Why China Has Our Economy By the Balls

[Scott Thill, AlterNet]
On May 1, China popped the cork on Expo 2010 in Shanghai, a months-long international celebration signifying the ascension of the city, and thereby its parent nation, as a global economic and cultural powerhouse. Meanwhile, in the United States, China’s economic and cultural power has come under mounting fire.

Short-happy hedge funder Jim Chanos, who prophesied the fall of Enron, argued in April that the country’s heated property market was on a “treadmill to hell.” Foreign Policy followed suit by more or less blaming China’s alleged currency manipulation, rather than America’s own corporate and economic malfeasance, for exporting unemployment to the United States. Even our President Barack Obama jumped on the dogpile, expressing concern that China has not moved its currency to a “more market-oriented exchange rate,” during an April meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Washington. His administration stopped short, however, of releasing an April 15 report to Congress expressing this disapproval in concrete terms, choosing instead to trot out the disgraced deregulationist Larry Summers to soothe the Chinese that such matters will be taken up at future gatherings.

For its part, China has responded to the finger-pointing by the United States with its own middle digit.

“We oppose the practice of finger-pointing among countries or strong-arm measures to force other countries to appreciate currencies,” Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said in March, before restating his well-publicized 2009 worries that U.S. Treasuries are in trouble. “In the press conference last year, I said I was a bit concerned about it. This year, I make the same remark. I am still concerned. I hope the U.S. will take concrete measures to assure its investors.”

Good luck with that, China. From resilient wage and unemployment stagnation to revelations of investment banks like Goldman Sachs selling “shitty” bundles of toxic mortgages to national and international suckers with one hand while clandestinely shorting them with the other, the United States is in no position to assure investors of anything. Which is why they’ve taken lately to crowing about China, rather than settling their own business at home. That business includes, of course, selling billions of American dollars and Treasuries to our Chinese sugar daddy to keep our faltering consumer economy alive.

“China holds about $820 billion U.S. dollars, and about $480 billion is in U.S. Treasuries,” Stefan Halper, senior fellow at the Cambridge Centre of International Studies and author of the new book The Beijing Consensus, told AlterNet by phone. “China would not take steps to decrease the value of the dollar, because that would decrease the value of its own holdings. China doesn’t want to bring the dollar down or the U.S. economy down, but it is benefiting from American consumers, who buy its exports. which represents about 60 percent of its economy per year.”

Halper is firmly in the camp of those who are tagging China as a currency manipulator. In The Beijing Consensus, he argues that the rising 21st century superpower is suppressing the yuan, exporting unemployment and even standing in the way of America’s lagging recovery from the global recession. In the process, Halper writes, China is also exporting its overall philosophy of economics and governance at the expense, pardon the pun, of our own.

“Beyond everything else that China sells to the world, it functions as the world’s largest billboard for the new alternative of ‘going capitalist and staying autocratic,'” Halper explains in The Beijing Consensus. “Beijing has provided the world’s most compelling, high-speed demonstration of how to liberalize economically without surrendering to liberal politics.”

Of course, he admitted, China couldn’t have done it alone. America was more than happy, drunk on deregulation and war, to dig its own grave.

“The disastrous involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan have just depreciated the American story and the American example,” Halper told AlterNet. “You can look at the Pew data: There has been rising disapproval of the U.S. since Bush put us into those two wars. Plus, the Washington Consensus proved not to be a good form of Third World development, which opened the door to Chinese offers of low-interest loans and non-interference. So yeah, we’ve done things poorly. We’ve had a recession, and an inability to regulate our markets. We’re certainly not perfect.”

That’s probably the understatement of the new millennium. Viewed through that prism, the argument that our preeminent funder is somehow partially responsible for our own extensive economic troubles is disingenuous, even if esteemed economists like Paul Krugman have been sipping the blame-China Kool-Aid. What’s gets lost in the financial wonkery — or wankery, if you will — is the fact that, through our own corruption and greed, we have willingly pushed nations into the arms of China rather than earn their trust. Through the misguided Washington Consensus, we and others tried and succeeded at establishing a rapacious list of interventionist measures — concretized as “stabilize, privatize, and liberalize” by Harvard professor of international political economy Dani Rodrik — since the 1990s that has ultimately culminated in our current lunacy. To argue at this late stage of the game that China is partially to blame for this is playing the kind of crappy defense that loses championships in pro sports. It shows, above all, that we have no game.

“China will make decisions in its own interests, just as the U.S. does,” Rachel Ziemba, senior analyst for China and oil-exploring countries at Roubini Global Economics, told AlterNet. “It’s actually in China’s interest in the mid-term to have a more flexible exchange rate as it increases their monetary policy autonomy and could boost domestic purchasing power, helping domestic consumption. It also could help control domestic inflation. But domestic dictates, not U.S. pressure, will determine Chinese policy moves in this area. Chinese authorities are balancing different economic pressures, and an appreciation of the currency would increase the price of Chinese exports.”


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