Capturing China

It won’t be easy, but shifting to a productivity-led economy from one focused on investment could add trillions of dollars to the country’s growth by 2030.

After three decades of sizzling growth, China is now regarded by the World Bank as an upper-middle-income nation, and it’s on its way to being one of the world’s advanced economies. The investment-led growth model that underpinned this extraordinary progress has served China well. Yet some strains associated with that approach have become evident.

In 2015, the country’s GDP growth dipped to a 25-year low, corporate debt soared, foreign reserves fell by $500 billion, and the stock market dropped by nearly 50 percent. A long tail of poorly performing companies pulls down the average, although top-performing Chinese companies often have returns comparable with those of top US companies in their industries. More than 80 percent of economic profit comes from financial services—a distorted economy. Speculation that China could be on track for a financial crisis has been on the rise.

The nation faces an important choice: whether to continue with its old model and raise the risk of a hard landing for the economy, or to shift gears. A new McKinsey Global Institute report, China’s choice: Capturing the $5 trillion productivity opportunity, finds that a new approach centered on productivity could generate 36 trillion renminbi ($5.6 trillion) of additional GDP by 2030, compared with continuing the investment-led path. Household income could rise by 33 trillion renminbi ($5.1 trillion), as the exhibit shows.