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China and the U.S.: Curing a Dysfunctional Fiscal Relationship   (January 5, 2006)


I am taking the liberty of quoting at length from a recent article in The Wall Street Journal entitled Six Steps for Healing A Codependent U.S., China
"Welcome to the U.S.-China relationship helpline. Here are the Six Steps for your recovery program. If you work your way through each of these steps, you will not only better come to grips with your problem, you may at the same time repair the U.S.-Chinese codependent relationship before it unsettles the 21st century.

STEP NUMBER ONE: The first step is admitting that we as Americans -- and our government -- have grown dependent on rock-bottom prices, low interest rates and excessive debt. These cloud our instincts. Then accept Chinese behavior supports these addictions.

We and China have entered a classic state of codependence. We need China to finance our spending and borrowing habits because we don't save. China saves too much and can't stop throwing money at us. China hopes it can maintain the unfair trade advantage of its below-market currency rates because we're so hooked on its goods and financing. That, in turn, will allow it to keep 1.3 billion people happy while becoming a global power.

To visualize the problem this Christmas season as you shop online or are drawn to Wal-Mart or Target by discounts, imagine Santa Claus taking wing in a reindeer-drawn rickshaw from Guandong Province. More often than not, it is Chinese manufacturers that stand behind our bargains.

Surprised at how low sticker prices have remained for last couple of years though oil costs have more than doubled since 2001? Thank the Chinese for their low-cost labor. Alan Greenspan and his gang at the Fed have quadrupled interest rates with twelve successive increases over the past 18 months to 4% from 1%, yet the Chinese have helped to ensure inflation remains in check.

Have you bought a home in the past couple of years, refinanced one, or taken out a second mortgage to fund other purchases? If so, you might want to send a Christmas card to the amiable Chinese ambassador and thank his country for financing America's profligate borrowing.

The business world generously calls it a vendor-finance relationship. Think of Motorola providing a below-market-rate loan to Turkey's telephone company to buy its handsets. The vendor, Motorola, increases sales, earns interest on the loan and acquires an interest in the customer. Any M.B.A., however, knows the risk profile of a company increases if this game is overplayed.

What's happening between China and the U.S. is vendor finance on a sovereign level and a massive scale. Americans purchase consumer goods from the Chinese, who buy U.S. Treasurys with the revenue. That in turn sustains low U.S. interest rates, which feeds more U.S. consumer demand, and the circle continues.

A less generous way to understand the relationship than vendor-client is dealer-junkie.

STEP NUMBER TWO: The second step is to take responsibility for our addiction. Put more bluntly, we shouldn't blame the Chinese for our problems.

STEP NUMBER THREE: As the U.S. admits the unhealthy nature of this codependence, so must China.

What China has done is create huge and dangerous imbalances in its own economy through an overemphasis on export market growth at the expense of internal development. The bias against imports has been an indirect tax on the Chinese people. (China also angers its neighbors by undercutting their markets with its undervalued currency.)

China's huge increase of foreign-currency reserves to more than $770 billion by September also creates pressures that can only be eased through inflation or appreciation of its currency. Most Chinese exporters can weather some appreciation but others already carrying bad debts could be pushed into bankruptcy. Deputy Minister of Environment Pan Yue, in Germany's Der Spiegel magazine, warned of a "political crisis" if uncontrolled economic growth continues.

STEP NUMBER FOUR: Recognize your larger responsibilities to the "family" the global economy. The whole world has come to rely too much on the American willingness to buy and the Chinese readiness to pay for it. World economic growth remains strong, but the situation is more precarious than it seems. It could change overnight if something spooks the American consumer or throws off the Chinese juggernaut -- political turmoil, avian flu, environmental disaster, a Taiwan crisis.

STEP NUMBER FIVE: Fix the relationship. Too little thought at the highest levels has gone into dealing with the serious mistrust that makes our codependence all the more fragile in what could be the 21st century's most important relationship that between the world's greatest power and its greatest emerging power.

Many in the U.S. suspect China's ultimate purpose is to reduce American global influence and, through its artificially low exchange rate and military spending, destroy America's competitive position. China suspects that the U.S. wishes to counter its economic rise and is tightening its ties to Japan and India because it doesn't want a competing power.

And finally, STEP NUMBER SIX:

Pray to a higher power that nothing disrupts this fragile relationship while you're repairing it.
We must realize as Americans that, though it may take some years, the dealer can always find another customer while the junkie is left in withdrawal. The danger for China is that it loses its best customer if the U.S., responding to Beijing's refusal to allow its currency to rise, goes "cold turkey" slapping steep tariffs on Chinese goods and risking the consequences."
This mirrors my own thinking rather exactly. Please see all my related entries in the lefthand sidebar under Unfolding Crises: Asia.

For an excellent explanation of how profligate U.S. Government deficits are dooming our nation to impossibly huge interest payments, read Adam Florzak's current PactAmerica blog entries, Credit Card Analogy and The Curse of Compounding.

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copyright © 2006 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.

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