On July Fourth, we think about our country and its future. But these days it’s impossible to think about America and its future role in the world without also thinking about China. This was the subject of a combative discussion this week at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
The agent provocateur was Niall Ferguson of Harvard. China and the U.S., he argued, used to have a symbiotic relationship and formed a tightly integrated unit that he calls Chimerica.
In this unit, China did the making, and the United States did the buying. China did the saving, while the U.S. did the spending. Between 1995 and 2005, the U.S. savings rate declined from about 5 percent to zero, while the Chinese savings rate rose from 30 percent to nearly 45 percent.
This savings diversion allowed the Chinese to plow huge amounts of capital into the U.S. and dollar-denominated assets. Cheap Chinese labor kept American inflation low. Chinese efforts to keep the renminbi from appreciating against the dollar kept our currency strong and allowed us to borrow at low interest rates.