If You Want a Strong U.S. Economy, You Should Be Rooting for China

The need to see China fail verges on jingoism. But if you're looking out for America above all, you should really be praying for China to thrive.

615 china growth.jpg
Reuters

Is China about to collapse? That question has been front and center in the past weeks as the country completes its leadership transition and after the exposure of its various real estate bubbles during a widely-watched 60 Minutes exposé this past weekend.

Concerns about soaring property prices throughout China are hardly new, but they have been given added weight by the government itself. Recognizing that a rapid implosion of the property market would disrupt economic growth, the central government recently announced far-reaching measures designed to dent the rampant speculation. Higher down payments, limiting the purchases of investment properties, and a capital gains tax on real estate transactions designed to make flipping properties less lucrative were included.

These measures, in conjunction with the new government's announcing more modest growth targets of 7.5 percent a year, sent Chinese equities plunging and led to a slew of commentary in the United States saying China would be the next shoe to drop in the global system.

Yet there is more here than simple alarm over the viability of China's economic growth. There is the not-so-veiled undercurrent of rooting against China. It is difficult to find someone who explicitly wants it to collapse, but the tone of much of the discourse suggests bloodlust. Given that China largely escaped the crises that so afflicted the United States and the eurozone, the desire to see it stumble may be understandable. No one really likes a global winner if that winner isn't you.

The need to see China fail verges on jingoism. Americans distrust the Chinese model, find that its business practices verge on the immoral and illegal, that its reporting and accounting standards are sub-par at best and that its system is one of crony capitalism run by crony communists. On Wall Street, the presumption usually seems to be that any Chinese company is a ponzi scheme masquerading as a viable business. In various conversations and debates, I have rarely heard China's economic model mentioned without disdain. Take, as just one example, Gordon Chang in Forbes: "Beijing's technocrats can postpone a reckoning, but they have not repealed the laws of economics. There will be a crash."

The consequences of a Chinese collapse, however, would be severe for the United States and for the world. There could be no major Chinese contraction without a concomitant contraction in the United States. That would mean sharply curtailed Chinese purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds, far less revenue for companies like General Motors, Nike, KFC and Apple that have robust business in China (Apple made $6.83 billion in the fourth quarter of 2012, up from $4.08 billion a year prior), and far fewer Chinese imports of high-end goods from American and Asian companies. It would also mean a collapse of Chinese imports of materials such as copper, which would in turn harm economic growth in emerging countries that continue to be a prime market for American, Asian and European goods.

China is now the world's second-largest economy, and property booms have been one aspect of its growth. Individual Chinese cannot invest outside of the country, and the limited options of China's stock exchanges and almost nonexistent bond market mean that if you are middle class and want to do more than keep your money in cash or low-yielding bank accounts, you buy either luxury goods or apartments. That has meant a series of property bubbles over the past decade and a series of measures by state and local officials to contain them. These recent measures are hardly the first, and they are not likely to be the last.

Zachary Karabell is Head of Global Strategy at Envestnet, a financial services firm, and author of The Leading Indicators: A Short History of the Numbers that Rule Our World. More

At River Twice Research, Karabell analyzes economic and political trends. He is also a senior advisor for Business for Social Responsibility. Previously, he was executive vice president, head of marketing and chief economist at Fred Alger Management, a New York-based investment firm, and president of Fred Alger and Company, as well as portfolio manager of the China-U.S. Growth Fund, which won a five-star designation from Morningstar. He was also executive vice president of Alger's Spectra Funds, which launched the $30 million Spectra Green Fund based on the idea that profit and sustainability are linked. Educated at Columbia, Oxford, and Harvard, where he received his Ph.D., he is the author of several books, including Superfusion: How China and America Became One Economy and Why the World's Prosperity Depends on It (2009), The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election, which won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Award, and Peace Be Upon You: The Story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence (2007), which examined the forgotten legacy of peace among the three faiths. In 2003, the World Economic Forum designated Karabell a "Global Leader for Tomorrow." He sits on the board of the World Policy Institute and the New America Foundation and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a regular commentator on national news programs, such as CNBC and CNN, and has written for The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Time, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and Foreign Affairs.

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Video

The 86-Year-Old Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

More in China

From This Author

Just In