Posts Tagged ‘How Asia Works’

Latest thoughts on the Chinese economy / the ‘new normal’

December 16, 2014

China held its Central Economic Work Conference last week, chaired by president Xi Jinping, so here are a few thoughts on the current state of the Chinese economy and a few links to an article I have written, and talks I have given, recently about the Chinese economy.

First up, the slogan du jour is definitely ‘new normal’ (新常态). Xi Jinping has been using this for about six months, but now he is really using it. Xinhua’s short, official report on the conference has ‘new normal’ in the headline and ‘new normal’ six times in the text. See here for the English version.

What does it mean? It means that local politicians, state firms, and everybody else should dial back their expectations about credit and growth. The increase in both is slowing and that is the way it is going to be as China undertakes a deleveraging process in the banking and corporate sectors. There is not going to be the kind of collapse in growth that many have predicted. The government has plenty of room to fine tune the slow-down, Chinese exports remain competitive, and the global economic environment, while not great, is not a disaster from the perspective of China’s needs. Look out for reported GDP growth in 2015 between 6-7 percent.

Against this background reforms will continue to increase the extent to which the market prices credit in China’s economy. There has already been a big shift in favour of lending to the private sector since the global financial crisis (see my review of Nicholas Lardy’s new book, below), and this is one aspect of an ongoing financial liberalisation process. To my mind, this explains the recent strong performance of the Chinese stock market much better than claims it is down to an interest rate cut (which wasn’t really a cut at all given falling inflation). Previous run-ups in the Chinese market have coincided with periods of financial sector deregulation. The difference this time I suspect is that the bull market will last longer.

All in all the outlook is a not unattractive one: slower growth, better credit rationing hence higher quality growth, and a rising share for consumption in the economy at the expense of slowing investment. The main risk — as was the case during Zhu Rongji’s long period of ‘structural adjustment’ in the 1990s — is that the central government listens to local politicians who say they cannot maintain ‘social stability’ without more credit and growth. Zhu didn’t listen to such imprecations, and we have to hope Xi won’t either. As the slogan says, China needs and is getting a new normal. Otherwise the books really cannot be balanced and financial system risk will become unmanageable.

Later re. the new normal: Damian Ma has written an excellent piece for the new issue of Foreign Policy around the theme of the ‘new normal’. Well worth a read, with a lot more detail than I can offer here.

 

Links:

Below is a link to download the review of Nick Lardy’s latest book, Markets Over Mao, that I wrote for the latest China Economic Quarterly. The book makes an important contribution to the optimists’ case that China will overcome its current slough of non-performing loans in the banking system.

2014 CEQ Q4 final Markets Over Mao review

 

This next link is to a download of a synopsis of a talk I gave at the Madariaga College of Europe in Brussels (an EU think-tank) a couple of weeks ago. It is about how China’s development model is similar and dissimilar to those of Japan, Korea and Taiwan. The theme will be familiar to anyone who has read How Asia Works, but there are some additional, up-to-date thoughts about China as well as responses to questions raised by the Brussels nomenklatura. The precise topic I was asked to speak on is ‘What can east Asian countries learn from China’s economic policies?’

2014-Dec-01 – Madariaga – CN lessons to East Asia_final

 

The Youtube video below is a speech I gave at the National University of Singapore in October (blog entry about that trip here) on the subject of ‘When will governance matter to China’s growth?’ (governance here meaning institutions like a free and fair and prompt judiciary). Roger Cohen of the New York Times speaks first about the role of the US in east Asia. Then I speak at roughly the 25-minute mark. Then there is a joint Q&A.

 

 

And here is another Youtube video where I spoke separately about How Asia Works at the National University of Singapore. There is quite a long Q&A in which lots of questions about development from a more Singaporean perspective are addressed.

 

 

All is forgiven

December 10, 2014

I spent the 1990s fuming about Microsoft Office and its regular-as-clockwork crashes. But I now realise that I was wrong.

Why? Because of this.

Or in video format if you prefer:

In fact I see that Gates has written a full review of How Asia Works, here.

How Asia Works

April 5, 2013

I was just sent a link to a first review of my new book, carried in the FT. If you want to see other reviews (assuming there are any), check www.howasiaworks.com. This one I will paste in here since it gives a pretty good synopsis of what the books is about (and, let’s be honest, isn’t entirely negative either).

 

Reap what you sow

David PillingReview by David Pilling

How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region, by Joe Studwell, Profile, RRP£14.99, 288 pages
A woman plants rice seedlings in a flooded paddy field, Taiwan©GettyA woman plants rice seedlings in a flooded paddy field, Taiwan

Why are the northeast Asian states of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan rich, while the southeast Asian ones of Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia are relatively poor? Is the failure of the latter because of their geography or climate, or is it because their leaders chose wrong-headed policies?

One of the many virtues of the pithy, well-written and intellectually vigorous How Asia Works is that Joe Studwell does not equivocate. South-east Asian nations have ended up on what he calls the “rubbish heap of industrialisation” because they failed to learn the lessons of history. Instead of taking what he presents as relatively simple steps to technological advancement, leaders were captured by their ruling elites or took bad advice from international institutions such as the World Bank. The latter pushed neo-liberal policies – including no protection for fledgling industries – that Studwell considers wholly inappropriate for countries trying to get on the first rung of the developmental ladder. His recommendation to poor nations is to emulate Park Chung-hee, the South Korean strongman who oversaw what became known as the miracle on the Han river: “make public pronouncements about the importance of free markets, and then go quietly about your dirigiste business.”

The measures taken by Japan, then South Korea, Taiwan and, after 30 years of Maoist missteps, communist China were, argues Studwell, threefold. They involved land redistribution, the development of an export-oriented manufacturing policy, and the formation of a closely controlled finance system. The three important development insights, he argues, are that “a country’s agricultural potential is most quickly released when its farming is transformed into large-scale gardening supported by agricultural extension services; that the technological upgrading of manufacturing is the natural vehicle for swift economic transformation … and that finance must be harnessed to both these ends”. Only the small city-states of Hong Kong and Singapore have successfully taken a different path.

The most original part of the book deals with farming. Studwell, whose Asian Godfathers (2007) dissected the failures of crony capitalism, argues convincingly that successful Asian nations were built on radical land reform. Japan began parcelling out land after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, a policy continued after the war when the US occupation oversaw a seemingly un-American exercise in land confiscation and redistribution. South Korea and Taiwan followed suit. Large farms are often considered more efficient because they can be highly mechanised to produce higher yields per farmer or per unit of investment. In other words, they are more profitable. But in poor, labour-abundant countries, Studwell contends, that is not the point. The goal should be to use available labour to maximise yield per hectare, something achieved on smaller, intensively farmed plots.

Maximising yields serves several broader development goals: farmers earn money to spend on local manufactures; higher food production means the state doesn’t have to waste precious foreign exchange on imports; and farmers’ savings can be recycled through the banking system into industry. Both the indulgent leaders of the Philippines, who left vast haciendas in the hands of absentee landlords, and Maoist ideologues, who collectivised land into unproductive large-scale co-operatives, ignored the basic insight on what he calls “the triumph of gardening”.

The sections on industrial policy and finance are more familiar, though the ideas remain controversial among free-market economists who argue that governments can’t “pick winners”. Such economists, says Studwell, misunderstand what Japan, and later South Korea, actually did. The key was to force manufacturers, whether of steel or cars, to export and thus compete on international markets. Those that couldn’t hack it were killed off. Korea, for example, had three putative car champions in 1973 at a time when local auto sales were only 30,000 cars a year. In the early years, the market leader was the now-forgotten Shinjin. Only later did Hyundai emerge as the last car company standing. “The economics of development requires nurture, protection and competition,” he writes. The alternative to such hard-headed, nationally driven policies, he says contemptuously of the Philippines, is “an authentic, technology-less Third World state with poverty rates to match”.

Studwell’s thesis is bold, his arguments persuasive, and his style pugnacious. It adds up to a highly readable and important book that should make people rethink the glib equation of free-market policies with economic success. He also writes with disdain for those who would peddle the “fairy tale” that poor countries can become rich by skipping industrialisation. Of India’s attempt to build wealth through IT services, which employ only a few million people, he says: “Punditry that likens India’s economic development to that of the more northerly countries is fatuous.”

The implication of Studwell’s analysis is that talk of globally converging living standards is overdone. Those countries that do not begin with comprehensive land reform or bully their entrepreneurs into nation-building – as opposed to rent-seeking – are bound to fail. Even the relatively successful ones won’t get further than Malaysia, he says, a country whose botched efforts at industrialisation he likens to attending school but not paying much attention.

That leaves China, which in many ways has emulated the successful northeastern model, through post-1978 land reform and the creation of state champions financed through policy banks. China’s biggest companies, he argues, are closing in on international standards in heavy industry. But consumer businesses are not. As demographics worsen and as vested interests worry more about personal gain than national development goals, he wonders whether China will get stuck.

Studwell’s book is a warning to those who believe that developing countries in Asia, Latin America and now Africa have cracked the secret of growth and will inevitably catch up with rich ones. Only those nations with good policies will make it, he argues. And good policies are out of fashion.

David Pilling is the FT’s Asia editor

 

 


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