Myths of Chinese and Indian development

In: Uncategorized

3 Feb 2008

Pranab Bardhan, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, has an interesting article in the Boston Review (“What makes a miracle” January / February 2008) on myths of Chinese and Indian development. His concern is to show the misconceptions in the standard account of recent rapid growth in China and India. He describes the orthodoxy as follows:

“The answer that continues to dominate public discussion in the United States runs along the following lines: decades of socialist controls and regulations stifled enterprise in India and China and led them to a dead end. A mix of market reforms and global integration finally unleashed their entrepreneurial energies. As these giants shook off their “socialist slumber,” they entered the “flattened” playing field of global capitalism. The result has been high economic growth in both countries and correspondingly large declines in poverty.”

However, for Bardhan the facts do not fully correspond with the account. For example, “China has indeed made large strides in foreign trade and investment since the 1990s, but well before then, say between 1978 and 1993, the country had already achieved an average annual growth rate of about nine percent.” And in relation to poverty reduction in China he argues that: “World Bank estimates suggest that two-thirds of the decline in extremely poor people (those living below the admittedly crude poverty line of one dollar a day per capita at 1993 international parity prices) between 1981 and 2004 had taken place by the mid-1980s. Much of the extreme poverty was concentrated in rural areas, and its large decline in the first half of the 1980s may have been principally the result of domestic factors that have little if anything to do with global integration: a spurt in agricultural growth following de-collectivization, in which output increased at 7.1% per year on average between 1979 and 1984, almost triple the 1970-78 rate; a land reform program, involving a highly egalitarian distribution of land-cultivation rights subject only to differences in regional average and family size, which provided a floor for rural income; and increased farm procurement prices.”

He makes similar points in relation to India. For instance. “As for poverty, the latest Indian household survey data suggest that the rate of decline, if anything, slowed somewhat in 1993-2005—the period of global integration—compared with the ’70s and ’80s. Moreover, some non-income indicators of poverty such as those relating to child health, already rather dismal, have hardly improved in recent years.”

There are many other points in the article that are worth pondering.

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