That’s the dilemna posed by the latest paper from Laurence Kotlikoff Hans Fehr and Sabine Jokisch: Will China Eat Our Lunch or Take Us to Dinner. Simulating the transition paths of economies in the U.S., EU, Japan, and China the paper develops a dynamic, life-cycle, general equilibrium model to study their interdependent demographic, fiscal, growth and current account evolution.
Having taken a close look at the respective population dynamics they point out that as a consequence of relatively high fertility and net immigration rates, the U.S. population is projected to increase from 275 million in 2000 to 442 million in 2100. In Europe – as we all already know – population may well fall over the next century from 375 to 340 million, while in Japan, the population falls from 126 million to 85 million. However the projections show the Chinese population decreasing by even more – from 1.3 billion to 1.2 billion. Although China is in fact aging rapidly, its saving behavior, growth rate, and fiscal policies are currently very different from those of developed countries. Kotlikoff et al find that if successive cohorts of Chinese continue to save like the current cohorts, if the Chinese government can restrain growth in expenditures, and if Chinese technology and education levels ultimately catch up with those of the West and Japan, the developed world’s long run future looks much brighter. China eventually becomes the world’s saver and, thereby, the developed world’s savoir with respect to its long-run supply of capital and long-run general equilibrium prospects.
In a recent article on declining yield differentials William Pesek (Hat Tip Brad Setser) asks “What’s China got to do with all this?”. Perhaps the paper by Kotlikoff et al offers him part of the answer. (I have more on this paper here).