Even Krugman Worries that China Faces “Economic Crisis”

China’s economy is often touted as an exemplar of the success of government stimulus policies at promoting economic growth. So it is worth noting when a Nobel-Prize-winning international economist and advocate of government stimulus policies worries that in China:

(p. A25) . . . the bubble is bursting — and there are real reasons to fear financial and economic crisis.
. . .
I’ve been reluctant to weigh in on the Chinese situation, in part because it’s so hard to know what’s really happening. All economic statistics are best seen as a peculiarly boring form of science fiction, but China’s numbers are more fictional than most. I’d turn to real China experts for guidance, but no two experts seem to be telling the same story.

Still, even the official data are troubling — and recent news is sufficiently dramatic to ring alarm bells.
. . .
Real estate investment has roughly doubled as a share of G.D.P. since 2000, accounting directly for more than half of the overall rise in investment. And surely much of the rest of the increase was from firms expanding to sell to the burgeoning construction industry.
Do we actually know that real estate was a bubble? It exhibited all the signs: not just rising prices, but also the kind of speculative fever all too familiar from our own experiences just a few years back — think coastal Florida.
. . .
For what it’s worth, statements about economic policy from Chinese officials don’t strike me as being especially clear-headed. In particular, the way China has been lashing out at foreigners — among other things, imposing a punitive tariff on imports of U.S.-made autos that will do nothing to help its economy but will help poison trade relations — does not sound like a mature government that knows what it’s doing.
And anecdotal evidence suggests that while China’s government may not be constrained by rule of law, it is constrained by pervasive corruption, which means that what actually happens at the local level may bear little resemblance to what is ordered in Beijing.

For the full commentary, see:
PAUL KRUGMAN. “Will China Break?” The New York Times (Mon., December 19, 2011): A25.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story is dated December 18, 2011.)

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