China faces myriad financial and demographic challenges. The country won’t be taking over the world anytime soon, even if it expands its balloon fleet. From James Rickards at dailyreckoning.com:
China has fallen victim to what economists call the middle-income trap. Economists consider a low-income country to have around $5,000 annual income per capita. Middle-income countries have between $8,000 and $15,000 annual income per capita. High-income countries begin at around $20,000 annual income per capita.
China’s per capita annual income is $12,970 — solidly in the middle income category. By the way, in the U.S. it’s $75,180, among the highest in the world (second to Switzerland).
Due to China’s extreme income inequality, it is more useful to think of China as having two populations. One population of about 500 million urban workers has an annual per capita income of about $28,000, while a second population of about 900 million villagers has an annual per capita income of about $5,000.
That would put the 900 million villagers solidly in the lower income category, not even close to middle income. And there is extreme income inequality within the 500 million high-income groups such that most of those would have a middle income of about $12,000 per year, while a select few would be earning millions of dollars per year each.
China is predominately a low-income country with a significant middle-income cohort and a tiny slice of the super-rich. This income inequality makes China’s climb out of the middle-income ranks even more difficult. And the super-elite cohort is a potential source of social unrest among the less well-off.