Friday, December 15, 2006

Bernanke to China: Stop Saving

Ben Bernanke says the Chinese should stop saving so much:

Today, about half of China's GDP is devoted to investment and to producing net exports for the rest of the world, and thus only the remaining half is available for consumption, including government consumption. In particular, household consumption in China last year was only 38 percent of GDP, down from 45 percent in 2001. In comparison, household consumption was about 60 percent of GDP in India in 2004, according to the most recent available data. China's low share of consumption in GDP is, of course, the counterpart of its high national saving rate.

Policies aimed at increasing household consumption would clearly benefit the Chinese people, notably by improving standards of living and allowing the fruits of economic development to be shared more widely. Such policies, by reducing saving and increasing imports, would also serve to reduce China's current account and trade surpluses.

The positive economics here is impeccable, but the normative economics is open to debate.

If a friend of yours is saving a high fraction of his income, how can you tell him he is saving too much without knowing his personal rate of time preference and his desire for precautionary savings? Judging another person's saving rate is difficult. Judging another nation's saving rate cannot be any easier.