Archive for the 'Productivity' Category

Mar 06 2008

Walking the fine line between good growth and bad growth in China

FT.com / Asia-Pacific / China – China to focus on curbing inflation

Growth – the ultimate macroeconomic policy goal. Growth leads to improvements in material well-being; by definition it means more output per person. Growth also enriches society in other ways: more tax revenue for governments means more to spend on public goods like education, health care, and infrastructure, which all contribute to development of human capital, standard of living, and productivity. But is there such a thing as too much of a good thing? When it comes to growth in China, that may be the case.

According to Chinese premier Wen Jiabao:

“The primary task for macro­economic regulation this year is to prevent fast economic growth from becoming overheated growth…”

So, fast growth is good, but overheated growth is bad?

I once had a Jeep Wrangler that when I drove it across the country, anytime it hit 70 mph it started to overheat… is that the kind of overheating China’s economy is experiencing? Well, kind of, yes.

The reason my Jeep would overheat was that the pistons in the engine had to move so rapidly to keep the engine going at enough RPMs that the friction created overwhelmed the engine’s ability to properly cool itself. In China, the pistons can be compared to the manufacturing industry and agricultural sectors, which last year were stretched to their limits to meet not only rising demand from foreigners for China’s output, but record levels of domestic demand as well.

For the first time last year, China’s domestic consumption made up a larger component of the country’s GDP than investment. Returning to our metaphor, the engine was forced to work harder than usual, but I hadn’t spent enough to maintain the engine, so it was not properly lubed and tuned for the stress of long-distance travel. Maintenance on an engine is important, otherwise it will wear out and overheat while driving at high speeds over long distances. Likewise, investment in new capital is vital for an economy to keep from overheating as it grows at high rates over long periods of time.

Rising consumption and exports, without a corresponding increase in investment, means capital depreciates too quickly to meet Chinese and the world’s demand for output. In terms of our macroeconomic model, AD shifts out more rapidly than AS, causing inflation:

“the premier said the political priority was to tame consumer price inflation, which hit an 11-year high of 7.1 per cent in January.”

Rising consumption and net exports puts upward pressure on prices in China. To worsen matters, food prices have experienced record increases in the last year, making the matter especially hard for China’s urban poor, separated from the farmland and its produce as they are.

Investment, while an expenditure itself, tends not to contribute to inflation (as might be thought, since it shifts AD outward), but mitigate it, due to the supply-side effect attributable to the increase in capital and productivity that it creates. To combat rising food prices in China, Mr. Wen plans to encourage investment in the agricultural sector through targeted government intervention:

The government would expand agricultural commodity production, strictly control industrial grain use, establish an early-warning system to monitor supply and demand, and strengthen “market oversight” and “price inspections”, he said.

Subsidies for the poor would be increased and provincial governors and mayors held directly responsible for ensuring basic food supplies, said Mr Wen.

Overall China’s picture is looking rather rosy, it would appear. While 7.1% inflation is certainly something to fear, it seems to be manageable in the context of a global slowdown in income growth, and the corresponding decrease in demand for Chinese exports that implies. Combined with a strengthening RMB, China can look forward to a slower rate of growth in 2008, (“a now routine annual ‘target’ of 8 percent expansion in [GDP]”). The trick for the government is to foster investment and productivity growth in the agricultural sector to keep food prices down in the face of growing demand for meat products among China’s middle class.

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Nov 20 2007

Exports, good – Imports, ALSO GOOD!

Foreign Policy: Why We Trade

Professor Russ Roberts, host of the EconTalk podcast, has an essay in the latest issues of Foreign Policy journal titled “Why We Trade”. In this piece, Roberts defends the benefits of trade from a broad perspective, beyond the popular political view of trade, usually along the lines of “exports, good – imports, bad”. Roberts compares this line of thinking (characteristic of presidential candidates of both the Republican and Democratic parties), to the 14th century, pre-Adam Smith view of world trade, known as mercantilism.

Mercantilism was a view of global economic interaction that placed emphasis on the accumulation of gold and other precious metals from abroad in exchange for your country’s exports. The doctrine failed to recognize the importance of imports from abroad, as this was viewed as a loss of wealth to foreigners. Mercantilists viewed wealth in terms of bullion or the amount of precious metals a country owned. Today, of course, our understanding of wealth has evolved to account for the amount of output, or products (goods and services), we are able to consume. Herein lies the flaw in the rhetoric of modern politicians who, “are always talking about the necessity of other countries’ opening their markets to American products. They never mention the virtues of opening U.S. markets to foreign products.”

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Aug 20 2007

IB: Economic development and fertility rates in India

How the World Works: Who Invented Calculus? – Salon.com

IB students, here’s a blog post you’ll want to read closely once we start studying economic development later this semester. Andrew Leonard at Salon.com refers to a study titled “Does Economic Growth Reduce Fertility? Rural India 1971-1999”.

Interesting stuff. Leonard points out a peculiar paradox of growth in India:

India’s Green Revolution has been criticized by those who wonder if an agricultural model reliant on large inputs of fertilizers and pesticides is environmentally sustainable over the long run. But if in the short run these spikes in agricultural productivity contribute to population stabilization, then we have a nifty paradox: a (possibly) unsustainable agricultural model contributing to (possibly) sustainable population levels.

This article and the study it refers to might make for an interesting commentary for your internal assessment, or as a source for an extended essay on growth and development. Any opinions on the supposed correlation between economic growth and decreased fertility?

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