Analysts have braced for an unprecedented slowdown in China's economy, warning that the country could see its slowest growth rate in more than 20 years. But if ordinary Chinese are worried, they aren't showing it: The Pew Center's latest survey of economic sentiment found that 88 percent of Chinese feel good about the economy -- the highest percentage in any of the 39 countries surveyed.
The poll also found that Chinese were more like to rate their personal financial situations as good, versus people in other emerging markets. More surprisingly, perhaps, eight in 10 Chinese believe the economy will improve in the next year, and seven in 10 believe their personal fortunes will improve with it.
Wherefore the unbounded economic optimism? It's definitely not justified by any of the business news coming out of China these days, which has focused largely on stock market jitters, manufacturing declines and iffy growth policies. A recent Reuters headline is indicative: "Rosy China growth forecasts fade on further signs of slowdown," it reads, before concluding that China may be cooling down for good.
In fact, that point -- that China seems to have exited its high-growth phase -- is increasingly uncontroversial among China-watchers. It's akin to graduating early, economist Barry Naughton wrote at ChinaFile: After years of breakneck growth, China is becoming less of an "emerging" market and more of an established one, with the slower, steadier growth rate and structural changes that entails.
Of course, for many in China's burgeoning urban middle class, their country's economic "arrival" has also meant increased prosperity. Take this example from Helen Wang, an expert on China's middle class: she says that 15 years ago, no one had a car; now, "some people have more than one car." So while the economic news out of China might worry investors, within the country, things look pretty good. (There are huge exceptions, obviously -- Max Fisher has written on China's growing income inequality, as well.)
Most emerging markets follow China's optimistic example, likely for similar reasons. According to Pew, more than half of people in Malaysia, Brazil, Chile, Turkey and South Africa think their economy is doing well; most of those countries also responded overwhelmingly that their children would be better off than they were.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the view from the advanced economies is less rosy. On average, fewer than one in four people in advanced economies think things are going well. The outlook is particularly dire in Europe's weakest links -- Greece, Italy and Spain -- where more than 95 percent of respondents said the economy was poor, and few thought their personal situations would improve in the next year.
When all is said and done, however, Spain and Italy might have reason for more optimism, too. While people in advanced economies were most likely to to rate their national and personal economic situation poorly, they are also the most able to afford food, healthcare and clothing. In China, for instance, 30 percent of respondents said they couldn't afford healthcare at points in the past year, which makes Italy (15 percent) and Spain (11 percent) look pretty good.
The same cannot, unfortunately, be said for the U.S., where 31 percent have struggled to pay for healthcare in the past year, and roughly one in four have struggled for clothing and food.