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Friday, April 21, 2006

Stiglitz: China's Roadmap

Nobel laureate in economics Joseph Stiglitz looks at the steps China is taking as it constructs a roadmap to the future and warns against "special interests that clothe self-serving arguments behind a thin veil of market ideology" that would undermine China's chances of success:

China’s Roadmap, by Joseph E. Stiglitz, Project Syndicate: China is about to adopt its 11th five-year plan, setting the stage for the continuation of probably the most remarkable economic transformation in history, while improving the well-being of almost a quarter of the world’s population. ... Part of the key to China’s long-run success has been its almost unique combination of pragmatism and vision. While much of the rest of the developing world, following the Washington Consensus, has been directed at a quixotic quest for higher GDP, China has once again made clear that it seeks sustainable and more equitable increases in real living standards. China realizes that it has entered a phase of economic growth that is imposing enormous – and unsustainable – demands on the environment. ... That is why the new five-year plan places great emphasis on the environment.

Even many of the more backward parts of China have been growing at a pace that would be a marvel, were it not for the fact that other parts of the country are growing even more rapidly. While this has reduced poverty, inequality has been increasing, with growing disparities between cities and rural areas, and between coastal regions and the interior. ... China’s 11th five-year plan attacks the problem head-on. The government has for several years talked about a more harmonious society, and the plan describes ambitious programs for achieving this.

China recognizes, too, that what separates less developed from more developed countries is not only a gap in resources, but also a gap in knowledge. So it has laid out bold plans not only to reduce that gap, but to create a basis for independent innovation.

China’s role in the world and the world’s economy has changed, and the plan reflects this, too. Its future growth will have to be based more on domestic demand than on exports, which will require increases in consumption. Indeed, China has a rare problem: excessive savings. People save partly because of weaknesses in government social-insurance programs; strengthening social security (pensions) and public health and education will simultaneously reduce social inequalities, increase citizens’ sense of well-being, and promote current consumption.

If successful – and, so far, China has almost always surpassed even its own high expectations – these adjustments may impose enormous strains on a global economic system that is already unbalanced... If China saves less – and if ... it pursues a more diversified policy of investing its reserves – who will finance America’s more than $2 billion a day trade deficit? This is a topic for another day, but that day may not be far off. ...

As China has moved toward a market economy, it has developed some of the problems that have plagued the developed countries: special interests that clothe self-serving arguments behind a thin veil of market ideology.

Some will argue for trickle-down economics: don’t worry about the poor, eventually everybody will benefit from growth. And some will oppose competition policy and strong corporate governance laws: let Darwinian survival work its wonders. Growth arguments will be advanced to counter strong social and environmental policies: higher gasoline taxes, for example, will kill our nascent auto industry. Such allegedly pro-growth policies would not only fail to deliver growth; they would threaten the entire vision of China’s future. There is only one way to prevent this: open discussion of economic policies in order to expose fallacies and provide scope for creative solutions to the many challenges facing China today. ...

Market economies are not self-regulating. They cannot simply be left on autopilot, especially if one wants to ensure that their benefits are shared widely. But managing a market economy is no easy task. It is a balancing act that must constantly respond to economic changes. China’s 11th five-year plan provides a roadmap for that response. The world watches in awe, and hope, as the lives of 1.3 billion people continue to be transformed.

    Posted by on Friday, April 21, 2006 at 12:06 AM in China, Environment | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (60)

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