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Home | Blog | The Chinese Economy's Fatal Flaws

The Chinese Economy's Fatal Flaws

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Tags Bureaucracy and RegulationGlobal EconomyMoney and Banking

Dr. Per Bylund’s recently published article poignantly states one of the core problems in the Chinese economy and its the state-manipulated Keynesian foundation. I do agree with his opinion. And if we dig deeper into the exact situation of Chinese economy, we will find that it’s a typical failing of the Keynesian, cronyist system.

By using the perspective of Austrian business cycle theory, lets take a look at China’s real estate industry, which is suffering more and more painfully from artificial credit issued by China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBC). During the 2008 global economic crisis, China’s central government issued the famous RMB 4 Trillion Stimulus Package Plan (equaling to $586 billion). Since 2009, the Chinese real estate economy has already suffered from three small economic cycles. As it is becoming more difficult for real estate companies to live on artificial prosperity, the duration of every business cycle has become shorter than the previous one. We also see more and more ghost cities because of the economic boom in every sub-economic cycle. There were at least 12 ghost cities founded in 2013, and the number of them jumped to at least 50 in 2017! Bankruptcy is happening more frequently among Chinese real estate enterprises. Since 2016, at least three real estate companies — with a combined debt of at least RMB 763 million — have gone bankrupt. The story of bankruptcy is continuing, with one of the biggest real-estate-driven enterprises, Wanda Group, facing financing problems. If Wanda no longer has access to cheap debt, it might not be able to refinance or roll over all its debt again. If Wanda has to face bankruptcy, it could possibly accelerate an end of the the current Chinese boom. 

The data from the Chinese local governments is also not optimistic; their debt levels have reached almost RMB 25 trillion (US$ 4 trillion) at the end of 2014. In 2015, even the PBC admitted in one of its annual reports saying that China’s financial system is facing higher instability and uncertainty.

The above evidence is not a surprise. All these are the consequence of artificial bank credit created by central banking and central planning. In China, the loans are easy to get from the State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) or the businessmen who are the friends of the politicians in the Communist Party. China’s real estate industry is also the ally of the state and only the people who are friends of those in authority can participate in housing programs. 

Besides the SOE economic system, what we should worry more about is how the Keynesian and crony system hurts small and private businesses in China, who are driving the economy of this country. Compared with the SOEs, and the businessmen who are the close allies of some influential politicians, it is harder for ordinary entrepreneurs who are running small businesses to get loans. Moreover, the recent market squeeze makes it harder for Chinese small business to survive. These entrepreneurs are not only facing an unfriendly bank credit situation, but also the threat of having to bribe the government to circumvent the massive scale of governmental economic regulations.

Consider the story of a small business boss Li Lang, who is a typical Kirznerian alert businessman in China. Several years ago, he observed a shortage of moving companies in the Southwest Chinese town of Chengdu. He started his business to serve the local people. The business is not easy, not only because it requires hard work, but Li also must bribe and maintain good relations with the local politicians to let them “protect” his business and help him introduce some business opportunities. According to Li, if the local bigwigs in the crony system had already discovered the opportunity of earning a fortune by managing a moving company, it wouldn’t have been possible for him to enter the business. Though now that he has earned a lot of money, he still has to carefully maintain the relationship with the politicians to "protect" his business. His is not an isolated case. In China, the less connections you have with the cronyist system, the less business opportunity you have. And even if you become successful in your business, be careful, the state has eyes on your wealth.

We know that the private sector is driving the Chinese economy and has improved the living standard of many Chinese individuals despite state economic manipulation. Yet, we still have to emphasize that the Chinese economic model is dominated by Keynesianism and cronyism. If we ignore this, the false prosperity we see would make us misread what is happening in China. 

William Wang is a PhD candidate in economics at the Complutense University of Madrid, Spain. He received his Master's degree in Austrian Economics at Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid, Spain. He is a 2017 Mises University alumni.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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