times. So if its leadership is really as clueless as it has been looking lately, that bodes ill, not just for China, but for the world as a whole.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

'Is China’s Growth Miracle Over?'

This is by Zheng Liu, "a senior research advisor in the Economic Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco": 

Is China’s Growth Miracle Over?, by Zheng Liu, BRBSF Economic Letter: China’s economy grew 10% per year for over 30 years beginning in the early 1980s. No other country in modern history has achieved such exceptional growth for so long. Before the global financial crisis, China’s growth was primarily driven by productivity gains. Since 2008, however, growth has slowed and become increasingly dependent on investment.
Because China has been a large and expanding market for other countries, its growth prospects have important implications not just for the Chinese people but also for the global economy. This Letter examines the sources of China’s growth and some factors contributing to the recent slowdown, and offers a cautiously optimistic view of China’s future growth.
China’s growth miracle
Since the early 1980s, China’s open-door policy and economic reforms have led to a remarkable growth performance. As Figure 1 shows, China’s real GDP grew about 10% per year on average for 30 years before the recent slowdown. At that rate, national income doubles every seven years. No other country in modern history has achieved such high growth for so long.

Figure 1
China’s real GDP growth, annual percent change

China’s real GDP growth, annual percent change

Source: IMF World Economic Outlook, CEIC.

Rapid economic growth has significantly raised the living standards of the Chinese people. According to data from the Penn World Tables, China’s real GDP per person rose steadily from around 5% of the U.S. level in 1980 to about 20% in 2011. The World Bank estimates that, during the same period, over 600 million people in China have been lifted out of extreme poverty, defined as living for under $1.25 per day.
Engines of China’s growth
Theory suggests that three factors contribute to economic growth: capital accumulation, labor force expansion, and productivity improvement. Empirical evidence in China’s case suggests that growth in the third factor, known as total factor productivity, has been an important contributor to the three-decade growth miracle (see Zhu 2012). A series of domestic economic reforms beginning in the 1980s led to more efficient allocations of capital and labor and also better aligned private incentives. The open-door policy attracted foreign direct investment, which in turn brought new management practices, technological know-how, and access to the world market for Chinese businesses. These policy changes boosted productivity. As productivity improved over time, investment and production expanded. Although capital investment also contributed to growth, its contribution is limited by diminishing returns and thus, investment cannot be the main driving force of sustainable growth.

Figure 2
Accounting for China’s growth

Accounting for China’s growth

Source: Penn World Tables and author’s calculations.

Figure 2 shows the contribution of each of the three factors to China’s growth since 1980. The calculation follows the growth accounting approach described by Zhu (2012), with China’s labor income share fixed at 0.5. The data for real GDP, employment adjusted for human capital levels measured by years of schooling, and capital stocks are taken from the latest version of the Penn World Tables (version 8.1; see Feenstra, Inklaar, and Timmer 2015 for a summary of the data).
As shown in Figure 2, China’s rapid growth was driven mostly by productivity gains and investment rather than employment growth. For example, out of the roughly 10 percentage points of average growth in the 1990s, capital accumulation accounts for about half of it, productivity improvement accounts for another 4 percentage points, and employment gains account for the remaining 1 percentage point. Labor’s limited role in part reflects China’s one-child policy that limits population growth and restrictive policies on internal migration, such as the “Hukou” system that restricts citizens’ abilities to work in cities other than where they were born. The figure also reveals a significant decline in the contribution of total factor productivity since 2008. Accordingly, China’s growth has become more dependent on capital investment in this more recent period.
The recent slowdown and new policy measures
During the global financial crisis, demand for Chinese exports fell substantially. Meanwhile, waning productivity gains presented further challenges for sustaining high growth. The Chinese government responded to the crisis by adopting a large-scale fiscal stimulus package, which was announced in November 2008 and implemented quickly in 2009 and early 2010 (Wong 2011; Faust, Lin, and Luo 2012). This policy accommodation significantly boosted investment growth, especially in targeted areas such as infrastructure and construction, and led to short-run booms in output in 2009 and 2010. Nonetheless, growth has slowed substantially since 2011. The average growth rate between 2011 and 2014 was about 8% (see Figure 1). Growth slowed further to 7% in the first two quarters of 2015, and the Chinese government officially lowered its growth target to 7% for the year. Although this rate is still quite remarkable by international standards, it is significantly lower than the 10% average recorded in the previous three decades.
The recent slowdown has raised the concern that China might be falling into a pattern commonly referred to as the “middle-income trap” (see, for example, Eichengreen, Park, and Shin 2011). Historically, fast-growing countries have often fallen into such a trap, in which growth slows sharply as income reaches a threshold level and wages rise sufficiently to erode a country’s comparative advantage.
However, some countries have successfully avoided the middle-income trap and moved to high-income status, which the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development defines as GDP per capita of $12,500 based on 2011 constant international prices. These include China’s neighboring countries Japan and South Korea. In the 1960s, Japan had per capita real GDP of about $6,000 and an average growth rate of over 10% (see Figure 3). In subsequent decades, however, Japan’s GDP per capita rose and its growth slowed. By 2011, Japan’s GDP reached over $30,000 per capita and growth slowed to about 1.25%. South Korea has followed a similar path since the 1980s.

Figure 3
Will China follow Japan and South Korea?

Will China follow Japan and South Korea?

Source: Penn World Tables, IMF. Curved line shows fitted trend.

China had a real GDP per capita of about $2,000 in the 1980s, which rose steadily to about $5,000 in the 2000s and to over $10,000 in 2014. If China continues to grow at a rate of 6 or 7%, it could move into high-income status in the not-so-distant future. However, if China’s experience mirrors that of its neighbors, it could slow to about 3% average growth by the 2020s, when its per capita income is expected to rise to about $25,000.
This may appear to be quite a pessimistic scenario for China, but China’s long-term growth prospects are challenged by a number of structural imbalances. These include financial repression, the lack of a social safety net, an export-oriented growth strategy, and capital account restrictions, all of which contributed to excessively high domestic savings and trade imbalances. According to the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the household saving rate increased from 15% in 1990 to over 30% in 2014. High savings have boosted domestic investment, but allocations of credit and capital remain highly inefficient. The banking sector is largely state-controlled, and bank loans disproportionately favor state-owned enterprises (SOEs) at the expense of more productive private firms. According to one estimate, the misallocation of capital has significantly depressed productivity in China. If efficiency of capital allocations could be improved to a level similar to that in the United States, then China’s total factor productivity could be increased 30–50% (Hsieh and Klenow 2009).
To address structural imbalances and thus achieve sustainable long-term growth, the Chinese government announced a blueprint of economic reforms at the Third Plenum in November 2013. The proposed reforms include (1) financial sector reforms—liberalizing interest rates, establishing deposit insurance, and strengthening financial supervision and regulation; (2) fiscal reforms—strengthening social safety nets, introducing more efficient and redistributive taxes, and improving health insurance and pension coverage; (3) structural reforms—reforming the SOEs and the Hukou system and further opening up markets; and (4) external sector reforms—liberalizing the exchange rate and capital account controls.
If these reform blueprints can be successfully implemented, then China should be able to avoid the middle-income trap and sustain long-term growth at a reasonable pace. In the transition process, however, structural reforms may contribute to a slowdown in economic growth.
Growth prospects
China’s growth is expected to slow further in the coming years. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts that growth will be about 6.8% for 2015. With an aging population, slowing productivity growth, and the policy adjustments required to implement structural reforms, growth is projected to slow further to 6.3% in 2016 and 6% by 2017.
Despite the slowdown, there are several reasons for optimism. First, China’s existing allocations of capital and labor leave a lot of room to improve efficiency. If the proposals for financial liberalization and fiscal and labor market reforms can be successfully put in place, improved resource allocations could provide a much-needed boost to productivity. Second, China’s technology is still far behind advanced countries’. According to the Penn World Tables, China’s total factor productivity remains about 40% of the U.S. level. If trade policies such as exchange rate pegs and capital controls are liberalized—as intended in the reform blueprints—then China could boost its productivity through catching up with the world technology frontier. Third, China is a large country, with highly uneven regional development. While the coastal area has been growing rapidly in the past 35 years, its interior region has lagged. As policy focus shifts to interior region development, growth in the less-developed regions should accelerate. With the high-speed rails, airports, and highways already built in the past few years, China has paved the way for this development. As the interior area catches up with the coastal region, convergence within the country should also help boost China’s overall growth (Malkin and Spiegel 2012).
Continued robust growth in China would be beneficial for the global economy as well. China’s market for U.S. exports has grown steadily from 4% in 2004 to over 7% in 2014. According to an IMF estimate, China contributed about one-third of the world’s growth in 2013.
China’s growth miracle since the early 1980s has significantly raised the standards of living in China. It has also made China an increasingly important contributor to world economic growth and a large and growing market for U.S. exports. The rapid growth was driven primarily by productivity gains and capital investment. The recent growth slowdown has raised the concern that China’s growth miracle could be ending.
However, if the structural reform plans from China’s Third Plenum can be successfully implemented, then the recent slowdown could be a smooth transition rather than a hard landing. This gives a reason for optimism that China will avoid the middle-income trap and follow the paths of Japan and South Korea to achieve high-income status.


Eichengreen, Barry, Donghyun Park, and Kwanho Shin. 2012. “When Fast Growing Economies Slow Down: International Evidence and Implications for China.” Asian Economic Papers 11(1, February), pp. 42–87.

Feenstra, Robert C., Robert Inklaar, and Marcel P. Timmer. 2015. “The Next Generation of the Penn World Table.” American Economic Review (forthcoming).

Hsieh, Chang-Tai, and Peter J. Klenow. 2009. “Misallocation and Manufacturing TFP in China and India.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 124(4), pp. 1,403–1,448.

Malkin, Israel, and Mark M. Spiegel. 2012. “Is China Due for a Slowdown?” FRBSF Economic Letter 2012-31 (October 15).

Wong, Christine. 2011. “The Fiscal Stimulus Programme and Public Governance Issues in China.” OECD Journal on Budgeting 2011(3).

Zhu, Xiaodong. 2012. “Understanding China’s Growth: Past, Present and Future.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 26(4), pp. 103–124.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Paul Krugman: China’s Naked Emperors

What can we learn from the response of the Chinese government to the problems in China's stock market?:

China’s Naked Emperors, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ... We’ve seen ... strange goings-on in China’s stock market. In and of itself, the price of Chinese equities shouldn’t matter all that much. But the authorities have chosen to put their credibility on the line by trying to control that market — and are in the process of demonstrating that, China’s remarkable success over the past 25 years notwithstanding, the nation’s rulers have no idea what they’re doing. ...
China is at the end of an era — the era of superfast growth... Meanwhile, China’s leaders appear to be terrified — probably for political reasons — by the prospect of even a brief recession. ... China’s response has been an all-out effort to prop up stock prices. Large shareholders have been blocked from selling; state-run institutions have been told to buy shares; many companies with falling prices have been allowed to suspend trading. ...
What do Chinese authorities think they’re doing?
In part, they may be worried about financial fallout. It seems that a number of players in China borrowed large sums with stocks as security, so that the market’s plunge could lead to defaults. This is especially troubling because China has a huge “shadow banking” sector that is essentially unregulated and could easily experience a wave of bank runs.
But it also looks as if the Chinese government, having encouraged citizens to buy stocks, now feels that it must defend stock prices to preserve its reputation. And what it’s ending up doing, of course, is shredding that reputation at record speed.
Indeed, every time you think the authorities have done everything possible to destroy their credibility, they top themselves. Lately state-run media have been assigning blame for the stock plunge to, you guessed it, a foreign conspiracy against China, which is even less plausible than you may think: China has long maintained controls that effectively shut foreigners out of its stock market, and it’s hard to sell off assets you were never allowed to own in the first place.
So what have we just learned? China’s incredible growth wasn’t a mirage, and its economy remains a productive powerhouse. The problems of transition to lower growth are obviously major, but we’ve known that for a while. The big news here isn’t about the Chinese economy; it’s about China’s leaders. Forget everything you’ve heard about their brilliance and foresightedness. Judging by their current flailing, they have no clue what they’re doing.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Trends and Cycles in China's Macroeconomy

A presentation at the 30th Annual Conference on Macroeconomics:

Also, a brief interview with Tao Zha:


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Video: Demystifying the Chinese Housing Boom

Monday, December 08, 2014

'The Chinese Century'

Joe Stiglitz:

The Chinese Century: ...2014 was the last year in which the United States could claim to be the world’s largest economic power. China enters 2015 in the top position, where it will likely remain for a very long time, if not forever. In doing so, it returns to the position it held through most of human history. ...
The areas where the United States remains competitive with China are not always ones we’d most want to call attention to. The two countries have comparable levels of inequality. ... China outpaces America in the number of people executed every year, but the U.S. is far ahead when it comes to the proportion of the population in prison... China overtook the U.S. in 2007 as the world’s largest polluter, by total volume, though on a per capita basis we continue to hold the lead. The United States remains the largest military power... (not that we have always used our military power wisely). But the bedrock strength of the U.S. has always rested less on hard military power than on “soft power,” most notably its economic influence. That is an essential point to remember. ...

The economic interests of China and the U.S. are intricately intertwined. We both have an interest in seeing a stable and well-functioning global political and economic order. Given historical memories and its own sense of dignity, China won’t be able to accept the global system simply as it is, with rules that have been set by the West, to benefit the West and its corporate interests, and that reflect the West’s perspectives. We will have to cooperate, like it or not—and we should want to. In the meantime, the most important thing America can do to maintain the value of its soft power is to address its own systemic deficiencies—economic and political practices that are corrupt, to put the matter baldly, and skewed toward the rich and powerful. ...

[There's quite a bit more in the article.]

Monday, October 21, 2013

American Debt, Chinese Anxiety

Menzie Chinn:

American Debt, Chinese Anxiety, by Menzie Chinn, Commentary, NY Times: Last week, the United States once again walked up to the precipice of a debt default, and once again the world wonders why any country, much less the world’s largest economy, would endanger its financial reputation and thus its ability to borrow.
Though a potential global financial crisis was averted at the last minute, one notable development has been a string of warnings by Chinese officials. ...
These statements, unusually blunt coming from the Chinese, show that repeated, avoidable crises threaten the privileged position of the U.S. as issuer of the world’s main reserve currency and (until now) risk-free debt.
It is unlikely that China would provoke a sudden, international financial calamity — for instance, by unloading U.S. Treasury securities and other government debt. Nonetheless, the process of repeated crises and temporary reprieves will only solidify the Chinese government’s determination to diversify its holdings away from dollar-denominated assets. Moreover, these crises provide ammunition to advocates within the Chinese government for expanding the role of the renminbi in international markets. Both of these trends will erode the ability of the United States to issue debt at super-low interest rates, and accelerate the ascent of China’s currency. ...[more]...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Rising Yuan

The yuan has made "rapid progress" as an invoicing currency:

CNY on the Rise, by Menzie Chinn: The preliminary results from the BIS triennial survey for 2013 are out. There are a lot of interesting results, but one I want to flag is that the Chinese yuan is increasingly used in forex transactions. ...
The Chinese government has been quite aggressive in increasing the use of the Chinese currency, as noted in this post. The yuan is far from becoming a reserve currency [1] [2], but there are other dimensions of an international currency that the CNY could fulfill. One of these is use as an invoicing currency, and here, the CNY has made rapid progress.
In a study conducted by myself and Hiro Ito (revision soon to be put online), we document the rise in CNY invoicing for Chinese exports and imports, and compare against JPY invoicing for Japanese exports and imports. ...
In the study, we employ a panel time series analysis to predict invoicing, and conclude that 2010 levels of CNY invoicing of exports are below model-predicted levels, suggesting further increases in home currency invoicing are plausible.

[There are graphs showing the change over time in the original post.]

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Hamilton: Krugman's Worries about China

Jim Hamilton says to keep your eyes on China's economy:

Worries about China, by Jim Hamilton: Paul Krugman is among those starting to be concerned about an economic downturn in China. Here are my thoughts on this issue.

... What rings alarm bells for me is the recent sharp spikes in interbank lending rates..., such moves could definitely be signaling some financial fragility. ...

Paul Krugman writes:

Suppose that those of us now worried that China's Ponzi bicycle is hitting a brick wall (or, as some readers have suggested, a BRIC wall) are right. How much should the rest of the world worry, and why?

I'd group this under three headings:

1. "Mechanical" linkages via exports, which are surprisingly small.
2. Commodity prices, which could be a bigger deal.
3. Politics and international stability, which involves some serious risks.

To Paul's list, I would add a fourth: financial linkages. If there are significant disruptions to China's system for funding credit, that could have implications for anyone borrowing from or lending to Chinese entities.....

I'd also like to add an observation to Paul's second point involving commodity prices. A significant economic downturn in China could well mean a collapse in oil prices. One would think that, as a net importer, this would be an overall favorable development for the United States, and certainly it would be a significant plus for many individual U.S. firms and producers. But it's worth remembering what happened after the collapse in oil prices in 1986. In the years leading up to that, just as today, there had been a dramatic economic boom in the U.S. oil-producing states... When oil prices collapsed, domestic producers took a significant hit. ...

My bottom line: China is worth watching.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Paul Krugman: Hitting China’s Wall

China is running out of "surplus labor":

Hitting China’s Wall, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: All economic data are best viewed as a peculiarly boring genre of science fiction, but Chinese data are even more fictional than most. ... Yet the signs are now unmistakable: China is in big trouble. ...
Start with the data, unreliable as they may be. What immediately jumps out ... is the lopsided balance between consumption and investment..., for China ... almost half of G.D.P. is invested.
How is that even possible? ... The story that makes the most sense to me ... rests on an old insight by the economist W. Arthur Lewis, who argued that countries in the early stages of economic development typically have a small modern sector alongside a large traditional sector containing huge amounts of “surplus labor” — underemployed peasants making at best a marginal contribution to overall economic output.
The existence of this surplus labor, in turn, has two effects. First, for a while such countries can invest heavily in new factories, construction, and so on without running into diminishing returns, because they can keep drawing in new labor from the countryside. Second, competition from this reserve army of surplus labor keeps wages low even as the economy grows richer. ...
Now, however,... to put it crudely, it’s running out of surplus peasants. That should be a good thing. Wages are rising; finally, ordinary Chinese are starting to share in the fruits of growth. But it also means that the Chinese economy is suddenly faced with the need for drastic “rebalancing”... Investment is now running into sharply diminishing returns and ... consumer spending must rise dramatically to take its place. The question is whether this can happen fast enough to avoid a nasty slump.
And the answer, increasingly, seems to be no. The need for rebalancing has been obvious for years, but China just kept putting off the necessary changes...
How big a deal is this for the rest of us? ... Western economies are going through their “Minsky moment,” the point when overextended private borrowers all try to pull back at the same time, and in so doing provoke a general slump. China’s new woes are the last thing the rest of us needed.
No doubt many readers are feeling some intellectual whiplash. Just the other day we were afraid of the Chinese. Now we’re afraid for them. But our situation has not improved.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

'China and the Environmental Kuznets Curve'

Tim Taylor:

China and the Environmental Kuznets Curve: The original Kuznets curve posited, back in 1955, that inequality of incomes would follow an inverted-U pattern as a nation's economy developed, first rising, and then declining. In 1955, this looked reasonable! The "environmental Kuznets curve" suggests that pollution may follow an inverted-U pattern as a nation's economy develops. Pollution first rises as a low income nation industrializes with few limitations on pollution. But then the nation becomes better-off and more able and willing to pay the costs of limiting pollution, and the nation's economy shifts from industry to services, and pollution levels fall. For a useful overview article, Susmita Dasgupta, Benoit Laplante, Hua Wang, and David Wheeler wrote on "Confronting the Environmental Kuznets Curve" in the Winter 2002 issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives. (Like all articles in JEP, it is freely available online compliments of the American Economic Association. Full disclosure: I've been the Managing Editor of JEP for the last 26 years.)
Of course, the environmental Kuznets curve is a theory that needs to be supported or refuted with evidence... And the experience of China, with its burgeoning economy and extraordinary environmental issues, is at the center of the debate. ...
The conventional environmental Kuznets is that emissions of pollutants rise up until some level between about $5000 and $8000 in per capita income, and then fall after that point. There is some historical evidence to support this claim. ...
According to the World Bank, China's per capita GDP was $5,445 in 2011, so it is just reaching the levels where its pollution should first start to level off, and then to decline. ...
Interestingly, there are signs that for some pollutants, the level of pollution is no longer rising with the growth of China's economy. For example, here's a figure about air pollution. The top line shows the growth of GDP. Emissions of sulfur dioxides and soot have not been rising with GDP, and even emissions of carbon dioxide have been lagging behind the rise in GDP in the last few years.
Here's a similar figure for water pollution. Chemical oxygen demand (COD) measures the level of organic pollutants in water. Both that measure and wastewater are at least not rising at the same pace as GDP.
It remains true that China's amount of pollution relative to its economic output is high by the standards of high income countries. ...
The policy prescription for reducing pollution in China is clear enough: close down older facilities, and make sure their replacements have up-to-date anti-pollution equipment; keep building sewage treatment facilities; put a price on polluting activities to encourage conservation; and so on. Sam Hill's paper has details.
But ultimately, China's path along the environmental Kuznets curve will be determined by politics and public pressure, and public pressure in China does seem to be building for stronger environmental protection. The (wonderfully named) Elizabeth C. Economy at the Council of Foreign Relations recently wrote a brief piece on "China’s Environmental Politics: A Game of Crisis Management," which notes the growing number of environmental public protests in China. In a society under such a high degree of government control, environmental protests can become a place where those discontented with government have a semi-safe space for dissent.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

China in the World: Growth, Adjustment, and Integration

Here's the video I mentioned in the post "Is China's Growth Model Sustainable":

The Chinese economy has developed at a remarkable pace over the last 30 years.  The integration of China into the world economy has led to extraordinary flows of foreign direct investment, infrastructure buildup, and an impressive export capacity.   As we look to the future, both domestic and international considerations bear on the capacity for China to continue on this robust course and for the world to adjust to China’s growth and changed role. The differences in philosophical, legal, and governance systems between China and the West suggest that the challenges will be formidable and that cooperation and mutual benefit will require extraordinary attention.
  • Daniel A. Bell - Professor, Tsinghua University
  • Jan Kregel - Senior scholar at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College
  • Huang Yiping - Professor of Economics, National School of Development, Peking University
  • Yu Yongding - Director, Institute of World Economics and Politics, CASS
  • Moderator: Xiao Geng - Director of Research and Senior Fellow, Fung  Global Institute

Friday, April 05, 2013

Is China's Growth Model Sustainable?

A few quick., unorganized thoughts as I wait for today's sessions to start:

As I noted in an earlier post, one of the things I wanted to learn about at this conference is the sustainability of China's growth model and its applicability to other countries. One of the big issues is China's ability to rebalance its economy toward more reliance on internal consumption and less on exports. It's a delicate process because of China's large reliance on export-led growth. If China reduces its exports, but isn't able to successfully replace it with domestic consumption, it could cause huge problems for the economy. Nevertheless, rebalancing is essential. A second issue is growing inequality and the social unrest that comes with it.

What surprised me is an argument from Huang Yiping, Professor of Economics, National School of Development, Peking University, that this process is already well underway. He claims that if you correct for the service component of GDP, which is under reported, consumption has already climbed from somewhere in the 40 percent range to 52 percent of the economy. In addition, according to his estimates -- which I found convincing -- inequality is falling as well. Then main reason for this is a labor shortage (believe it or not) that is driving up wages, a process that began around 2008. Thus, there has been a transfer from profits -- which flow to higher incomes -- to wages of those at the bottom of the distribution (the five year plan allows for a 13 percent per year increase in the minimum wage).

So the argument is that it is not only possible to rebalance the economy and reduce inequality, this is well underway. Still, there's a long way to go yet and it's far to soon to declare victory.

[The video for this session isn't available yet -- I'll post it when it is.]

Monday, March 25, 2013

'On the Reliability of Chinese Output Figures'

This Economic Letter from the SF Fed says we can trust recent economic data from China:

On the Reliability of Chinese Output Figures, by John Fernald, Israel Malkin, and Mark Spiegel, FRBSF Economic Letter: Some commentators have questioned whether China’s economy slowed more in 2012 than official gross domestic product figures indicate. However, the 2012 reported output and industrial production figures are consistent both with alternative Chinese indicators of the country’s economic activity, such as electricity production, and trade volume measures reported by non-Chinese sources. These alternative domestic and foreign sources provide no evidence that China’s economic growth was slower than official data indicate.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

China Says It May Implement a Carbon Tax

China may implement a (modest) carbon tax:

Taxing Carbon, by Vikas Bajaj, NY Times: Long considered the biggest holdout in climate change negotiations, China said this week that the country would implement new taxes designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Officials in Beijing provided few details, but a report by the state-owned Xinhua news service suggested that the government is working on a relatively modest plan. ...
The Xinhua report ... did not say how big a tax the country would impose, but it pointed to a three-year-old proposal by government experts that would have levied a 10-yuan ($1.60) per ton tax on carbon in 2012 and raised it to 50-yuan ($8) a ton by 2020. Those prices are far below the $80 (500-yuan) a ton that some experts have suggested would be needed to achieve “climate stability,” and which would raise the cost of gasoline by about 70 American cents a gallon.
China’s plan will not make a serious dent in global warming, though the tax may still have some beneficial impact within the country, where air pollution is a serious problem. ...
Meanwhile, in the U.S., many members of Congress find the idea of carbon taxes totally anathema and think such taxes would wreck the economy. They might, however, want to consider a proposal promoted by Mr. Hansen that would take the money collected from carbon taxes — or carbon fees as he prefers to call them — and rebate it in full to individuals. That would help consumers pay for more expensive electricity and gasoline, while giving them an incentive to cut their use of energy and fossil fuels. It’s an elegant way to limit damage to the economy while giving people incentives to do what is right for the planet.

Contrary to what "many members of Congress" (i.e. many Republicans) claim, eliminating a market failure through a carbon tax moves the economy closer to the optimal growth path rather than further from it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

We Should Stop Blaming China For Our Economic Problems

Here's my contribution to the debate over China bashing:

We Should Stop Blaming China for our Economic Problems: The second presidential debate featured Mitt Romney and Barack Obama going nose to nose over who would be tougher on China and other countries over their unfair trade practices. But by adopting a narrative that places the blame for our problems on other countries, President Obama is playing into the hands of those who’d like to make significant cuts to social insurance programs that protect working class households. ...

Here's the bottom line:

Blaming our troubles on external causes and implying that all will be well once these causes are eliminated allows the wealthy winners from globalization to escape the taxes that are needed to provide the social protections workers need in the global economy, and to ensure that the gains from globalization are shared equitably. President Obama needs to make it clear that helping the working class will take a lot more than just forcing China to change its ways... [It] will require us to look inward at our own character as a nation instead of blaming others.
Pointing fingers at other countries and demanding change may be politically effective, but the real change begins at home.
[Read more]

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

'Fear-of-China Syndrome'

Paul Krugman tries, once again, to explain why there's no reason to fear that "terrible things will happen" if China stops purchasing our government bonds:

Wicksell Goes To China, by Paul Krugman: The idea that we are at the mercy of the Chinese — that terrible things would happen if they stopped buying our bonds — is very influential. Yet it’s just wrong.
Think of it this way: the argument that interest rates would soar if the Chinese bought fewer bonds is the same as the argument that interest rates would soar when the U.S. government sold more bonds — which, as you may recall, was the subject of fierce debate more than three years ago — and you know how that turned out.
Again, you can think of this in terms of Wicksell: we’re in a situation in which the incipient supply of savings — the amount that people would save at full employment — is greater than the incipient demand for investment. And this excess supply of savings leads to a depressed economy.
What China does by buying bonds is add to the excess savings — which makes our situation worse. (This is just another way of saying that the artificial trade surplus hurts our economy — just another way of stating the same thing). And we want them to do less of it; far from fearing that they will stop, we should welcome the prospect.
Yet this point isn’t even controversial — by and large, commentators aren’t even aware that fear-of-China syndrome might be in error.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

The Great Divergence between China and Europe

This is from Dan Little:

The great divergence, by Dan Little: It has been ten years since Ken Pomeranz published The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy, a book that forced some real rethinking about the economic history in Europe and China. Along with Bin Wong in China Transformed: Historical Change and the Limits of European Experience, he called for a deep questioning of many of the basic premises of much twentieth century economic history, which was premised on the backwardness and stagnation of China and the dynamism of Western Europe. Industrial revolution and sustained economic growth were unique products of the west, and China was incapable of these transformations at the beginning of the modern epoch -- 1600, let us say.
So the central problematic for "European exceptionalism" was to identify some set of features of western society lacking in China that could account for takeoff. Was it merchant culture? Perhaps Newtonian science? Was it European family and reproductive behavior? Or perhaps it was some feature of Christianity?
Pomeranz doesn't like these theories. More basically, he doesn't accept the premise of European economic superiority in 1600, whether in institutions or ideology. He considers agriculture first and holds that Chinese agriculture was as productive in terms of land and labor as English farming; it was not undergoing involution through population increase; and it supported a rural standard of living that was competitive with that of Europe and England, his primary focus.
Pomeranz doesn't doubt that there were sharp differences in European and Chinese economic development in the 18th century. This is the "great divergence" to which he refers. But he doubts that there are grand socio-cultural explanations for this fact; instead he focuses on contingent conjunctival circumstances that gave England a lead that it maintained for 200 years. These include the fortuitous location of coal in Britain, the fact of New World wealth, and the returns if slave labor in North America. None of these is a deep systemic factor but rather a lucky break for Britain.
Bin Wong adds a different theme to the debate. He recognizes that Europe and China possessed complex political-economic systems that were different from each other. And he agrees that these systems had consequences for development. But he agrees with Pomeranz that neither system is inherently superior. And he calls for an economic history that pays attention to the differences as well as similarities. Each process of development can be illuminated by comparison to the other.
So where is the debate today? This was the focus of a productive conference at Tsinghua University in Beijing last week. Some of the primary contributors to economic history participated, including Robert Allen, Bozhong Li, and James Lee. It isn't possible to summarize the papers, but several themes emerged. The most basic is the need to bring substantially more factual detail to the debate. What we need at this point isn't more theorizing about large causes; it is more fine grained factual discovery across both Europe and China.
Three areas in particular have gotten much more factual in the debate in ten years. the first is agricultural productivity. Historians like Robert Allen and Bozhong Li have substantially sharpened our knowledge of the farm economies of England and China.
Second is the question of the historical standard of living in various places. Essentially this depends on price data, wage data, and a system for comparing consumption across countries. Here too there has been a great refinement of our knowledge. Robert Allen has contributed much of this.
Third is population behavior. The Malthusian theory of the difference between China and Europe is a stumbling block, and of course this theory was created in a fact-free universe. Now comparative historical demography has advanced a long way thanks to researchers like James Lee. The Eurasian Population and Family History Project has now refuted the Malthusian view.
A key idea in the Pomeranz debate is Philip Huang's idea the Chinese agriculture was "involutionary". The work provided by Bozhong Li demonstrates that this theory is simply incorrect when applied to the lower Yangzi River delta. Moreover, China's development after 1970 makes the theory implausible in any case. As Li pointed out at the conference, "It is inconceivable China's modern development could have occurred in the conditions of involution described in the debate." China was clearly not caught in an inescapable involutionary trap.
So there is work to be done still on the origins of the great transformation. And it is valuable for this work to take place with a global and comparative perspective. But most valuable will be detailed factual research that adds significantly to what we know about the past.

Monday, June 04, 2012

"Will Jobs Be Reshored from China?"

Timothy Taylor:

Will Jobs Be Reshored from China?, by Timothy Taylor: China is becoming a less attractive place for off-shoring of manufacturing. But the result isn't likely to be a large movement of jobs back to the United States. Instead, globally mobile manufacturers are likely to seek out alternative low-cost destinations. Michel Janssen, Erik Dorr, and Cort Jacoby of the Hackett Group discuss these issues in a report called "Reshoring Global Manufacturing: Myths and Realities." The subtitle is: "By next year, China’s cost advantage over manufacturers in industrialized nations and competing low-cost destinations will evaporate." The report is freely available here, with free registration.  ...

I was ... struck by some comments in the report about Apple's labor costs with the iPad and outsourcing to China. They emphasize that in some industries like furniture manufacturing, cost matters most. But in other industries, product quality, protection of intellectual property, time to market and ramp-up speed may matter more.

"The Chinese labor-cost component of an entry-level iPad retailing for $500 is estimated at $10, or 2% of revenue, while the profit margin is estimated at $150, or 30% of revenue. If Apple were to move production to the USA, and if one assumes that assembly costs would triple (to $30), it is conceivable that Apple could convince customers to pay for a large portion of the price increase based on the appeal of a “made in the USA” product. ... Furthermore, ...  such a move could substantially boost Apple’s corporate image. However, the U.S. lacks the sheer labor capacity that would be required in order to ramp up production of iPads at the speed needed to maintain the company’s edge in the hyper-competitive tablet and mobile device market. ... Thus one may assume that Apple’s manufacturing sourcing strategy is primarily motivated by scalability and supply chain risk, and only secondarily by total landed cost."

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Fed Watch: Cash Exiting China

Tim Duy:

Cash Exiting China, by Tim Duy: Something that I have thinking about for a few weeks - and was reminded of reading Ryan Avent this morning - is the series of pieces at FT alphaville regarding the outflow of cash from China. See here and here and here. The thinking had been that the renminbi was a one-way bet as China moved forward with capital account liberalization as investors rushed to be part of the Chinese story. The growing exodus of cash, however, is calling that story into question.

Moreover, I am interested in how much of the outflow is attributable to a generalized rush to safety as a result of the European crisis versus how much is attributable to capital flight due to a a deteriorating economic environment inside China itself. I am reminded of this story from the Wall Street Journal earlier this year:

With a fortune of at least $1.6 million, Mr. Shi is part of the wealthy elite that benefited most from the Communist Party's brand of capitalism. He is riding the crest of arguably the biggest economic expansion in history.

And yet, while the party touts the economic success of the "Chinese model," many of its poster children are heading for the exits. They are in search of things money can't buy in China: Cleaner air, safer food, better education for their children. Some also express concern about government corruption and the safety of their assets.

Domestic money in China will be the first to head for the exit - insiders will always know more than outsiders about the underlying economic conditions. So the exodus of cash could indicate that the Chinese story is coming to a close - and that will have significant consequences for the global economy. It is another signal that emerging markets will not be supporting global demand anytime soon. I think the team at alphaville is right - this story is slipping under the radar while we all have our eyes focused on the farce in Europe. But it could be the real game changer in the global economy.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

"Why a More Flexible Renminbi Still Matters"

A quick one while waiting for Bill Clinton to take the stage at the conference I'm attending. This is Ken Rogoff:

Why a More Flexible Renminbi Still Matters, by Kenneth Rogoff, Commentary, Project Syndicate: One of the most notable macroeconomic developments in recent years has been the sharp drop in China’s current-account surplus. The International Monetary Fund is now forecasting a 2012 surplus of just 2.3% of GDP, down from a pre-crisis peak of 10.1% of GDP in 2007, owing largely to a decline in China’s trade surplus – that is, the excess of the value of Chinese exports over that of its imports.
The drop has been a surprise to the many pundits and policy analysts who view China’s sustained massive trade surpluses as prima facie evidence that government intervention has been keeping the renminbi far below its unfettered “equilibrium” value. Does the dramatic fall in China’s surplus call that conventional wisdom into question? Should the United States, the IMF, and other players stop pressing China to move to a more flexible currency regime?
The short answer is “no.” China’s economy is still plagued by massive imbalances, and moving to a more flexible exchange-rate regime would serve as a safety valve and shock absorber. ...[continue reading]...

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

"Chinese Premier Blasts Banks"

Are China's banks too big to be broken up?:

Chinese Premier Blasts Banks, by Dinny McMahon, Lingling Wei, and Andrew Galbraith, WSJ: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told a national audience on Tuesday that China's state-controlled banks are a "monopoly" that must be broken up...
In an evening broadcast on state-run China National Radio, Mr. Wen told an audience of business leaders that China's tightly controlled banking system needs to change. "Let me be frank. Our banks earn profit too easily. Why? Because a small number of large banks have a monopoly," said Mr. Wen... "To break the monopoly, we must allow private capital to flow into the finance sector." ...
Mr. Wen's push is part of a broader set of issues over China's growth, and came on the same day that Beijing unveiled programs intended to support the development of the country's capital markets and to spread international use of the yuan. Among them, China's security regulator said it would more than triple the amount that foreigners would be allowed to invest in China's heavily restricted financial markets to $80 billion. ...
Mr. Wen's remarks, in the export-oriented province of Fujian, are further indication that long-delayed economic reform is now at least a topic for public debate. ...
The major question is whether increasing rhetoric and new initiatives toward economic revisions will lead to broader reform. Prior efforts have faltered amid Beijing's drive to keep a tight rein on the economy and opposition from interest groups. ...

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"Should The U.S. Take A Harder Stance On China's Currency?"

Joe Gagnon says the "best way to discourage currency manipulation is to tax it heavily":

Should The U.S. Take A Harder Stance On China's Currency?, by Joe Gagnon, Planet Money: ...Ben Bernanke recently said that Chinese currency manipulation "is blocking what might be a more normal recovery process." In fact, the problem goes beyond China to include many other emerging economies and even a few advanced economies. ... The evidence suggests that currency manipulators jointly have increased their trade balances by about $1 trillion relative to where they would have been in the absence of manipulation. Europe and the United States have suffered the corresponding decline in trade balances. ...
Based on estimates of the International Monetary Fund, the $1 trillion boost to European and US net exports from the ending of currency manipulation would return these economies to nearly full employment.
The best way to discourage currency manipulation is to tax it heavily. The taxes should apply to all purchases of European and US assets, including bank deposits, by governments that engage in currency manipulation. Unlike trade sanctions, such taxation is allowed under international law, and it also does not cause the economic distortions that trade sanctions cause. As I outlined recently with my colleague Gary Hufbauer, anti-money-laundering procedures now in place can prevent currency manipulators from hiding their investments through third parties.
One consequence of a reduction in currency manipulation would be a sharp drop in the values of the dollar and the euro in terms of the currencies of the manipulators. It is this exchange rate adjustment that would boost US and European exports, thereby generating jobs. ...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Paul Krugman: Will China Break?


Will China Break?, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Consider the following picture: Recent growth has relied on a huge construction boom fueled by surging real estate prices, and exhibiting all the classic signs of a bubble. There was rapid growth in credit — with much of that growth taking place not through traditional banking but rather through unregulated “shadow banking” neither subject to government supervision nor backed by government guarantees. Now the bubble is bursting — and there are real reasons to fear financial and economic crisis.
Am I describing Japan at the end of the 1980s? Or am I describing America in 2007? I could be. But right now I’m talking about China, which is emerging as another danger spot in a world economy that really, really doesn’t need this right now. ...
The most striking thing about the Chinese economy over the past decade was the way household consumption, although rising, lagged behind overall growth. At this point consumer spending is only about 35 percent of G.D.P., about half the level in the United States.
So who’s buying the goods and services China produces? Part of the answer is, well, us:... China increasingly relied on trade surpluses to keep manufacturing afloat. But the bigger story from China’s point of view is investment spending, which has soared to almost half of G.D.P.
The obvious question is, with consumer demand relatively weak, what motivated all that investment? And the answer, to an important extent, is that it depended on an ever-inflating real estate bubble. ...
And there was another parallel with U.S. experience: as credit boomed, much of it came not from banks but from an unsupervised, unprotected shadow banking system..: in China as in America a few years ago, the financial system may be much more vulnerable than data on conventional banking reveal.
Now the bubble is visibly bursting. How much damage will it do to the Chinese economy — and the world? ...
For what it’s worth, statements about economic policy from Chinese officials don’t strike me as being especially clear-headed. In particular, the way China has been lashing out at foreigners — among other things, imposing a punitive tariff on imports of U.S.-made autos that will do nothing to help its economy but will help poison trade relations — does not sound like a mature government that knows what it’s doing. ...
I hope that I’m being needlessly alarmist here. But it’s impossible not to be worried: China’s story just sounds too much like the crack-ups we’ve already seen elsewhere. And a world economy already suffering from the mess in Europe really, really doesn’t need a new epicenter of crisis.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Rise of the Renminbi as International Currency: Historical Precedents

Jeff Frankel:

The Rise of the Renminbi as International Currency: Historical Precedents, by Jeff Frankel: All of a sudden, the renminbi is being touted as the next big international currency. Just in the last year or two, the Chinese currency has begun to internationalize along a number of dimensions. A RMB bond market has grown rapidly in Hong Kong, and one in RMB bank deposits. Some of China’s international trade is now invoiced in the currency. Foreign central banks have been able to hold RMB since August 2010, with Malaysia going first.
Some are now claiming that the renminbi could overtake the dollar for the number one slot in the international currency rankings within a decade (especially Subramanian 2011a, p.19; 2011b). ...
The dollar is one of three national currencies to have attained international status during the 20th century. The other two were the yen and the mark, which became major international currencies after the breakup of the Bretton Woods system in 1971-73. (The euro, of course, did so after 1999.) In the early 1990s, both were spoken of as potential rivals of the dollar for the number one slot. It is easy to forget it now, because Japan’s relative role has diminished since then and the mark has been superseded. ...
The current RMB phenomenon differs in an interesting way from the historical circumstances of the rise of the three earlier currencies. The Chinese government is actively promoting the international use of its currency. Neither Germany nor Japan, nor even the US, did that, at least not at first. In all three cases, export interests, who stood to lose competitiveness if international demand for the currency were to rise, were much stronger than the financial sector, which might have supported internationalization. One would expect the same fears of a stronger currency and its effects on manufacturing exports to dominate the calculations in China.
In the case of the mark and yen after 1973, internationalization came despite the reluctance of the German and Japanese governments. In the case of the United States after 1914, a tiny elite promoted internationalization of the dollar despite the indifference or hostility to such a project in the nation at large. These individuals, led by Benjamin Strong, the first president of the New York Fed, were the same ones who had conspired in 1910 to establish the Federal Reserve in the first place.
It is not yet clear that China’s new enthusiasm for internationalizing its currency includes a willingness to end financial repression in the domestic financial system, remove cross-border capital controls, and allow the RMB to appreciate, thus helping to shift the economy away from its export-dependence. Perhaps a small elite will be able to accomplish these things, in the way that Strong did a century earlier. But so far the government is only promoting international use of the RMB offshore, walled off from the domestic financial system. That will not be enough to do it.
[This perspective note summarizes the argument in "Historical Precedents for the Internationalization of the RMB"...] ...

Monday, October 03, 2011

Paul Krugman: Holding China to Account

Improving our trade balance would help with the recovery:

Holding China to Account, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: The dire state of the world economy reflects destructive actions on the part of many players. Still, the fact that so many have behaved badly shouldn’t stop us from holding individual bad actors to account.
And that’s what Senate leaders will be doing this week, as they take up legislation that would threaten sanctions against China and other currency manipulators.
Respectable opinion is aghast. But respectable opinion has been consistently wrong lately, and the currency issue is no exception.
Ask yourself: Why is it so hard to restore full employment? ... The answer is that we used to run much smaller trade deficits. A return to economic health would look much more achievable if we weren’t spending $500 billion more each year on imported goods and services than foreigners spent on our exports.
To get our trade deficit down, however, we need to make American products more competitive, which in practice means that we need the dollar’s value to fall in terms of other currencies. Yes, some people will shriek about “debasing” the dollar. But sensible policy makers have long known that sometimes a weaker currency means a stronger economy... Switzerland, for example, has intervened massively to keep the franc from getting too strong against the euro. ...
The United States, given its special global role, can’t and shouldn’t be equally aggressive. But given our economy’s desperate need for more jobs, a weaker dollar is very much in our national interest — and we can and should take action against countries that are keeping their currencies undervalued, and thereby standing in the way of a much-needed decline in our trade deficit.
That, above all, means China. ... And the reality of the unemployment disaster is also my answer to those who warn that getting tough with China might unleash a trade war or damage world commercial diplomacy. Those are real risks, although I think they’re exaggerated. But they need to be set against the fact — not the mere possibility — that high unemployment is inflicting tremendous cumulative damage as we speak.
Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, said it clearly last week: unemployment is a “national crisis,” with so many workers now among the long-term unemployed that the economy is at risk of suffering long-run as well as short-run damage.
And we can’t afford to neglect any important means of alleviating that national crisis. Holding China accountable won’t solve our economic problems on its own, but it can contribute to a solution — and it’s an action that’s long overdue.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bhagwati: The Outsourcing Bogeyman

Jagdish Bhagwati says outsourcing myths are standing in the way of free trade initiatives ("If free trade is to regain the support of statesmen who now hesitate over liberalizing trade with developing countries, the myths that turn outsourcing into an epithet must be countered"). He says we shouldn't worry about outsourcing jobs because we can always use protectionism to save them:

there are manmade restrictions to outsourcing particular types of expertise: professional organizations often intervene to kill outsourcing simply by requiring credentials that only they can provide. Thus, foreign radiologists need US certification before they are allowed to read the x-rays sent from the US. Until recently, only two foreign firms qualified.

So no need to worry. If assembly line work is threatened by outsourcing, simple, just require US certification for the workers who produce these goods.

Don't get me wrong, I think free trade is almost always the best answer. But in supporting it, we shouldn't hide from the short-run distributional consequences that fall on some segments of the population. Acknowledging that the costs exist, and then addressing them is a much better route to preserving free trade inititatives.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"Would a Stronger Renminbi Narrow the US-China Trade Imbalance?"

The Liberty Street blog at the NY Fed says we should hope that China keeps growing:

Would a Stronger Renminbi Narrow the U.S.-China Trade Imbalance?, by Matthew Higgins and Thomas Klitgaard, Liberty Street Economics: The United States buys much more from China than it sells to China—an imbalance that accounts for almost half of our overall merchandise trade deficit. China's policy of keeping its exchange rate low is often cited as a key driver of that country's large overall trade surplus and of its bilateral surplus with the United States. ... In this post, we examine the thinking behind this view. We find that a stronger renminbi would have a relatively small near-term impact on the U.S. bilateral trade deficit with China and an even more modest impact on the overall U.S. deficit. ... To close the gap between them, a stronger renminbi would need to markedly raise U.S. exports and/or lower U.S. imports. Although we do not believe that this adjustment is likely in the near term,... the bilateral balance can be expected to shrink over the long run—owing largely to forces other than the renminbi. ...
U.S. imports from China currently exceed U.S. sales to China by a factor of 4 to 1. The implication of this ratio is that exports to China need to grow four times faster than imports merely to prevent the bilateral trade gap from widening. Can the bilateral trade deficit ever shrink, given this daunting math?
Yes, we think that the gap will shrink—but primarily as a consequence of the high rate of economic growth in China. We have already seen U.S. exports to China grow at a 20 to 30 percent pace in recent years, driven by the rapid expansion of that country's middle class and the resulting increase in demand for higher-end goods and services. We expect a similar pace of export growth for some time. A stronger renminbi could play an important supporting role in this process, even if it would not be the main driver. At the same time, the current share of Chinese goods in overall U.S. non-oil import spending—about 25 percent—is already so high that Chinese producers will find it increasingly challenging to make further gains in market share. Within a few years, growth in U.S. purchases from China is likely to settle at the much lower rate of growth seen in overall U.S. import spending.

"Within a few years" seems optimistic.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Antidumping in Action"

When it becomes more expensive for producers in China to sell their goods in the US due to tariffs, bi-lateral exchange rate changes, increasing wage costs in China, etc., production does not necessarily move to the US:

Antidumping in Action, by Bill C: Today's Washington Post provides another example of our dysfunctional "Antidumping" rules in action. This case is about antidumping tariffs imposed on furniture imports from China:

But do tariffs work? In the case of bedroom furniture, they’ve clearly helped slow China’s export machine. In 2004, before tariffs went into force, China exported $1.2 billion worth of beds and such to the United States. The figure last year was just $691 million.
Over the same period, however, imports of the same goods from Vietnam — where wages and other costs are even lower than in China — have surged, rising from $151 million to $931 million. The loss of jobs in America, meanwhile, only accelerated.

This may be a case where the differential tariff treatment between Chinese and Vietnamese furniture which resulted from the antidumping case induced "trade diversion" - i.e., an efficiency loss because the trade preferences result in imports coming from someplace other than the low cost producer. However, in this example, it could also be the case that comparative advantage shifted to Vietnam as China's labor costs have risen.


The only Americans getting more work as a result of the tariffs are Washington lawyers, who have been hired by both U.S. and Chinese companies. ...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

"A Note on Trade"

On emore from Tim Duy:

A Note on Trade, by Tim Duy: US trade data were released today; Calculated Risk has the broad outlines of the report. As Ryan Avent notes, the non-petroleum balance points in the direction of rebalancing. I am hopeful this is correct, but add that we still lack clear evidence at this point. Indeed, since the end of the recession, non-petroleum trade has generally been a drag on the recovery – note trend #1 below:


The rebalancing story took a hit in the first half of 2010 as the trade deficit widened. That situation reversed in the second half of 2010, and the narrowing deficit helped propel final demand in the fourth quarter of last year. Since then, the rebalancing story has stalled on average. Now it appears we are arguably at something of a crossroads – will the general path of the US trade deficit follow path #1 or path#2? In other words, will the external sector be a drag or US demand, or a boost? I am cautiously optimistic ongoing general downward pressure on the dollar, in concert with policy changes and solid growth abroad, will sustain ongoing rebalancing.

That said, rising expectations of tighter monetary policy abroad serve as a reminder that the external environment could turn nasty. From Bloomberg:

Commodities sank, with gasoline falling the most in two years, U.S. stocks slid and the dollar rose as concern over Europe’s debt crisis deepened and inflation reports spurred speculation global interest rates will rise…

…The pound rallied as Bank of England Governor Mervyn King said inflation remains “uncomfortably high” and officials signaled they may raise rates later this year. Price gains in Germany and China topped estimates and Poland unexpectedly increased its benchmark rate. Concern about Europe’s debt crisis and prospects for higher borrowing costs damped enthusiasm for stocks even as earnings improved at companies from Macy’s Inc. (M) to A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S and U.S. exports climbed to a record.

Policy in China needs to tighten to stave off actual inflation. Optimally, Chinese policy steps, such as allowing the renminbi to rise at a faster rate, would shift demand internally toward consumption and away from the investment and export industries, effectively allowing US production to satisfy Chinese demand. This week's US-China talks give room for optimism on this issue. This is a reasonable policy path for other emerging markets as well and, in my opinion, the only win-win path. Still, it is not guaranteed that such a transition can occur smoothly, especially if inflation is already deeply embedded in the Chinese economy. A messy transition could slow global growth and put upward pressure on the dollar.

It is not clear that Europe, either the UK or Euro region, needs higher rates, but instead are being pulled in the trap of tightening policy in the face of a temporary commodity price shock. And it certainly seems clear that Ireland, Greece, and Portugal will be even more challenged to achieve fiscal and economic stability, guaranteeing a default or that euphemism for default, restructuring. The combination of higher interest rates and financial crisis should also prove to be dollar positive, thereby slowing the path toward rebalancing.

Of course, as Avent also notes, a complete rebalancing in which the overall US trade deficit falls to zero seems like an overwhelming challenge in the face of the US propensity for imported oil. Perhaps a more manageable trade deficit in non-petroleum products is the best we can hope for at this point.

In short, despite an improvement in the non-petroleum trade balance since the middle of 2011, rebalancing of the external accounts is not yet a certainty. Rebalancing continues to depend on the ability and willingness of the rest of the world to accept and manage the consequences of that rebalancing. Arguably, so far, so good, but the real tests may still be ahead.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Eichengreen: Slowing China

Barry Eichengreen warns that China's economy may be headed for a slowdown:

Slowing China, by Barry Eichengreen, Commentary, Project Syndicate: With the world’s rich countries still hung over from the financial crisis, the global economy has come to depend on emerging markets to drive growth. Increasingly, machinery exporters, energy suppliers, and raw-materials producers alike look to China and other fast-growing developing countries as the key source of incremental demand. ...
Chinese officials are convinced that a slowdown is coming. ....[I]n response to foreign and domestic pressure, China will have to rebalance its economy, placing less weight on manufacturing and exports and more on services and domestic spending. At some point Chinese workers will start demanding higher wages and shorter workweeks. More consumption will mean less investment. All of this implies slower growth. Chinese officials are well aware that these changes are coming. ...
So what is at issue is not whether Chinese growth will slow, but when. ... [A] significant slowdown in Chinese growth is imminent. The question is whether the world is ready, and whether other countries following in China’s footsteps will step up and provide the world with the economic dynamism for which we have come to depend on the People’s Republic.

All the more reason -- besides the risk of rising oil prices and other uncertainties -- to be wary of doing things now such as reducing the deficit or raising interest rates that might make it even harder for the economy to recover. There are enough potential headwinds in the air already.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

"Why Egypt Should Worry China"

Barry Eichengreen:

Why Egypt Should Worry China, by Barry Eichengreen, Commentary, Project Syndicate: A strictly economic interpretation of events in Tunisia and Egypt would be too simplistic... That said, there is no question that the upheavals in both countries – and elsewhere in the Arab world – largely reflect their governments’ failure to share the wealth.
The problem is not ... economic growth. ... Annual growth since 1999 has averaged 5.1% in Egypt, and 4.6% in Tunisia... Rather, the problem is that the benefits of growth have failed to trickle down to disaffected youth. ... Corruption is widespread. Getting ahead depends on personal connections...
China might soon be facing similar problems... the warning signs are there. ...
First, there is the growing problem of unemployment and underemployment among university graduates. ... Indeed, the country is rife with reports of desperate university graduates unable to find productive employment. ...
Moreover, there is the problem of less-skilled and less-educated migrants from the countryside, who are consigned to second-class jobs in the cities. ...
Finally, China needs to get serious about its corruption problem. Personal connections, or guanxi, remain critical for getting ahead. Recent migrants from the countryside and graduates with degrees from second-tier universities sorely lack such connections. ...
If Chinese officials don’t move faster to ... head off potential sources of disaffection, they could eventually be confronted with an uprising of their own – an uprising far broader and more determined than the student protest that they crushed in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Feldstein: The End of China’s Surplus,

Martin Feldstein argues that China's current-account surplus is likely to shrink dramatically over the next few years:

The End of China’s Surplus, by Martin Feldstein, Commentary, Project Syndicate: China’s current-account surplus ... is the largest in the world. ...China’s external surplus stands at $316 billion, or 6.1% of annual GDP.
Because the current-account surplus is denominated in foreign currencies, China must use these funds to invest abroad, primarily by purchasing government bonds issued by the United States and European countries. As a result, interest rates in those countries are lower than they would otherwise be.
That may all be about to change. ... It is possible that, before the end of the decade, China’s current-account surplus will move into deficit... If that happens, China will no longer be a net buyer of US and other foreign bonds, putting upward pressure on interest rates in those countries.
Although this scenario might now seem implausible, it is actually quite likely to occur. ... China’s national saving rate ... is now about 45% of its GDP, which is the highest rate in the world. But, looking ahead, the five-year plan will cause the saving rate to decline...
The plan calls for a shift to higher real wages so that household income will rise as a share of GDP. Moreover, state-owned enterprises will be required to pay out a larger portion of their earnings as dividends. And the government will increase its spending on consumption services like health care, education, and housing....
Since China’s current-account surplus is now 6% of its GDP, if the saving rate declines from the current 45% to less than 39% – still higher than any other country – the surplus will become a deficit.
This outlook for the current-account balance does not depend on what happens to the renminbi’s exchange rate... But the fall in domestic saving is likely to cause the Chinese government to allow the renminbi to appreciate more rapidly. Higher domestic consumer spending would otherwise create inflationary pressures. ... A stronger renminbi would ... cause a shift from exports to production for the domestic market, thereby shrinking the trade surplus, in addition to curbing inflation.
...Americans are eager for China to reduce its surplus and allow its currency to appreciate more rapidly. But they should be careful what they wish for, because a lower surplus and a stronger renminbi imply a day when China is no longer a net buyer of US government bonds. The US should start planning for that day now.

Plans are not action. I hope the Chinese government moves to raise the standard of living and to provide more social services, but I'll believe it when I see it happen. For now, interest rates remain very low -- markets are not worried about this -- and it's not the time to panic about the deficit, impose large budget cuts, and endanger the recovery.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The "Anti-Willie Sutton"

Bill Craighead at Twenty Cent Paradigms:

SOTU, by Bill Craighead: A couple of thoughts on the "State of the Union"-
As an economist, I don't find the rhetoric of "competitiveness" very appealing (see Paul Krugman's classic on this).  International trade is mutually beneficial* - not a zero sum struggle to beat other countries to the "good jobs."  From an economist's point of view, the rapid growth in China is a great story about an dramatic increase in human welfare.  However, while competitiveness rhetoric can be used to justify bad policies like subsidies and tariffs, Obama is employing it to promote policies like investment in infrastructure, basic research and education that are beneficial regardless of what is going on in other countries.  Though it is a mistake to feel threatened by the success of other countries, Obama seems to be exploiting this sentiment to embarrass us into getting our act together, which isn't entirely a bad thing.  He's like our national "Tiger mother."
Unfortunately, President Obama appears to have conceded the rhetorical war on two important fronts: global warming and the budget deficit.
On global warming, which is the most important policy issue we face, the President chose not to even mention it directly.  So much for having "adult conversations" in our politics...  Even if the towel has been thrown in on cap-and-trade, the administration does appear to be trying to confront the problem, sotto voce, in other, less efficient ways.  At least, that is how I interpret the call that 80% of energy should come from "clean sources" by 2035.
As for the deficit, the idea that the government is like a family that needs to "tighten its belt" seems to have won out.  That's simple, intuitive and wrong.  The basic principle of countercyclical fiscal policy - that when households are cutting back, government needs to step in and make up for it with offsetting spending increases or tax cuts - also seems simple and intuitive.  But apparently not enough so.  President Obama is a very good speech-maker, but has proven not to be enough of a great communicator to get the public thinking correctly about this.
It looks like we'll get some "cuts" and "freezes."  These may manage to be a drag on the recovery and damage some important government functions without making much of a dent in the real long run problem because domestic discretionary spending is a fairly small part of the overall budget (as Howard Gleckman says: "that makes Obama the anti-Willie Sutton. He is going whether the money isn’t").  It seems that we're done with counter-cyclical fiscal policy and its all up to the Fed now.  With 14.5 million still unemployed, that is a mistake, and a real shame.  While I hope (and believe) the President is correct in presuming the recovery will continue, it still could benefit from a fiscal push.
See also: Paul Krugman, ... and Ezra Klein.

*There are number of possible caveats on that, including that while a country as a whole benefits, some within it are hurt (Stolper-Samuelson theorem) and that a trade deficit can reduce aggregate demand which is bad for employment in the short-run.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Paul Krugman: China Goes to Nixon

Will China's currency policy lead to a "full-fledged" economic crisis?:

China Goes to Nixon, by paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: With Hu Jintao, China’s president, currently visiting the United States, stories about growing Chinese economic might are everywhere. And those stories are entirely true:’s growing fast, and given its sheer size it’s well on the way to matching America as an economic superpower.
What’s also true, however, is that China has stumbled into a monetary muddle that’s getting worse with each passing month. ... The root cause ... is its weak-currency policy, which is feeding an artificially large trade surplus. As I’ve emphasized in the past, this policy hurts the rest of the world, increasing unemployment in many other countries, America included.
But a policy can be bad for us without being good for China. ...Chinese currency policy is a lose-lose proposition, simultaneously depressing employment here and producing an overheated, inflation-prone economy in China itself.
One way to think about what’s happening is that inflation is the market’s way of undoing currency manipulation. ... China’s leaders are, however, trying to prevent this outcome, not just to protect exporters’ interest, but because inflation is even more unpopular in China than it is elsewhere. ...
But for whatever reason — the power of export interests, refusal to do anything that looks like giving in to U.S. demands or sheer inability to think clearly — they’re not willing to deal with the root cause and let their currency rise. Instead, they are trying to control inflation by raising interest rates and restricting credit.
This is destructive from a global point of view: with much of the world economy still depressed, the last thing we need is major players pursuing tight-money policies. More to the point from China’s perspective, however, is that it’s not working. Credit limits are proving hard to enforce and are being further undermined by inflows of hot money from abroad.
With efforts to cool the economy falling short, China has been trying to limit inflation with price controls — a policy that rarely works. In particular, it’s a policy that failed dismally the last time it was tried here, during the Nixon administration. (And, yes, this means that right now China is going to Nixon.)
So what’s left? Well, China has turned to the blame game, accusing the Federal Reserve (wrongly) of creating the problem by printing too much money. But ... blaming the Fed ... won’t change U.S. monetary policy, nor will it do anything to tame China’s inflation monster.
Could all of this ... turn into a full-fledged crisis? If I didn’t know my economic history, I’d find the idea implausible. After all, the solution to China’s monetary muddle is both simple and obvious: just let the currency rise, already.
But I do know my economic history, which means that I know how often governments refuse, sometimes for many years, to do the obviously right thing — and especially when currency values are concerned. Usually they try to keep their currencies artificially strong rather than artificially weak; but it can be a big mess either way.
So our newest economic superpower may indeed be on its way to some kind of economic crisis, with collateral damage to the world as a whole. Did we need this?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

"Making Peace in the US-China Trade War"

Dean Baker argues that mechanisms such as an "effective policy of work-sharing, like the one in Germany" can be used to redistribute the costs and benefits of China's currency policy so that "we need not be hostile to China," We won't, of course, do anything like this and the costs will continue to be concentrated rather than diffuse, but we could:

Making peace in the US-China trade war, by Dean Baker, Comment is Free: Trade disputes with China have been heating up lately, but there really is no reason for the hostility. Essentially, China's government is saying is that it has no better use for its money than subsidising the consumption of people in the United States and other wealthy countries, by propping up the value of the dollar. That may seem surprising..., but if this is what China's leaders insist, who are we to argue? ...
In effect, China is subsidising its exports to the United States. This is very generous of the Chinese government, since the United States can take advantage of China's generosity to enjoy a higher standard of living. Currently, our deficit with China is equal to 2% of GDP. This means that China is handing us goods and services that are worth roughly $280bn a year more than the value of goods and services we give them in exchange.
While this displaces a large amount of domestic production, we can ensure that the displacement does not result in unemployment by simply shortening working weeks. If everyone's working week was shortened by 2.0% (the equivalent of one week per year of vacation), we could keep the workforce fully employed even in the case of reduced demand.
This could be accomplished by having the government pay people to work shorter working weeks; in effect, paying unemployment benefits to cover a reduction in hours. This would spread the pain over many workers, rather than forcing a portion of the workforce to be completely unemployed. In this way, China could effectively subsidize the vacation of tens of millions of workers in the United States and elsewhere.
This may sound like a bad deal from China's standpoint, but it is a deal they insist upon. They have sometimes raised the question of whether they can expect to have debt to the United States lose value as a result of a falling dollar. The United States should take away this uncertainty.
China absolutely will lose money on its investments in government bonds. ... China's leaders should rest completely assured that when they ultimately sell these assets, they will be getting dollars that are worth substantially less than the dollars they bought. ...
So, we need not be hostile to China over its desire to give money to American consumers. An effective policy of work-sharing, like the one in Germany, can ensure that China's generosity leads to longer vacations, not unemployment. We should also take steps to ensure that our highest-paid workers are subjected to the same competition from China as our manufacturing workers.
And, in order to eliminate their uncertainty on this issue, we should assure the Chinese people and their government that they will be repaid in lower-valued dollars. However, if China's government thinks the best use of its money is to pay for longer vacations for workers in the United States, there is no reason for us to be upset.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Bhagwati: India or China?

Who will grow faster, China or India? Jagdish Bhagwati says it depends upon whether you adopt a short or long horizon. In the short-run, China has the advantage, but in the longer run, India has the advantage:

India or China?, by Jagdish Bhagwati, Commentary, NY Times: ...Will China grow faster than India...? In fact, this contest dates back to 1947, when India gained independence and democracy..., while China turned to Communism...
As it happened, however, both giants slept on – until the 1980’s in China and the early 1990’s in India – mainly because both countries embraced a counter-productive policy framework...
Reflecting flawed economic arguments, India embraced autarky in trade and rejected inflows of equity investment. It also witnessed economic interventionism on a massive scale... In China, the results were similar, as the political embrace of Communism meant going autarkic and giving the state a massive role in the economy.
After progressively dismantling their inefficient policy frameworks in favor of “liberal” reforms, the ... race was finally on. And ... China ... grew faster, because it changed its policy framework much faster than democracy permits. But there are good reasons to suspect that China’s authoritarian advantage will not endure.
First, while authoritarianism can accelerate reforms, it can also be a serious handicap. ... Moreover,... as growth accelerates, political aspirations are aroused. Will the Chinese authorities respond to them with ever greater repression,... creating discord and disruption, or will they accommodate new popular demands by moving to greater democracy? ...
Finally, China’s growth must continue to depend on its exploitation of external markets, which makes it vulnerable.., hassles and hiccups for Chinese exports can be confidently expected.
Economic factors also militate against Chinese prospects. China was clearly able for many years to ... grow rapidly without facing a labor-supply constraint... But now,... labor is getting scarce and wages are rising. ...
By contrast, India has a far more abundant supply of labor,... so that, as India’s investment rate increases, labor will not be a constraint. India will thus become the new China of the past two decades.
Besides, in contrast to China, where economic reforms were quicker and more complete, India still has a way to go: privatization, labor-market reforms, and opening up the retail sector to larger, more efficient operators are all pending – and will give a further boost to India’s growth rate once they are implemented.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Administrative Measures are Not Effective in Controlling Inflation"

The old raise the price by shrinking portion size trick:

During the sixty years of the People's Republic, we have learned that administrative measures are not effective in controlling inflation. For instance, the government often forbids university canteens from raising food prices, so prices do not change. Instead the portions get smaller. Unfortunately the government is doing the same again.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Paul Krugman: Rare and Foolish

China has a monopoly position in the production of many rare earth elements, and has "showed itself willing to exploit that monopoly to the fullest":

Rare and Foolish, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Last month a Chinese trawler operating in Japanese-controlled waters collided with two vessels of Japan’s Coast Guard. Japan detained the trawler’s captain; China responded by cutting off Japan’s access to crucial raw materials.
And there was nowhere else to turn: China accounts for 97 percent of the world’s supply of rare earths, minerals that play an essential role in many high-technology products, including military equipment. Sure enough, Japan soon let the captain go. ...
Some background: The rare earths ... play a crucial role in applications ranging from hybrid motors to fiber optics. Until the mid-1980s the United States dominated production, but then China moved in. ...
China has about a third of the world’s rare earth deposits. This relative abundance, combined with low extraction and processing costs — reflecting both low wages and weak environmental standards — allowed China’s producers to undercut the U.S. industry.
You really have to wonder why nobody raised an alarm while this was happening, if only on national security grounds. But policy makers simply stood by as the U.S. rare earth industry shut down. In at least one case, in 2003 — a time when, if you believed the Bush administration, considerations of national security governed every aspect of U.S. policy — the Chinese literally packed up all the equipment in a U.S. production facility and shipped it to China.
The result was a monopoly position... And ... China showed itself willing to exploit that monopoly to the fullest. The United Steelworkers recently filed a complaint against Chinese trade practices, stepping in where U.S. businesses fear to tread because they fear Chinese retaliation. The union put China’s imposition of export restrictions and taxes on rare earths — restrictions that give Chinese production in a number of industries an important competitive advantage — at the top of the list.
Then came the trawler event. Chinese restrictions on rare earth exports were already in violation of agreements China made before joining the World Trade Organization. But the embargo on rare earth exports to Japan was an even more blatant violation of international trade law.
Oh, and Chinese officials have not improved matters by insulting our intelligence, claiming that there was no official embargo. All of China’s rare earth exporters, they say — some of them foreign-owned — simultaneously decided to halt shipments because of their personal feelings toward Japan. Right.
So what are the lessons of the rare earth fracas?
First, and most obviously, the world needs to develop non-Chinese sources of these materials. There are extensive rare earth deposits in the United States and elsewhere. ...
Second, China’s response to the trawler incident is, I’m sorry to say, further evidence that the world’s newest economic superpower isn’t prepared to assume the responsibilities that go with that status.
Major economic powers, realizing that they have an important stake in the international system, are normally very hesitant about resorting to economic warfare, even in the face of severe provocation — witness the way U.S. policy makers have agonized and temporized over ... China’s grossly protectionist exchange-rate policy. China, however, showed no hesitation at all about using its trade muscle to get its way in a political dispute, in clear — if denied — violation of international trade law.
Couple the rare earth story with China’s behavior on other fronts — the state subsidies that help firms gain key contracts, the pressure on foreign companies to move production to China and, above all, that exchange-rate policy — and what you have is a portrait of a rogue economic superpower, unwilling to play by the rules. And the question is what the rest of us are going to do about it.



Saturday, October 09, 2010

Currency Wars: China Should Impose Green Taxes on its Exports

This is both creative and unlikely:

Currency wars: China should impose green taxes on its exports, by Gérard Roland, Vox EU: US and European policymakers have been clamoring about starting a currency war against China to force it to appreciate its currency. Even Paul Krugman, whose economic insights have been so precious in the Great Recession, is loudly supporting the Levin bill giving the Obama administration more power to impose tariffs on Chinese imports. A lesson from the Great Depression was that moves to impose tariffs on one’s competitors spiral into a global trade war that brings international trade into a nosedive and leads to even more global economic misery.
Let us, for once, look at the issue calmly from the Chinese side. Exchange-rate policy is in the end not decided by the Chinese Central Bank but by the Politburo. The more they feel bullied into appreciating their currency, the more they will resist such calls. Their decision has nothing to do with the exact extent of under-appreciation of the Chinese currency and all to do with showing that China will not let itself be humiliated again by the west as during the opium wars and the period of territorial concessions. ... China will not let itself be bullied to submission... Doing so would immediately undermine the position of the current leaders.
The sad thing is that this tension has pushed China into a corner. It would be in the interest of the Chinese economy to let its currency appreciate. ... Unfortunately this is not going to happen because such a move would be interpreted as “yielding to the west” and thus politically unpalatable, and even suicidal, by the Chinese leaders.
There is a creative solution that would show genuine international leadership on the part of Chinese leaders: start imposing a green tax on Chinese exports. This would have the same effect as an import tariff imposed on the US side but the revenue would instead go to the Chinese government. If they use the tariff revenues solely for green investments to reduce Chinese carbon emissions, they would achieve two goals at the same time: 1) reduce the international currency tensions that risk leading to dangerous trade wars while saving face, 2) show international leadership in adjustment to climate change. China has, after all, become a main manufacturing hub in today’s world economy and it seems only normal that all countries that benefit from Chinese goods pay their part in reducing carbon emissions related to that manufacturing process. If Chinese leaders were bold and creative enough to make such a move, it would certainly not be enough to shame US politicians into doing something about climate change but it would further isolate the all-too-large-lunatic fringe in the US that claims that climate change is a hoax. It would certainly do a lot to show that Chinese leaders are able to think beyond the sole interests of their country and exercise some international leadership in one of the most important issues of the twenty-first century.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Paul Krugman: Taking On China

A "shot across the bow of U.S. officials":

Taking On China, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Serious people were appalled by Wednesday’s vote in the House of Representatives, where a huge bipartisan majority approved legislation, sponsored by Representative Sander Levin, that would potentially pave the way for sanctions against China over its currency policy. As a substantive matter, the bill was very mild; nonetheless, there were dire warnings of trade war and global economic disruption. Better, said respectable opinion, to pursue quiet diplomacy.
But serious people, who have been wrong about so many things since this crisis began ... are wrong on this issue, too. Diplomacy on China’s currency has gone nowhere, and will continue going nowhere unless backed by the threat of retaliation. The hype about trade war is unjustified — and, anyway, there are worse things than trade conflict. In a time of mass unemployment, made worse by China’s predatory currency policy, the possibility of a few new tariffs should be way down on our list of worries.
Let’s step back and look at the current state of the world.
Major advanced economies are still reeling from the effects of a burst housing bubble and the financial crisis that followed. ... The situation is quite different, however, in emerging economies. These economies have weathered the economic storm, they are fighting inflation rather than deflation, and they offer abundant investment opportunities. Naturally, capital from wealthier but depressed nations is flowing in their direction. And emerging nations could and should play an important role in helping the world economy as a whole pull out of its slump.
But China, the largest of these emerging economies, isn’t allowing this natural process to unfold. Restrictions on foreign investment limit the flow of private funds into China; meanwhile, the Chinese government is keeping the value of its currency ... artificially low..., in effect subsidizing its exports. And these subsidized exports are hurting employment in the rest of the world.
Chinese officials defend this policy with arguments that are both implausible and wildly inconsistent. ...
Meanwhile, about diplomacy: China’s government has shown no hint of helpfulness and seems to go out of its way to flaunt its contempt for U.S. negotiators. In June, the Chinese supposedly agreed to allow their currency to move toward a market-determined rate — which ... would have meant a sharp rise in the renminbi’s value. But, as of Thursday, China’s currency had risen about only 2 percent against the dollar — with most of that ... in just the past few weeks, clearly in anticipation of the vote on the Levin bill.
So what will the bill accomplish? It empowers U.S. officials to impose tariffs against Chinese exports subsidized by the artificially low renminbi, but it doesn’t require ... action. And judging from past experience, U.S. officials will not, in fact, take action — they’ll continue to make excuses, to tout imaginary diplomatic progress, and, in general, to confirm China’s belief that they are paper tigers.
The Levin bill is, then, a signal at best — and it’s at least as much a shot across the bow of U.S. officials as it is a signal to the Chinese. But it’s a step in the right direction.
For the truth is that U.S. policy makers have been incredibly, infuriatingly passive in the face of China’s bad behavior — especially because taking on China is one of the few policy options for tackling unemployment available to the Obama administration, given Republican obstructionism on everything else. The Levin bill probably won’t change that passivity. But it will, at least, start to build a fire under policy makers, bringing us closer to the day when, at long last, they are ready to act.