Hitting China’s Wall

Discussion in 'Financial Cents' started by tulianr, Jul 19, 2013.


  1. tulianr

    tulianr Don Quixote de la Monkey

    By PAUL KRUGMAN
    Published: July 18, 2013

    EXCERPTS:
    ......
    China is in big trouble. We’re not talking about some minor setback along the way, but something more fundamental. The country’s whole way of doing business, the economic system that has driven three decades of incredible growth, has reached its limits.
    .....

    All successful economies devote part of their current income to investment rather than consumption, so as to expand their future ability to consume. China, however, seems to invest only to expand its future ability to invest even more. America, admittedly on the high side, devotes 70 percent of its gross domestic product to consumption; for China, the number is only half that high, while almost half of G.D.P. is invested.

    How is that even possible? What keeps consumption so low, and how have the Chinese been able to invest so much without (until now) running into sharply diminishing returns? The answers are the subject of intense controversy. The story that makes the most sense to me, however, 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. Indeed, the main thing holding down Chinese consumption seems to be that Chinese families never see much of the income being generated by the country’s economic growth. Some of that income flows to a politically connected elite; but much of it simply stays bottled up in businesses, many of them state-owned enterprises.

    It’s all very peculiar by our standards, but it worked for several decades. Now, however, China has hit the “Lewis point” — 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” — the jargon phrase of the moment.

    Investment is now running into sharply diminishing returns and is going to drop drastically no matter what the government does; 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, instead boosting the economy by keeping the currency undervalued and flooding it with cheap credit.
    .......

    How big a deal is this for the rest of us? At market values — which is what matters for the global outlook — China’s economy is still only modestly bigger than Japan’s; it’s around half the size of either the U.S. or the European Union. So it’s big but not huge, and, in ordinary times, the world could probably take China’s troubles in stride.

    Unfortunately, these aren’t ordinary times: China is hitting its Lewis point at the same time that 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.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/19/opinion/krugman-hitting-chinas-wall.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130719
     
    HK_User likes this.
  2. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    The chinese have built Whole Cities that NO ONE lives in... All the buildings are EMPTY, but owned by Citizens, as investments... They have many more still under construction, only to keep the labor force, employed. It is a Giant Bubble, and when it bursts, their whole Economic System will crash and burn in Flames, and it will NOT be Pretty.... and they still can NOT FEED their own population.... When it goes south, many are going to be facing STARVATION, with no Food available for importing. Rioting will happen, and the only solution is to kill off their own rioting population... or head North, and take Siberia, from the Russians... Oh well....
     
  3. Brokor

    Brokor Live Free or Cry Moderator Site Supporter+++ Founding Member

    Sounds a bit like Pennsylvania. The PA Dept. of Transportation (PENDOT), which is a private corporation like everything else, has massive buildings, fully furnished and empty. What a crock this control grid welfare system is.
     
  4. tulianr

    tulianr Don Quixote de la Monkey

    Recognizing the End of the Chinese Economic Miracle
    By George Friedman

    EXCERPTS:
    .....
    Last week, the crisis was announced with a flourish. First, The New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-recipient Paul Krugman penned a piece titled "Hitting China's Wall." He wrote, "The signs are now unmistakable: China is in big trouble. We're not talking about some minor setback along the way, but something more fundamental."
    ......

    Later in the week, Ben Levisohn authored a column in Barron's called "Smoke Signals from China." He wrote, "In the classic disaster flick 'The Towering Inferno' partygoers ignored a fire in a storage room because they assumed it has been contained. Are investors making the same mistake with China?" He goes on to answer his question, saying, "Unlike three months ago, when investors were placing big bets that China's policymakers would pump cash into the economy to spur growth, the markets seem to have accepted the fact that sluggish growth for the world's second largest economy is its new normal."

    Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs -- where in November 2001 Jim O'Neil coined the term BRICs and forecast that China might surpass the United States economically by 2028 -- cut its forecast of Chinese growth to 7.4 percent.
    .....

    It has not been working for some time. One of the things masking China's weakening has been Chinese statistics, which Krugman referred to as "even more fictional than most." China is a vast country in territory and population. Gathering information on how it is doing would be a daunting task, even were China inclined to do so. Instead, China understands that in the West, there is an assumption that government statistics bear at least a limited relationship to truth. Beijing accordingly uses its numbers to shape perceptions inside and outside China of how it is doing.
    .....

    China in fact has had an extraordinary period of growth. The last 30 years have been remarkable, marred only by the fact that the Chinese started at such a low point due to the policies of the Maoist period. Growth at first was relatively easy; it was hard for China to do worse. But make no mistake: China surged. Still, basing economic performance on consumption, Krugman notes that China is barely larger economically than Japan.
    .....

    China's growth surge was built on a very unglamorous fact: Chinese wages were far below Western wages, and therefore the Chinese were able to produce a certain class of products at lower cost than possible in the West. The Chinese built businesses around this, and Western companies built factories in China to take advantage of the differential. Since Chinese workers were unable to purchase many of the products they produced given their wages, China built its growth on exports.

    For this to continue, China had to maintain its wage differential indefinitely. But China had another essential policy: Beijing was terrified of unemployment and the social consequences that flow from it. This was a rational fear, but one that contradicted China's main strength, its wage advantage. Because the Chinese feared unemployment, Chinese policy, manifested in bank lending policies, stressed preventing unemployment by keeping businesses going even when they were inefficient. China also used bank lending to build massive infrastructure and commercial and residential property. Over time, this policy created huge inefficiencies in the Chinese economy.
    .....

    As businesses become inefficient, production costs rise. And that leads to inflation. As money is lent to keep inefficient businesses going, inflation increases even more markedly. The increase in inefficiency is compounded by the growth of the money supply prompted by aggressive lending to keep the economy going. As this persisted over many years, the inefficiencies built into the Chinese economy have become staggering.

    The second thing to bear in mind is the overwhelming poverty of China, where 900 million people have an annual per capita income around the same level as Guatemala, Georgia, Indonesia or Mongolia ($3,000-$3,500 a year), while around 500 million of those have an annual per capita income around the same level as India, Nicaragua, Ghana, Uzbekistan or Nigeria ($1,500-$1,700). China's overall per capita GDP is around the same level as the Dominican Republic, Serbia, Thailand or Jamaica. Stimulating an economy where more than a billion people live in deep poverty is impossible.
    .....

    The Chinese are thus in a trap. If they continue aggressive lending to failing businesses, they get inflation. That increases costs and makes the Chinese less competitive in exports, which are also falling due to the recession in Europe and weakness in the United States. Allowing businesses to fail brings unemployment, a massive social and political problem.
    .....

    The Chinese economy could perhaps be growing at 7.4 percent, but I doubt the number is anywhere near that. Some estimates place growth at closer to 5 percent. Regardless of growth, the ability to maintain profit margins is rarely considered. Producing and selling at or even below cost will boost GDP numbers but undermines the financial system. This happened to Japan in the early 1990s. And it is happening in China now.

    The Chinese can prevent the kind of crash that struck East Asia in 1997. Their currency isn't convertible, so there can't be a run on it. They continue to have a command economy; they are still communist, after all. But they cannot avoid the consequences of their economic reality, and the longer they put off the day of reckoning, the harder it will become to recover from it. They have already postponed the reckoning far longer than they should have. They would postpone it further if they could by continuing to support failing businesses with loans. They can do that for a very long time -- provided they are prepared to emulate the Soviet model's demise.
    ....

    The Chinese are not going to completely collapse economically any more than the Japanese or South Koreans did. What will happen is that China will behave differently than before. With no choices that don't frighten them, the Chinese will focus on containing the social and political fallout, both by trying to target benefits to politically sensitive groups and by using their excellent security apparatus to suppress and deter unrest. The Chinese economic performance will degrade, but crisis will be avoided and political interests protected.
    .....

    The obvious economic impact on the rest of the world will fall on the producers of industrial commodities such as iron ore. The extravagant expectations for Chinese growth will not be met, and therefore expectations for commodity prices won't be met.

    Since the Chinese economic failure has been underway for quite awhile, the degradation in prices has already happened. Australia in particular has been badly hit by the Chinese situation, just as it was by the Japanese situation a generation ago.

    The Chinese are, of course, keeping a great deal of money in U.S. government instruments and other markets. Contrary to fears, that money will not be withdrawn. The Chinese problem isn't a lack of capital, and repatriating that money would simply increase inflation. Had the Chinese been able to put that money to good use, it would have never been invested in the United States in the first place.

    The outflow of money from China was a symptom of the disease: Lacking the structure to invest in China, the government and private funds went overseas. In so doing, Beijing sought to limit destabilization in China, while private Chinese funds looked for a haven against the storm that was already blowing.
    .....

    The major shift in the international order will be the decline of China's role in the region. China's ability to project military power in Asia has been substantially overestimated. Its geography limits its ability to project power in Eurasia, an endeavor that would require logistics far beyond China's capacity. Its naval capacity is still limited compared with the United States. The idea that it will compensate for internal economic problems by genuine (as opposed to rhetorical) military action is therefore unlikely.
    .....

    In our view, the most important shift will be the re-emergence of Japan as the dominant economic and political power in East Asia in a slow process neither will really want.

    China will continue to be a major power, and it will continue to matter a great deal economically. Being troubled is not the same as ceasing to exist. China will always exist. It will, however, no longer be the low-wage, high-growth center of the world. Like Japan before it, it will play a different role.

    In the global system, there are always low-wage, high-growth countries because the advanced industrial powers' consumers want to absorb goods at low wages. Becoming a supplier of those goods is a major opportunity for, and disruptor to, those countries. No one country can replace China, but China will be replaced. The next step in this process is identifying China's successors.
     
  5. ghrit

    ghrit Ambulatory anachronism Administrator Founding Member

    Last night, PBS had a rather long snippet on China that pointed out, dramatically, that China is still a centrally controlled economy that is spending on infrastructure at breakneck speed. There are huge numbers of unoccupied residential and commercial structures in what might be considered the suburbs of the larger (and smaller) urban centers. All the while, the agrarian portions of the economy are denied modern equipment, and feeding the population is becoming a serious problem. They are directed what to grow, and burdened with the need to get a permit for what they are directed to do.

    And obviously, the press is tightly controlled. The bloggers get caught after a very short period of putting stuff on the web. A fine mess they have, just about every level of government is corrupt and left to sort itself out. Screw up, and get to see the inside of the bars, and no way to know what to do to avoid screwing up; enforcement is sketchy and easily bought off.

    The little guys are restless, dunno where that will take them, but it won't be a nice place. More and more activists are coming out of the woodwork.

    Side light, google "nail houses."
     
    BTPost and tulianr like this.
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