The good governance illusion

Democracy, accountable and transparent government, low levels of corruption, the rule of law, stable property rights, pluralism: we tend to think that these are all highly desirable in any society.

In poor countries, they are often absent, but at least some of them are present in many rich ones. It seems to follow that they should be encouraged in the former as a way to encourage development. After all, if richer countries have these characteristics, they may be part of the development process.

This wishful thinking provides a foundation for the ‘good governance’ agenda propagated by the World Bank and other international institutions during the 1990s and into the 2000s. It was argued that domestic political reforms in the direction of good governance in poor countries would provide the institutional environment conducive to the efficient working of markets and thereby promote development. Continue reading


Big data and complexity: evidence for the structural approach to economic development

This post summarises some of the ideas in an interesting article from the May issue of the Cambridge Journal of Economics. The piece shows that an analysis of ‘complex networks’ using ‘big data’ lends support to structuralist arguments about growth and development. I briefly discuss the implications for industrial policies intended to promote the ‘catching up’ of poor countries with richer ones.

The Cambridge Journal of Economics (CJE) is an influential heterodox journal published six times a year. It includes as one of its patrons nobel prize-winner Amartya Sen and as associate editors Ha-Joon Chang, Mushtaq Khan and Anwar Shaikh, whose ideas I have sometimes discussed in previous posts.

As CJE articles are usually behind a paywall, I thought it would be helpful to summarise and comment on one or two when they are interesting and relevant to this blog. Continue reading

Is it okay to copy? Intellectual property, learning and development

In Tuesday’s post on China’s industrial policy I mentioned the country’s lack of enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) as a feature of its development. The US in particular, but also other rich countries, have complained about this for many years.

IPR policy, such as the creation of patents, is intended to encourage innovation by allowing firms to reap profits from the creation of new knowledge and therefore provide them with incentives to innovate. This sounds like a good thing. But managing an IPR regime requires careful judgement. If new ideas are protected for only a short period, firms may not have sufficient monetary incentives to innovate; if they are protected for too long, competition will be stifled and the diffusion of the innovation across the relevant sector or economy, as rival firms compete for a share of the market by copying or adapting it, will be slowed.

Badly designed IPR regimes can therefore slow growth in economy-wide productivity. Innovating firms often have an incentive to lobby policymakers to introduce lengthy and comprehensive patent protection, to their benefit, but to the detriment of the economy and society as a whole. Continue reading

Industrial policy and Chinese development

The rapid growth and transformation of the Chinese economy since 1978, when policymakers began a programme of economic reforms, has been extraordinary. Up until the last few years, GDP growth averaged around 10% per year, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. This represents the largest episode of poverty reduction in human history. China, as the largest manufacturing nation, has become the ‘workshop of the world’.

With a population of 1.4 billion, and an economy relatively open to international trade, these changes have and will continue to have an enormous impact on the rest of the rest of the world. For this reason, we should take a great interest in China’s continuing evolution.

Donald Trump, both on the campaign trail and since becoming US President, has placed great emphasis on getting some sort of ‘better deal’ between the US and Chinese economies. His administration has criticised China for taking advantage of the US on trade and the use of technology. But should China’s rise be a worry in these respects? Or is the US being hypocritical? In fact today’s rich countries all intervened in the economy and used forms of trade, industrial and technology policy to promote their growth and enable periods of ‘catch up’ with those at the frontier. China has been no exception. Continue reading

High wages vs high savings as models of development

I refer to the work of Michael Pettis quite often on this blog. He strikes me as a highly original thinker, combining macroeconomics, finance, development, political economy and economic history in a way which provides a deep understanding of world economic events.

He recently posted here about what he sees as the two main models of economic development which nations have used to transform their economies at certain times in history: the high wages model, and the high savings model.

Models of development can be described as a set of policies and institutions which aim to develop the economy and achieve sustained rises in productivity and output via industrialisation and the advancement of technology.

For Pettis, both models aim to raise wages and productivity, but they are distinct from one another in how they drive the investment which makes this possible. Continue reading

Michael Pettis on China, the US, debt and trade tensions

Michael Pettis is a Professor of Finance at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management, and an economist whose work I have found to be original, interesting and inspiring. His book The Great Rebalancing explores the role of current account imbalances in the Great Recession and its aftermath of slow growth. I explore some of his ideas in more detail here.

Particularly relevant to today’s events is his prediction that, just as in the 1930s, in a world of limited demand, tensions over international trade are inevitable.

In the short video below, he explores some of the issues facing China’s economy over the next decade, its misallocated investment and unsustainable rise in debt, relations with the US including trade tensions, GDP and its measurement, and liberalization under different economic and financial circumstances.

The American School of Political Economy – two bios

I have posted before here and here on the neglected American School of Political Economy, which has been well-documented in the work of Michael Hudson. Below are brief bios of two of its members, taken from Hudson’s highly informative and thoroughly heterodox J is for Junk Economics (p.210 and p.176).

Their policy proposals were designed to encourage a dynamic and sustainable economic development path with benefits accruing to the broad population, and emphasized abundance rather than scarcity. The success of such policies in driving industrial and agricultural expansion in the US does not mean that they are necessarily applicable to today’s advanced economies.

The ASPE illustrated the importance of economic and social context, which would change depending on whether an economy is catching up with or occupying the technological frontier.

To take one example which remains highly relevant: in today’s America, and elsewhere among the richest countries, infrastructure spending has been squeezed thanks to the austerity drive, rather than used as a means to enhance prosperity following the economic crisis. This has surely been a serious mistake. Continue reading