OK, that may be a bit of a stretch. But there’s little doubt that the global recession will take its toll on China’s double-digit growth rates.
One (emailed) response to our recent Washington Post op-ed criticized us for overlooking the role of China (although we did discuss China in the following Forbes article). In particular, the reader said, “it is my opinion that China holds all of the cards and I believe they will likely play some of them early in the next U.S. administration” – this because of China’s role in financing the U.S. deficits by investing in Treasuries. This may be true in the long run, although of course China cannot try to damage the U.S. economy without also crippling its own export-dependent economy. More immediately, though, China is facing an old-fashioned slowdown of its own.
All Things Considered did a story this past week on the impact of the global slowdown on Chinese exporters. One figure jumped out at me: 80% of the toy factories in Guangdong province have closed.
Also, the Baltic Dry Index, a measure of bulk cargo shipping costs and hence of global demand for heavy stuff (largely commodities) has fallen off a cliff this year (see the second chart in that post) – one reason why the Shanghai Composite Index is down more than 60% this year.
China is a place I won’t claim to understand. But as we all know, the Chinese government relies on an unsteady equilibrium in which it uses economic growth to legitimize the political system and convince the growing middle classes not to question the political order. Tocqueville’s observation (which I alluded to in my previous post) about the tendency of political strife to arise not out of prolonged abject misery, but when increasing expectations are dashed, could turn out to be particularly appropriate for China.
Update: Thanks to Randy for his comment (below). I fixed the error regarding the Baltic Dry Index.
Update: The Economist has a post with almost the same title as this post – but no question mark.