In order to understand much of what is happening in China I believe it is crucially important to understand how financial systems operate under condition of financial repression. Because most of what we know about economics is derived from economists whose operating environment is the classical “anglo-saxon” economies (I stress “classical” because for much of the 19th Century, operating under the so-called “American System”, the US itself was not, in my opinion, a classic anglo-saxon economy), there is a tendency to assume that what happens in those economies is somehow the default position in economics, and this not only causes us to underrate important economists that don’t follow this tradition, like the German Freidrich List or the American Albert O. Hirschman, but it also leads us into mistaken assumptions, like the belief that higher interest rates lead automatically to higher savings rates.
We do know some things about financial repression. Two of the first important texts to discuss financial repression comprehensively are Edward S. Shaw,Financial Deepening in Economic Development and Ronald I. McKinnon,Money and Capital in Economic Development. There is, however, a lot more to it than what is generally known, and even this is largely ignored by most economists. It seems to me that many of the mistakes we make when we think about the relationship between cause and effect, for example the impact of monetary policy on China’s economy, arise because we assume that relationships that hold in the US economy are universal and must hold in the Chinese economy too. So to return to the assumption that higher interest rates must lead to higher savings rates, I would argue that this is true mainly under two unstated assumptions, neither of which holds for China.China Financial Markets
Monetary policy under financial repression
Michael Pettis | Professor of Finance at Peking University's Guanghua School of Management