Summary: A brilliant economist sees the future as a triumphalist continuation of today’s trends, a return to the past of the Gilded Age. Posen asks the big question, one long discussed on the FM website: has the post-WW2 era ended, and what will follow. It’s worth careful consideration.
“What the return of 19th century economics means for 21st century geopolitics by Adam Posen, former Member of the Monetary Policy Committee at the Bank of England and President of the Peterson Institute of International Economics. Speech given to the Royal Institute for International Affairs at London on 17 January 2012.
Posen also wrote a brief version of this: “The global economy is now distinctly Victorian“, Financial Times, 6 August 2013 – “The Old Normal is looming large on our horizons, bringing with it unfettered markets”.
Excerpt from the speech
We have seen before a world in which global economic integration proceeds against the background of international relations somewhere between a clear hegemon and outright conflict. This kind of multipolar world is what existed in the late 19th century, roughly between 1870 and 1910.
… The economic implications of such a world are worth drawing out. Looking back at what happened to macroeconomic aggregates from 1870-1910 tells a coherent and relevant story. While one cannot map precisely from then until now, I think the parallels will prove rather tight in coming years, not least because most of the dominant political interests in the major economies have interests and ideologies similar to their noble and haute bourgeois counterparts of the Belle Epoque. Where one spoke about landed interests in the late 1800s, one should now think of holders of government protected franchises (be they broadcasting, banking, lawyering, medical services, or the like). Where one spoke of declining transport costs driving change and threatening those interests then, one should think of internet technology doing the same now. And where one spoke of the United States then, one should think of China now (and of the United Kingdom then, the US now).
Summary: Critics of China often cite its high level of corruption as a limiting factor to its growth, or a possible cause of its fall — or even disintegration. Like so many of American’s views about China, it’s false. Probably a way to diffuse awareness that a powerful rival has emerged on the world stage. Here we compare China’s corruption to that of America’s past — and present.
- China today
- Late 19th century America
- America today
- For More Information
(1) China today
“Is Corruption in China ‘Out of Control’? A Comparison with the U.S. In Historical Perspective“, Carlos D. Ramirez (Assoc Prof Economics, George Mason U), 4 December 2012 — Abstract:
This paper compares corruption in China over the past 15 years with corruption in the U.S. between 1870 and 1930, periods that are roughly comparable in terms of real income per capita. Corruption indicators for both countries and both periods are constructed by tracking corruption news in prominent U.S. newspapers. Several robustness checks confirm the reliability of the constructed corruption indices for both countries.
The comparison indicates that corruption in the U.S. in the early 1870s — when it’s real income per capita was about $2,800 (in 2005 dollars) — was 7 to 9 times higher than China’s corruption level in 1996, the corresponding year in terms of income per capita. By the time the U.S. reached $7,500 in 1928 — approximately equivalent to China’s real income per capita in 2009 — corruption was similar in both countries.
The findings imply that, while corruption in China is an issue that merits attention, it is not at alarmingly high levels, compared to the U.S. historical experience. The paper further argues that the corruption and development experiences of both the U.S. and China appear to be consistent with the “life-cycle” theory of corruption — rising at the early stages of development, and declining after modernization has taken place. Hence, as China continues its development process, corruption will likely decline.
(2) Late 19th century America
This unflattering comparison of modern China with late 19th century America should not surprise us. Post-civil war America (especially the Gilded Age) America was a horror show. Public and private force was used to suppress Blacks, American Indians, Asians, and workers (see the Wikipedia entry, also for the 1892 Homestead Strike and the 1894 Pullman Strike). When the cavalry arrived, it was often to help the bad guys (or one of the groups of dueling bad guys, as in the Lincoln County War).