Some background will be helpful. If we had a Keynesian system working in a vacuum, labor, wages, productivity, consumption and monetary supply would all work in an utopian harmony. Consumers – both laborers and the public sector – would be constantly choosing to spend or save based on wages or revenue available to spend and the products and services that they would be purchasing would reflect an aggregate value compromised of cost of production plus a variable profit. However, a factor that serves as a spoiler in this utopian ideal is debt-based consumption both on the sovereign and personal level. For the life of the WTO, we have had an anomaly building which is coming to a terminal end. Occidental consumers (both public and private) have been consuming far greater amounts than would be appropriate in a properly functioning system under the myth that inflation has been held in check. And, devoid of any sense of consequence for future economic parity, have been deluded into believing that this hyper-consumption can be done on debt. However, there is a huge problem in this line of thinking purely on economic terms.
The Chinese labor pool, not unlike the Singapore miracle of 20 years ago, is beginning to seek greater wage parity with the consumers who are buying its products. Not surprisingly, this impulse is coming at the exact same time as the Chinese government is realizing that its exposure to U.S. debt is at an unacceptably high level. Further, it knows that its greatest threat to its very existence is the fact that millions of Chinese want to see direct benefit for their willingness to labor for the benefit of their collective debtors. In short, China is left with no option but to further invert their historical export activity to supply a greater number of domestic consumers. The recent increase in wages in China will accelerate a major global economic instability. By increasing wages, local purchasing power will increase. Revenue from taxes will also increase adding to the Chinese government’s economic reserves. Savings – especially those associated with pension programs will increase the amount of money held within the country for investment. This investment is already driving greater Chinese ownership of its own production base as well as the ownership of supply chains around the world. And ironically, this is where the bubble pops.
As early as 2004, reports of labor shortages were coming from China. That’s right. In a country of 1.3 billion people, there were labor shortages. These were not based on a holistic economic ecosystem however. The shortages were in labor willing to work for paltry sums to supply the Wal-Marts of the world. The Chinese workforce, highly motivated, educated and a bit pissed off by the fact that they were supporting a consumption orgy in the West, were seeking better paying jobs. For a few years, the Chinese government did little to respond. However, in the current 5 year plan, that’s changing. The manufacturing base in China is rapidly being transformed to compete on big ticket, high technology items. China just agreed to a $12 billion railroad project in Argentina. China and Siemens recently signed a joint venture on steam and gas turbines. And the list goes on in Pakistan, Africa, South America and Europe.
I recall a conversation that I had with President Bush’s Commerce Secretary Donald Evans’ staff before is farewell visit to China. Secretary Evans was going to do what U.S. Commerce Secretaries are famous for doing. He was going to go over the China and, with typical impudence, deride the Chinese for their lack of global respect for trade policy, intellectual property protection, and currency policy. I strongly recommended that his speech be modulated for fear that one day it would be used against us. That day has come. And inflation is just around the corner. However, that’s not our biggest worry. We’ve got far more at stake and all the inflation talk is a nonsensical diversion masking a much bigger monetary seismic shift.
In the coming few months, we will see that the U.S. economic interest in the People’s Congress is on the wane. One of the tell-tale signs of the coming change is the grossly misreported comments made by State Administration of Foreign Exchange. “Any increase or decrease in our holdings of US treasuries is a normal investment operation,” has been interpreted to mean that the Chinese are not going to pull the plug on our dollar. However, the $2.45 trillion of U.S. exposure sitting in Chinese reserves is going to be dumped at the precise moment when it is in the “fiscal benefit” of Chinese economic policy. And here’s where we come full circle to the GATT / WTO bubble.
Let’s assume that major power or infrastructure projects are going to be put out to tender. And, let’s assume that a Siemens / Shanghai Power joint venture is competing with, let’s say GE. Negotiations bounce back and forth and prices get within +/- 5% of each other. Concessions are being made and all the FCPA rules are being strictly monitored (oh, there I go being utopian). And just at the moment before a key award is announced, China dumps some U.S. Treasuries. This instantaneously adversely impacts GE’s cost of capital totally inverting the viability of the deal. China wins, U.S. loses. I wonder if our Commerce Secretary will be advising GE to suck it up and play by the rules when the best technology and price is on the other foot. Do you suppose that the U.S. Commerce Secretary will tell the U.S. public markets that we’re really happy to see China achieve the great objective of the WTO – poverty alleviation – as we watch the rest of our manufacturing infrastructure crumble into irrelevance? And when we realize that we forgot to protect U.S. intellectual property in Argentina because it was not a “viable market,” do you suppose our government will chasten the U.S. company’s oversight?
And inflation hits….. well, let’s see. I think that I have finally seen why the Mormons recommend storing up for a 10-year famine. I guess I didn’t realize that the dark horse of the apocalypse wears a yellow smiley face button under the “Welcome to Wal-Mart” moniker. We’ve got a fundamental day of reckoning coming. This judgment day is far less dramatic than the world ender’s would like. We’re getting to pay for 15 years of deflationary labor abuse and we’ll get to do so in very short order. We should have realized that our consumption cannot come on the backs of the world’s economically disenfranchised. Maybe we’ll learn to not repeat this mistake again.
Let’s stop worrying about nonsense economic metrics of an illusory past and wake up to what really matters – namely, our role as ethical, non-discriminatory members of a global market.