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China as Economic Bogeyman

Many Western economists presume that governments are not very good at identifying industries that merit support, and that domestic consumers and taxpayers incur the bulk of the costs. By the same logic, if Chinese policymakers effectively targeted activities where social benefits exceed private benefits, then it is not clear why foreigners should complain.

CAMBRIDGE – As COVID-19 spread from China to Europe and then the United States, pandemic-stricken countries found themselves in a mad scramble for medical supplies – masks, ventilators, protective garments. More often than not, it was to China that they had to turn.

By the time the crisis erupted, China had become the world’s largest supplier of key products, accounting for half of all European and US imports of personal protective equipment. “China has laid the groundwork to dominate the market for protective and medical supplies for years to come,” according to recent reporting by the New York Times.

When China first turned toward global markets, it had the advantage of virtually unlimited supplies of low-cost labor. But as everyone recognizes by now, China’s manufacturing prowess is not the result of unfettered market forces.

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