Fishy Economic Data and the China Crash
An unrelenting, horrid wave of scandals about toxic ingredients in foods and medicines in China shows that regulators are unwilling and incapable of controlling it. It also shows a penchant—some evil tongues say it’s cultural—for pandemic cheating in order to get ahead in some way. And Chinese economic data falls into that category.
Every country has its own bureaucratic madness in pursuing obfuscation. In the US, one of the hardest things to get is a truthful, or at least a somewhat realistic, or at the very least a not totally fabricated unemployment and jobs number. But at least, the Bureau of Labor Statistics issues a slew of supplemental data. So, in addition to the nearly worthless headline numbers that media and politicians wave in proclaiming victory, we get numbers that point at deeper fissures [for a fun head-butting on this issue, read Yves Smith’s post].
But in China, the art of data manipulation is such that even the government might not know the true status of the economy. Officials even at the local level are rewarded, promoted, or demoted, based on achieving their economic quotas as measured by tax receipts, business revenues, real estate developments, and so on. Hence, the incentive to fudge the numbers on an individual basis is high. According to the New York Times, “The officials do so by urging businesses to keep separate sets of books, showing improving business results and tax payments that do not exist.”
As the fudged numbers flow upward and are consolidated, they aggregate into a fudged whole, inflating GDP by 1 to 2 percentage points. But it might be a lot worse, and sometimes it’s just the way it’s counted.