The Wondrous Life of Hu Jintao

You've got to hand it to Jim Owens, the CEO of Caterpillar -- he knows how to craft a provocative sentence. Like this one, for instance: "I'd rather be President Hu than President Obama." That's what he told a gathering of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC today. (Hat tip to Real Time Economics.)

The reason he'd prefer a seat of power in Beijing over Washington right now is that the task for China's leaders is to encourage consumer spending, telling their citizens, in effect, to "Enjoy a little more." Obama, of course, has the opposite task, and "is going to have to encourage Americans to save more." Selling swimming pools is a lot more fun than selling mutual funds.

Obviously Owens is exaggerating somewhat. I, for one, would probably take Obama's spot over Hu's. China has plenty of problems other than a too-high savings rate. Around a third of the country's 1.3 billion people live on less than the international poverty standard of $1.25 a day -- that amounts to hundreds of million of people. The environmental issues confronting the country, from algae-clogged lakes to brown skies, are staggering. China could lose hundreds of billions off its investment in U.S. Treasuries. Oh, and then there's the looming specter of democratic revolution.