Lessons from Beijing
Following her chat with Glenn Hutchins at the Quebec City Conference about how globalization is changing corporate strategy, Chrystia interviewed NYU Economics Professor A. Michael Spence about how globalization is bringing about structural change in the world’s leading economies.
Spence, a 2001 winner of the Nobel Prize, chairs the Commission on Growth and Development, a multilateral effort to determine the practical conditions developing nations need to implement in order to achieve high growth. Given his expertise in emerging markets, it comes as no surprise that he thinks their future is bright. Spence was impressed with emerging markets’, especially China’s, brisk comeback following the capital flight and collapse in world trade that resulted from the financial crisis, and he thought they would be able to sustain their current growth rates:
American policymakers — and other Nobel Prize winners — are far less impressed with China’s resurgence, which they view as the result of the malevolent Chinese policy of keeping the yuan undervalued. Spence, however, argued that a one-off revaluation of the sort Washington demands will not only be bad for China, since it will destabilize most of the country’s export-oriented businesses. But it would also be bad for the global economy, since China is the engine for growth in large parts of the world. Instead, he said, China should focus on finding a way to make necessary structural changes while sustaining growth:
China is in a complex set of transitions, and one of the objectives of Chinese policy in navigating through this next five years, is going to be to increase domestic consumption and domestic incomes and let that drive the economy. Part of that will involve a reduction in excess savings in China… That’s in China’s interest; it’s also in the global economy’s interest. But what the global economy wants from China is success in making these structural changes in such a way that the growth is sustained. Chinese growth is an enormously important factor in the global economy and especially in the emerging markets. I mean, I think it’s widely known that the growth in Latin America–which is running at a rate of 4.5% real–is dependent on the growth in Asia.
Finally, Spence told Chrystia that as the United States looks for ways to pay for much-needed investments in education and infrastructure, it has much to learn China, particularly in the area of self-sacrifice:
I mean, look, I know people don’t get it in the Western world, so let me describe China thirty years ago. Thirty years ago China had a per capita income of $500, changed direction, and started saving at 35% and investing at 35%. OK? Now when you have a $400 income and you’re saving at 35%, that means you’re consuming 66% of $400. That is a huge commitment to the future as opposed to the present, right? Now you either make the commitment, as the Chinese did and all the other high-growth developing countries, or you don’t. And there’s lots of developing countries that haven’t made the commitment and the investment and savings rates are down around 15%, and you just can’t sustain high growth on that.
Posted by Peter Rudegeair