NY Times: China’s economy is back while US bleeds

This is the most outspoken article I’ve seen to date in a non-Chinese media proclaiming the bounce-back of China’s economy, in sharp and painful contrast to the ongoing mayhem in America.

Just eight months ago, thousands of Chinese workers rioted outside factories closed by the global downturn.

Now many of those plants have reopened and are hiring again. Some executives are even struggling to find enough temporary staff to fill Christmas orders.

The image of laid-off workers here returning to jobs stands in sharp contrast to the United States, where even as the economy shows signs of improvement, the unemployment rate continues to march toward double digits.

In China, even the hardest-hit factories — those depending on exports to the United States and Europe — are starting to rehire workers. No one here is talking about a jobless recovery.

Even the real estate market is picking up. In this industrial town 90 miles northwest of Shanghai, prospective investors lined up one recent Saturday to buy apartments in the still-unfinished Rose Avenue complex. Many of them slept outside the sales office all night.

“The whole country’s economy is back on track,” said Shi Yingyi, a 34-year-old housewife who joined the throng. “I feel more confident now.”

The confidence stems from China’s three-pronged effort — a combination of stimulus, liberal bank lending and broad government support for exports.

For those of us, like me, who wondered out loud hw China could possible come back so strong so soon when it’s economy was so dependent on exports to the US, the article says not to worry.

…American trade data shows that imports from China only eroded 14.2 percent in the first seven months of this year while imports from the rest of the world plunged 32.6 percent. China’s trade surplus, already the world’s largest, was $108 billion for the first seven months of this year.

No, the article says, China isn’t entirely out of the woods, and the heavy stimulus spending today could be sowing the seeds for trouble tomorrow. But the fact remains (the reporter says): China’s economy is roaring ahead while America’s appears more moribund than ever.

In a style unusually flippant for the NYT, the reporter notes the concerns about all of the fast and loose loans being made by China’s banks, to which he replies in the closing line, “But such concerns are so 2008.”

Maybe it’s all a show, a mirage. But I wouldn’t put any money on China’s economy crashing anytime soon, or on the US economy getting better. I’m here in America, and I can safely say that the mood here is grim, bordering on hopeless. And our suite of very special problems – trillions of dollars of toxic debt, the new wave of upcoming home foreclosures and the steady drop of the US dollar – have yet to deliver their wallop. (Which begs the question, what am I doing here? I’ll let you know once i figure it out.)

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 24 Comments

Was just talking to the family about possibly moving back home in the coming years and maybe considering a career change, after talking to my Dad and reading this article, maybe I need to milk what I have a while longer (or at least look for a career change that doesn’t take me out of China)…one thing is for sure, all that time and money spent getting fluent in Chinese isn’t looking like such a bad investment now…

I still think that China has done exactly what we did when facing a recession when the dot com bubble burst…rather than allowing the recession to correct the imbalances in the economy, they have used stimulus money to artificially inflate the stock market and real estate sectors (and build bridges that would have been built anyway)…further when a country measures its domestic consumption at the point where factory ships to retailers (i.e. all unsold stock is included in their “consumption figure”) and not at the time of sale to the consumer, how can we trust it’s claim of increased domestic consumption? Pessimist that I always am…China’s numbers (as usual) look too good to be true…but here’s to them for proving us pessimists wrong in the meantime…

I wonder what all the anti-government ideologues make of the fact that an economy that is state-run is seemingly kicking all the “free” economies butts in pulling itself out of this recession? This isn’t a jab, I really would like to hear and intelligent rebuttal (beyond that they’re just making up the statistics…)?

September 18, 2009 @ 10:19 am | Comment

Don’t expect much “intelligent rebuttal” to your point from the “anti-government ideologues” – they are apoplectic with impotent rage that their vision of China in flames and revolution hasn’t come to be. Can’t say I didn’t try to tell them that China has a lot of resilience, and may just keep plodding along quite successfully for decades to come. Armageddon may indeed come, but not anytime soon, and maybe not in our lifetimes.

As someone who just left China, I have only one word of advice to those considering coming back to America: Don’t. China is still the place to be. America is many things. It is not the place to be. Not now.

September 18, 2009 @ 10:48 am | Comment

How can you say China is diong better than US? How can a dicatorship do better than democracy? Impossible, absolutely impossible. Everything you see in China is faked by government, everything. China will for sure collapse in the next 2 years, the coming collapse of China. If it does not collapse in the next 2 years, it just means the gov’t is still faking everything.

Democracy is the best, China is the worst.

September 18, 2009 @ 11:14 am | Comment

Democracy didn’t bring the crisis on, but a lapse in the checks and balances that have made democracies, for all their faults, the best system of government there is, at least for developed countries.

September 18, 2009 @ 11:38 am | Comment

I hear what you’re saying on staying in China, Richard. Like you, I just moved from China back to America last month. I’m having a different take on it than you though. I’m loving being back.

Yes, the economy sucks. Personally, my prospects for work are not settled and aren’t looking particularly good at all. Despite all of the problems in the macro economy and in so many people’s personal finances, I’m not feeling the “hopelessness” you are sensing though. Maybe I’m not paying close enough attention, but people seem to be, more or less, about the same as when I was back in the States during the “pre-crisis” era. Life goes on.

And to be honest, there are a lot of things I’m appreciating being in America after living in China for over three years. Going to any website I want is cool (like the Peking Duck and my own blog). Beautiful midwest sunsets and blue skies are nice too. Mexican food, college football… the list of little things goes on and on.

Of course, I’m still on my honeymoon (both literally and figuratively) in the US. We should see how I feel in a year or two. I very well may be clamoring to go back to China (a country I truly love and am fascinated by) at that time.

September 18, 2009 @ 12:28 pm | Comment

Whether you see America as upbeat or not depends on whether you know people who can’t find jobs or who are having trouble making ends meet. I was in Tokyo at the peak of their economic meltdown, and people looked the same as always, happy, busy, etc. It’s when you know the people and their situations that you see what’s actually going on beneath the surface. Most places are like that in hard time – life goes on. But you can’t judge a book by its cover. Taiwan was the shining example of this. Such vitality and happiness on the surface, and so much anxiety about their economic prospects expressed in private.

Of course there are things I love about being home and things that I missed that I’m glad to return to. But the economic prospects here are atrocious, at least in Phoenix, and the overall mood strikes me as quite grim – perhaps because I am watching too much cable TV news and have too many friends out of work. My industry is especially depressed right now, as is my part of the country. However, I have friends and relatives without jobs across the country. It’s not just Phoenix.

September 18, 2009 @ 12:37 pm | Comment

I see what you’re saying, Richard. My family and friends are, largely, doing OK.

Saying that, I have a few friends and family who are under or unemployed and a lot of 60-something relatives working with no thoughts of retirement. That’s awful. My wife’s early 50s mother is retiring right now in Xi’an.

I think there might be something to the midwest United States not going as crazy as California, Florida, Nevada, Arizona, etc. during the good times and, thus, not being hit quite as hard during the down times. That’s egregious generalizing, but, there might be a bit of truth to it. Kansas City is bad, but it doesn’t sound as bad as Phoenix.

I wrote a post about my thoughts of returning to America last month. In that, I lamented returning to America while China is still, obviously, the place to be.

In the comments of that post, a blogger I respect a lot left a comment that struck me:

Secondly, it needs an outsider to say how great a country the US is. Every citizen is unduly harsh on his own country. I am an Indian who’s worked in quite a few countries including the US and now in China. There isn’t a place like the US, even in the midst of the recession. Sure things might be temporarily difficult, but the spirit, the openness, the inventiveness, the adaptability and the sheer dynamism of the US is not even remotely matched by any other country. All the positive press about China, is of course mostly justified, but if I stepped back and look as a neutral, I will any day bet on an America in recession that a China in boom. China, or any other country, has decades to go to catch up.

America has seen much, much brighter days. Nobody knows when this storm is going to leave. I don’t think it’s getting better any time soon. But for the time being, I’m happy to be back home.

September 18, 2009 @ 12:58 pm | Comment

What Andy R. and Mark said.

I think that it’s the incredible dysfunction in our (US) political system that is preventing a real resurgence in the economy. It’s so bad that I wonder how and when we will ever manage to make the changes that need to be made.

That said, in spite of all the positive numbers coming out of China, in spite of the things they are doing right, which I would never underestimate, when I read stuff like this, I go, “Okay, how about those tens of millions of migrant workers who are barely hanging on?” What’s that population – larger than the entire American workforce?!

As much pain and suffering as we are experiencing here (and as one of the unemployed, believe me, I’m in no mood to downplay it), rosy evaluations of China’s economy tend to downplay the very real difficulty that millions and millions of Chinese experience every day, that puts our own problems to shame.

So a lot of this depends on what your measure of success is.

What’s galling in the US is that we have no fucking excuse.

September 18, 2009 @ 1:39 pm | Comment

The US is a great country. Maybe I got spoiled, having worked here in the early 1990s, at the very start of the IT surge, right through the dot-com craze until it collapsed in 2000. That’s when there was a similar depression in my industry and I decided to go to Asia, where I’ve been most of the time until now. I was here when the opportunities seemed literally boundless, and right now it seems so barren, even worse than when I left in 2000. There’s still a lot here to appreciate, things that no other country can hope to offer. But I’m still inclined to advise people who are working in China now to stay there and wait things out if they can. China may never catch up with the US (few nations will), but for young people like you who speak Chinese and have a lot of experience there, I would have to recommend staying there for right now.

And I admit, my view may be blurred because I am in a particularly distressed part of America. And because, as I said above, I’m watching too much cable news. I was really not prepared for the ugly political atmosphere here. I am still somewhat in shock (I had never seen Glen Beck on TV until I got back a few weeks ago). I read this article on China’s recovery and then thought about the turmoil America is in, and – well, let’s just say I deeply miss China and feel that for the time being it’s a better place to be.

September 18, 2009 @ 1:44 pm | Comment

Lisa, agree that the rosy articles only tell a part of the story, of course. If it’s accurate that things really are picking up and factories rehiring, then perhaps those millions of migrant workers (or at least some of them) will be able to find work again; I sure hope so.

I so agree with what you say about our dysfunctional political system. That is actually a large part of my anxiety. We are so gridlocked and the dialog has become so maddeningly juvenile (those attacks on Nancy Pelosi, the ridicule spewed at her merely for asking that we tone down the hateful rhetoric)… I had the news playing all day today, NPR, MSNBC and a little bit of Fox, and I gotta say, I never missed China more. Maybe I should go live on a commune with no electricity.

September 18, 2009 @ 1:53 pm | Comment

What Hongqi said. I am glad he has finally seen sense and written something I can agree with, though he is even more bearish on China than I am.

September 18, 2009 @ 4:39 pm | Comment

“I wonder what all the anti-government ideologues make of the fact that an economy that is state-run is seemingly kicking all the “free” economies butts in pulling itself out of this recession?”

Right. Judging political systems based on their performance during a 3 months period is a very sound method. AIG’s share price, by the way, went up about 40% this month. I guess it means it is the best managed company on earth. During this month, AIG’s stocked outperformed Google share by about 400%. I guess it means Google is on the way to destruction and should take lessons from AIG. Or maybe it only means that looking at a narrow factor over a short period of time can be misleading…

And that’s before even talking about the fact that even if (and it is clearly not the case) communism/fascism/central-planning was a system that delivers better economic performance, that does not need that it also necessitates coercion, denial of basic freedom, and constant dissemination of lies.

In any case, these are China’s best days and the PPC should enjoy them while they can. China is indeed the place to be at this point in time, but I would not advise my fellow foreign devils to get too comfortable.

Let us wait and see. Getting a bit tired of these discussions . . . (but not tired enough!)

September 18, 2009 @ 10:55 pm | Comment

And that’s before even talking about the fact that even if (and it is clearly not the case) communism/fascism/central-planning was a system that delivers better economic performance, that does not need that it also necessitates coercion, denial of basic freedom, and constant dissemination of lies.

=

And that’s before even talking about the fact that even if (and it is clearly not the case) communism/fascism/central-planning was a system that delivers better economic performance, it also necessitates coercion, denial of basic freedoms, and constant dissemination of lies.

September 18, 2009 @ 10:56 pm | Comment

I think the point to be made here is that China’s Socialist Market Economy (aka Socialism with Chinese characteristics) works well.

China was the bastion of health when the 1997 Asian Currency Crises destroyed capitalist countries all around it like South Korea, and China AGAIN is the bastion of health when the entire capitalist financial infrastructure started melting down.

So, communism=bad and capitalism=bad – but the MIDDLE GROUND seems to be the best.

Btw, this is an article that shows how americans are going to China for jobs as the job market shrinks in US:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/11/business/economy/11expats.html

September 18, 2009 @ 11:29 pm | Comment

I think the point to be made here is that China’s Socialist Market Economy (aka Socialism with Chinese characteristics) works well.

China was the bastion of health when the 1997 Asian Currency Crises destroyed capitalist countries all around it like South Korea, and China AGAIN is the bastion of health when the entire capitalist financial infrastructure started melting down in 2008.

So, communism=bad and capitalism=bad – but the MIDDLE GROUND seems to be the best.

September 18, 2009 @ 11:30 pm | Comment

Dror, as always, we’ll have to wait and see. No one forces you to read these posts! Also, I actually agree with a lot of your points about the numbers being misleading, and I take with a grain of salt this article’s strange ebullience. I do, however, firmly believe China will “plod along” as it’s doing now, doing pretty well while the US languishes, possibly for years to come. I know, you disagree. That’s what makes horse races.

September 19, 2009 @ 12:11 am | Comment

Chinese economy is best described as a hybrid. You have both government run industries and privately run industries. They compete an compliment. The state can help one sector by another sector. When free markets are working, the private sector leads; when recession hits, the state sector steps in. You have the best of both world. That is choice, in one word. Don’t we all like choice?

September 19, 2009 @ 2:19 am | Comment

Mix economy is a well known old term. Mainly use to EU economies.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mixed_economy

But all economies are in some degree mixed, even US. It is just a question of market/govt share

September 19, 2009 @ 7:42 am | Comment

Interesting case is the German way.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_market_economy

September 19, 2009 @ 7:44 am | Comment

Hhhhmmm…. Could be a “Soziale Marktwirtschaft” in the long run a better option for CH than an US like “mixed” economy?

September 19, 2009 @ 7:48 am | Comment

Young foreigners hunt jobs in China amid crisis

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ia3rBdE-M6v9zMS8tflfE1qGPiRAD9AR58B80

“Young foreigners are coming to China to look for work in its unfamiliar but less bleak economy, driven by the worst job markets in decades in the United States, Europe and some Asian countries.

Many do basic work such as teaching English, a service in demand from Chinese businesspeople and students. But a growing number are arriving with skills and experience in computers, finance and other fields.”

September 21, 2009 @ 2:00 am | Comment

Hooya, please read this. That NYT article was discredited. Follow the links. Then try googling for more.

September 21, 2009 @ 4:43 am | Comment

@Richard

“We are so gridlocked and the dialog has become so maddeningly juvenile (those attacks on Nancy Pelosi, the ridicule spewed at her merely for asking that we tone down the hateful rhetoric)… ”

You failed to mention the disgusting hatred vented on Ms. Palin by the liberal media. Shameful!

September 22, 2009 @ 6:44 pm | Comment

I disagree. She was greeted with the most sensational, fawning coverage for weeks. It was her own idiocy that brought her down, reported very well by the media. I can’t help it if Bill Kristol and McCain chose a cretin to run for VP. You show me one example of the mass media venting disgusting hatred on her. And if you find an example (I’m sure there’s an idiotic reporter out there who went too far), compare it with what they did to Clinton and Gore. Politics is cruel, but Palin got off way too easy considering her sub-cretin IQ and vile political extremism. I won’t even discuss this until you show me what you’re referring to – no straw men.

September 22, 2009 @ 11:07 pm | Comment

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