December 1, 2016

TIRED OF ALL THE WINNING: The Surest Measure of How China’s Economy Is Losing.

There are data, grounded in real-world calculations, that show China’s economic importance falling — not rising slowly, nor staying stable, but falling. The most important indicator is net private wealth, which is the single best measure of a country’s economic size and of the pool of resources available to its public sector for military or social spending.

In work dating back to 2000 and carried out with no geo-economic agenda, Credit Suisse has estimated private wealth. The new estimates, through the middle of 2016, show American private wealth at $84.8 trillion and Chinese private wealth at $23.4 trillion. Moreover, the gap is widening. With $60 trillion less in private wealth than the United States, China’s global economic leadership is a fable.

There are of course more facts to bring to the argument at hand than the Credit Suisse data, but the latter are an excellent place to start. The data series is well behaved statistically, which means it has credibility. It is measured globally, so shares can be calculated. The result: the People’s Republic of China’s level of private wealth actually fell from mid-2015, both in amount and in share.

Export-driven economies can grow only so large before the rest of the world becomes saturated with their exports. At that point, the challenge is to generate enough domestic demand for continued growth, or stagnation results. Japan, with one of the world’s highest per capita GDPs in the world, failed that challenge a quarter century ago and has stagnated ever since. China, with a much smaller per capita GDP — and just as significant, a much more corrupt government — seems unlikely to do any better than Japan did.

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