China’s chief Xi Jinping just lately laid out the purpose of reaching the per capita revenue of “a mid-level developed nation by 2035.” Is that this purpose more likely to be achieved? Not in our view. Continued fast progress faces mounting headwinds from inhabitants growing older and from diminishing returns to China’s investment-centered progress mannequin. Extra impediments to progress look like constructing, together with a flip    towards elevated state administration of the financial system, the   crystallization of legacy credit score points in actual property and different sectors, and limits on entry to key international applied sciences. Even given beneficiant assumptions regarding future progress fundamentals, China seems more likely to shut solely a fraction of the hole with high-income nations within the years forward.

Some Disagreeable Progress Arithmetic

Whereas it’s not clear precisely what peer group Xi had in thoughts in referring to developed nations, these categorised as “Superior Economies” by the IMF appear a pure selection. This group consists of thirty-two economies, with 2022 per capita incomes starting from $36,900 on the backside (Greece) to $127,600 on the prime (Singapore) measured at buying energy parity. (Changing greenback incomes to PPP phrases corrects for cost-of-living variations throughout nations.) We outline “mid-level” as starting on the twenty fifth percentile for this group, similar to a per capita revenue of $49,300.

China is at the moment a middle-income nation, with a per capita revenue of $21,400, putting it simply above the sixtieth percentile of the worldwide revenue distribution. China has a protracted approach to go to fulfill our revenue threshold. Per capita revenue would wish to rise by an element of two.3, similar to a median progress price of 6.6 % to succeed in the brink by 2035. Annual revenue progress must be 4.3 % to match the present stage in Greece by that yr.

A have a look at historical past underscores the daunting nature of this job. Of the forty-three nations that had reached China’s present revenue stage by 2009, not one managed to realize the expansion price wanted to push China to the Superior Financial system twenty fifth percentile over the next 13 years (see chart under). Certainly, the median thirteen-year revenue progress price for this group comes to three.1 %, with solely 5 seeing progress above 4 %. And for the twenty-four nations with incomes above $49,300, it took a median of thirty-two years to make the climb from China’s present revenue stage. Solely two did so in lower than twenty years.

Excessive-Revenue Standing by 2035 Requires Unprecedented Progress

Sources: Penn World Desk, model 10.01; IMF WEO database, April 2023; authors’ calculations.
Notice: Per capita revenue progress is GDP progress much less inhabitants progress.

A progress optimist will little question level to China’s strong progress trajectory since market reforms have been initiated within the early Nineteen Eighties. Per capita revenue progress got here to six.5 % from 2009 to 2022 and was even sooner through the two prior thirteen-year intervals (9.4 % throughout 1996-2009 and eight.8 % throughout 1983—1996). Remarkably, China was the worldwide revenue progress chief throughout all three intervals.

China’s previous progress efficiency is certainly spectacular. Even so, the official knowledge present pattern revenue progress slowing because the mid-2000s (see the blue line within the chart under, which exhibits five-year progress charges). The authorities’ revenue objectives contain reversing or not less than arresting this pattern.

Chinese language Actual Revenue Progress Has Been Slowing

Sources: China Nationwide Bureau of Statistics; Penn World Desk, model 10.01; Whole Financial system Database (Convention Board).
Notes: Per capita revenue progress is GDP progress much less inhabitants progress. *Progress knowledge for 2020 by means of 2022 (as a part of five-year averages) taken from Whole Financial system Database.

Furthermore, these figures take China’s official progress statistics at face worth. There has lengthy been skepticism over the accuracy of China’s statistics, which we’ve got mentioned in earlier work, and plenty of analysts consider that progress has been systematically overstated. Economist Harry Wu has given substance to the view, proposing a lot of changes to the official knowledge. These changes present the idea for different sequence revealed in main worldwide datasets such because the Penn World Desk and the Convention Board’s Whole Financial system Database. China’s revenue progress efficiency stays distinctive even given these changes, putting within the prime decile of the worldwide distribution throughout every of the three current thirteen-year intervals. However these knowledge present progress already slowing to “solely” at 4.4 % from 2009 to 2022—barely quick sufficient to climb to the underside of the Superior Financial system ranks by 2035—and to a nonetheless slower tempo for the final 5 years (the pink line within the chart above).

The controversy over China’s true progress price stays unsettled. Thankfully, we don’t must settle it. As we’ll see, a have a look at the evolving sources of progress in China suggests that it’ll fall under our benchmarks even when the official knowledge are right.

Classes from the Neoclassical Progress Mannequin

The usual neoclassical progress mannequin offers a helpful framework for assessing China’s progress prospects. Underneath the mannequin, financial progress comes from two fundamental sources: will increase in labor and capital inputs, and enhancements in know-how. Progress contributions from labor and capital are equal to the expansion charges of those inputs, weighted by their shares within the worth of manufacturing. The expansion contribution from know-how (termed “complete issue productiveness” or TFP) is calculated as a residual, as the rise in output not defined by larger inputs.

A neoclassical perspective reveals two basic constraints on China’s future progress efficiency. Labor inputs are set to say no underneath the load of inhabitants growing older. In line with projections from the United Nations, China’s working age (20-64) inhabitants will fall by 6 % by 2035. In precept, will increase in labor power participation or hours per employee might offset a number of the decline within the working age inhabitants. However China already ranks excessive on each these measures. At finest, strikes larger might offset solely a fraction of the demographic drag.

China’s excessive share of funding spending in GDP—persistently above 40 % because the mid 2000s—has supported a fast buildup within the nation’s capital inventory. Certainly, China’s capital-output ratio is now among the many highest on this planet in PPP phrases. However capital accumulation is topic to diminishing returns: A given increment makes a smaller contribution to progress when capital is ample than it does when capital is scarce. Furthermore, because the capital inventory rises relative to output, a better share of latest funding should go to offset ongoing depreciation. The affect of diminishing returns is already in proof. In line with our estimates, elevated capital inputs contributed a median of three.4 proportion factors to GDP progress in 2018-22, versus   4.3 proportion factors for 2013-­17.

In earlier work based mostly on the neoclassical framework, we discovered that the expansion contribution from capital will proceed to fade within the years forward, even given favorable assumptions. Up to date projections taking in new knowledge reinforce this conclusion, implying a contribution of 1.4-1.9 proportion factors for the interval by means of 2035. (For particulars, see our appendix on China progress situations.) Taken collectively, we anticipate lowered contributions from labor and capital to carry revenue progress under 4 % absent an offsetting acceleration in TFP progress.

A surge in TFP progress, nevertheless, appears unlikely, since productiveness progress in China is already fairly excessive, averaging 1.8 % since 2009. Solely 5 of the forty-three nations that reached China’s present revenue stage prior to now noticed TFP progress that top over the next 13 years (see chart under). Not one managed to exceed this tempo by quite a lot of tenths of a proportion level. In brief, China might want to obtain TFP progress in extra of the quickest historic precedents to fulfill official revenue objectives. Furthermore, these estimates assume that the official progress figures are correct. If the decrease progress charges of Wu’s work are right, TFP progress has already fallen to about zero.

Productiveness Progress of two P.c Is Uncommon

Sources: Penn World Desk, model 10.01; IMF WEO database, April 2023; authors’ calculations.
Notes: Nation pattern measurement: 42. The TFP progress spurt for the Netherlands covers 1964-77.

Structural Headwinds

In our view, nevertheless, a mixture of longstanding and rising structural headwinds will make it troublesome for China to match its previous productiveness efficiency, not to mention exceed it. The longstanding headwinds have been broadly mentioned elsewhere, together with in our personal work, and we’ll merely checklist them right here:

  • Pervasive state and Communist Occasion administration of the financial system, an inclination that has grown extra pronounced underneath President Xi’s tenure.
  • Lagging institutional growth, mirrored for instance in low scores on survey-based measures such because the World Financial institution’s Worldwide Governance Indicators.
  • The necessity to rebalance the financial system away from an extreme reliance on funding spending and towards consumption-led progress.
  • Excessive non-public sector and authorities debt ranges, constructed up in financing investment-led progress.

New headwinds have emerged alongside these longstanding ones. China’s progress has lengthy been depending on property sector exercise. (By some measures, actual property accounts for one quarter of financial exercise.) Chinese language authorities have historically relied on enjoyable or tightening credit score and regulation for the sector to clean out cycles in GDP progress. Over the past two years, nevertheless, actual property exercise has gone into an prolonged decline, seemingly unresponsive to official efforts to assist exercise.

Present strains within the property sector serve for example of the broader problem of managing a rotation away from credit- and investment-centered progress. However these strains have their very own dynamic. Shifting away from investment-led progress will entail a considerable reallocation of presidency expenditure from funding to consumption and family switch funds. On the similar time, although, general authorities deficits and debt are already very giant. Any such shift in expenditure priorities can be intertwined with the politically thorny difficulty of presidency debt restructuring.

A second rising headwind includes the transfer by China’s buying and selling companions towards onshoring and derisking. The pandemic revealed the fragility of nations’ world provide chains, many centered on China. As well as, geopolitical tensions between China and key buying and selling companions have mounted in recent times. These forces have prompted strikes to deliver provide chains nearer to house, and the place they continue to be worldwide in character, to find them in nations with whom relations are much less fraught—insurance policies that U.S. and European officers have known as “derisking.”

As well as, elevated geopolitical tensions have prompted the U.S. and its safety companions to impose new limits on China’s entry to crucial international applied sciences. For instance, final October the U.S. authorities issued main export controls that considerably blocked Chinese language entry to key applied sciences for manufacturing or buying cutting-edge built-in circuits, and even merchandise containing such built-in circuits. This U.S. motion was later joined by main safety companions, notably together with Japan and the Netherlands. These controls in essence are designed to roll again Chinese language chipmaking applied sciences to pre-2014 ranges. Extra just lately, the U.S. issued an Government Order that locations focused restrictions on sure outward investments in China by U.S. entities.

We have no idea but how severely property and derisking headwinds will crimp China’s future progress. However they clearly restrict the prospects for sustaining previous productiveness efficiency.


China has many compelling strengths: a well-educated inhabitants, together with half the world’s skilled engineers; high-quality and still-improving infrastructure and an environment friendly distribution system; excessive if uneven state capability; and clear leads in essential new applied sciences, together with solar energy, battery manufacturing, and electrical automobiles. China might shock us and obtain Xi’s lofty revenue progress goal. However that guess comes with stiff odds.

Photo: portrait of Hunter Clark

Hunter L. Clark is a global coverage advisor in Worldwide Research within the Federal Reserve Financial institution of New York’s Analysis and Statistics Group. 

Photo: portrait of Matthew Higgins

Matthew Higgins is an financial analysis advisor in Worldwide Research within the Federal Reserve Financial institution of New York’s Analysis and Statistics Group.

How one can cite this publish:
Hunter L. Clark and Matthew Higgins, “Can China Catch Up with Greece?,” Federal Reserve Financial institution of New York Liberty Road Economics, October 19, 2023,

The views expressed on this publish are these of the creator(s) and don’t essentially mirror the place of the Federal Reserve Financial institution of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the accountability of the creator(s).

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