Trade relations between the USA and China have deteriorated recently. There are two key issues: the exchange rate and trade protectionism.
The Chinese currency, the yuan or renmimbi, since 2005 has been officially pegged to a trade-weighted basket of other currencies. In recent months, however, as the dollar has fallen relative to other major currencies, so too has the yuan. It seems as if the peg is with the dollar, not with the basket. From March to December 2009, the exchange rate index of the dollar depreciated by 16 per cent. Yet the exchange rate between the yuan and the dollar hardly changed. In other words, the yuan depreciated along with the dollar against other world currencies, such as the euro, the pound and the yen. The trade advantage that this was giving to the USA with other countries did not apply to China.
Complaints continued that cheap Chinese goods were flooding into the USA, threatening US jobs and undermining US recovery. The Chinese currency was argued to be undervalued relative to its purchasing-power-parity rate. For example, the July 2009 Big Mac index showed the yuan undervalued by 49% against the dollar (see Economics 7e, Box 25.4 for a discussion of the Big Mac index).
The USA, and other countries too, have been putting diplomatic pressure on the Chinese to revalue the yuan and to remove subsidies on their exports. At the same time various protectionist moves have been taken. For example, on December 31 2009 the US International Trade Commission voted to impose tariffs on the $2.8 billion worth of steel-pipe imports from China. The tariffs would be between 10.4% and 15.8%.
The following articles look at these trade and exchange rate issues. Are we heading for a deepening trade war between the USA and China?
Currency contortions The Economist (17/12/09)
Beijing dismisses currency pressure Financial Times, Geoff Dyer (28/12/09)
China aims for 10pc growth and won’t appreciate yuan The Australian (29/12/09)
Wen stands firm on yuan China Daily (28/12/09)
China’s premier says banks should curb lending BusinessWeek, Joe McDonald (27/12/09)
China insists will reform yuan at its own pace Forexyard, Aileen Wang and Simon Rabinovitch (31/12/09)
US slaps new duties on Chinese steel Financial Times, Alan Rappeport (30/12/09)
Chinese Steel Pipes Face Heavy U.S. Duties BusinessWeek, Daniel Whitten (31/12/09)
The US-China Trade War Is Here The Business Insider, Vincent Fernando (10/12/09)
Year dominated by weak dollar Financial Times, Anjli Raval (2/1/10)
- Explain what is meant by the ‘purchasing-power-parity (ppp) exchange rate’.
- Why is the yuan (or ‘renmimbi’) undervalued in ppp terms?
- What are the the implications of an undervalued currency for that country’s current and financial account of the balance of payments?
- What would be the implications of a revaluation of the yuan for (a) China and (b) China’s trading partners?
- Discuss Premier Wen Jiabao’s statement, “The basic stability of the renminbi is conducive to international society”.
- What forms of protectionism have been used by (a) China and (b) China’s trading partners? Who gains and who loses from such protectionism?
Figures released by the Bank of England show that in the third quarter of 2009 UK households increased their housing equity (i.e. repaid mortgage debt) by £4.9 billion, equivalent to 2% of their disposable income. This was the sixth consecutive quarter in which saving in housing exceeded net mortgage lending. Interestingly, during each of these six quarters the UK economy contracted.
Saving in housing (or ‘negative housing equity withdrawal’ (HEW)) will reduce aggregate demand if it is funded out of income that would otherwise have been spent on consumer goods and services. Since the proportion of income saved, as measured by the saving ratio, climbed from an historic low of 0.9% in the third quarter of 2008 to 8.6% in the same quarter of 2009, increased saving in housing equity has been depressing spending levels. Indeed, across the six quarters in which HEW has been negative, households have increased their stock of housing equity by £33.9 billion, equivalent to 2.3% of disposable income – money which could otherwise have been spent.
Increased saving in housing by households is an example of the household sector’s attempt to repair its balance sheets. Another example has been the fall in the sector’s outstanding stock of unsecured debt (e.g. outstanding personal loans and credit-card debt). Elsewhere in the economy, banks too have been looking to repair their badly damaged balance sheets and, of course, there is the considerable interest in how the UK government will reduce its budget deficit. We can expect these repairs to balance sheets to have some impact on the pace of economic recovery. What is less certain is the size and duration of these balance sheet effects.
Home loan repayments ‘a priority’ BBC News (29/12/09)
Homeowners pay off £5bn of mortgage debt Financial Times, Vanessa Houlder (30/12/09)
Homeowners stop cashing in on the value of their homes Telegraph, Myra Butterworth (29/12/09)
Mortgages paid off at the fastest rate for 40 years Guardian, Larry Elliott (30/12/09)
Homeowners rush to repay mortgages thisismoney, Rosamund Urwin (29/12/09)
- What factors might explain why UK households have been increasing their saving in housing equity during 2009?
- Why might increasing amounts of HEW, such as those in the mid 2000s, not necessarily result in higher levels of consumer spending?
- What do you understand by the ‘household balance sheets’? What do you think is likely to be the most significant item on the sector’s balance sheets?
The health of an economy is generally measured in terms of the growth rate in GDP. A healthy economy is portrayed as one that is growing. Declining GDP, by contrast, is seen as a sign of economic malaise; not surprisingly, people don’t want rising unemployment and falling consumption. The recession of 2008/9 has generally been seen as bad news.
But is GDP a good indicator of human well-being? The problem is that GDP measures the production of goods and services for exchange. True, such goods and services are a vital ingredient in determining human well-being. But they are not the only one. Our lives are not just about consumption. What is more, many of our objectives may go beyond human well-being. For example, the state of the environment – the flora and fauna and the planet itself.
Then there is the question of the capital required to produce goods and maintain a healthy and sustainable environment. Capital production is included in GDP and the depreciation of capital is deducted from GDP to arrive at a net measure. But again, things are left out of these calculations. We include manufactured capital, such as factories and machinery, but ignore natural capital, such as rain forests, coral reefs and sustainable ecosystems generally. But the state of the natural environment has a crucial impact on the well-being, not only of the current generation, but of future generations too.
In the video podcast below, Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, from the Faculty of Economics at the University of Cambridge and also from the University of Manchester, argues that the well-being of future generations requires an increase in the stock of capital per head, and that, in measuring this capital stock, we must take into account natural capital. In the paper to which the podcast refers, he argues “that a country’s comprehensive wealth per capita can decline even while gross domestic product (GDP) per capita increases and the UN Human Development Index records an improvement.”
Nature’s role in sustaining economic development (video podcast) The Royal Society, Partha Dasgupta
Nature’s role in sustaining economic development Philisophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, vol 365, no. 1537, pp 5–11, Partha Dasgupta (12/1/10)
GDP is misleading measure of wealth, says top economist University of Manchester news item (21/12/09)
Economics and the environment: Down to earth index Guardian (28/12/09)
- Why might a rise in GDP result in a decline in human well-being?
- In what sense is nature ‘over exploited’?
- What is meant by ‘comprehensive wealth’ and why might comprehensive wealth per capita decline even though the stocks of both manufactured capital and human capital are increasing?
- What is meant by ‘shadow prices’ in the context of natural capital?
- How might economists go about measuring the shadow prices of capital?
- What factors should determine the rate of discount chosen for projects that impact on the future state of the environment?
In 2010/11, government funding for UK universities will be 7 per cent less (£518m) than in 2009/10. This has led to calls for substantial increases in student fees in order to stave off a serious funding crisis for many universities. One such call has come from David Blanchflower. As the first article below states:
“A leading economist has called for students from well-off families to be charged the ‘market rate’ of up to £30,000 a year to go to university. David ‘Danny’ Blanchflower, a former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, said the “poor have been subsidising the rich” for too many years.”
But just what are the arguments for and against a substantial rise in fees and who should pay any rise in fees? Should it be only students of very well-off parents or should it include middle-income parents too? Or if student loans are available to cover higher fees, why should not the same fees apply to all students? Then there is the question of who benefits from a university education? How much should external benefits be taken into account?
Call for universities to charge well-off students £30,000 a year Observer, Anushka Asthana and Ian Tucker (27/12/09)
A rise in fees would make university education fairer Observer (27/12/09)
Who wants a two-year degree? Independent on Sunday, Richard Garner (27/12/09)
Briefing: University funding Sunday Times, Georgia Warren (27/12/09)
Universities face £500m cut in funding Financial Times, Nicholas Timmins (22/12/09)
The nightmare before Christmas: grant letter announces £135m cut Times Higher Education, John Morgan (27/12/09)
Fast-track degrees proposed to cut higher education costs Guardian, Polly Curtis (22/12/09)
- Why is the government planning to make substantial cuts to university funding?
- What are the arguments for and against the university sector bearing a larger percentage cut than most other areas of government expenditure?
- Should any rise in fees be born by parents or by students from future income?
- Identify the external benefits from higher education? How does the existence of such externalities affect the arguments about the appropriate charges for higher education?
- What are the economic arguments for and against moving towards more two-year degrees.
- Discuss the case for and against increasing the participation rate in higher education to 50 per cent of young people.
- Is higher education a ‘merit good’ and, if so, what are the implications for charging for higher education?
At the end of two weeks of often acrimonious wrangling between representatives from 193 countries, an agreement – of sorts – was reached at the climate change summit in Copenhagen. What was this agreement? It was an ‘accord’ brokered by the USA, China, India, Brazil and South Africa.
This Copenhagen Accord contains three elements. The first is a recognition of the need to prevent global temperatures rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The second is a commitment by developed countries to give $30bn of aid between 2010 and 2012 to developing countries for investment in green technology and to mitigate the effects of climate change. In addition, a goal was set of providing $100bn a year by 2020. The third is for rich countries to give pledges on emissions reductions and for developing countries to give pledges on reducing emissions increases. Developed countries’ pledges will be scrutinised by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, while developing countries will merely be required to submit reports on their progress in meeting their pledges.
But this is only an accord. It has no legal status and was merely ‘recognised’ by the countries at the conference. What is more, the target of limiting temperature rises to 2C does not contain a date by which temperature rises should peak. Also, as countries are not required to submit targets for emissions until February 2010, it is not clear how these targets will be kept low enough to meet the temperature target and there is no identification of penalites that would apply to countries not meeting their pledges.
Not surprisingly, reactions around the world have been mixed. The following podcasts and articles look at these reactions and at the economic mechanisms that will be required to meet the 2C limit
Podcasts and videos
Recriminations after Copenhagen summit (video) BBC News, David Loyn (21/12/09)
Copenhagen special: Climate change talks end in failure Guardian podcast (19/12/09)
Where do we go after Copenhagen? BBC Today Programme (21/12/09)
What was agreed and left unfinished in U.N. climate deal Reuters of India Factbox (20/12/09)
Copenhagen deal: Key points BBC News (19/12/09)
Copenhagen deal reaction in quotes BBC News (19/12/09)
Copenhagen climate summit fails green investors BBC News, Damian Kahya (22/12/09)
Why did Copenhagen fail to deliver a climate deal? BBC News (22/12/09)
Copenhagen climate accord: Key issues BBC News (19/12/09)
Harrabin’s Notes: After Copenhagen BBC News, Roger Harrabin (19/12/09)
Copenhagen climate conference: Who is going to save the planet now? Telegraph, Louise Gray (21/12/09)
Copenhagen’s One Real Accomplishment: Getting Some Money Flowing New York Times, James Kanter (20/12/09)
Copenhagen climate summit: plan for EU to police countries’ emissions (including video) Telegraph, James Kirkup, and Louise Gray (19/12/09)
The road from Copenhagen Guardian, Ed Miliband (UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change) (20/12/09)
Carbon Prices Tumble After ‘Modest’ Climate Deal Bloomberg, Mathew Carr and Ewa Krukowska (21/12/09)
Copenhagen deal causes EU carbon price fall BBC News (21/12/09)
Have the hopes of environmentalists been dashed? Financial Times, Clive Cookson (21/12/09)
EU reflects on climate ‘disaster’ Financial Times, Joshua Chaffinin (22/12/09)
China not to blame on climate China Daily, Zhang Jin (23/12/09)
Selling a low-carbon life just got harder Times Online, Jonathon Porritt (21/12/09)
Better than nothing The Economist (19/12/09)
Copenhagen has given us the chance to face climate change with honesty Observer, James Hansen (27/12/09)
- What incentives exist for countries to agree to tough pledges to reduce emissions?
- Was the very limited nature of the Copenhagen Accord a Nash equilibrium? Explain.
- Is the carbon price a good indicator of the effectiveness of measures to curb emissions?
- Must any agreement have verifiable targets for each country of the world if it is to be successful in curbing carbon emissions?
- Is a cap-and-trade system the best means of achieving emissions reductions? Explain.