Copycat Capitalists

ZURICH – It is all too easy to envy China. At current growth rates, the Chinese economy will double in size in only nine years, raising an estimated 100 million people above the poverty line in the process.

Compare this to the major economies of the Western world. The eurozone’s GDP remains mired below 2008 levels, and the United States last enjoyed Chinese-style growth back in 1984, when gasoline was $1.10 a gallon and the first Apple Macintosh was rolling off the production line in California.

Given the West’s anemic performance in recent years, it is hardly surprising that envy of China’s economic dynamism has manifested itself in official policy. Recent examples range from direct market interventions (such as America’s effort to boost its automotive industry via the “cash for clunkers” program), to the British government’s attempt to reflate the United Kingdom’s housing market by guaranteeing mortgages under its “Help to Buy” scheme.

Even hitherto independent central banks have not escaped the creep toward state-sponsored capitalism. The US Federal Reserve has been gently encouraged to buy 90% of annual net issuance of US Treasury bills, effectively funding the US fiscal deficit and ensuring, via the resulting negative real interest rates, that businesses and individuals wishing to save, rather than spend, will lose purchasing power by doing so.