December 9, 2007

SHUT UP AND STITCH:

China Shrinks (EDUARDO PORTER, 12/09/07, NY Times)

Few people noticed, but China got smaller the other day. According to new estimates, the colossal Chinese economy that has been making marketers salivate and giving others an inferiority complex may be roughly 40 percent smaller than previously thought: worth $6 trillion rather than $10 trillion. That means it lost a chunk roughly the size of Japan’s output.

What happened was a large statistical glitch. When comparing the size of economies, economists mostly avoid using the standard currency exchange rates seen in bank windows. These fluctuate too much, driven by housing woes, trade deficits or presidential popularity. Economists prefer to use what is known as “purchasing power parity” — or P.P.P. — a rate that adjusts for price differences between countries. [...]

The problem is that the World Bank’s measure of China’s rate, everybody’s benchmark, had been based on a 1980s survey of Chinese prices. This year, the World Bank did its own survey to update the measure. While the bank has not published it yet, Albert Keidel of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace extrapolated the figure from another set of exchange rates published by the Asian Development Bank.

It turns out that things in China are more expensive. It’s as though we discovered that the real price of the noodles in Beijing was 50 yuan, yielding a P.P.P. of 12.5 yuan to the dollar rather than 10. That means the Chinese are relatively poorer and China’s economy is smaller than everybody thought.


Posted by Orrin Judd at December 9, 2007 9:15 PM
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