Rooftop in China

China’s Bumpy New Normal

Too often, the debate about China’s economy has been dominated by naive proposals for supply-side reform and criticism of the demand-side measures adopted after the 2008 global financial crisis. But, while those measures were far from perfect, they were far better than nothing – a lesson that remains relevant today.

SHANGHAI – China’s shift from export-driven growth to a model based on domestic services and household consumption has been much bumpier than some anticipated, with stock-market gyrations and exchange-rate volatility inciting fears about the country’s economic stability. Yet by historical standards, China’s economy is still performing well – at near 7% annual GDP growth, some might say very well – but success on the scale that China has seen over the past three decades breeds high expectations.

There is a basic lesson: “Markets with Chinese characteristics” are as volatile and hard to control as markets with American characteristics. Markets invariably take on a life of their own; they cannot be easily ordered around. To the extent that markets can be controlled, it is through setting the rules of the game in a transparent way.

All markets need rules and regulations. Good rules can help stabilize markets. Badly designed rules, no matter how well intentioned, can have the opposite effect.

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