Many analysts are putting trust in Asia to pull the West up from the slump into which it has fallen due to its profligate appetite for credit. In addition to production and trade, The Economist recently hoped that Asian consumers would become shopaholics, like their Western counterparts. Never mind that rampant credit-fueled consumerism was a major part of the problem facing the West.
But a dose of reality was injected recently by Minxin Pei, who doubted Asia’s ability to fill in for the West. Pei wrote in an article in Foreign Policy: “Even at current torrid rates of growth, it will take the average Asian 77 years to reach the income of the average American.”
The problem with most economist-driven expections of Asia’s ability to pull the world out of a slump is that such analyses ignore the crucial part that politics, and states, play in economic globalization.
But if lack of ability is one issue, so is a possible lack of willingness.
Political scientists and political risk analysts for decades have pointed out that international financial movements take place only within parameters allowed by states. Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group recently restated that observation, from the angle that post-financial-crisis state capitalism is now the main decision-making prism.
What this means is that competition between states will inevitably dampen Asia’s ability and willingness to clean up the mess left by the West. As I have argued in my book, India’s Open-Economy Policy, India’s political rivalry with China, whether in securing energy or in inward foreign investment, will be the first influence on its international economic policies. China’s assessment of the US and Japan will determine its foreign acquisitions. US interpretation of Chinese influence in the Middle East and Africa will also temper cooperation toward free markets.
On top, you have respective Buy American and Buy Chinese policies. These have stayed below maximum so far — but put all of these together and the expectation that Asian consumerism or dynamic growth will be West’s savior is just economic optimism, not political reality.