And for the reaction:
Was visiting with an armchair economist about the state of China's economy and the future of import/export/monetary relations with that country. We didn't have a great many answers, but I thought it worth reviewing this piece from 2005, mostly for that great Jeffrery Benard line at the end. The good prognosticator equivocates to keep shelf life on predictions.
Update 04/02/12 The demographers pay particular attention to the dearth of youngsters compared to the lump of oldsters. "Most particularly, these countries need to change the incentives that, albeit unintentionally, create unsustainable levels of singleness, childlessness and the prospect of massive, rapid aging of their societies."
China is a country of staggering statistics, which we could get staggeringly wrong.
Fairchild's first rule for bandwagons is to disembark. That's what I've been doing lately with the whole China craze. It's not like I'm going out on a limb. I haven't plumbed deeply into obscure economic data, but anytime the major three news weeklies agree on a topic, there is a good chance they've gotten it completely wrong. China's century, they're calling it. But, if you ask this Sino-skeptic, China is an Asian Tiger with a few hoops to jump through for title to the next 95 years.
I heard at the University of Missouri's Breimyer Seminar earlier this year that the biggest social concern in China is the countryside disgorging as farmers and others of the peasant class head en masse to cities looking for a better life. Perhaps this is a sign of more freedom. And the urban workers often send remittances back to their rural families, which slightly masks the division of wealth. But the migration is creating serious class division problems in east-coast city enclaves. Even in a country whose modern government is shored up by the bones of 70 million dead from Mao Tse-tung's Cultural Revolution, Beijing is loathe to submit itself to radical social upheaval. As we saw with tanks in Tiananmen Square, the establishment's control can be brutal. But brutality in this age of camera phones can cause cracks in the periphery that bring the whole machine down.
We hear plenty about the Chinese economy sizzling along at a sustainable 9 percent growth. Yet, in the grain trade, every statistic about Chinese production or consumption is offered with the caveat: "Of course, because of irregularities in reporting, nobody really knows." That's polite shorthand for the fact that in an authoritarian government, facts are built to suit.
Economists of the Sino-enthusiast stripe have lauded Beijing's decision to decouple the yuan from the underperforming American dollar and its subsequent peg to a basket of currencies. But skeptics point out that during the go-go years when the yuan was pegged to the stable but cheap dollar, hyper investment created overcapacity in backbone industries like textiles and electronics. Meanwhile, some report that to maintain the dollar peg, the People's Bank of China picked up the tab for a fifth of the U.S. Treasury Bonds issued during the deficit-happy Bush administration. Now econ wags say that the Chinese business class isn't interested in buying more American paper but would rather have things more tangible and symbolic. This should sound familiar if you recall a white-hot, T-Bill-rich Japanese economy of the 1980s. American golf courses and iconic cultural real estate fell quickly into Japanese hands. In light of China's similar position, does the junk-bond status of General Motors look more precarious?
That may frighten a union man in Detroit, but it goes to the heart of a Sino-skeptic's thinking. Japan's supposed clobbering of the U.S. economy never materialized. In retrospect, it was the incestuous relationship between its businesses and banks that brought on Japan's economic crash. Observers agree that Chinese banking is corrupt and its stock exchange weak. Is a meltdown in store?
I won't cast predictions here, only doubt. So consider the stability of a state where by 2020 the one-child policy will have produced 20 to 40 million bachelors (and an upcoming pension crisis); a state where an obscene wealth gap breeds contempt and where corruption and brutality still rule; a state that governs behind a cloak of secrecy and duplicity. A runaway China? I'd go with Jeffrey Bernard's wisdom instead: One way to stop a runaway horse is to bet on him.