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Discuss the effectiveness of government policies that could be used to tackle China’s inflation. [25] (rephrased Economics question)


“In 2003, China achieved an impressive growth rate of about 9%. Domestic consumption and investment formed the dominant source of her growth, and her inflation rate was above 5%. The economy was overheated.”

Adapted from The Straits Times, 2004

Discuss the effectiveness of government policies that could be used to deal with China’s ‘overheated economy’. [25]

Introduction

China is facing massive demand-pull inflation because of her rapid actual economic growth in recent years. Inflation can be defined as a persistent and sustained increase in the general price level, and can be classified as demand-pull or cost-push. In the context of China, because domestic consumption and investment forms the dominant source of China’s actual economic growth, the likely cause of China’s “overheated economy” is demand-pull inflation, which has to be countered using either demand-management or supply-side policies, or a combination of such measures by the Chinese government. This paper discusses contractionary demand-management policies, such as fiscal and monetary policies, and supply-side policies, in China’s context, and discusses the effectiveness of the suggested policies.

Demand-Pull Inflation

Insert Economics diagram here. What Economics diagram should go here?

In the diagram above, it is clear that increases in consumption (C) and investment (I) have led aggregate demand (AD) to shift to the right, which constitutes in this case actual economic growth, and thus inflation has resulted because the economy is near the full employment level. With a burgeoning middle class in China wanting to spend on consumer goods and other luxuries, and with domestic and foreign firms wanting to capitalise on the rising middle class in China, there has been a huge increase in AD. These collectively lead to demand-pull inflation because AD = C + I + G + (X-M), and therefore there is a need for the Chinese government to utilise either contractionary demand-management policies or increase the AS through supply-side policies.

Effectiveness of Government Policies

In the short run, contractionary demand management policies such as fiscal policy, monetary policy, or exchange rate policy can be used, to shift AD to the left and thus reduce inflationary pressures. In the longer term, supply-side policies can be used to increase the AS and thus reduce inflationary pressures.

What is the effectiveness of demand-side policies in China’s context? First and foremost, it is clear that any contractionary demand-side policy will reduce AD and tackle the problem directly. For instance, fiscal policy dictates that government spending should be reduced or taxes raised, and this would shift AD to the left, ameliorating inflationary pressures. Monetary policy used in this context would raise interest rates, reducing C and I because borrowing costs have increased, and therefore AD would also shift to the left. Appreciating the currency or revaluing the country’s currency would make exports look relatively expensive whilst imports look relatively cheaper, thus shifting AD to the left as well, directly addressing demand-pull inflation. In China’s case, a combination of fiscal policy and revaluation would make sense by reducing AD, directly addressing the issue.

What is the effectiveness of supply-side policies in China’s context? There are many supply-side measures that can be taken, for instance improving the efficiency of the labour market, via reducing frictional unemployment; increasing human capital training and development via training, retraining, and upgrading; and increasing labour productivity through capital and technological increases. These measures would be effective in the long run when AS shifts to the right and thus reduces the general price level in the intermediate and long term.

Ineffectiveness of Government Policies

On the other hand, the Chinese government has to be aware of possible limitations of such policies. First, contractionary fiscal policy might lead to unemployment and political problems if Chinese State Owned Enterprises laid off staff or if military spending were to be cut. Rising income taxes could hinder productivity and labour incentives because people might not work as hard. Corporate taxes, when raised, might affect the profitability of firms. These might lead to unemployment or lower actual economic growth.

Secondly, monetary policy could be highly ineffective in China’s case. This could be due to a variety of reasons. First, if business confidence is high, increasing interest rates would not dampen consumption and investment much. Secondly, China operates a fixed exchange rate and therefore the economic “trilemma” should apply to China. According to theory, a country cannot have free flowing capital, a fixed exchange rate, and yet pursue monetary policy using interest rates, because of the impossible economic “trilemma”. Thus, it is more likely that China uses exchange rate policy rather than depending mainly on interest rates.

Thirdly, supply-side policies operate in the long run but inflation affects China now. Furthermore, supply-side policies operate indirectly rather than tackling the root of the problem which is demand-pull inflation, which affects AD. Also, the Chinese government would have to invest in costly, expensive, and difficult long-term training, retraining, and upgrading for the workforce, and all this spending would have opportunity costs in terms of healthcare, defence, and education.

Conclusions

In conclusion, the Chinese government can use fiscal, monetary, or exchange rate policies in conjunction with longer term supply-side policies to tackle demand-pull inflation. However, multiple management policies would probably have to be implemented in order to successfully counteract the “overheated economy”. Also, there are trade-offs in that an excessive handling of inflation could lead to unemployment and slower actual economic growth, and governments should be aware of the trade-offs and their implications.


JC Economics Essays – Tutor's Commentary: The above Economics essay is on the interesting and current topic of inflation in China and government macroeconomic policies that could tackle this inflation. Instead of me telling you the grade that this paper would get – instead, let’s do another thinking exercise. Put yourself into the role of an Economics examiner looking at this piece of work. Once again, think about how your Economics tutors in Junior College, or university, for that matter, would rate this essay. Try to put yourself into your Economics tutor’s shoes. What would he or she say, and why? Also, try another exercise: try to draw out the diagram that would have been in this post if I had been less of a luddite and more of a techie. What would the diagram be, and why? Hint: you might want to use an AD-AS diagram - how would it look like? Thanks for reading and cheers. 

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