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To Buddha pronounced,

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To Buddha pronounced,

  1. 1. 中国原色 裴敏欣 乔纳森·安德森 中国令人目眩的经济腾 飞造就了一批它的坚实拥趸,也一直吸引着众多批评的目光。凭借其规模效应,中国经济无论是将继续辉煌还是瞬间崩溃,其后 果都会令世界各国胆战心惊。中国能 否有效掌控其经济的发展?深层的社会矛盾是否会浮出水面?对这些问题的回答,裴敏欣并不乐观,他认为恶化的 环境、失控的民众以及问题丛生的基础设施建设带 来的负面效应绝不可低估。安德森却恰恰相反,他相信中国的 GDP 仍然能够强劲增长,甚至有望创 造其它国家难以企及的世界纪录。 危机隐现 作者:裴敏欣 一 预言一个国家的未来与预测一支股票的未来其实没什么差别,都是要借助其历史的表现来进行分析推测。所以说,对中国经济增 长持乐观态度并不奇 怪,因为在过去的三十年里中国的表现实在是太好了,很多人相信它能继续以令人震惊的速度再增长二十年,甚至三十年。这种信心是有理由 的,极高 的储蓄率、庞大且逐渐整合的国内市场、飞速的城市化进程以及与全球化贸易系统的迅速对接,这些都是保证中国经济发展的坚强基础。更重要的是, 中国 曾经克服过很多唱衰中国的人认为根本无法克服的在经济、社会和政治等各方面的重重困难,其出色表现令一般人很难相信,中国的经济腾飞会嘎 然而止。 固然,中国也许确实能像乐观的人估计的那样再增长二三十年,但要注意的是,其经济面 临停滞的风险同样很大。那些由政府发出的半途而废或根本就 是瞎指挥的各项经济政策造成的结构缺陷很可能会毁掉中国的增长。共产党为了维持统治不得不大力发 展经济,但它往往为了换取短期的经济增长而牺 牲社会的根本福利,这种牺牲引起人民的不满后逼迫它更加求助于经济的发展以求消除不满,但追求发展的结果又往 往是民众利益更加受损,如此则形 成一个恶性循环。此外,尽管中国政府过去成功回避了一些问题,例如严重依赖补贴的工业、逐渐恶化的社会收入不均、严酷的劳 动环境等等,这些问 题其实还一直存在,而且有的还变得更加严重。 因为依赖经济发 展作为其政权合法性的来源,中国政府总是喜欢在那些看得见的发展项目上大笔投资,比如大规模的工厂和工业园区,但诸如医疗、教 育和环境保护等等问题统统被 忽视了。这种对“形象工程”的侧重实际上造成的社会成本很高,是典型地牺牲长期的可持续发展以换取短期的增长。这也 是我对中国未来难以保持乐观的原因之 一。 长此以往,这些“社会欠账”将全方位削弱国家的政治、经济和社会基础,也令人民日渐苦闷与躁动不安。听任这些欠账不断堆积而不闻不问已到了难以 为继的地步,但要减少这些“欠账”又谈何容易,需要大量额外的资金投入和复杂的政治配套改革。 更严峻的是,一些过去支持中国经济增 长的要素条件将在未来逐渐恶化,比如庞大而年轻的适龄劳动人口、廉价的自然资源和全民一致的对发展经济的 认同。越来越少的劳动力,迅速老龄化的国民再加上 极度恶化的环境,中国除了在“发展停滞”或“彻底变革”中做出选择外,没有第三个选项。中国政府 如果不能进行某些重大的政策调整的话,“中国快车”在不久 的将来很可能会出轨翻车,尽管此前它一直能够保持危险行驶但却做到有惊无险。 当然,如果中国政府能从问题的源头着手,切实进行有效的政治经济改 革,很多诸如经济均衡发展、返还社会欠账和争取更多政治支持等等这些难题还 是可以解决的。但是,它能做到吗?中国的政治结构是否有足够的灵活性和内在张力 来抗衡既得利益者反对变革的力量?中国共产党作为执政党是否有 这个魄力来打破目前小心维系的政治经济各方力量平衡而进行大刀阔斧的改革? 整个世界正在被一场全球性的经济危机慢慢吞没,作为世界经济的发动机,中国也逐渐显得力不从心。现在,是到了重新衡量一下风险并且再次审视一 下未来的时候了。 二 中国有一句谚语,“一白遮百丑”,高速的经济发展其实掩盖了很多严重的结构、制度和政策缺陷。发展的高速度常常被理所当然地当作制度优越性和政 策英明的证据,但对经济发展速度近乎偏执的追求使我们忽视了国家大厦下面那些脆弱的支柱。日复一日,因短视而带来的洋洋得意的情绪令我们对一 些危险的信号视而不见。 中国过去三十年良好的经济表 现有赖于四个重要的因素:极高的国内储蓄率(为工业投资提供资金),人口红利(为企业提供源源不绝的劳动力),全 球化红利(进入全球化市场进行贸易)和对 原有计划经济进行市场化改造而释放出的高效率。这四大基本要素自 1980 年以来对中国经济发展贡献良 多,然而,它们也使得政府没有足够的动力去采取有效的 手段进行更深入的市场化改革、或逐步减少政府对经济的直接干预,对市场有效的监督机构也 没能建立起来。这并不意味着中国政府没有进行过重大改革,它确实做 了很多,但无一例外的,那些改革都是在严重的经济危机驱使下被迫的选择(90 年代末的国企倒闭风潮就是一例)。 这种消极应对的行为代价高昂,因为高额投资、人口优势和贸易的增长并不能解决所有的问题。今天,当中国出口锐减而国内需求不振之时,境况就变 得很明显,经济和 社会发展的不平衡不仅不利于中国长远的可持续发展,而且也削弱了其应对眼前经济危机的能力。可以肯定,这种不平衡从 90 年代 初期就开始了,其主要特征包 括:对固定资产的过量投资(比如资本密集型的工业)、家庭消费低迷、日益依赖出口来推动经济发展和服务业的滞后发 展。从 1992 年到 2005 年,总投资从 占 GDP 的 36.6%上升到 42.6%,而总消费从 47.2%下降到 38%。2007 年,总消费下降至占 GDP 的 35%,创历史新 低。相应的,出口增长成 为 GDP 增长的主要推动力,到 2007 年,出口总值已经占到 GDP 的 25%。 因为中国大部分的投资都投向了制造业,尤其是资本密集的重工业,持续的高投资恶化了制造业与服务业本来就存在的不平衡,使中国的第三产业即使 在发展中国家中也显得十分落后。 过量的投资不仅造成了对出口和工业的依赖,而且也使得投资的经济产出逐渐减小。1991 年至 1995 年,1 亿元人民币的额外投资可以产生 6620 万元的 额外 GDP,创造 400 个就业机会以及带来 1040 万的工资,而到了 2001 至 2005 年,同样的投资只能产生 286 万元额外 GDP、170 个就业机会和 370 万元 的工资。 经济结构的不平衡威胁着中国可持续发展的能力,造成中国长期的产能过剩、偏低的生活水平和频繁的贸易摩擦,而且还将导致资本密集型企业逐渐增 加和劳动密集型企业慢慢减少,使中国难以发挥其在人力资源上的优势。 三
  2. 2. 显而易见,这些经济结 构上的不平衡都是经济体制没有进行彻底改革和长期坚持某些错误政策所造成的。尽管改革开放三十年了,无论是通过直接干预 还是间接的政策控制,中国政府对经 济的决定性影响还在延续。国有企业的产值占到 GDP 的 35%,但是,政府在经济活动中扮演的角色要比这个并不 算小的数字所显示的还要重要得多。所有所谓关 系国计民生的产业,如银行、金融服务、自然资源、能源产业、电信产业和大部分重工业,政府都一直 保持其垄断或半垄断的地位。这种垄断导致的必然结果就是, 中国几乎所有的大公司都是国有企业或由国家控股。 此外,诸如能源、土地和资本等生产要素的价格是由政府制定的,由于政府对生产投资和产品 制造的偏爱,这些价格被人为地压低了。土地的初级市场 一直难以建立的原因也在于此:地方政府经常以极低的成本从毫无反抗能力的农民手中获得土地然后再低价 转卖给开发商或直接用于基础设施建设,这 一进一出的土地转让价格其实都远低于其真实的市场价格。资本的价格也是如此,中国政府一直凭借它对金融的控制而大量利用居民储蓄来补贴国有企 业。对于国有企业而言,资本的价格几乎为零,很多企业从银行借钱的时候根本就没考虑过还钱的问题。尽管居民储蓄名义上是受国家保护的,但国有 银行的大量不良贷款最终还是需要全体纳税人来买单。 能源、土地和资本,对这些中国本来稀缺的生产要素近乎挥霍式的使用以保持不平衡的经济增长,这种发展模式显然是难以持久的,但它却维持了将近 三十年,这是因为中国经济中一些强健的基础条件一直在发挥作用,保证了政府主导的这种畸形增长得以持续。遗憾的是,这些基础条件在未来二三十 年里将逐渐弱化乃至消失,使目前的政策难以为继。 人口和储蓄,这两个条件的恶化最值得注意,因为它们是过去中国经济增 长的主要动力。在未来的 5 到 10 年内,中国的人口红利将消失。从 2005 年到 2020 年,中国人的平均年龄将从 32.5 岁增长为 37.9 岁,60 岁以上人 口的比例也将由 11%提高到 17.1%。到 2030 年,中国劳动与社会保障部部长表示中 国将会有 3 亿 5 千 1 百万人年龄在 60 岁以上,占总人口的 23%,年 轻人对老年人的比例将从 2006 年的 5.2 比 1 变为 2030 年的 2.2 比 1。工作人口与退休 人口的比例将从 2006 年的 3 比 1 变为 2030 年的 2 比 1。迅 速老龄化的人口将不可避免地增加医疗保障、退休金和劳工工资方面的支出,令中国在劳动力 方面的比较优势丧失殆尽。更重要的是,老龄化还将降低中国的储蓄 率。一份世界银行的报告指出,在 2025 年之前,人口老龄化将导致私人储蓄大量 减少,其减少的金额将相当于 GDP 的 6%。另一份人口报告指出,如果不调整 人口政策,中国个人平均收入的增长率将由 2000 年的 5.3%降为 2020 年的 2.9%。这意味着政府将无法继续挪用私人储蓄来补贴工业。 社会老龄化再配上糟糕的社会保障,经济停滞乃至最终彻底的衰败绝不是天方夜谭。 四 中国的高速经济增长隐含很高的社会成本,例如社会公共服务每况愈下、环境污染日渐恶化、收入不均日趋严重,等等等等。仅仅几年前还没什么人愿 意公开承认这一点,但现在这已成了无可争辩的共识。中国政府自己也承认其主导下的经济发展社会代价十分巨大。 自 20 世纪 90 年代以来,政府执意将本应投入到教育、医疗和环保上的资源转移到诸如基础设施、城市发展和工业园区等等看得见的发展项目上,这不 可避免地造成 了社会欠账不断积累。这种短视政策既出于中央政府维系政权的考虑也和地方官员的个人利益有关。一方面,共产党的政权合法性来源于 经济增长,它必然偏好那些能刺激经济短期增长的政策,哪怕牺牲社会的长远利益也再所不惜;另一方面,地方官员们升迁的指标全在那些看得见的发 展项目上面,为了更高的官位和更大的权力,他们当然有动力挪用社会资源去上大项目。 于是,党中央和地方官对要采取的经济政策达成高度一致,而整个社会付出的代价触目惊心。 官方数据显示,政府在医疗和教育上的相对投入自 90 年代以来一直就在减少。1986 年,国家负担医疗总支出的 39%,而公民个人负担 26%。到了 2005 年,国家对医疗的投入下降到 18%,而公民个人负担增长为 52%。这种急速的变化明显加重了家庭的经济负 担并且相应地减少了有能力维持医保的人 口。从 1990 年到 2006 年,医保支出在个人消费中的比例在城市地区翻了三倍(从 2%增长到 7.1%),在乡村也 增长了 30%。根据卫生部在 2003 年做的一 个调查,因为交不起医疗保险,约有一半的人患病后选择不去看医生。1991 年,国家负担 84.5%的教育支 出,而到了 2004 年,这个比例降为 61.7%。同 一时期,由个人负担的学费和杂费大幅增长,在 1991 年,这两项只占教育总支出的 4.4%,而 2004 年,他们占到的总支出的 19%。国家的教育投入减少 导致年轻人受教育的机会减少,初中升高中的升学率降低就说明了这一点(高中不属于义务教育)。1980 年,农村地区的初中生会有 25%升入高中,到 2003 年,这一比例降为 9%。同一时期,城市里初中到高中的升学率也由 86%降为 56%。 在自然资源方面,中国环 境恶化的情况已经是人所共知。尽管对污染造成的损失没有统一的数据,但大家都知道那绝对不是个小数目。最近一项由世界 银行和中国政府联合进行的调查显 示,2004 年因污染所造成的损失约占当年 GDP 的 5.8%,另一项由中国两个政府机构进行的联合研究显示,2004 年中 国在环境保护方面的投资欠费约占 当年 GDP 的 1.8%。这也就是说,仅仅为了清理 2004 年这一年的环境污染,中国就要拿出 2004 年 GDP 的 6.8%,也就 是 1.086 万亿人民币才行 (约 1580 亿美元)。中国政府对环境治理的消极态度已令国家的生态系统危如累卵。尽管中国地大物博,但人均资源其实很少, 特别是紧缺而又分布不均的水资 源:人均水资源只有世界平均水平的 30%,在长江以北约占国土面积 64%的地区却只拥有全国水资源的 19%。中国政府 不惜一切发展经济的 政策令本已紧缺的水资源雪上加霜。2004 年的联合调查显示,“全国约有两万五千公里长的河流水质达不到水生物生存的标准,城 市区周围约 90%的河流都已 被严重污染。 ”如果再不采取及时有效的手段,环境恶化不仅将阻碍将来的经济发展,而且可能诱发大规模的社会动荡和政 治冲突。 现在我们再来看高速发展的国家都要面对的顽疾--收入不均加剧。尽管导致收入不均的原因是多方面的,但政府的失策可能会恶化伴随经济发 展而来的 收入差距扩大。中国政府不断削减公共服务的投入,任由穷人独自承担公共产品减少的恶果。此外,政府一直不能建立有效的累进税制来调节收入分 配。中 国没有资本利得税、财产税或遗产税,个人所得税的征收也极为不力,个税至今只占政府收入很小的一部分。目前,中国收入不均的水平已接近 拉丁美洲。收入不均 总水平从 1985 年到 2006 年上涨了 39%(平均每年增长 1.8%)。如果城市和乡村分开来看,它们的收入不均虽然还都在世界平均水平 之下,但也增长显 著。实际上,1985 年到 2006 年,城市中收入不均增长速度两倍于乡村(城市是 63%,乡村 27%)。相对于收入,中国财富的分配显然 更加不均。调查显 示,中国财富分配的吉尼系数已由 1995 年的 0.40 涨为 2002 年的 0.55(吉尼系数越高则表示财富和收入的分配越不均等)。金融资产的 分配尤其不正 常,在 1995 年,金融资产的吉尼系数已达 0.67,到 2002 年则到了 0.74。这种趋势可绝不是好兆头,如果没有有效的政策遏制,痛苦和绝 望的人对社 会公正丧失信心,中国可能将成为一个社会矛盾激烈、罪案层出不穷的国度。 如果没有重大政策改变或彻底改革,经济发 展的不平衡、错误的经济战略、恶化的基础条件和积累的社会欠账,这些因素加在一起很难令人相信中国有 能力保持目前的经济发展速度。即使做出有效的政策调 整,中国也不太可能在未来的二十年里保持 8%左右的增长速度。就像我们已经看到的,过去那 样的高增长是通过人为的手段制造出来的,是吹出来的,是以不断牺 牲个人、社会和环境为代价换来的。 如果中国不能有效变革,后果要远比经济增 长放缓要严重的多,精英阶层的分化、执政党合法性的丧失和激烈的社会动荡都会接踵而至。即使能够有效 变革,经济减速实际上也不可避免。但是,速度减慢本身 并不可怕,不论是中国还是世界都不应该对未来几十年里中国经济发展速度下降过度担忧,因 为只要中国能以增长速度降低的代价换取增长质量的提高,在解决掉过 去政策错误所遗留的问题后,它应该有能力维持一个说的过去的发展。 以速度换质量,这正是以胡锦涛为首的本届政府力图实现的。然后,中国调整经济战 略的努力目前一直没有什么显著的成果,这恰恰说明了目前的经济 战略因深植于当前政治制度之中而难以撼动,绝不是简单靠几句政治上的训诫就可以改变。对于那 些任期往往只有两年半的地方官员,只要以经济发展 为升迁的标准保持一天,他们对短期经济增长的痴迷就会继续一天。此外,如果中国官员只是对上负责而不是对 公众负责,他们永远没有动机去施行有 利于人民长远利益的经济政策。中国政府在关键行业和生产要素价格的垄断也难以改变,因为共产党相信在这些行业的退出和 对这些要素价格的放开将 导致它难以对经济施加有力的影响,也会损害它向其支持者分配利益的能力。总之,如果没有“公民社会”的成长和非政府组织的积极参 与,中国出现一 个能提供充足公共物品和环境服务的好政府的机会微乎其微。
  3. 3. 经济发展战略的大变革很可能最终导致政治自由化甚至现有制度的解体——这是共产党自 1989 年以来一直竭力避免的。我很怀疑,中国政府是否有足够 的政治勇气将党的前途压上去放手一博。 不同凡响的 中国 作者:乔纳森 ·安德森 中国的崛起是必然的吗?这么说吧,如果说我们在过去这糟糕的 12 个月里至少还学到了些什么的话,那就是——这世界上没有永远快速增长的经济发展 或永远成功的经济模式,旧时良好的表现决不是未来成功的保证。而且,就像很多低收入发展中国家一样,中国的发展道路上将存在很多目前看得见或 暂时看不见的陷阱,很可能对未来几年乃至几十年的中国经济增长带来负面影响。 然而,就像作家达蒙·瑞昂(Damon Runyon)关于赌马的那句名言所说的那样,“虽然最快最强的赛马并不一定老是赢,但下注的时候还是要押它们。” 如果 要赌现在的新兴经济体哪个会成为富裕的强国,我觉得你最好还是押宝给中国,因为中国大陆崛起的速度目前已经打破了历史上其它主要经济体所创造 的纪录,而且,它在未来 10 到 20 年里出现经济滑坡的可能性其实比大多数人所相信的要低得多。 一 在往往充斥着不实臆测和武断声明的辩论中,我认为坚实的数据是最有说服力的,下面我们就来看看在宏观经济层 面上我能找到的最坚实的数字: 从 1978 年到 2007 年的这三十年间,中国官方的 GDP 年平均增长率为 9.9%。当然,这个数据的可靠性引起过学术界激烈的辩论,很多学者认为这个数据 出于各种原因被夸大了(比如轻视了通货膨胀因素和计划经济统计模式对数据的扭曲)。但是,即使是最具怀疑精神的分析人士也承认,改革开放后, 中国经济的年 增长率至少在 9%以上。 就算是 9%,我们拿这个数字与历史上其它重要经济体 发展速度做一下对比就会发现,中国绝对是目前世界纪录保持者。日本在它发展的黄金三十年中 也“仅有”8%的年均增长率。从 1960 年到 1995 年,亚洲四 小龙的年均发展速度分别为香港 7.8%,韩国 8.3%, 新加坡 8.4%, 台湾 8.9%(台湾是以前的最 高纪录保持者)。不仅如此,自从 20 世纪 70 年代中国大陆出生率大幅下降以来,中国在人均经济增长速度上面也是世界第一。 下面的一组数据与经济增 长的来源有关。大家还记得大学一年级经济课上教的东西吗?在最简单的模型中,一个国家可以通过三种方式实现经济增长: 1、增加劳动力;2、增加资本;3、 更加有效地配置劳动力和资本。其中第三种方式被称为“全要素生产率(TFP)”式增长,相对于前两种而言更能检验 增长的质量而非数量,可以说是是衡量长期 经济发展最好标尺(注 1)。对于中国经济增长结构方面的研究已经有很多,对中国“全要素生产率”增长的 估值从同比 2%到同比 4%不等,大部分的研究报告都 认为增长率在 3%左右。这意味着,约有三分之一的中国经济增长来自于生产率提高的贡献。 这个速度在世界范围内来看能排第几呢?我告诉你,这又是个创纪录的成绩。二战后,所谓的资本主义发展黄金时期,西方工业国每年的生产率提高也 才 2%;日本和其它几个经济迅速腾飞的亚洲国家大概能达到 2.5%,至于其它国家根本就不值一提。所以说,中国大陆年生产率提高 3%的成绩在目前的 全球经济发展史中绝无仅有,其它国家只能望其项背。 现在我们来看最后一组坚实数据。1990 年,中国平 均国民收入以美元现价计算是人均 350 美元。2000 年,这个数字翻了三倍变为人均 1000 美元,而到 2008 年,这个数字又翻了三倍变为人均 3000 美 元。如果中国在未来二十年能保持目前 8%的同比增长率,则其以美元现价计算的人均国民收入将在 2020 年达到 8500 美元,在 2030 年前突破 2 万美元。 这意味着到了那时,中国将获得经合组织(OECD)成员国资格并形成稳定的中产阶级,其人均收入 水平将超过目前的台湾和韩国,其经济总体规模将比现在的美国和欧盟加起来还要大。 我总结一下:仅从宏观经济学 角度考虑,中国无可置疑地是二战后最成功的新兴经济体。以现在的发展速度,中国的崛起绝不仅仅是东方地平线上那几 缕微露的曙光,而是已经开始了二十年的铁 一般的事实。最重要的是,就像我在上面论述的那样,要在 2030 年成为发达国家,中国大陆甚至不需要费 力维持 10%的年增长,8%就够了。即使增长率降为 6%或 7%,也最多只是延迟几年的发展,无碍大局。 换句话说,如果你想证明中国的发展终将失败,仅靠证明中国经济发展速度会放慢是远远不够的。你需要一场规模巨大的危机或混乱把中国经济快车彻 底甩出轨道很长很长很长的时间才能证明你的观点,而且,这场危机最好快点儿来,再晚点儿恐怕都来不及了。 在今天的公共辩论中,中国发展的很多潜在的危险因素总是很容易地被不少人拉出来游街,比如泡沫经济破 裂啦、全球性衰退啦、社会关系紧张啦、国 有企业亏损啦、社会主义发展模式低效率啦、政治上没自由啦,等等等等。其实就像我开头说过的,没有什么证据表明上 面说的某个或某几个因素一定 能够突然打断中国发展的步伐、把经济一拉到底。相反,如果客观地看看这些风险因素,你会发现它们其实也没什么,都还在可控范围 之内。我没看出 中国近期有什么“隐现的危机”。因为篇幅所限,我只能在下面大概论述一下我的观点。 二 首先来谈谈大家最关注的问题——中国在本轮全球性衰退中的命运。2008 年四季度中国出口总额锐减,伴随着国内股票和房地产市场的下跌,国内建设 和工业投资也迅速萎缩,今年经济增长放缓和失业率上升已经是不可避免。这时候人们怀疑本轮经济冲击可能把中国推到悬崖边上的想法显然并不奇 怪。 但是,中国在亚洲地区绝对算不上是严重依赖出口的外向型经济体。 只有约 8%的大陆劳动力在出口企业中工作,玩具、纺织、电器等等中国为世人熟 知的轻工制造业实际只占中国总投资很小的一部分。即使是出口贸易扩张最快的时 期,净出口也只占 GDP 增长总额的六分之一。这就解释了为什么以 前中国在出口大幅衰退的时候仍然能保持增长的原因(比如 2001 到 02 年 IT 业全球衰退的 时候),也解释了为什么出口下降不会严重影响中国中期的发 展前景。 在国内经济方 面,中国国内的股票市场 2005 年到 2007 年间像坐了火箭一样翻了 6 倍,在随后的 15 个月中又以同样惊人的速度迅速雪崩。这一上一下不 免让人担心,中国 会患上日本一样的“后泡沫综合症”。其实,在过去的二十年中,中国的股票市场已经像这样折腾过很多次了,几乎每隔五年就会出现 一次疯狂上涨然后疯狂下跌, 实在不足为奇。重要的是,不论是在一般家庭还是多数企业的资产负债表上,股票资产都还只是很小的一部分。这也就是 说,相对于实体经济,中国的股票市场充其 量只能算个小角色。 房地产市场需要另当别论,美国的例子已经说明,房地产市场的萎缩可能会给整个经济带 来一场浩劫。问题是,中国不是美国。中国购房者的贷款总额 很小,按揭比率也很低,全国平均房价实际在过去的十年中相对于个人收入的增长一直是下跌的,而 且,存量商品房数量从 2004 年起就没有变过。尽 管自去年起中国房地产建设和销售数量都大幅下降,全国房价也出现普跌,但这些最多只是周期性的市场调整而 已,与美国的次贷危机完全不同。 三 接下来谈一下伴随中国崛起而一直没有停止过争论的问题——中国是个社会主义国家(至少在名义上)。有一派的观点认为,中国经济的 发展是中央政府 那些搞计划的人无视自由市场经济的原则用大量资源投入毫无理性地堆出来的,终有一天,自由市场的力量会在中国取得完全的胜利,将旧体制彻底 冲 垮,就像以前苏联经历过的那样。另有一派人的观点基本差不多,但话说得没那么绝,认为中国有些过度依赖粗放型增长方式,主政者们擅于大笔投资 而拙于赢得 利润,一旦经济资源耗尽,整个经济系统将摇摇欲坠。
  4. 4. 然而,仔细研究一下数据资料就会发现,这两派观点都是杞人忧天。上文已经讨论过,对于研究经济资 源分配最好的数据指标就是“全要素生产率”的增 长,而苏联的这个记录非常糟糕,在它存在的最后二十年里,全要素生产率每年增长率为-1%,是全世界主要经 济体中最差的,不过,这倒也恰恰证明 了这个国家经济的扭曲程度。与此对照,中国过去三十年的全要素生产率的增长不仅不是最差的,反而是是创纪录地好。这种 增长体现在很多金融数据 上,比如工业利润、企业资产回报或投资回报等等。不论你用什么样的检验手段,都会发现中国至少在过去的十五年里效率一直在提高,即 使在当前全 球经济下滑的大背景下,中国的边际收益和资本回报率都几乎依然保持在历史最高水平。 中国的经济发 展确实有粗放型的一面,但在近期看不出有什么危险。人口红利将逐渐消失的前景已经被说得很多了,但我认为那其实根本无关宏旨。中 国的经济发展约只有六分之 一来自于与劳动力的扩充,还有约三分之一来自于要素生产率,其它的全部来自于新生资本。换句话说,中国像它其他几个 亚洲邻国一样,经济的大幅提升主要依靠 的是储蓄和投资。 中国会 不会耗尽它一直用于投资的储蓄?即使有足够储蓄,投资又能否获得足够的回报呢?对于第二个问题大可不必担心,中国生产率和企业回报率一 直在提高,而且它国 内还有很多值得投资的领域有待进一步开发。至于第一个问题,中国实际目前一直将总储蓄中约占 GDP10%的份额用于出口,这一 比例在世界主要经济体中独占鳌头。 四 根据最近的统计数据,中国国有企业产值约占 GDP 的 25%。一说到国有企业,很多人想当然的就认为:国有企业不按市场原则做事,它们依赖政府的指 导和资源配给,一直趴在私有经济身上吸血、躲在保护主义高墙后面搞价值毁灭(产出价值低于成本投入);即使私有经济部门欣欣向荣、利润丰厚, 光靠国有企业这个社会大包袱最后也能把整个经济拖垮。 问题是,这些负面印象在中国并 不完全是真的。工业统计数据显示,实际上大陆国有企业平均利润率高于私有部门,而且即使我们调整了产业区别,也 看不到私有部门和国有企业在利润回报上有什 么显著差异。除了最近短期的石油补贴外,中国政府也不再向国有企业发放现金补贴。恰恰相反,国有企 业对政府的税收贡献要远远多于私有企业。行业数据还显 示,国有企业为主的重工业部门在过去的十五年中生产效率和边际收益提高的速度要快于外资 为主的轻工业出口型企业。 “这怎么可能呢?”,很多人一定会问。完全可能!这是因为中国的所谓国有企业其实“国”字色彩非常淡。在很多新兴市场经济体 中,你会发现很多独一 号的国有企业,比如唯一的电信服务商、唯一的汽车制造商、唯一的航空公司等等等。中国不是这样。大陆起码有几十家汽车制造商、数百家 钢铁公 司、好多个电信巨头和能源巨头,这些公司虽然大都国有,但它们之间的竞争非常激烈。此外,行业的进入门槛以亚洲的标准来看可以说非常低,而且 很多部 门对私有资本和外资高度开放。 不仅如此,除了有限的一些超大型公司外,中国没 有那个国有企业有免死金牌。朱镕基总理在 90 年代关闭过成千上万家资不抵债的中小型国企,导致 多达 2 千 5 百万人失业。主要的国有企业虽然现在还享受商业银 行的特殊照顾,但这种好日子也已是屈指可数,因为商业银行也日渐感受到盈利和资产 流动性方面的压力。国家现在对国有企业的投资决策也很少直接干预,前些年 那种政府盖章、银行贷款、企业花钱的模式已经一去不复返。 五 再来谈谈为什么中国不搞民主也能发展经济的 问题。经济繁荣必带来中产阶级与中国集权政府的冲突,这一想法历来被西方人所偏爱。最近一拨又一波 的群体事件似乎也预示着这种痛苦的冲突已经开始。然而, 尽管中国在未来的几十年里毫无疑问会面临一些政治摩擦并被迫要作出一些痛苦的选择,但 没有证据表明那将是一场可怕的危机。 实际上,对于亚洲而言,似乎你应该这样问:“民主政府该靠什么来发展经济?” 因为在过去的三十年里,亚洲的成功经济体里没有一个是真正的民主国 家(或地区),日本、韩国、台湾、香港、新加坡、马来西亚,它们都是事实上的一党制,有 的还是像中国一样的集权型政府。与之对应的,菲律宾、印 度、孟加拉、巴基斯坦和泰国,这些所谓的民主国都一向排在经济发展榜的末尾。显然,没有真正的民主 选举不仅不是亚洲国家发展的绊脚石,它往往 还是经济成功的风向标。 亚洲的经济强 国也许没有民主,但它们都不缺真正的资本主义。这些高速发展的国家一方面都极度崇尚市场经济原则、赞同全球化的发展方向,另一方 面它们还建立很多强有力的 政府机构来承担部分社会责任。感觉上,它们与国民都达成了一种默契:政府保证经济不断发展人民生活水平提高,公民们 就暂时放弃对民主政治的要求直到经济发 展达到拥有稳定中产阶级的水平。 那些国家保持了经济发 展和政治稳定,中国却会在经济发展达到一定水平前政治秩序却提前崩溃吗?对这个问题作出肯定的回答需要从两方面进行论 证。一方面要证明,中国没有亚洲四小 龙那么“资本主义”,市场扭曲和国家干预等问题要更严重。我其实已经在上文批驳了这种观点,但现在还是比较 地来再谈一下。中国国有经济约占 GDP 的四分之 一,规模与日本和韩国的大财阀不相上下,但中国国企比财阀好像还更接近市场经济一些:外国直接 投资在中国各行业的比重一直比日本和韩国要大,中国国内市场 的竞争也比它这两个东亚邻居激烈得多,而日本和韩国企业靠与大银行千丝万缕的关系 获得资金的能力与中国国有企业从国有银行拿钱的本事比起来,有过之而无不 及。 另一方面需要论证中国政 府更顽固、更不知变通,持续不断的社会动荡已经危及了政治稳定。中国政府自己的统计也承认,近十年来公共群体性事件持 续增加,大规模抗议和暴力事件时时见 诸国外媒体。但这只是故事的一面,另一面是,很少有收入相对较高的城市居民卷入类似的冲突,大部分的参与 者都是农民或农民工。换句话说,这不是所谓中产阶 级对集权统治的反抗,而是国民中最穷困者的愤怒宣泄,事件的诱因也都是经济问题,而绝非政治 问题。 农村现在的问题要从十几年前讲起。1990 年代以来中国进 行的国企改革带来了一个严重的后果——财政预算的崩溃。在最低的时候,中国政府总收入跌 到了只占 GDP 的 10%,简直像一个非洲国家而不是一个社会主义大 国。中央政府有限的资金仅够维持公务员的工资,所以不得不大削减教育、住房和 医疗方面的投入。地方政府更是重灾区,乡镇一级政府濒临破产,不得不靠提高农 民的税收或是赚取出让土地差价来搞钱。 另外,农产品价格自 90 年代中期以来一直在下跌,在城市居民收入水平迅速提升的同时,农民收入却一直不见增长。停滞的收入、增长的税费、地方政 府对农民土地的巧取豪夺,中国农村出现动荡可以说毫不奇怪。 但 在过去的五年中,情况已经有所好转。首先,财政预算恢复到正常水平,2007 年占到 GDP 的 20%,中央政府一下就有钱了。这意味着中央在过去的 几年里终 于有能力向地方进行更多的转移支付,增大医疗和教育投入,减免一些农业的税费。其次,中央在土地政策方面也有大动作,保证了农民对土 地的长期使用权,确保 了更透明的土地转让制度和更多的土地转让收益,这些都限制了地方政府在土地上侵害农民利益的行为。第三,因为城市消费的 提升和农村耕地的减少,从 2004 年来中国国内农产品价格已经大幅提升。在过去的三年里,农村居民的收入增长终于赶上甚至超过了城市居民工资的增 长速度。农民工的工资在同一时期也因为劳动力供给减少的原因而开始上涨。 总而言之,中国已经采取有效措施根本性地改变了农民收入的状况,尽管要彻底解决那些造成近期社会动荡的原因还有很长的路要走。今明两年肯定会 很困难,出口市场萎缩再加上国内建筑需求的下降,农民工就业问题会很严重,但就像我已经说过的那样,这些都是经济周期性的因素,不足以改变中 国中长期的发展轨迹。 裴敏欣的回应:
  5. 5. 与经济学 家辩论,尤其是像乔纳森·安德森这样博学而又受人尊重的经济学家,对于我这种搞政治学的来说显然有些像是学术自虐。但考虑到大多数经 济学家都狭隘地仅从一 个角度看问题--只关注经济发展而不关心维持经济运转的整体社会的进步,即使注定无法赢得这场辩论,我也要勉为其难地谈几 句,哪怕只是为了给我自己带来点 儿学术上的满足感。 乔纳森用他所谓“坚实的数据”论证了两个观点:一,在经济方 面,中国过去三十年的经济发展主要来源于生产效率的提高(也就是说高质量的增长),并 且国有企业平均来说比私有企业更趋向市场经济而且盈利水平更高。二, 乔纳森认为中国经济出问题的风险因素“其实没什么”,他认为中国的社会矛盾 来源于经济问题而且中国可以靠发展经济来解决它(糟糕的公共服务和农民收入增长 缓慢),而且,在亚洲缺乏民主不是什么危险,反而是“经济成功的风 向标”。 不幸的是,乔纳森在他对中国经济发 展做出乐观估计之前至少犯了三个错误。一,他所说的所谓“坚实”数据实际上非常主观,它们最多只能为中国经济 表现描绘出一幅相当模糊的图像。二,他低估了 中国政府对经济的干预而又高估了国有企业的表现。最后,像大多数经济学家一样,他忽视了一些显而 易见的风险因素--环境恶化、社会不公和腐败,而且对人口 老龄化和随之可能带来的社会冲突轻描淡写。他不仅对经济的基础条件判断失误,更重要 的,对中国社会和政治上的弱点视而不见。 衡量经济的 总体表现十分困难,即使对于经济学家来说也是如此。全要素生产率的提高确实是一个很好的指标,但不幸的是,中国的 TFP 增值的判断值 得商榷。根据中美两国 主流经济学家的研究,中国 TFP 增长率在过去的十年中一直在下降,所以,使用过去三十年的平均 TFP 增长率作为未来中国经 济保持增长的依据非常不可靠。这 种算法按时间摊平了增长,掩盖了最近正在下降的事实。 再有,仅用 TFP 一项指标来衡量中国经济的 表现未免过于草率,甚至有点儿天真。TFP 代表了更多的产出,但如果这些产出没有分给普通的中国公民怎 么办?如果快速的 GDP 增长没有相应的家庭收入与消 费增长的配合怎么办?而这些正是中国的短板。尽管 GDP 在过去的三十年里年增长近 10%,但家 庭收入的增长率要远低于 GDP 的增长(农村地区家庭收入的加 权增长率只有人均 GDP 增长率的一半,城市为 75%)。简单来说,普通中国人没钱买中国 货(特别是他还要因为社会保障不足而必须为医疗、教育和退休等等攒 钱),直接导致了中国消费水平近几年降到了历史新低。这些证据表明,中国经济 产出的量也许确实很大,但它没有将产出转化为个人福利的提高,这必将造成国内 需求不振并且影响经济的整体健康。 最后,乔纳森在预测中国经济前 途的时候应该把环境恶化和社会不公加剧(分配不均和政府腐败)的冲击考虑进去。考虑到目前环境污染的程度以及为降 低污染不得不付出的成本,任何没有将环境 因素计算进来的对中国未来经济的预测都是没有说服力的。另外,也许经济周期的潮涨潮落可以部分解释社 会上的怨恨情绪,但如果仅从经济角度去分析那实在是大 错特错。实际上,在最近的大规模骚乱中,经济因素明显缺失。重要的是,当一个快速发展的 社会被其成员普遍视作不公正的社会,就像中国今天这样,它的统治者 就已经坐在定时炸弹上了。 这就是为什么中国领导人一再号召要建立“和谐社会”的原因。遗憾的是,即使是最优秀的经济学家也没有注意到这种明显的政治信号。 安德森的回应 首先请让我重复一下我的结论:想证明中国的崛起终将失败,仅仅模糊的指出经济发展不平衡或断言其经济不能以原来的速度前进还远远不够。中国的 发展不是“轮子嘎嘎响车子唧唧叫”那种级别的小问题就能摧毁的,我们需要的是一场绝对意义上的能把中国推出发展轨道很长时间的全面危机。而且这 场危机还要快点儿来,最好就在 5 到 10 年内。 现在,作为敏欣研究成果的一个狂热追随者,我很荣幸地能够对他的研究做些评述。他显然清晰地指出了中国经济将要面临的种种挑战,但他证明了那 个所谓隐现的危机了吗?很遗憾,没有。而且,大部分的论述实际上有些不着边际。 敏欣的一个主要观点是国家在经济中 扮演的角色戏份太重、很不健康,而且政府粉饰了经济发展的成果并且扭曲了经济结构。他断言政府操纵能源、资 本和土地等要素价格,严重扭曲了经济。我不禁要 问,哪种能源价格被扭曲了?在过去的二十年里,中国汽油价格多多少少都是按照国际标准制定的, 只在 2007 年至 08 年国际原油价格飙升的时候有过短暂的补 贴,不仅如此,就像我写到的,中国的油价实际比美国还要高,这谈何“压低生产要素价 格”?电力没有所谓的世界市场价格,所以很难比较,但是尽管中国控制电 价,它并不向电力生产和送配企业发放补贴。 敏欣还说到政府插手企业经营,但是,他说的那什么长期补贴是从哪儿来的?除了 07-08 年对石油冶炼业的拨款,中国已经很长时间没给工业企业拨过 钱了。恰恰相反,我也说过了,如今的国有企业相较于私营企业要面对更沉重的税费负担,为政府的财政收入作出了最大的贡献。 政府确实是在以压低存款利率、抬高贷款利率的方式间接给银行补贴,但这种方式虽然降低了储蓄者的回报,也同时抬高了贷款者的门槛。换句话说, 这绝不是什么保证便宜的资本而进行补贴,这更像是一种资本税。 国有企业有一段时间确实不用担心偿还贷款,这一点敏欣是说对了,但是早在上世纪 90 年代,政府大规模关闭资不抵债的企业并且严格约束银行的贷款 行为后,这种借钱不用还的经济现象就已经宣告结束。中国主要银行的大部分不良贷款已经在 1997 年前重新估值,经过清理,中国大陆国有银行的不良 贷款比率在新兴市场中已经处于较低水平。 至于说到中国的投资回报正在减少的问题,敏欣与其说是犯了个错误,不如说是有意误导。“长期经济发展”的定义之一就是资本的积累,并且必然带来 新进投资回报的下降。如果 100 块人民币的新进资本的产出比以前下降了,这对于一个高速发展的经济体来说更像是成功的标志而不是相反。 我们怎么知道中国是否符合长期经济发 展模式呢?对于严肃的经济学家而言,要观察劳动力的回报。如果劳动力效率提高的速度大于资本回报下降的速 度,则经济就是健康的,反之,经济发展就是不平衡 或扭曲的。能够同时衡量资本和劳动力效率的数据,也是检验长期经济发展是否成功的标尺,只 有“全要素生产率”。我前面已经说过,任何相关的研究都一致认 为,中国的全要素生产率增长值非常高。 最重要的是,如果我们考察一下过去十年任意一个行业的企业数据就会发现,没有一个行业的边际收益、净资产回报或投资回报平均起来没有增长,而 这十年恰恰是敏欣宣称中国已经陷入令人绝望的生产过剩的十年。 敏欣还表示人口问题会带来新的经济压 力。中国当然最终会面临劳动力减少的局面,但那是个长期的过程,尤其是考虑到中国还有 7 千 5 百万农村劳动 力就业不足,他们还在排队等着进入工业和服务业领 域。而且,请记住,劳动力增长只是为中国经济发展贡献 2%的比例而已,大部分的增长来自于资 本投入和效率提升。所以,人口结构改变也许能降低大陆的边际收 益,但那却构不成革命性的转折点。 老龄化社会储蓄率会走低,这一点敏欣也是正确的,对他那占 GDP 约 5%的储蓄损失的预测我不想争论什么。但就算是 5%又怎么样呢?中国当前向世界 其它国家的出口可是占 GDP 的 10%,减少一半出口问题不就解决了吗?任何理性的计算之后,中国将来总储蓄下降额即使比敏欣说的还多两倍,中国依 然有能力舒舒服服地保持 8%或更快的增长。 除了经济因 素,敏欣谈了很多社会问题,从社会不公到环境污染。作为一个长期在中国生活的人,我绝不可能低估这个国家环境污染问题的严重性。但 是,指出空气很脏、河流 很黑是一回事,要证明肮脏的空气和污浊的河流将导致经济危机完全是另一回事。如果我们接受水资源是最迫在眉睫的危险的 话,那问题就简单了:中国现在最大的 用水单位是农业部门,水资源接近枯竭必然首先导致农业减产,但你可能想不到的是,中国目前还是相当规模的 农业净出口国,而且没有任何迹象表明这一身份有可 能在近期改变。
  6. 6. 现在我们来看敏欣提到的过去十年中最严重的问题——社会公共投入减少和社会不公加剧。我同意他的观点,如果这两个问题不加 控制地任由其自由发 展,最后完全可能变成不可收拾的大麻烦。敏欣所采用的数据也算准确的反应了现实,但那却是 2003 年以前的现实。我在文章中已经讨论 过,这两个 问题并不是政府管理失灵所致,而是有现实的经济原 因(90 年代末政府收入系统崩溃和农民收入持续减少)。过去的五年里,情况已经发生了根本性的改 变。中国政府收入已迅速攀升至新兴经济体的正常水平,使其 有能力大规模投入社会保障和转移支付。2004 年至 2008 年农民收入增长达到了十五年来 的新高,这种增长既有劳动力供给变化和城镇化发展的原因,也有政 府大力支持的因素。如果这种复兴能够持续,再过个五年,五年前那种难解的政治 经济困局就会成为遥远的记忆。 总结一下,中国市场化程度远比敏欣预计的要高得多,而且,市场的力量已经开始自行理清中国很多紧迫的难题。 作者简介: 裴敏欣是卡内基国际和平基金会中国研究项目的高级研究员。他最近的著作是《中国蹒跚转型:发展型独裁政府的局限》 哈佛大学出版社 2006 乔纳森·安德森是瑞银国际高级经济学家,主研全球新兴市场。 注1 拿印度和苏联来举例,1970 年到 1980 年两个国家的发展速度都是 4.2%,但苏联人为压低了消费加大了投资,而印度则保持很高的消费率和很低的投资 率。要分析这种不同之处就必须借助 TFP 增长指标(印度是正值,苏联是负值)。 The Color of China The Color of China by Minxin Pei and Jonathan Anderson 03.03.2009 EMAIL ARTICLE | PRINTER FRIENDLY China’s meteoric economic rise has created its share of admirers and its share of detractors, not to mention an equal measure of fear that Beijing may either succeed or fail. Can China harness the strengths of its economy for the good or will its deep societal ills rise to the surface? Pei argues that the effects of severe environmental degradation, an unruly populace and a diseased infrastructure cannot be underestimated. Anderson believes China’s GDP juggernaut will continue going strong. It may even break world records. Looming Stagnation by Minxin Pei FORECASTERS OF the fortunes of nations are no different from Wall Street analysts: they all rely on the past to predict the future. So it is no surprise that China’s rapid economic growth in the last thirty years has led many to believe that the country will be able to continue to grow at this astounding rate for another two to three decades. Optimism about China’s future is justified by the state’s apparently strong economic fundamentals—such as a high savings rate, a large and increasingly integrated domestic market, urbanization and deep integration into the global trading system. More important, China has achieved its stunning performance in spite of the many daunting economic, social and political difficulties that doomsayers have pointed to as insurmountable obstacles to sustainable growth in the past. With such a record of effective problem solving, it is hard to believe that China will not continue its economic rise. Yet, while China may sustain its growth for another two to three decades and vindicate the optimists, there are equally strong odds that its growth will fizzle. China’s economic performance could be undermined by the persistent flaws in its economic institutions and structure that are the result of half-finished and misguided government policies. A vicious circle exists in which the Communist Party’s survival is predicated on the neglect of fundamental aspects of society’s welfare in favor of short-term economic growth. And many of the same social, economic and political risk factors the government has thus far sidestepped—heavily subsidized industries, growing inequality, poor use of labor—remain. Some are becoming worse. Because the party relies on growth for legitimacy, Beijing invests in tangible signs of progress—factories, industrial parks and the like. This emphasis on “visible” gains has in turn led to huge social deficits. By focusing on short-term growth instead of long-term sustainability, health care, education and environmental protection have all been neglected. Not a cause for optimism. The end result is a state built on weak political, economic and societal foundations with a potentially unhappy and restless people. Reducing these economic and social deficits will require both additional financial resources and politically difficult institutional changes. Allowing such deficits to accumulate is simply not viable. Worse, China’s difficulties will be compounded by the future deterioration of some of what have thus far been structural and political strengths—a large, young population; underpriced natural and environmental resources; and a public consensus in support of economic growth. With fewer people entering the workforce, a rapidly aging population and ongoing environmental damage, China faces the choice between stagnation, even disaster, or fundamental change. The fact that all of these risk factors have not derailed China’s growth in the past does not preclude the possibility that they could do so in the future, especially if the Chinese government fails to make major policy adjustments. Of course, these challenges—rebalancing China’s economic growth, addressing social deficits and rebuilding a political consensus that supports growth—are manageable if the Chinese government can implement effective economic and political reforms and remove the underlying causes. But will Beijing do so? Does the Chinese political system possess the flexibility and inner strength to overcome the opposition of entrenched interests? Is the ruling Communist Party willing to take the risks of adopting reforms and disrupting a carefully balanced coalition of political and economic interests?
  7. 7. As the world is engulfed in a global economic crisis and China’s growth engine starts to lose steam, it is time to reexamine the risk factors that lie ahead and rethink our complacent assumptions about China’s future. HIGH RATES of economic growth tend to conceal serious structural, institutional and policy flaws because, as the Chinese saying goes, “one mark of beauty can hide a hundred spots of ugliness.” All too often, high growth rates themselves are taken as prima facie evidence of superior institutions and wise policies. Our obsessive focus on the speed of economic development often blinds us to the underlying weaknesses of the country. Over time, such myopia leads to complacency and, worse, a dismissive attitude toward warning signs of trouble. In China, four factors were crucial to the state’s economic performance over the past thirty years: high domestic savings (which allowed for investment in industry), the demographic dividend (which provided a large potential workforce), the globalization dividend (which enabled integration into the world market) and considerable efficiency gains from the liberalization of an enormously inefficient planned economy. However, while these fundamentals have contributed to rapid economic growth since the 1980s, they unfortunately also allowed the Chinese government to avoid undertaking effective measures that would further liberalize the economy, establish robust regulatory institutions and dramatically reduce the role of the state in the economy. This does not mean that Beijing has not taken important reform measures. It has—but it did so, almost without exception, only when compelled by a serious economic crisis (as was the case with mass bankruptcies of state-owned enterprises at the end of the 1990s). Such behavior is costly because it ignores the fact that benefits from investment in capital, demographic advantages and growing trade neither solve all problems nor remain static. Today, as China’s export growth plummets and domestic consumption remains anemic, it is quite evident that economic and societal imbalances have not only undermined China’s sustainable growth but also have weakened its ability to weather the current economic crisis. To be sure, these imbalances have been building up since the early 1990s. Their principal symptoms consist of excessively high investment in fixed assets (i.e., capital-intensive industries) and low household consumption, rising dependence on exports as a growth driver and the underdevelopment of the service sector. For example, from 1992 to 2005, investment rose from 36.6 to 42.6 percent of GDP while household consumption declined from 47.2 to 38 percent of GDP. In 2007, household consumption fell to 35 percent of GDP, a historical low. Consequently, export growth assumed increasing importance as a key driver of GDP growth. By 2007, export growth contributed roughly 25 percent of GDP growth. Because the bulk of China’s investment goes into the manufacturing sector, particularly capital-intensive heavy industries, persistently high investment has exacerbated the imbalance between too much manufacturing and too little growth in the service sector. Compared with its developing-country peers, China stands out for having an underdeveloped service sector. Besides creating excessive dependence on exports and industry, too much investment in fixed assets has begun to yield decreasing economic benefits. Between 1991 and 1995, RMB 100 million in additional investment yielded RMB 66.2 million in additional GDP, 400 new jobs and RMB 10.4 million in additional wages. Between 2001 and 2005, the same amount of extra investment yielded only RMB 28.6 million in additional GDP, 170 new jobs and RMB 3.7 million in additional wages. Such structural imbalances threaten growth sustainability because they create massive economic distortions, subjecting the Chinese economy to chronic excess capacity, low consumer welfare, rising trade frictions and poor utilization of its comparative advantage—people—because these imbalances lead to growing capital intensity and decreasing labor intensity. OF COURSE, these structural imbalances are symptoms of both unreformed economic institutions and the continuation of bad policies. Despite thirty years of reform, the Chinese state maintains a decisive influence on the economy through both its direct presence (state-owned or - controlled enterprises) and its policies. For example, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) account for about 35 percent of GDP today, but the government’s role in the economy is much more substantial than even this figure indicates. The state maintains a monopoly or near monopoly on the so-called strategic sectors, such as banking, financial services, natural resources, energy production, telecom services and most heavy industries. Nearly all of China’s largest companies are owned or controlled by the state. In addition, key input prices, such as those of energy, land and capital, are set by the government. Because of the government’s bias in favor of investment and manufacturing, such key prices are set at artificially low levels as subsidies. For example, the primary market for land is almost nonexistent. Local governments often seize land from powerless and voiceless peasants and sell the land-use rights to developers and/or use it for infrastructure projects—all for a fraction of its market value. As for the cost of capital, the Chinese government has been skillfully wielding financial repression to use household savings as a way to subsidize the investment of Chinese state-owned firms. Until recently, SOEs could borrow from banks without worrying about repayment. Even though household deposits are nominally protected by the state, Chinese taxpayers are responsible for bailing out banks that are drowning in massive nonperforming loans. Obviously, such wasteful use of China’s scarcest resources—energy, land and capital—to maintain an unbalanced growth model cannot be sustained indefinitely. For the past three decades, China’s strong economic fundamentals enabled its government to continue these distortions with impunity. But many of these fundamentals are either weakening or expected to disappear within the next two decades, thus making it impossible to achieve high growth with the same flawed policies. Of the deteriorating fundamentals, two deserve special mention—demographics and savings—because they have in the past been among the principal drivers of China’s growth. China is expected to lose its demographic dividend in the middle of the next decade. The median age of the population will rise from 32.5 years in 2005 to 37.9 years in 2020. The percentage of the population 60 and over will increase from 11 percent in 2005 to 17.1 percent in 2020. By 2030, according to the Chinese minister of labor and social welfare, 351 million Chinese, or 23 percent of the population, will be over 60, and the elderly-dependency ratio will increase from 5.2 to 1 in 2006 to 2.2 to 1 in 2030. The worker-to-retiree ratio will fall from 3 to 1 in 2006 to 2 to 1 in 2030. The rapid aging of the Chinese population will unavoidably increase health-care, pension and labor costs, eroding China’s competitive advantage. More important, this will also cause China’s savings rate to fall. One World Bank estimate suggests that old-age dependency could depress private savings by six percentage points of GDP by 2025. Another study of demographic change, without population-policy adjustment, estimates that per capita income growth would fall from 5.3 percent a year in 2000 to 2.9 percent a year by 2020. This means the government will be unable to continue its practice of subsidizing industrial growth with private wealth. When coupled with an aging, increasingly dependent society and poor social services, stagnation and, eventually, abysmal failure loom. IF SEVERAL years ago few would concede that China’s rapid economic growth was achieved at very high social cost, such as deteriorating social services, potentially catastrophic environmental degradation and rising income inequality, today this is no longer a disputed fact. Even the Chinese government has admitted that its economic growth is socially costly. The accumulation of social deficits since the early 1990s was the unavoidable outcome of government policies that deliberately shift resources away from providing socially beneficial services (education, health care and environmental protection) to projects and activities that could produce immediate and visible signs of progress (infrastructure, commercial development in cities and industrial parks). Such policies were perfectly aligned with the imperative of regime survival and the incentives of individual government officials. For the Communist Party, policies that could generate rapid short-term economic growth even at the expense of long-term social costs were preferable because of the party’s dependency on growth as a source of legitimacy. For government officials whose promotion critically depends on their ability to deliver visible and measurable signs of growth, diverting scarce resources away from social services to investment projects offers a guaranteed ticket to higher offices and greater power.
  8. 8. As a result, these policies have worked wonders for both the party and its members, but their social costs have been horrific. Official data indicate that the government’s relative share of health-care and education spending began to decline in the 1990s. In 1986, for example, the state paid close to 39 percent of all health-care expenditures while individuals paid 26 percent. By 2005, the state’s share of health-care spending fell to 18 percent, and the share of individuals’ spending rose to 52 percent. This dramatic shift in cost has placed significant burden on household budgets and consequently reduced access to health care. Per capita health-care expenditures as a share of consumption more than tripled in urban areas from 1990 to 2006 (from 2 percent to 7.1 percent) and increased 30 percent in the countryside. Unable to pay for health care, about half of the people who are sick choose not to see a doctor, based on a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health in 2003. The same shift has occurred in education spending. In 1991, the government paid 84.5 percent of total education spending. In 2004, it paid only 61.7 percent. During the same period, tuition and fees (costs borne by individuals) rose significantly. In 1991, they accounted for 4.4 percent of spending. By 2004, they contributed about 19 percent. One key indicator that reduced government spending has restricted access to education is the percentage of middle-school graduates who go on to enroll in high school (since students have to pay for high-school education). In 1980, almost 25 percent of the middle-school graduates in the countryside went on to high school. In 2003, only 9 percent did. In the cities, the percentage of middle-school graduates who enrolled in high school fell from 86 to 56 percent in the same period. On the natural-resources front, the extent of China’s environmental degradation is now fairly well-known. Although estimates of the cost of pollution vary, they all suggest that environmental degradation is exacting a huge toll on Chinese society. The most recent study, a joint effort by the World Bank and the Chinese government, shows that the aggregate cost of pollution in China in 2004 was roughly 5.8 percent of GDP. Another study undertaken by two Chinese government agencies and released in 2004 estimates that the amount of underinvestment in environmental protection is roughly 1.8 percent of GDP a year. To fully treat all pollutants discharged in 2004 alone, China would need a one-time expenditure of 6.8 percent of its 2004 GDP—RMB 1.086 trillion, or $158 billion. The Chinese government’s poor stewardship of the environment has added huge stresses to the country’s fragile ecological system. Although a continental-sized country, China is resource scarce on a per capita basis. In particular, it suffers from serious water scarcity and uneven distribution of water resources: the per capita water availability is only 30 percent of the world average, and the area north of the Yangtze River, which accounts for 64 percent of China’s land surface, has only 19 percent of the country’s water resources. Truly alarming is the Chinese government’s growth-at-all-costs strategy that has devastated the country’s already-scarce water resources. The 2004 joint study reports, “About 25,000 kilometers of Chinese rivers failed to meet the water quality standards for aquatic life and about 90 percent of the sections of rivers around urban areas were seriously polluted.” Without prompt and effective measures, environmental degradation will not only pose an insurmountable hurdle for future economic growth, but also precipitate large-scale social unrest and political conflict. Then there is rising inequality—a mainstay of many countries experiencing rapid economic development and social change. Although the causes are complex, government policies that fail to ameliorate the effects of economic-growth inequality can further exacerbate the trends. In China, the government has consistently undercut social services to the general public, and left the poor bearing the brunt of the deterioration in the provision of public goods. Additionally but inexplicably, Beijing has failed to counter rising inequality by instituting a relatively progressive tax system. China has no capital-gains tax, property tax or inheritance tax. Its income tax is so ineffectively enforced that it generates only a very small portion of government revenues. At present, income inequality in China has reached a level close to that of Latin America. The overall level of income inequality from 1985 to 2006 rose 39 percent (averaging a 1.8 percent increase per year). Although “within” (intraurban and intrarural) income inequality remains lower than national inequality, it has also risen significantly. In fact, the rate of increase in urban income inequality from 1985 to 2006 was twice that of rural income inequality (63 percent compared with 27 percent). The distribution of wealth in China is even more unequal than income. Household surveys and academic research show that the Gini coefficient of wealth rose from 0.40 in 1995 to 0.55 in 2002 (the higher the Gini coefficient, the more unequal the distribution of wealth or income). The distribution of financial assets is particularly skewed. In 1995, the Gini coefficient for financial assets was 0.67; it rose to 0.74 in 2002. These trends do not bode well for China. If they are not reversed by effective policy, China will likely suffer a rising crime rate and increasing social conflict closely associated with frustrations and tensions generated by inequality and high perceptions of social injustice. THE COMBINATION of accumulated economic imbalances, misguided growth strategies, deteriorating fundamentals and social deficits makes it difficult to imagine that China will be able to maintain its current rate of economic growth without significant policy changes and reforms. Even with effective policy adjustments, China is unlikely to keep growing at a high single-digit rate for the next two decades. As we have seen, such high growth in the past has been obtained through artificial means. It is inflated, not just by creative accounting, but by discounting and excluding consumer welfare, social costs and environmental damage. If China does not make the necessary changes, it will face something far worse than low single-digit growth—the delicate coalition among the ruling elites will unravel, the legitimacy of the Communist Party will erode and social unrest will rise. If it does make adjustments, we will merely see lower rates of growth. But neither Beijing nor the outside world should worry about China’s reduced rate of growth in the coming decades because, to the extent that the Chinese government has improved the quality of growth at the cost of speed, it will be able to sustain a respectable rate of growth while addressing the economic and social problems caused by past policy mistakes. Incidentally, this is what the current Hu Jintao government has pledged to do. However, based on the modest achievements of Beijing’s efforts to rebalance its growth strategy so far, it is becoming increasingly clear that the current growth strategy is rooted in the existing political system. It would take much more than rhetorical exhortation to reverse course. As long as Chinese government officials are assessed and promoted based on their ability to deliver economic growth, often within the two-and-a-half-year tenure of a party chief, the short-term obsession with the rate of growth will continue. In addition, so long as Chinese officials are accountable to their superiors, but not to the general public, they will have little incentive to pursue policies that would benefit their constituents. State monopolies on key sectors and the distortion of factor prices (such as energy, land and capital) will continue as long as the Communist Party believes that further withdrawal from these sectors and price liberalization will undermine its ability to influence the economy and maintain an expansive patronage system which benefits its supporters. Finally, good governance, measured in terms of adequate delivery of public goods and sound environmental stewardship, will be difficult to achieve without greater participation by China’s embryonic civil society and major social groups. So a major course change would suspiciously lead to something akin to political liberalization—something the Communist Party has tried very hard to prevent since 1989. It is doubtful whether Beijing has the political courage to gamble the party’s future on it. Beijing’s Exceptionalism by Jonathan Anderson IS CHINA’S rise inevitable? Well, as we’ve learned to our great chagrin over the past twelve months, there’s nothing inevitable about continued rapid economic expansion or the near-term success of any economic model, and past performance is most emphatically not a guarantee of future returns. And, as with any lower- income developing country, there are plenty of visible and unforeseen pitfalls that could hurt China’s growth prospects over the coming years and decades. However, as author and newspaperman Damon Runyon famously remarked, “The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong—but that’s the way to bet.” And when taking odds on the potential of today’s emerging markets to mature into wealthier and more powerful states, you had best be betting on China. The mainland is already getting there faster than any major economy before it. And, the risks of an outright economic derailing over the next ten to twenty years are much lower than commonly believed.
  9. 9. IN A debate often dominated by conjecture and assertion it helps to focus on hard data, and at the macroeconomic level, here are the hardest numbers we have: in the three decades between 1978 and 2007 the official Chinese GDP grew at an average real pace of 9.9 percent. Of course, the quality of historical growth figures has generated an intense academic debate, and many researchers conclude that real growth has been overstated for a variety of reasons (such as under-measurement of inflation and other distortions in the traditional socialist statistical system); however, even the most skeptical analysts still come out with numbers of 9 percent year over year (y/y) or above for the postreform era. How does an average growth rate of 9 or 9.9 percent compare with other major historical cases? As it turns out, whether we take the top or the bottom end of the range, China is a world-record holder. Over its peak thirty-year growth period Japan grew “only” at an average real rate of nearly 8 percent, and between 1960 and 1995 the high-growth Asian “tigers” expanded at paces of 7.8 percent in Hong Kong, 8.3 percent in South Korea, 8.4 percent in Singapore and 8.9 percent (the previous record) in Taiwan. This is not all; with the sharp slowdown in mainland birthrates since the 1970s, China’s outperformance in terms of per capita income growth is higher still. The next set of figures concerns the sources of that growth. Remember from first-year economics that in the most basic formulation there are three ways for countries to grow: (i) by adding more labor, (ii) by adding more capital, and (iii) by combining capital and labor in better and more productive ways. The latter is so-called “total factor productivity” (TFP) growth, and is in many ways the best single measure of long-term economic success because it gauges the “quality” rather than just the quantity of growth.1 Here, as well, researchers have carried out detailed studies of China’s growth composition. Estimates of historical-factor-productivity growth tend to run from 2 percent y/y to 4 percent y/y, with the broad bulk centered around 3 percent. That is, as best we can measure, just under one-third of China’s growth is coming from rising productivity. How does this compare with other parts of the world? Once again China posted a record performance. For much of the postwar era, the industrialized West saw annual TFP growth rates of up to 2 percent; the average for Japan and other high-growth Asian countries was around 2.5 percent—with no other region coming even close to these numbers. So productivity growth of 3 percent or thereabouts puts the mainland economy at the very high end of global experience. And this brings us to our final set of hard numbers. In 1990, average Chinese national income in prevailing U.S.-dollar terms was $350 per head. By 2000, that figure had risen threefold to $1,000 per head, and, as of the end of 2008, per capita income had tripled again to $3,000. If China continues to grow at 8 percent y/y or above in real terms for the next two decades, then in present-dollar terms, per capita income could easily reach $8,500 by 2020 and $20,000 by 2030. This puts average mainland incomes above where Taiwan and Korea are now—i.e., solidly middle class and eligible for OECD membership—and also puts the total size of the Chinese economy above the combined level of the United States and the European Union today. Let me summarize here for emphasis: in strict macroeconomic terms, so far China is unambiguously the most successful emerging economy of the postwar era. And at the current pace of development, China’s “rise” is not some hazy prospect shimmering on the distant horizon, but a concrete reality only twenty years down the road. Most important of all, as laid out above, the mainland doesn’t need to grow at a breakneck pace of 10 percent per year to attain developed-country status by 2030; 8 percent will do nicely, and even if trend growth drops to 6 percent or 7 percent, this simply pushes back the arrival date by a few years. In other words, if you want to argue for China’s failure, it’s not enough to say that the economy will slow. Instead, you need a massive disturbance or outright crisis that derails growth for a long, long spell—and you need it fairly soon. In today’s public debate there are plenty of potential hazards to point to, including bubbles bursting, global depression, social tensions, loss-making state enterprises, an inefficient socialist model and the lack of political freedom. And as I stated at the outset, there’s no guarantee whatsoever that one or more of these elements won’t suddenly overwhelm China’s growth prospects and drag the economy down. However, an objective look at risk factors shows that they are moderate, with little to suggest that the economy faces a looming crisis anytime soon. With apologies for the brevity imposed by space constraints, let me at least give a broad outline of the main arguments here. FIRST UP is perhaps the most obvious and pressing concern, which is China’s fate in the current global recession. Export volume contracted outright in the fourth quarter of 2008, and the turnaround in local stock and property markets has sent domestic construction and industrial spending down sharply as well. With the prospect of much-slower growth and rising unemployment this year, it’s natural to wonder if this is the shock that could send the mainland over the edge. However, by any measure China is one of the least export-exposed economies in the Asian region; only around 8 percent of the mainland workforce is employed in export industries, and light-export manufacturing, such as toys, textiles and electronics processing, accounts for a smaller share still of total Chinese investment spending. Even at the very peak of the recent trade expansion, net exports drove no more than one-sixth of overall GDP growth. This helps explain why China was able to keep right on growing during previous sharp export recessions, such as the global IT bust in 2001–02, and why it will take much more than falling exports to seriously impair medium-term-growth prospects today. Turning to the domestic economy, China’s local stock market shot up nearly sixfold between 2005 and 2007 before suffering an equally dizzying fall in the past fifteen months, raising concerns of a Japan-style “postbubble malaise.” On the other hand, this is nothing new; for the past two decades Chinese stock prices have inflated wildly every five years or so followed by equally abrupt declines. The important fact is that even today equities account for a very small part of household and corporate balance sheets, that is to say, in real economic terms China’s stock market is still little more than a sideshow. Housing and property markets are a different issue. As we have seen in the United States, property recessions can wreak significant havoc—but the key here is that China looks nothing like the United States. Consumer mortgage debt is tiny, average loan-to-value ratios are extremely low as well, nationwide home prices have actually declined relative to incomes for the past decade and absolute inventory levels haven’t budged since 2004. So while Chinese sales and construction volumes fell sharply last year and home prices are now contracting on a nationwide basis, there’s little in the data to suggest that the current property woes are anything more than a painful cyclical correction. NEXT TO address in the debate over China’s rise is the persistent idea that since the country is nominally socialist, the economy must have muddled through so far due to the efforts of central planners who ignore free-market principles and allocate resources against all economic rationality—and just like the Soviet Union before it, China is threatened with a nasty shock if and when market forces finally prevail. A lighter version is that China is overdependent on the “extensive” growth model, i.e., planners are good at throwing capital and labor at a problem but bad at getting returns on investment; once the economy starts to run out of resources the entire system could falter. According to the data, however, neither of these is a real concern. The single-best indicator of the quality of overall resource allocation in any economy is one already discussed—total-factor-productivity growth. For the Soviet Union, the figures were simply awful. On standard measures, the Soviet economy actually saw TFP levels fall by nearly 1 percent per year in the final two decades of its existence, the worst performance of any major region in the world and an accurate reflection of the hugely distorted nature of the economy. Meanwhile, as we saw above, China not only had positive TFP growth for the last three decades, but one of the absolute-best productivity performances on record. This is mirrored in financial data such as industrial profitability, corporate returns on equity or returns on invested capital. Regardless of the measure you choose, China has seen consistent improvements over the past fifteen years, and, even in today’s global slump, margins and capital returns have remained near record-high
  10. 10. levels. Nor is there any indication that the “extensive” part of mainland growth is in danger anytime soon. Much has been made of the looming demographic downturn, but this almost completely misses the point; if we look at China’s historical growth pattern, only perhaps one-sixth came from labor expansion, with another third from factor productivity—and the rest was due to new capital creation. In other words, just as in China’s Asian neighbors, the real heavy lifting in trend growth was done by savings and investment. How likely is it that China will run out of savings to invest, or profitable destinations for its capital? Rising productivity and respectable corporate returns tell us that the latter issue is not a concern, as China still has plenty of areas for profitable investment at home. And on the former front, remember that the mainland currently exports around 10 percent of its GDP in excess savings to the rest of the world, by far the highest level of any major economy. ACCORDING TO current statistics, roughly 25 percent of Chinese GDP is generated by state-owned enterprises, or SOEs. To most readers this brings up a specific set of connotations: state enterprises generally do not run on market principles, depend on government for resource allocation and economic decision making, suck resources and subsidies from the “good” part of the economy, hide behind protectionist walls and often destroy value outright—causing outputs to be worth less than the cost of producing them. So even if the private sector is buoyant and profitable, having a “dead weight” of this magnitude risks pulling the rest of the economy down with it. The trouble is that none of those characteristics really hold true in China. Industrial statistics show that mainland SOEs are more profitable on average than the private sector, and even when we adjust for sectoral differences there is almost no visible difference between state-owned and private profit performance. With the exception of recent short-lived fuel subsidies, the government does not hand cash to state companies; quite the opposite, SOEs pay far more in net taxes to the government than their private counterparts. And sectoral data suggest that overall productivity and margin growth have been a good bit faster in heavy-industrial state sectors than, say, in foreign-funded light-manufacturing export firms over the past fifteen years. Many may ask how this is possible. The answer is that there’s not much “state” left in China’s state-owned enterprises. In most emerging markets you will find, say, one large, state-owned telecom company, one automaker, one airline and so on down the line—usually companies that are heavily protected and often loss making. By contrast, the mainland has dozens of major automakers and airlines, hundreds of steel companies, a good handful of major telcos, power producers and the rest. Most of these firms may be state owned, but they compete aggressively with one another; entry barriers are very low even by Asian standards, with many sectors highly open to private and foreign investment. Moreover, only the very largest SOEs have any guarantee of existence at all, as they discovered in the late 1990s when then-Premier Zhu Rongji mercilessly shut down tens of thousands of state-run companies because they were neither profitable enough nor large enough to be worth saving, thereby putting more than 25 million state workers on the street. Major SOEs still enjoy preferred access to commercial-bank resources, but this access is fading rapidly as banks are under strong pressure to hone their focus on profits and cash flow. And the state now has almost no direct say in corporate investment and production decisions, having dismantled the (largely rubber-stamp) government-investment-approvals process a number of years back. THEN THERE is the question of how China can grow without democracy. The idea that economic success puts the rising aspirations of the middle class on a collision course with China’s authoritarian regime is a cherished tenet, and the recent wave of rising social unrest is often touted as proof that a painful clash is imminent. However, while there’s little doubt that China will face growing political frictions and some painful choices over the next decades, there’s also little to suggest that the country faces a looming crisis. In fact, when it comes to Asia, the better question may be: how can you grow with democracy? After all, every one of the region’s economic success stories over the past thirty years—Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia—happened in what was effectively a one-party state, and some had governments as authoritarian as China’s. By contrast, countries with consistent or intermittent periods of democratic rule, such as the Philippines, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Thailand, came in toward the bottom of the growth list. Clearly the lack of contested elections was not a hindrance to growth in Asia; indeed, it was one of the best predictors of success. This is because Asia’s economic winners may not have had democracy but they did have capitalism. All of the high-growth countries had a strong market orientation and a commitment to globalization; they generally also had strong governance institutions with some measure of social accountability. In effect, there was an unwritten contract with the populace that as long as governments delivered the goods in terms of growth, the citizenry would hold off on democratic aspirations until the economy reached a stable, middle-class income plateau. Is China different, and could the political order fall apart well before incomes reach more developed levels? To make this claim, there are two possible lines of argument. The first is that the mainland simply isn’t as “capitalist” as the Asian tigers were, with less market orientation and more state distortions and problems. I’ve already disputed this idea for China itself, but I should also stress how well the mainland holds up in a comparative sense. At one-quarter of GDP, China’s state-owned economy today is largely comparable in size to the historical role of Japan’s keiretsu and South Korea’s chaebol in their own economies, with the crucial difference that mainland SOEs are a good bit more exposed to market forces. Foreign direct investment plays a far bigger role in nearly every industrial sector in China than in Japan and South Korea even today, not to mention in the 1970s and 1980s. By any measure, China has much greater domestic competition within industries than its north-Asian neighbors, and large Japanese and South Korean firms arguably received more effective support and subsidization from their “main bank” relationships than mainland SOEs do from Chinese state banks today. The second argument is that the Chinese state is more rigid and less responsive—and that a rising wave of social unrest is already threatening political stability. Even by the government’s own statistics there has been a marked increase in public or “mass” disturbances since the beginning of the decade, and reports of unruly demonstrations and violence are common in the foreign press. But, there’s just one caveat. Very few of these disturbances involve higher-income urban residents, or for that matter urbanites at all; instead, the vast majority come from farmers and rural migrants. In other words, this is not the aspiring middle class “rising up” against authoritarian rule, but rather the poorest segments of the population chafing against their plight. And, as it turns out, their gripes are founded in economic issues, not political ones. Let me explain what I mean. As China pursued enterprise reforms during the 1990s, one of the consequences was a collapse of budgetary finances; at the lowest point, general government revenue had dropped to less than 10 percent of GDP, more reminiscent of an African nation than a nominally socialist state. This left the authorities with barely enough funds to maintain civil-service employment, forcing sharp cutbacks in education, housing and medical services. And by far the worst affected were county and village governments, which were left to fend for themselves by exploiting their own base: levying taxes on farmers and expropriating land. The other problem was rural incomes. Local farm prices were flat or falling from the mid-1990s through the early part of this decade, and Chinese farmers saw very little income growth at a time when their urban counterparts were gaining wealth at a record pace. With flat earnings, rising taxes and fees, village governments selling off farmland at minimal compensation and migrant wages stagnant as well, it’s little wonder the mainland saw growing rural disturbances.
  11. 11. But now look what has happened over the past half-decade. To begin with, budgetary revenue has rebounded steadily as a share of GDP, reaching 20 percent in 2007, and suddenly the center is flush with cash. This has meant rising transfers to local governments, increased spending on health and education, and the removal of all agricultural taxes in the last few years. Second, the authorities have undertaken significant changes in land-tenure policy, including better guarantees of a farmer’s claim to a specific piece of land, a more transparent sales and transfer regime, and more avenues for legal recourse. These leave less scope for local corruption and more gains to farmers from future land transactions. Third, since 2004 there has been a large trend rise in domestic food prices, driven by rising urban consumption and the natural decrease in supply due to past land sales. And over the past three years real farm-income growth at last caught up with and even exceeded the urban pace of wage increases. Finally, rural migrant wages have also jumped over the same period as a result of tighter labor markets caused by fewer young, mobile workers. The bottom line is that China has seen considerable structural and largely market-driven changes that are already fundamentally altering the rural income balance, and should go a long way toward addressing the economic problems leading to the recent unrest. This year and the next will be tough, to be sure, as weak export markets and, especially, falling construction demand take a toll on migrant employment—but as I argued above, these are cyclical issues that are unlikely to prevent a return to trend growth in the near future and over the long term. Pei Responds: DEBATING TOP-NOTCH economists, especially a highly respected and knowledgeable one like Jonathan Anderson, apparently borders on intellectual masochism for a political scientist. But because most economists are handicapped by an intellectual tunnel-vision problem—they tend to use economic growth as the only mark of social progress and ignore the overall context in which economic development takes place—this contest is not only winnable, but also can be intellectually fulfilling. Jonathan starts out by using what he calls “hard data” to argue two points. First, on the economic front, he points out that China’s economic growth for the past thirty years has been driven by productivity growth (hence, it is of high quality), and that its state-owned enterprises have become market oriented and more profitable, on average, than private-sector firms. Second, Jonathan sees the risk factors that could derail China’s growth as “moderate”; he believes that social tensions in China are driven primarily by economic factors that will be easily fixed with China’s continued growth (poor social services in cities and low income growth in the countryside); and, that the lack of democracy rather than being a real danger is instead “one of the best predictors of success” in Asia. Unfortunately, Jonathan makes three mistakes that undermine his optimistic forecast of China’s rosy economic future. First, the data he cites as “hard” are actually quite subjective. At best, they paint an ambiguous picture of China’s economic performance. Second, he understates the degree to which the Chinese state is entrenched in the economy and overstates the level of performance by the SOEs. Finally, in typical economist fashion, he ignores the so-called elephant-in-the-room risk factors—environmental degradation, high socioeconomic inequality and corruption—and downplays the future impact of an aging population and the potential for social conflict. It is not just the economic fundamentals that he has misjudged but also, perhaps more importantly, China’s societal and political weaknesses. MEASURING ECONOMIC performance is hard, even for economists. One of the best yardsticks is, as Jonathan points out, total-factor-productivity growth. Unfortunately, estimates of China’s TFP growth are highly contestable. Based on research by leading American and Chinese economists, China’s TFP growth rate has been declining in the past decade, so using the average TFP growth data for the past three decades is not a reliable way to forecast China’s future growth. It merely spreads the gains out over time, thereby masking the recent downturn. Further, it is probably too generous and truly unrealistic to use TFP data alone to assess China’s economic performance. TFP marks productivity gains, but what if such gains do not accrue to the average Chinese citizen? What if rapid GDP growth is not accompanied by commensurate growth in household income and consumption? This is where China comes up short. While its GDP growth for the last three decades approached 10 percent a year, the growth of household income was lower (the weighted household income rose at about half of the per capita GDP growth rate in rural areas and at roughly 75 percent of the per capita GDP growth rate in the cities). Simply put, an average Chinese does not have the money to buy Chinese products (especially since he must also save for health care, education and retirement due to a tattered social safety net). This has led to a level of consumption that has shrunk to a historical low in recent years. Such evidence suggests that China may have a large economic output, but it has not been fully translated into increased individual welfare, hindering the growth of domestic demand and the overall health of the economy. When it comes to Jonathan’s assertions about the state’s role in the economy, he again looks to data rather than nuance. The influence of the Chinese state in the economy vastly exceeds the direct output of SOEs. Jonathan argues this number runs to about 25 percent of GDP. In actuality, SOEs account for a much-higher percentage of the economy; my debating partner has not included many companies in which the state has a controlling interest. Even more so because the Chinese government controls the price of capital and land, and limits entry to strategic sectors of the economy, its influence in the marketplace is far more extensive and potent than most people realize. Chinese SOEs are also not as productive as Jonathan tries to show through his data. Their profitability comes from their monopoly status, not from their competitiveness. In fact, 80 percent of SOEs’ profits come from a handful of giant state monopolies, such as China Mobile, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and Sinopec. Research shows that, in terms of marginal capital output, SOEs are about half as efficient as private and foreign firms operating in China. Finally, Jonathan should have taken into account the impact of environmental degradation and rising social injustice (compounded by inequality and official corruption) on China’s economic future. Given the extent of environmental pollution and the costs of mitigation and protection required to make China a country in which people can breathe, drink and eat without getting poisoned, no economic forecast of China’s future will be persuasive if it downplays or overlooks the environmental risk factor. And above all, while the normal ebbs and flows of an economic cycle may help explain social grievances, they are not the sole cause and it would be wrong to ignore other factors. In fact, in many recent large-scale riots, economic factors were conspicuously missing. What is important is that when a fast- growing society is perceived by its people as unjust, as China is today, its rulers are sitting on a ticking time bomb. That is why Chinese leaders are calling for a “harmonious society.” Regrettably, even the best economists have missed the political warning signs. Anderson Responds: LET ME start by repeating my conclusion from the main article: to argue against China’s eventual rise it’s not enough to point to vaguely perceived imbalances or assert that the economy can’t go on exactly the way it was before. We need more than a little grit in the wheels to slow the country down—instead, we need a definitive, fundamental crisis that pushes China off the growth path for a long time to come. And we need it soon, ideally within five to ten years. Now, as an avid follower of Minxin’s work, it’s a pleasure to have a chance to comment on his views, and he clearly provides an engaging review of long-term challenges for the mainland economy. But has he made the case for a looming crisis? Unfortunately, the answer is no—and on most counts the arguments fall very wide of the mark indeed. One of Minxin’s main propositions is that the state’s role in the economy is unhealthy and out of proportion, that Beijing created a false sense of economic well-being and a flawed set of economic structures. He asserts that the government creates massive economic distortion by manipulating key input prices such as those of

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