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Sustaining growth: China’s need for a new growth model

David Dollar's picture

China’s big stimulus plan will help keep the economy growing at a healthy rate, though 2009 will be a rough year with probably the slowest growth in nearly 20 years. While China applies stimulus to deal with the immediate downturn, it would be good to be thinking ahead. China needs a new growth model, and it should evaluate its possible spending plans both in terms of immediate stimulus and in terms of contribution to this new growth model.

China needs a new growth model because after the global downturn comes to an end, exports will never again play the same role as they have in the past two decades. I would argue that the four basic principles that account for the Chinese miracle since 1978 remain valid, each of which needs some tweaking in the new environment.

In time of economic crisis, influential thinkers contemplate future

David Dollar's picture

The World Economic Forum, billed as the largest-ever brainstorming on the global agenda, drew about 700 people to Dubai in early November. Image credit: worldeconomicforum at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.
Seven hundred self-styled “smart people” got together in Dubai on Nov. 7-9 under the auspices of the World Economic Forum for what was billed as the largest-ever brainstorming on the global agenda -- that is, the priorities for global action. The event had been planned for a long time, but the deepening global financial and economic crisis naturally colored the discussions. I was part of the trade facilitation group -- under Harvard professor Robert Lawrence -- which worked closely with the trade policy group under Ernesto Zedillo, director of Yale University’s Center for the Study of Globalization. The most fun was the unstructured morning in which we could interact as we chose with any of the 66 other groups. I spent time with the groups working on the future of China, climate change, and growth and development. The official summary is on the WEF website, but I took away three main points from the interesting weekend.

It is striking how well the global trade system is working, even as the global financial system spirals into crisis. This is not to say that global trade is immune from the crisis, far from it. Trade finance has contracted sharply and the World Bank projects that total global trade in 2009 will decline for the first time since 1982. But what is striking is that global trade has a well-defined set of rules and an institution (the World Trade Organization) to oversee them. Global finance, on the other hand, does not have a well-defined set of rules and regulations. Until now, the system of global trade continued to work well.

China's stimulus plan also aims to improve quality of life

David Dollar's picture
China’s stimulus package, announced this week, focuses on more than just building up the industrial and export capacity. Some investments will also be in housing, schools, and health facilities.

China announced a massive stimulus package of 4 trillion Yuan (US$570 billion) this week, to aid its ailing economy. The move was quickly welcomed by World Bank President Robert Zoellick: "China is well positioned given its current account surplus and budget position to have fiscal expansion," said the World Bank chief at a news conference. "I am delighted that China decided not only to undertake these steps, but to announce it before the G20 summit," he added.

Basically, I think that the package is very good. It is not as big as it looks at first glance, but then the economy is not as bad as many people think. Real retail sales for October came in at 17 percent growth rate, down trivially from 18 percent in September. Exports in October were up 19.2 percent over the year before. There is definitely evidence of a slowing economy, but nothing too dramatic has happened so far. Worrying signs, such as a sharp drop in growth of electricity demand in October, suggest that heavy industry is slowing. And imports for processing have slowed to a 2-3 percent growth rate, indicating that processing exports will slow down sharply. We have said for some time that China needed to be ready with a stimulus package toward the end of 2008 as global conditions would likely lead to a slowdown, and that time has come. I see the current move as precautionary, in light of some worrisome signals, rather than as reactive to a highly deteriorated situation (as suggested in some of the Western press coverage).

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