Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The cursed Chinese ‘savings’ glut

Richard Fidler with the Australian Broadcast Commission interviewed Michael Casey, an economist who works for the Wall Street journal, yesterday. [1] 

Casey spoke about his belief that the underlying cause of the Global Financial Crisis was the existence of a giant pool of money in China.  He states that this money came into being from the wages of the ‘floating population’ of workers who hold rural passports and move to work in factories in the coastal cities. [2]

Casey says that these internal migrants are compelled to save because they are denied access to basic services under Chinese law.  And “they’re saving more than they need”, he says, with this money ultimately being invested in US Treasury bonds that fund the national and private debts of Americans.

The problems with this story are quite numerous.  First, Casey informs his listener that genuine wealth was being created in China through access to jobs and the monetary savings that went with them. However, the first decade of the new millennium witnessed global resource wealth per capita actually decreasing at an alarming rate. Resources were said to be declining at ~2% annually and population increasing at 1.4%.  Therefore, per capita wealth was reported (in 2001) to be decreasing at 3.4%. [3] How, I wonder, did China manage to escape global limits to growth?

Another question:  how much of this new so-called ‘wealth’ was actually ‘Chinese’ in nature? “Wal-Mart [an American firm] is responsible for approximately 10 percent of the United States' trade deficit with China” for instance.[4]  There are many, many US firms in China heavily involved in intra-corporate trade between China and America.  In fact, the emergence of this giant pool of money in China coincides with China becoming a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).  The WTO, in turn, was “designed to stimulate foreign direct investment and the movement of factories around the world, especially from the United States to low-wage locations such as China and Mexico (Scott 2003).” [5]

So, just at the time the world’s depletion of energy and other critical resources kicks in (on a scale it may never have done so before) US factories move to China.  US factories then sell Chinese-made goods to the US and largely to their own retail outlets.  

Michael Casey admits that China has accepted a regime that sees millions of low-paid individuals living and working under painful conditions, in order to find jobs for them.  Casey doesn’t mention, however, that China does not have sufficient rural land available for the ‘rice bowl’ guarantee the Chinese Revolution granted.   Chinese expansion of exports under this unfavorable WTO compact could be viewed as method to simply feed and clothe a desperate nation.  Chinese funding of US debt might merely be the ‘tribute’ it pays to the world’s hegemonic power in order to achieve this challenging task.

Han Suyin wrote in 1976 that China’s industrialization was only made feasible by China’s “one great asset:  oil.”

“The fact that she is not only self-sufficient but will become an oil exporter of magnitude, paying her way as she has done so far, without running into debt, is also part of the strategy of plenty which is now being put into action…” [6]

In 2005, China became a net energy importer. 

What now for China?

Brenda Rosser.  3rd July 2012

Michael Casey interviewed
Broadcast date: Monday 2 July 2012

[2]  Under Chinese law personal legal identity is constructed on the basis of where you were born and where you live.  If you’re not living at your place of birth you’re denied eligibility to services.  So, when rural workers move away they are denied services such as health care, social security, and education.

[3] 'Thermohaline feedback loops and Natural Capital' Tom Sawyer Hopkins, Dept. MEAS, Box 8208, NCSU, Raleigh, North Carolina, 27695, USA.
Sci.Mar., 65 (Supl. 2): 231-256. Scientia Marina 2001
A Marine Science Odyssey into the 21st Century. J.M. Gili, J.L. Pretus and TT Packard (eds)

[4]  Wal-Mart's 'China Price'
By Joshua Holland, AlterNet. Posted November 7, 2005.

[5]  U.S.-China Trade, 1989-2003 - Impact on jobs and industries,  nationally and state-by-state
 A Research Report Prepared for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.  By Dr. Robert E. Scott, Director of International Programs,  Economic Policy Institute. January 2005 
EPI Working Paper #270

[6]  ‘Wind in the Tower – MaoTsetung and the Chinese Revolution 1949-1975’, Han Suyin.  1976.  Pages 391, 392.


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