Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Editorial Notebook

China Shrinks

Published: December 9, 2007

Few people noticed, but China got smaller the other day. According to new estimates, the colossal Chinese economy that has been making marketers salivate and giving others an inferiority complex may be roughly 40 percent smaller than previously thought: worth $6 trillion rather than $10 trillion. That means it lost a chunk roughly the size of Japan’s output.

What happened was a large statistical glitch. When comparing the size of economies, economists mostly avoid using the standard currency exchange rates seen in bank windows. These fluctuate too much, driven by housing woes, trade deficits or presidential popularity. Economists prefer to use what is known as “purchasing power parity” — or P.P.P. — a rate that adjusts for price differences between countries ... The problem is that the World Bank’s measure of China’s rate, everybody’s benchmark, had been based on a 1980s survey of Chinese prices. This year, the World Bank did its own survey to update the measure ... It turns out that things in China are more expensive. It’s as though we discovered that the real price of the noodles in Beijing was 50 yuan, yielding a P.P.P. of 12.5 yuan to the dollar rather than 10. That means the Chinese are relatively poorer and China’s economy is smaller than everybody thought.This is not a mere technicality. Suddenly the number of Chinese who live below the World Bank’s poverty line of a dollar a day jumped from about 100 million to 300 million, roughly the size of the United States population ... The reassessment does not just involve China. India is also likely to be downsized. And, by the way, global growth has very likely been slower than we thought.

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