Quotulatiousness

March 17, 2010

Superbubble?

Filed under: China, Economics, Politics, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 12:14

Jon, my former virtual landlord, sent me this link, suggesting that it “gives you an opportunity to round up all of your ‘as I said about China earlier…’ [posts]“.

The world looks at China with envy. China’s economy grew 8.7 percent last year, while the world economy contracted by 2.2 percent. It seems that Chinese “Confucian capitalism” — a market economy powered by 1.3 billion people and guided by an authoritarian regime that can pull levers at will — is superior to our touchy-feely democracy and capitalism. But the grass on China’s side of the fence is not as green as it appears.

In fact, China’s defiance of the global recession is not a miracle — it’s a superbubble. When it deflates, it will spell big trouble for all of us.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m anti-Chinese, because that isn’t why I post this sort of material. I think the Chinese miracle has been to raise literally hundreds of millions out of poverty, but it hasn’t been a purely positive thing: hundreds of millions of others are supporting the uplift but being deprived of similar opportunities. It’s a fantastic achievement, but it has involved — and continues to involve — injustice and repression.

It also requires continued state control over media, and not just BBC/CBC/PBS type state funding, but actual state censorship and worse:

During the crisis, Chinese exports were down more than 25 percent, tonnage of goods shipped through railroads was down by double digits, and electricity use plummeted.

Yet Beijing insisted that China had magically sustained 6 to 8 percent growth.

China lies. It goes to great lengths to maintain appearances, including censoring media and jailing those who write antigovernment articles. That’s why we have to rely on hard data instead.

Those lies will compound the impact when the lies can’t be maintained any more:

What happens in China doesn’t stay in China. A meltdown there — or even a slowdown — would have severe consequences for the rest of the world.

It will tank the commodity markets. Demand for industrial goods will fall off the cliff. Finally, Chinese appetite for our fine currency will diminish, driving the dollar lower against the renminbi and boosting our interest rates higher. No more 5 percent mortgages and 6 percent car loans.

It will be bad for the US and the rest of the world’s economies, but it could well be catastrophic (in the full meaning of that word) for China. As the US economy contracted over the last couple of years, it revealed lots of malinvestments . . . and the companies which were most exposed to the risks took huge hits to their balance sheets and their business models. A similar shock to the Chinese economy could topple the government or raise the already-high chances of massive unrest and corresponding increased repression.

Interesting times, indeed.

As Jon suggested, you can see my previous concerns about the Chinese economy here.

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