Monday, September 28, 2009

Coming Chinese Instability

This is a tale of three nines: 1989, the year of Tiananmen Square; 1999, the year of the tech bubble; and 2009, the year of Chinese support of and complaints about the dollar.

The current global monetary regime seems to parallel the 1999 tech bubble. During the tech bubble investors believed that the stock of and Cisco Systems would indefinitely escalate. Like all asset bubbles, the tech bubble came to an unhappy end. Ten years later, in 2009, the Chinese seem to think that if they keep buying dollars with yuan and threatening to withdraw the investments then in the end the investments will hold their value.

The Chinese have subsidized the dollar at the expense of their already low-wage workforce. If they keep holding up the dollar, then the Chinese people will become poorer. But if they pull out of the dollar, then their substantial dollar holdings will diminish in value, the Chinese workers will be thrown out of work and the Chinese people will become poorer because of the losses due to the dollar holdings.

Shall we conclude that the Chinese economy is headed for a rough ride?

What do we know about the stability of Chinese society? In 1989 the Tiananmen Square Protests led to hundreds of communist killings. Anyone who was conscious that year will remember the young man standing in front of the tank (see above). Since then, the Chinese have enjoyed a vibrant bubble economy based on fast money growth. But crashes inevitably follow monetarily induced bubbles.

When the Chinese economy tanks there will be alot of unhappy Wal-Mart-supplying factory workers. Perhaps the power of the Chinese state will prevent social unrest. Perhaps not.

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