Contention on finance serving the real economy
【Abstract】Since the outbreak of the financial crisis, the relationship between finance and the real economy has become a topic of heated discussion both in China and abroad. Although it appears to be a straightforward topic at first glance, in-depth analysis reveals it is indeed a problem that is difficult to unravel. The first difficulty relates to its concept. After decades of financialization, the boundary between finance and the real economy has increasingly blurred, making it increasingly hard to distinguish finance from the real economy. The second difficulty relates to its nature. The real economy remains weak, investment returns continue to decline and economic risks continue to accumulate, which has caused financial institutions to hesitate when issuing loans and investors to refrain from investing in corporate bonds or equity products. The third difficulty relates to finance itself. The tendency of finance to be alienated from the real economy has been embedded in its own logic of development, especially since the crisis. The topic of “finance serving the real economy” in itself suffers from theoretical deficiencies, but nevertheless can serve as the foundation of our discussion. The issue should be approached from the perspective of the basic function of finance. Despite the variety of financial tools and complexity of financial activities, the ultimate aim of finance is to facilitate resource allocation in the market economy. Therefore, the basic requirement of the so-called “finance serving the real economy” is to ensure that the Chinese financial system properly plays its role as the medium for resource allocation. The so-called provision of better financial services for the real economy requires the reduction of mobilization costs and the improvement of mediation and allocation efficiency. This raises a question: after 35 years of continuous reform, what kinds of obstacles and deficiencies are still preventing the Chinese financial system from properly playing its aforementioned role? In essence, six aspects of the Chinese financial system demand attention. First, the modern Chinese financial system is already in its embryonic shape, but benchmark prices that facilitate efficient resource allocation, such as interest rates, yield curves and exchange rates, have not been completely liberalized. Second, China suffers not from a general shortage of funding, but a shortage of long-term financing and an insufficient supply of equity funding; in other words, the problems of maturity and equity mismatch persist. Third, many citizens and businesses have gained access to financial services of reasonable quality, but the financial system that provides services for the vulnerable groups remains to be established, and the financial tools that satisfy their needs are yet to be developed. Fourth, the Chinese financial industry has indeed undergone impressive development, but a market-oriented financial risk management system is still largely absent, and we still heavily rely on government’s implicit or even explicit guarantees to manage risks. Fifth, the capital and financial account remains controlled, and the renminbi is still inconvertible, which undoubtedly obstructs the establishment of an open economy system. Sixth, although the basic framework for financial regulation is in place, its effectiveness, specificity and soundness remain to be improved, and the burning issue of regulatory impediments remains to be resolved. In my opinion, the six aspects are the “important areas and key aspects” of China’s strategic goal of achieving “a more mature and complete financial system by 2020.” In the three to five years ahead, we must make crucial progress on each of these aspects to effectively manage the growing financial risks in China.