China: the coming costs of a superbubble
China may seem to have defied the recession and the laws of economics. It hasn't. When China's bubble bursts, the global impact will be severe, spiking US interest rates.
The world looks at China with envy. China’s economy grew 8.7 percent last year, while the world economy contracted by 2.2 percent. It seems that Chinese “Confucian capitalism” – a market economy powered by 1.3 billion people and guided by an authoritarian regime that can pull levers at will – is superior to our touchy-feely democracy and capitalism. But the grass on China’s side of the fence is not as green as it appears.
In fact, China’s defiance of the global recession is not a miracle – it’s a superbubble. When it deflates, it will spell big trouble for all of us.
To understand the Chinese economy, consider three distinct periods: “Late-stage growth obesity” (the decade prior to 2008); “You lie!” (the time of the financial crisis); and finally, “Steroids ’R’ Us” (from the end of the financial crisis to today).
Late-stage growth obesity
About a decade ago, the Chinese government chose a policy of growth at any cost. China’s leaders see strong gross domestic product (GDP) growth not just as bragging rights, but as essential for political survival and national stability.
Because China lacks the social safety net of the developed world, unemployed people aren’t just inconvenienced by the loss of their jobs, they starve; and hungry people don’t complain, they riot and cause political unrest.
Remember the 1994 movie “Speed”? A young cop (Keanu Reeves) had to save passengers on a bus that would explode if its speed dropped below 50 m.p.h. Well, China is like that bus with 1.3 billion people aboard. If the Communist Party can’t keep the economy growing at a fast clip, the result will be catastrophic.
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