Opinion

The Great Debate

from The Great Debate UK:

Pranab Bardhan on the economic rise of China and India

In its May economic outlook, the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development projected upward growth outlooks for BRIC countries Brazil, Russia, India and China -- the world's four largest emerging economies.

Strong growth in those economies is helping to pull other countries out of recession, the OECD said. The Paris-based organisation projects that China’s GDP growth will exceed 11 percent for 2010, and anticipates that India's real GDP growth will be 8.3 percent. Russia's GDP growth is expected to be 5.5 percent, and Brazil's is projected at 6.5 percent. By comparison, the OECD projects that the Euro area will see 1.5 percent real GDP growth, while the UK will see a 2.2 percent growth.

The "BRIC" acronym was created by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O'Neill in 2001 to mark a shift of economic power from the West. In June 2009, the BRIC leaders met in Yekaterinburg, Russia, for a summit, which was seen as the beginning of a geopolitical alliance, although their economies are very different: Brazil's economy is based on agriculture; Russia's on energy exports; India's on services and China's on manufacturing. At that time, the BRIC countries accounted for 40 percent of the world's population and about 15 percent of its economy.

In a new book titled "Awakening Giants, Feet of Clay: Assessing the Economic rise of China and India", Pranab Bardhan, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, dissects some generally accepted beliefs about the economies of China and India -- arguing that they are oversimplified -- to provide a new perspective on what to expect from the two countries in the future.

He examines the impact of economic growth on politics, people and the environment within China and India.

In praise of Latin American immigrants

The United States owes Latin American immigrants a debt of gratitude. And Latin American immigrants owe a debt of gratitude to lawmakers in Arizona. How so?

Thanks largely to immigration from Latin America (both legal and illegal) and the higher birth rates of Latin immigrants, the population of the U.S. has kept growing, a demographic trend that sets it apart from the rest of the industrialized world, where numbers are shrinking. That threatens economic growth and in the case of Russia (U.N. projections see a decline from 143 million now to 112 million by 2050) undermines Moscow’s claim to Great Power status.

A country’s population starts shrinking when fertility falls below the “replacement rate” of 2.1. births over the lifetime of a woman. For white American women, that rate is around 1.8 now. For Latin American immigrants, the rate is 2.8. According to the U.S. census bureau, nearly one in six people living in the U.S. are Hispanics. By 2050, they are projected to make up almost a third of the population.

Bank lending and profits; a costly divergence

Don’t count on the profitability of the financial services sector as a leading indicator of anything. Well, anything other than financial services compensation.

A stupendous recovery in profits is underway at U.S. banks, brokerages and insurance companies, but the big picture shows that for the rest of us that rebound may prove sterile.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis shows the sector had an absolutely cracking 2009, with profits rising in the fourth quarter by 240 percent against the same period a year before.

Deflation pressure not just from housing

It will take more than a recovery in housing to reignite inflation in the U.S. economy, a state of play that argues for the continued threat of deflation and a Federal Reserve that is pinned to the mat, unable, even if willing, to raise interest rates.

The strong disinflationary forces in the United States are deeper and wider than a simple, if bloody, aftermath of a housing bubble.

Many took encouragement from a report by Reis Inc that apartment rents in the United States rose in the first quarter for the first time in a year and a half even as the apartment vacancy rate stayed at an all-time high of 8 percent. Besides indicating a possible recovery in jobs and household formation, which tracks jobs, there is a hope that stabilization in housing values and rents would remove a powerful disinflationary force.

The Age of Frugality takes a holiday

That whole Age of Frugality thing didn’t last long, did it?

U.S. real personal consumption grew in February at a respectable 0.3 percent clip, the fifth straight such monthly rise, a fact widely greeted as news that the recovery is on course. The fly in this tasty soup, however, is income, which in real terms didn’t increase at all, not even by one tenth of a percent.

American’s did this neat trick — spending more while earning the same — the old fashioned way: they cut back on luxuries … like saving.

Savings as a percentage of disposable personal income fell to 3.1 percent from 3.4 percent the month before and down from a recent peak of 6.4 percent in May 2009. In fact, the last time the savings rate was lower was October 2008 when a market maelstrom was convincing so many people, apparently falsely, that something rather dangerous and important was wrong with the economy. In real terms, consumption is only very slightly below where it peaked in 2007.

China’s export dominance must force U.S. rethink

Managing the rise of China’s vast economy and healing the U.S. trade deficit will require a new willingness and capacity to boost U.S. technology exports at affordable prices. More importantly it requires a new language from policymakers and a new mindset.

In a recent survey of American businesses, the proportion who felt unwelcome operating in China had risen sharply, amid tense stand offs involving Rio Tinto and Google. But with U.S. legislators in full flag-waving cry about China as a currency manipulator, is it really surprising China is looking to become more self-reliant?

At the heart of the trade problem is the difficulty the United States (and other western economies) are experiencing in adjusting to China’s rise to superpower status in the 21st century. It is causing the same problems the rise of Germany, Japan and the United States itself caused for Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Economy volatility a hurdle for stocks

Rather than inflation, it may turn out that economic volatility is the true test facing equities in the years to come.

Coming in the wake of an almost unprecedented set of circumstances and policies, the outlook for growth and inflation is extremely murky. For equity investors that means there is far less certainty over both the outlook for profits and how to value them than they had grown used to in the 25 years to the onset of the current crisis.

It is not simply that very low interest rates and bloated central bank balance sheets may cause inflation. That is true, but it is also possible that Japanese-style deflation takes hold. There is a higher chance now of wild swings in inflation, growth and monetary policy than any time in the post-World-War-Two period.

Be careful what you wish for on currencies

The rancorous argument about global payment imbalances and the yuan’s valuation is exposing a surprising and dangerous economic illiteracy among policymakers and commentators.

Before pressing China to allow a maxi-revaluation of the yuan, western commentators need to think through the consequences carefully. The idea that devaluing the dollar (and by extension euro and yen) will cause payment imbalances to disappear and boost employment in the West with little or no impact on inflation and living standards is a pipe dream.

MAXI-DEVALUATION
First some notes about terminology. Proponents generally phrase their argument in terms of an appreciation of the yuan (which keeps the focus on the alleged currency manipulators in China). But it could just as easily be recast as a depreciation of the dollar (which is a much more controversial formulation, highlighting the fact that the exchange rate problem reflects U.S. weakness as much as China’s strength).

Goodbye America, Hello China? Think again

For the growing number of Americans who see China heading for inevitable global dominance, nudging aside the United States, a brief walk down memory lane helps put long-term predictions into perspective.

Not so long ago, Japan was seen as the next (economic) number 1. American executives studied the 14 management principles of The Toyota Way, developed by the automobile manufacturer that grew into the world’s biggest car maker and is now recalling millions of defective vehicles.

Between the mid-1980s and early 1990s, books with titles such as Trading Places – How We Are Giving Our Future to Japan and How to Reclaim It (by Clyde Prestowitz) were required reading in Washington. Learned panelists expounded on the wondrous efficiency of “Japan Inc.”

America just declared the recovery over so you’d better get ready for the double dip

This article originally appeared in the Business Insider.

By John Carney

Today’s bleak consumer confidence number is undoubtedly bad news for the economy. The bigger than expected drop suggests that consumers have lost confidence in the recovery, which will drive down home prices and consumer spending.

Consumer confidence is typically our “first look” at the state of the economy. While most government aggregated data come out with a two-month lag, or more, consumer confidence hits with just a one month lag. Studies have shown that consumer confidence is a good predictor of consumer spending numbers. Basically, people surveyed seem to be good at accurately reading their own economic situation, and those surveyed accurately reflect the broader economy. When consumer confidence drops to such deep unexpected levels–today’s were the worst in 27 years–then it is a flashing red-light about the economy.

There wasn’t anything good about today’s numbers. Every part of the survey was awful. On jobs, the optimistic folks who say jobs are plentiful fell to 3.6 percent from 4.4 percent. The pessimistic people who said jobs are hard to get increased to 47.7 percent from 46.5 percent. The gauge of expectations for the next six-months fell to 63.8, from 77.3 the prior month. The share of people who believe their incomes will increase over the next six months fell to 9.5 from 11 percent. The share of those expecting more jobs fell to 12.4 percent from 15.8 percent.

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