Victor Shih has written a wonderful book on the political economy of China when he points out that the business cycle in China corresponds to shaping power relationships between two groups of officials. One group consists of local officials that want more spending, and one group consists of central government finance officials that are more concerned about monetary stability. When the economy overheats, the monetary stability people come in and cool things down. When the economy goes into a slump, the local officials come in and start building things left and right. Also, you have to look at incentives, local officials love big infrastructure projects for the same reason Wall Street CEO’s love big complex financial instruments, you make lots of money personally off of them.
We agree that this is going on. He seems to think that this is a bad thing, and if the monetary hawks could stay in permanent control that we could abolish the business cycle. I disagree since I am a fan of Hyman Minsky and I don’t think the business cycle can be abolished and that the shift between these two groups of officials is that Chinese government reacting to the business cycle rather than causing it.
The other thing is that the notion that the financial system ought to be ideally independent of any government supervision is I think dead. It’s hard to fault Wen Jiabao calling up Chinese banks and says “LEND MONEY” when Paulson is basically trying to do the same thing, and the fact that Chinese banks are more willing to listen to Wen than American banks are to Paulson may not be such a bad thing.