Debt is rising more quickly in the United States than most people would prefer. This is happening in part because the U.S. current account deficit and the country’s high level of income inequality distort the structure and amount of American savings.
Analysts are increasingly skeptical that China’s very high reported GDP growth rate provides a meaningful picture of the economy’s health. There are, however, at least three very different ways that reported GDP can fail to reflect the underlying economy.
November 11, known in China as Singles’ Day, started out as a wry, tongue-in-cheek holiday. It has since become a major draw for online shopping, a profoundly Chinese celebration, and an expression of the country’s modern urban youth. But the rampant commercialization of Singles’ Day may one day come to be seen as a symbol of the era of China’s bubble economy.
China’s debt problems have emerged so much more rapidly and severely this year than in the past that a growing number of analysts believe that this may be the year that China’s economy breaks. There is no question that China will have a difficult adjustment, but it is likely to take the form of a long process rather than a sudden crisis.
A recent article by Joseph Stiglitz suggests that the United States runs a current account deficit because its people save too little to fund domestic investment. In fact, he may have it backwards: Americans may save too little precisely because the United States runs a current account deficit.
Most of the discussions among economists about the impacts of tariffs and trade intervention are more ideological than logical. While tariffs may cause households to pay more for tradable goods, there are many other ways households, and the overall economy, are affected, positively and negatively. What matters are the conditions under which trade intervention policies are made.
Democracies will increasingly have to choose between raising wages and redistributing income or maintaining free trade and capital flows. Because they are likely to choose the former, the world may face a long-term reversal of globalization.
In most economies, GDP growth is a measure of economic output generated by the performance of the underlying economy. In China, however, Beijing sets annual GDP growth targets it expects to meet. Turning GDP growth into an economic input, rather than an output, radically changes its meaning and interpretation.
A January 2018 Bloomberg article suggests that Chinese officials may reduce their purchases of U.S. government bonds. It is very unlikely that China can do so in any meaningful way because doing so would almost certainly be costly for Beijing. And even if China took this step, it would have either no impact or a positive impact on the U.S. economy.
Michael Pettis will be joined by Carnegie’s vice president for studies Douglas H. Paal to address economic factors challenging China and the new leadership that will emerge from the congress. Watch live on Monday, October 2.
If local governments and state-owned enterprises in China systematically invest in projects that are not economically justified, to the extent that these projects are not correctly marked to market, China’s reported GDP will be overstated by that amount, as will its total wealth.