There are deeply rooted reasons–from banking habits to government policy–why the Chinese are unlikely to increase consumption anytime soon. For starters, China lacks the infrastructure of modern consumer finance and is years–possibly decades–away from building it to the standards of the developed world. Its banks face significant structural and regulatory barriers to offering more consumer-finance products. China needs to reallocate capital and labor to orient itself toward producing goods and services that its consumers want. China’s investment-driven growth may already be witnessing declining marginal returns. Shifting to a new model for GDP growth will require changes at every level, right down to the bank branch.
Sternberg is an editorial page writer for the Wall Street Journal Asia.