DannyQuah

Making large things visible to the human eye

Category Archives: income distribution

Take back from those even poorer

What -ism is it when you castigate your top 1%


From: Vanity Fair, May 2011

and try to aid your middle class …

How the US lost out on iPhone work
From: New York Times, 22 January 2012

… by taking back from those even poorer elsewhere in the world.

From: Asia Development Bank: Asia’s Poor. Financial Crisis? Every day.

A small proposal to rebalance the global economy: Just let China grow

Many take as fact that the current pattern of global imbalances — large and persistent trade deficits and surpluses across different parts of the world, eventually unsustainable — is due to China and the rest of East Asia consuming too little and saving too much. Since the global economy is a closed trading system, trade deficits and surpluses across all national economies must sum exactly to zero always. Therefore, that one part of the world saves too much and thereby runs trade surpluses means other parts of the world — notably the US — must be running trade deficits.

However, just because deficits and surpluses are tightly inter-connected does not mean that trade surpluses in China, say, have been responsible for US trade deficits: absent further information, causality could well have flowed in the opposite direction. Moreover, China’s high savings might be dynamically welfare-optimizing for its citizens — for instance, private enterprise in China might find self-accumulation the only way to generate investment funds — and, at the same time, only minimally if at all welfare-reducing for already-rich US citizens. Finally, it might be that global imbalances should best be viewed not as a bilateral (US-China) problem but instead a multi-lateral one.

Be all that as it may, many US policy-makers focusing on US trade deficits and China’s trade surpluses urge policy actions against China to rebalance the global economy. Those policy actions include punitive tariffs against Chinese imports and tagging China a currency-manipulator — and thus moving it yet further from official free-market status. Some observers remark that without such external pressure, China will find it domestically too difficult to shift away from its reliance on export promotion, infrastructure investment, and restrained consumption towards a more balanced growth path (e.g., Michael Pettis, Nouriel Roubini, Martin Wolf).

The problem: To raise China’s domestic aggregate demand, especially consumption. The difficulty: China’s consumption cannot increase quickly enough to compensate for the shortfall in aggregate demand should both investment and exports decline. The danger: a hard landing for China and the global economy.

I want to suggest that such a re-direction need not be that difficult. My proposal: Let China grow rich as quickly as possible. Why might this do the trick?

Regional incomes in China

First, consumption within China is already rising faster than both income and investment, provided that we look at those parts of China where incomes per head exceed US$8,800 (Figures 1 and 2). Of course, China’s current per capita income overall now is only US$2200, less than 6% that of the US. What this suggests, however, is as China’s income grows, its overall savings rate will naturally fall. The right policy is to encourage growth, not adopt punitive actions that might retard that growth.

China's regional consumption

Figure 2a China’s regional consumption

(I took Figures 1-3 from a term paper that Daisy Wang wrote for my course Ec204 The Global Economy at the LSE-PKU Summer School, August 2011. The underlying data are from China’s National Bureau of Statistics.)

Second, as John Ross reminds us, investment too is aggregate demand. But, third, continuing to increase China’s investment in, among other things, infrastructure and transportation can help further as it allows those western, poorer regions in China (again Figure 2) better to integrate both nationally and globally, and thus become richer through raising demand and productivity.

China’s regional investment

Figure 2b China’s regional investment

While many observers make much of China’s high investment to income ratio, it is useful to note that that ratio is high not just because its numerator is being driven up, but also because the denominator remains so low. The right state variable for dynamic analysis in a neoclassical growth model is capital per head, not capital per unit of income. And here (Figure 3):

China's  per capita investment

Figure 3 China’s per capita investment

we see how China still has a long way to go on the upside.

Finally, Figure 4:

“The Chinese led the way in the rush to the Boxing Day sales, flocking to department stores to grab designer goods”, The Times of London, 27 December 2011

Figure 4: “The Chinese led the way in the rush to the Boxing Day sales, flocking to department stores to grab designer goods”, The Times of London, 27 December 2011

However much anyone might doubt those China statistics I used above, auxiliary evidence shows that rich Chinese consumers have no difficulty increasing consumption.

The evidence I’ve described doesn’t of course say that global imbalances can be easily erased through just more economic growth in China. However, the algebraic signs of the required relations seem to me to point at least in the right direction. Careful work to quantify these effects might end up showing that their magnitudes aren’t large enough. But, as far as I know, that calibration has not been done, which makes me wonder why some observers can be so certain that China’s current growth trajectory can only exacerbate global imbalances.

When China becomes rich, that will also dramatically lower inequality in the world — globally, the difference in incomes per head across nations overwhelms that across individuals within a single country. No one I know arguing for a more egalitarian society also says that that push for equality should stop at their nation’s borders and be kept from applying seamlessly across humanity’s 7 billion.


Also:

  1. “A small proposal to rebalance the global economy:  Just let China grow” EconoMonitor, 30 December 2011
  2.  “China’s growth could address imbalance”, China.org.cn, 02 January 2012
  3.  “Just let China grow”, The Edge Malaysia, 09 January 2012, p. 64
  4. 恢复全球经济平衡的一个小建议:让中国尽快变得富有, Blog.Sina, 13 January 2012
  5. Reprinted “A small proposal to rebalance the global economy:  Just let China grow”, Global Policy Journal, 11 October 2012

The LSE Big Questions Lecture 2011: Organized Common Sense

In June 2011, I was lucky enough to deliver the inaugural LSE Big Questions Lecture. I chose to lecture on whether the East was taking over the world. I felt these changes in the world matter to everyone, and they are developments with important economic ideas surrounding them. The LSE Big Questions Lecture is targeted at 14 year-old school children in a number of London’s schools — hundreds showed up on the day. The lecture itself was televised for subsequent broadcast. The runup to this lecture involved months working with a production team at LSE: these were months of planning and rehearsing, writing and rewriting, arguing and disagreeing — on analytical content and ideas, on what 14 year-olds might find useful and understandable and memorable, on the best ways to communicate different ideas in economics and facts about the world.

Why did we do this?

As an academic economist, I study growth and distribution. I write about the shifting global economy and the rise of the East. I try to make large things visible to the human eye. I want to be considered a valuable REF contributor to my department and to the LSE.

But I also believe that these are times where economic literacy matters hugely, not least in societies that continue to hold to the ideals of liberal democracies. And there are intriguing large-scale parallels between important events now and those some time ago in history.

In 1825 Michael Faraday — perhaps the world’s greatest ever experimental scientist — initiated (but did not himself give) the first of the Royal Institution of Great Britain’s Christmas Lectures. Faraday went on to deliver 19 series altogether of these annual Lectures, his last in 1860, presenting and explaining to the British public ongoing discoveries in chemistry and electricity and magnetism.

1855 Michael Faraday - Royal Institution Christmas Lecture

The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures have continued to the present, interrupted only by World War 2. They are delivered to a general audience, notably including young people, with the aim to inform and entertain. From their beginning, these lectures proved highly popular despite the limited nature to early 19th century organised education. Since 1966 the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures have been televised. For many British households, the Christmas Lectures constitute a highlight of annual holiday family viewing. The energy and the ingenuity that go into the lectures are impressive, not least when, say, someone like Marcus du Sautoy, in his 2006 lectures, explains abstract number theory to a teenage audience.

These Royal Institution Christmas lectures provide the strongest counter-example I know to the conceit that research ideas are too difficult to explain to and too abstruse to excite the general public. Most of us just don’t work hard enough at it. So getting to deliver something the LSE Big Questions Lecture would be a challenge. But there was more.

In 1825, London had just become the world’s leading city by overtaking Beijing — vividly demonstrating the steady ongoing shift then of the world’s economic centre east to west. That year, the first modern economic crisis in history occurred — modern in the sense of not having been caused by a war. The stock market crash of 1825 took out in England alone six London banks and sixty country banks, with the badly-overextended Bank of England having to be rescued by an injection of gold from France. For students of central banking, this event became enshrined afterwards in Walter Bagehot’s Lombard Street principles for the lender-of-last-resort role in central banking.

In 1825, Faraday’s scientific discoveries were not centre-stage for the Industrial Revolution swirling about him at the time. That first Industrial Revolution — perhaps the most important event in the history of humanity — was driven by iron-making, mechanisation, and steam power, more than by electrification and chemical processing. But chemistry and electricity and magnetism — where Faraday’s contributions were manifold and central — pointed to the then-future. These would go on to provide the more enduring engine of growth for modern economic progress, not least down to what today still powers all digital technologies, significant among them cellphones and the Internet.

The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures matter in British science for providing the public knowledge into the most important exciting intellectual developments of the time. They gave the British public insight into what was new. Historians who study why a 14th-century Chinese Industrial Revolution did not occur, despite China’s more advanced science centuries prior to that in 1780 Britain, point to how science in England had always immediately connected to commercial application and public interest. This is exactly the same kind of connection that the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures make. By contrast, in China, science and technology were tightly controlled by a scholarly elite, who saw no reason to disseminate their discoveries. During the 18th-century Industrial Revolution, James Watt and Matthew Boulton had announced the English public “steam-mad”, whereas in Sung Dynasty China, time itself was considered the sole property of the Emperor.

Inaugural LSE Big Questions Lecture

The Inaugural LSE Big Questions Lecture begins

I am under no mad illusion that what I do as an academic is even remotely comparable to the achievements by these giants of scientific and technical progress from 1825. But I don’t think I’m half-bad as a lecturer. I don’t shuffle my lecture notes and lose my place in them [I don't use lecture notes]. I don’t mumble into my beard so that the audience has no idea what I just said [I'm ethnic Chinese and we don't grow beards easily]. I don’t put up Powerpoint slides crammed full with text and then just read them out word-for-word [almost all my slides are just colourful pictures].

I believe, as first told to me by my PhD advisor, economics is just “organized common sense”. I’m passionate about explaining ideas in economic policy to any audience that might remotely be able to influence our national and global conversations on improving the state of the world.

So, when asked, I gave the LSE Big Questions Lecture a go.

Guest Post – The Inaugural LSE Big Questions Lecture – by Emily May

(The original host service for this post is no longer available, but its author Emily May kindly agreed that her writeup might appear on this blog.)
5 July 2011
Inaugural LSE Big Questions Lecture

The Inaugural LSE Big Questions Lecture begins

LSE Global Governance co-director Professor Danny Quah gave a special Big Questions lecture to Year 9 students on how the world’s economy is shifting eastwards, with countries such as India and China becoming wealthier and more powerful than ever before.

With Who Wants to be a Millionaire?-style voting clickers, tug of war, jumbo pound coins and in-jokes about video games, this was never going to be your usual LSE lecture. Following a lively warm-up and introductions from a rather bashful film crew, Professor Quah took us on a whirlwind tour of the global economy – how trade works, the benefits of economic development for a country, and how economics provides a useful way to interpret the world.

Part of the audience at the Inaugural LSE Big Questions Lecture

“Did he actually just say ‘Spartans respawning - the mathematics are determinate’?”

Enlisting the help of some brave youngsters plucked from the audience, Professor Quah engagingly demonstrated how the East’s economic power is accelerating and what this means for the West. ‘The Chinese economy is growing at a rate of 10 per cent every year,’ he said, ‘which means it’s doubling in size every seven years. At this rate, our volunteer here would be 10ft tall by the time he enrols at LSE.’

We witnessed, via a striking world map on the big screen (plus a game of tug of war, just for good measure), how the emergence of the East in the last 30 years has pulled the world’s economic centre of gravity nearly 5000km from its 1980 mid-Atlantic location towards India and China.

But what does that mean for us? Well, we get an awful lot of ‘cheap stuff’. We watched a time-lapse video of a day in the life of a teenager called Charlie, who sped between his X-box (£220), PC (£330), and kicking his football (£10). All of these products were made in China. Then we learned just how much more expensive they would cost if they had been made in the UK: a whopping £3,200 for a PC, £1,760 for an Xbox, and £80 for a football.

So, the East might be making a lot more ‘cheap stuff’ than the UK, but we are getting pretty good at using innovation expertise and global collaboration to create our own products. To prove this point, award-winning entrepreneur Michael George took to the stage to describe how his new product – ‘the first ecological designer light bulb’ – was designed by his company in the UK but manufactured in China with US technology.

Despite the East’s rapid growth, its vast population – there are 50 people in East Asia for each person in the UK – means it has some catching up to do in respect of personal prosperity, as the average individual income remains at the same level as Namibia and Azerbaijan, with many people living on just 70p a day. Nevertheless, Professor Quah concluded that asking  ‘East beats West?’ is the wrong question, as the rise of the East has led to ‘the world being immeasurably better off. We need economics to help improve the lot of humanity. That is what economics is about.’

Read Professor Quah’s article ‘The Great Shift East‘.

No one likes inequality. Just try not to be poor absolutely as well. And don’t grow so fast either.

No one likes inequality:

US inequality and median income

I just like mine a lot less when it comes together with grinding poverty.  Just saying.

Chinese poverty and inequality - the 100 yuan cigarette lighter

Chinese poverty and inequality - the 100 yuan cigarette lighter

“Oh, also, this thing you’re doing – unbalancing the global economy, eclipsing the current global hegemon, frightening the horses – please, could you stop thinking about just yourself for a minute, and not grow your economy so quickly?  Thank you.”

(Actually, at market exchange rates, the average person in China remains poorer than his counterpart in nine countries across Africa, poorer than the average person in Belarus, El Salvador, or Jamaica.)

The global economy’s shifting centre of gravity

Define the global economy’s centre of gravity to be the average location of economic activity across geographies on Earth. If you go grab incomes and geographical location data across nearly 700 identifiable places on the planet (World Development Indicators Online, Asian Development Bank, Google Earth, Brinkhoff; Grether and Mathys) you will see that in 1980 the global economy’s centre of gravity was mid-Atlantic. You will also see that by 2008, from the continuing rise of China and the rest of East Asia, that centre of gravity has drifted to a location east of Helsinki and Bucharest. Extrapolating growth in almost 700 locations across Earth, gives you the world’s economic centre of gravity shifting by 2050 to literally between India and China. Observed from Earth’s surface, that economic centre of gravity will move from its 1980 location 9300 km or 1.5 times the radius of the planet.

A graphic illustration of this is given in the Figure. The dots in black are 1980-2007; those dots reduced and in red are for 2010-2049 in an extrapolation. The center of gravity calculations are performed in 3-dimensional space and then projected onto the normal cylinder tangent to the planet at the equator.
2010.08-wm-cg-gdpp-extrap-animated-DQ
My paper with the same name as this post describes more fully the ideas here.
(Thanks to Google Earth for help with this. To transform a 3-dimensional sphere into an unfolded 2-dimensional flat plane, the mapping is not a Hilbert space projection. For one, the tangent normal cylinder is only locally linear; it is therefore not a linear space. I calculated the dynamics using R; I generated the sequence of world maps in python; and I then used gimp and ImageMagick batch-processing to produce the final animation.)
%d bloggers like this: