Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Robert Huebscher interviews Vitaliy Katsenelson

Paul Krugman wrote about China in his New York Times column last Monday. That’s a topic that you have researched closely. He said that "China’s story just sounds too much like the crack-ups we’ve already seen elsewhere," referring to the financial crisis in the US and the Japanese lost decade. Do you agree with his assessment?

Yes. You can draw a lot of parallels between the Japanese and US real estate bubbles. But China’s bubble is much larger; it spreads beyond residential real estate to commercial real estate, the industrial sector, and infrastructure. Also, though there were government fingerprints on the US and Japanese real estate bubbles, the Chinese real estate bubble was directly and entirely caused by the Chinese government.

The Chinese bubble has been inflating for years. It should have popped during 2008 recession. But China fire-hosed a stimulus equal to 12% of its GDP into its economy and was able to keep the bubble growing.

When is it going to pop? It has already begun. You see sales volumes and prices plummeting at double-digit rates in second-tier cities.

I agree with Krugman’s assessment. What perplexes me is why the Nobel Prize-winning economist wrote this column now, when the problems he describes are plain for all to see, and not a few years ago. You’d think he would have been alarmed over the consequences of monstrous government intervention in an economy the size of China’s. But perhaps Krugman, who describes himself as a liberal economist, secretly hoped that the Chinese government would be able to manage the economy better than the free market.