By Michael Spence
The world’s two largest economies, the United States and China, seem to be enduring secular slowdowns. But there remains considerable uncertainty about their growth trajectory, with significant implications for asset prices, risk, and economic policy.
The US seems to be settling into annual real (inflation-adjusted) growth rates of around 2%, though whether this is at or below the economy’s potential remains a source of heated debate. Meanwhile, China seems to be headed for the 6-7% growth rate that the government pinpointed last year as the economy’s “new normal.” Some observers agree that such a rate can be sustained for the next decade or so, provided that the government implements a comprehensive set of reforms in the coming few years. Others, however, expect China’s GDP growth to continue to trend downward, with the possibility of a hard landing.
There is certainly cause for concern. Slow and uncertain growth in Europe – a major trading partner for both the US and China – is creating headwinds for the US and China.
Moreover, the US and China – indeed, the entire global economy – are suffering from weak aggregate demand, which is creating deflationary pressures. As central banks attempt to combat these pressures by lowering interest rates, they are inadvertently causing releveraging (an unsustainable growth pattern), elevated asset prices (with some risk of a downward correction, given slow growth), and devaluations (which merely move demand around the global economy, without increasing it).
For China, which to some extent still depends on external markets to drive economic growth, this environment is particularly challenging – especially as currency depreciation in Europe and Japan erode export demand further. Even without the crisis in major external markets, however, a large and complex middle-income economy like China’s could not realistically expect growth rates above 6-7%.
Michael Spence, a Nobel laureate in economics, is Professor of Economics at NYU’s Stern School of Business, Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, Academic Board Chairman of the Fung Global Institute in Hong Kong, and Chair of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on New Growth Models.
Courtesy of Project Syndicate, © 2015 Project Syndicate