Following on from yesterday’s book review on an account of Bangladesh’s success, here’s a great book on another developmental superstar – China.
The macro-story on China is well known, but always bears repetition. Emerging from the carnage of the Mao era, China in 1980 had a GDP of $193 per capita, lower than Bangladesh, Chad or Malawi. It’s now the world’s second largest economy, with a thirty fold increase in GDP per capita, based on a textbook-defying combination of one party Communist state and capitalism – in the words of one tongue in cheek official ‘no capitalist state can match our devotion to the capitalist sector.’
Success on this scale inevitably finds many intellectual fathers claiming paternity – China is variously portrayed as a victory for a strong state; free markets; experimentation and for central planning. How China Escaped the Poverty Trap blows the conventional explanations away, drilling down into what actually happened, reconstructing the history of different cities and provinces through years of diligent research.
This book is a triumph, opening a window onto the political economy of China’s astonishing rise that takes as its starting point systems and complexity. Its lessons apply far beyond China’s borders. The author, Yuen Yuen Ang (originally from Singapore) is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan.
Ang starts with a classic developmental chicken and egg problem – which comes first, good institutions or economic prosperity? Different camps within academia and the aid business urge developing countries either to ‘first, get the institutions right’ or ‘first, get growth going’ – and then the rest will follow.