What Do the Chinese Buy?
…when they purchase U. S. Treasuries? Economist Mom draws attention to this CNN interview with Barack Obama, noting that President-Elect Obama recognizes that the U. S. economy has a short-term problem and a long-term problem and that the policy strategies of each pull in opposite directions. From the linked transcript:
We’ve got distinguish between short term and long term. Short term, the most important thing is to put people back to work, all those folks that you had breakfast with. If they’re working, that means they’re paying taxes. That means that they’re buying goods and services. And the economy, instead of being on a downward spiral, starts back up on an upward spiral.
But what we also have to recognize is, is that the deficit levels that I’m inheriting, over $1 trillion coming out of last year, that that is unsustainable. At a certain point, other countries stop buying our debt. At a certain point, we’d end up having to raise interest rates and it would end up creating more economic chaos and potentially inflation.
Actually, I think that the Chinese buy several things when they purchase U. S. Treasuries or other forms of U. S. government debt. First, they buy insurance, bolstered by comments like PE Obama’s, that the U. S. Congress won’t get too upset about how China values the yuan. That promotes Chinese exporters at the expense of U. S. manufacturers. Second, they buy insurance that U. S. consumers will continue to buy stuff that’s made in all those Chinese factories employing Chinese workers. Although U. S. consumption has fallen off a cliff and a lot of those workers are unemployed, the strategy continues to make sense as evinced by China’s continuing to buy U. S. Treasuries even though you’d think the U. S. was a much bigger credit risk now than it’s been in the past.
Importantly, one of the reasons the Chinese authorities will continue to put their money into U. S. debt is that it continues to be more secure there than in other sorts of instruments, particularly the notoriously opaque Chinese securities and equities. And although they’ve come a long way Chinese state banks continue to be at least partially policy oriented rather than profit oriented.
As to the short-term/long-term dichotomy, since it certainly looks as though we’re all Keynesians now, it might be nice to recall Lord Keynes’s most famous witticism: in the long term we are all dead.