China Crisis ‘A Lot Worse Than People Expect’

6 Apr

Robert J. Brenner, economic historian and professor of history at the University of California, offers a grim forecast of the future for China in a series titled, “Overproduction Not Financial Collapse Is The Heart Of The Crisis: The US, East Asia, and the World”:

I think the Chinese crisis is going to be a lot worse than people expect, and this is for two main reasons. The first is that the American crisis, and the global crisis more generally, is much more serious than people expected, and in the last analysis, the fate of the Chinese economy is inextricably dependent on the fate of the U.S. economy, the global economy. This is not only because China has depended to such a great extent on exports to the U.S. market. It is also because most of the rest of the world is also so dependent on the U.S., and that especially includes Europe. If I’m not mistaken, Europe recently became China’s biggest export market. But, as the crisis originating in the U.S. brings down Europe, Europe’s market for Chinese goods will also contract. So the situation for China is much worse than what people expected, because the economic crisis is much worse than people expected. Secondly, in people’s enthusiasm for what has been China’s truly spectacular economic growth, they have ignored the role of bubbles in driving the Chinese economy. China has grown, basically by way of exports and, particularly, a growing trade surplus with the U.S. Because of this surplus, the Chinese government has had to take political steps to keep the Chinese currency down and Chinese manufacturing competitive.

Specifically, it has bought up U.S. dollar-denominated assets on a titanic scale by printing titanic amounts of the renminbi, the Chinese currency. But the result has been to inject huge amounts of money into the Chinese economy, making for ever easier credit over a long period. On the one hand, enterprises and local governments have used this easy credit to finance massive investment. But this has made for ever greater overcapacity. On the other hand, they have used the easy credit to buy land, houses, shares, and other sorts of financial assets. But this has made for massive asset price bubbles, which have played a part, as in the U.S., in allowing for more borrowing and spending. As the Chinese bubbles bust, the depth of the overcapacity will be made clear. As the Chinese bubbles bust, you will also have, as across much of the rest of the world, a huge hit to consumer demand and disruptive financial crisis So, the bottom line is that the Chinese crisis is very serious, and could make the global crisis much more severe.

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