Now that inflation seems under control, unemployment has been identified by most as the real threat to Chinese stability in 2009. The risk of massive layoffs and social unrest is so obvious that you hardly need an economist to identify it. My blue taxi driver was telling me about it only a minute ago.
In the media and the specialized blogosphere we’ve seen many articles lately discussing the problem of closing factories. Mostly wondering how bad the situation really is, or how the government will be able to deal with it. Interestingly, opinions come in waves, one week exaggerating the damage, the week after dismissing it as seasonal closings.
Which just comes to show that, in times of crisis, bloggers and economists are all equally clueless.
The World Bank, Economists and Chinese Characteristics
The other day I commented the latest World Bank Quarterly Report, and I raised the issue that it does not take into account some obvious non-economic factors. Today, after reading the latest post on All Roads I went back to the WB report and performed a search for “unemployment”.
The number of results for this search in the 23 pages report is: 0.
Fair enough, there are 5 instances of “employment” (think positive), but most of them are explaining how the Magic Stimulus Plan is going to solve all the problems. The more I read it, the more I see this Report as loaded with Chinese Characteristics. It has been done in Beijing, by a mostly Chinese team… and like I said, it carries a highly suspicious 7.5% projection.
In spite of this, the WB report is an informative read, and one can hardly be surprised that an international institution tries to avoid conflict with one of its member governments. But what I did find quite surprising is that econoblogger Brad Setser’s analysis of the report doesn’t even mention unemployment either.
This is what made me think that we are going to need something more than economists if we want to see clear in the China 2009 scene.
Recommended Reads for the Fall
So, with all due respect, I have to desagree with Mr. Setser’s advice: If you only read one thing on China this Autumn, do NOT read the World Bank Report.
But then, what to read? Who knows really what’s going on in China?
Let’s analyze the root of the problem: China is not a transparent System. Even worse, unlike other non-transparent countries that we are used to deal with, China is a highly influential country. And it is in a position to not only hide the facts behind a painted veil, but also actively manipulate information and have hundreds of experts around the world scratching their heads.
So the answer to the question “Who knows China?” is: A bunch of old men that are sitting in Zhongnanhai.
Now, forget your google, you will not find the Politburo Standing Comitee Blog, they will not take your phone calls to arrange an interview or explain their actions.
But what they actually DO every day is leave lots of traces, from the articles on the Chinese press to their announcements in economic policy. And these traces we can track down to the real intentions and the real information that they’re handling. So it is by reading between the lines of People’s Daily, Xinhua and the likes that you can get a clue of what is going on here.
In conclusion, to understand China, economics is not enough: we also need politics.
So if you are only going to read one thing on China, I suggest you look for a political economist. For example the blog of Victor Sish, which I discovered recently. He is a professor of political science at Northwestern University specializing in Chinese politics, and he also writes on Nourini’s monitor. He has a keen eye for interpreting the news from a Chinese government perspective. Don’t miss his last post on unemployment. For my part, I’m adding him to my Roll.
In fact, I am opening a new section on my Blogroll for Chinese politics and economy, and I would be grateful if you can recommend some other Crisis Watching sites, in English or Chinese. I am looking for sites that focus on making sense of the Chinese government’s moves.
Any more missing Links? Tips welcome. Thanks.
Picture credit: The shade of Zhongnanhai by Zhongnanhai 10毫克.