Speaking to community leaders in Los Angeles, San Francisco Fed President John C. Williams compared the challenges for U.S. policymakers to those of their counterparts in China. While the details in each economy are rather different, the overall challenges are similar. Both countries need to rebalance their economies for future growth. But that is no small undertaking, and it is made more difficult by short-term challenges. From the speech: Unsurprisingly, economists can’t agree about the primary reason China’s domestic consumption is so low and what should be done about it. One possibility is the population’s focus on saving—in large part to cover the cost of health care, education, and preparation for old age. This is exacerbated by China’s massive and rapid urbanization; as it currently stands, most social services, such as education and health care, are administered in one’s home city. This means that much of the migrant workforce can’t access these services in their new cities, and is forced to save to cover those expenses. While local authorities may balk at paying more for social services, there is a trade-off: addressing such structural barriers would free up workers’ income that could be spent locally, stimulating host cities’ economies. Another issue is increasing income inequality—something we in the United States can relate to. What money is flowing to households is concentrated largely in the expanding class of wealthy citizens, rather than in rural and middle-class families. The final and perhaps most important factor is that, while corporate profits have risen, a comparable rise in individual income has not followed. Again, something that has happened in the United States as well. Low borrowing costs for state-supported firms, combined with low wages for many workers, have helped business profits at the expense of households. If China is to rebalance the economy away from exports and towards domestic consumption, there must be an increase in household incomes. That means higher wages and dividend payments from firms. Further liberalization of the financial system will also help, as higher deposit rates and more investment options would boost spending power. Furthermore, China’s citizens must feel a sense of stability and certainty regarding their future. When we’re worried about the future, the natural response is to want to save more. So, even if these steps were to be taken, the question remains whether China’s middle- and rural-class citizens are willing to become bigger spenders anytime soon. Turning to the United States, over the longer run we need to increase investment in education, physical capital, technology, and infrastructure. We will also need to put federal fiscal policy on a sustainable path, which involves making some tough decisions about taxes and spending. Importantly, spending less on current consumption will free up resources for investment areas that foster greater production and will increase the size of the economy over the long term. However, to succeed at these longer-run goals, we first need to get our economy working at its full potential. That’s where the Federal Reserve and monetary policy come in. Since the early days of the crisis and recession, the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy body, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), has been taking strong actions to foster economic recovery and get people back to work. We lowered short-term interest rates to near zero almost five years ago. The goal was simple: With very low interest rates, households and businesses are more willing to spend. This increase in demand for goods and services leads businesses to hire more workers. Read Rebalancing the Economy: A Tale of Two Countries here .
Filed under: Stimulus, monetary policy, global business, fiscal policy, recovery, China, San Francisco Fed, stimulus measures, federal reserve bank of san francisco, john c. williams, recoveries, inequality in China, rebalancing, U.S., rebalancing China's economy, inequality in the U.S.