Tag Archives: China

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail

The European Crisis in the Context of the History of Previous Financial Crisis

by Michael Bordo & Harold James

Abstract – There are some striking similarities between the pre 1914 gold standard and EMU today. Both arrangements are based on fixed exchange rates, monetary and fiscal orthodoxy. Each regime gave easy access by financially underdeveloped peripheral countries to capital from the core countries. But the gold standard was a contingent rule—in the case of an emergency like a major war or a serious financial crisis –a country could temporarily devalue its currency. The EMU has no such safety valve. Capital flows in both regimes fuelled asset price booms via the banking system ending in major crises in the peripheral countries. But not having the escape clause has meant that present day Greece and other peripheral European countries have suffered much greater economic harm than did Argentina in the Baring Crisis of 1890.

URL: http://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:bog:spaper:18

Circulated by NEP-HIS on: 2015-01-26

Reviewed by: Stephen Billington (Queen’s University of Belfast)


In this paper Bordo and James seek to analyse the impact of the financial crisis of 2007-8 in the context of previous crisis. Specifically by comparing the experience of periphery countries of the Eurozone with those of the “classic” Gold Standard.


In their paper Bordo and James give a synopsis of the similarities which emerged between both monetary regimes. By adhering to a gold parity there was an expansion in the banking system, through large capital inflows, which was underpinned by a strong effective state to allow for greater borrowing. A nation was effective if it held an international diplomatic commitment, which in turn required them to sign into international systems, all the while this played into the hands of radical political parties who played on civilian nationalism[1]; these events combined lead to great inflows of capital into peripheral countries which inevitably led to fiscal instability and a resulting crisis. Similar dilemmas occurred within the EMU, but much more intensely.


This brings me to the main point that the authors emphasize, that of the contingency rule of the classic gold standard. The latter allowed member countries a “safety valve for fiscal policy”. Essentially this was an escape clause that permitted a country to temporarily devalue its currency in an emergency, such as the outbreak of war or a financial crisis, but would return to normalcy soon after, that is, they would return to previous levels. Bordo and James’ argument is that this lack of a contingency within the EMU allowed for a more severe financial crisis to afflict the periphery countries (Greece, Ireland and Portugal) than had affected gold standard peripheries (Argentina, Italy and Australia) as modern day EMU countries did (and do) not have to option to devalue their currency.


Bordo and James point out that crisis during the gold standard were very sharp, but did not last as long as the 2007-8 crisis. This because the exclusion clause during the gold standard enabled a “breathing space” and as a result most countries were back to growth within a few short years. The EMU story is quite different, say Bordo and James. Mundell (1961) argued that a successful monetary union requires the existence of a well-functioning mechanism for adjustment, what we see in the EMU are a case of worse dilemmas due primarily to this absence of an escape clause.

“Gold outflows, and, with money and credit growth tied to gold, lower money and credit growth. The lower money and credit growth would cause prices and wages to fall (or would lead to reductions in the growth rates of prices and wages), helping to restore competitiveness, thus eliminating the external deficits”

The above quote provided by Gibson, Palivos and Tavlas (2014) highlights how the gold standard allowed a country to adjust to a deficit. This point reinforces how Bordo & James argue that due to the constricting nature of the EMU there is no “safety valve” to allowed EU countries to release the steam from increasing debt levels. With respect to the Argentine Baring Crisis of 1890, while the crisis was very sharp in terms of real GDP, pre-crisis levels of GDP were again reached by 1893 – clearly a contrast with the Euro as some countries are still in recession with very little progress having been made as suggested by the following headline: “Greece’s current GDP is stuck in ancient Greece” – Business Insider (2013).

The following graph highlights the issue that in Europe most countries are still lagging behind the pre-crisis levels of GDP.


Bordo and James clearly support this argument. Delles and Tavlas (2013) also argue that the adjustment mechanism of core and periphery countries limited the size and persistence of external deficits. They put forward that the durability of the gold standard relied on this mechanism. This is reinforced by Bloomfield (1959) who states it “facilitated adjustments to balance of payments disequilibrium”.

Vinals (1996) further supports the authors’ sentiments by arguing that the Treaty of Maastricht restricts an individual member’s room to manoeuvre as the Treaty requires sound fiscal policies, with debt limited to 60% of GDP and annual deficits no greater than 3% of GDP – meaning a member cannot smooth over these imbalances through spending or taxation.

Gibson, Palivos and Tavlas (2014) state “a major cost of monetary unions is the reduced flexibility to adjust to asymmetric shocks”. They argue that internal devaluations must occur to adjust to fiscal imbalances, but go on to argue that these are much harder to implement than in theory, again supported by Vinals (1996).


Bordo and James focus primarily on three EU periphery countries which are doing badly, namely Greece, Ireland and Portugal. However they neglect the remaining countries within the EU which can also be classed as a periphery. According the Wallerstein (1974) the periphery can be seen as the less developed countries, these could include further countries such as those from eastern Europe[2]. By looking at a more expansive view of peripheral countries we can see that these other peripherals had quick recoveries with sharp decreases in GDP growth, as in the case of the Gold standard countries, but swiftly recovered to high levels of growth again while the main peripheral countries the authors analyse do lag behind.

Untitled2See note 3

Bordo and James do provide a strong insight into the relationship between an adjustment mechanism to combating fiscal imbalances as a means of explaining the poor recovery of certain peripheral countries (i.e. Greece, Ireland, Portugal) and highlight the implications of this in the future of the EMU. If the EMU cannot find a contingency rule as the gold standard then recessions may leave them as vulnerable in the future as they are now.


1) This process can be thought of as a trilemma, Obstfeld, Taylor and Shambaugh (2004) give a better explanation. In the EU the problem was intensified as governments could back higher levels of debt, and there was no provision for European banking supervision, the commitment to EU integration let markets believe that there were no limits to debt levels. This led to inflows in periphery countries where banks could become too big to be rescued.

2) Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and even Cyprus can be included based on low GDP per capita which is equivalent to Greece.

3) Data taken from Eurostat comparing real GDP growth levels of lesser developed countries within the Eurozone who all use the euro and would be locked into the same system of no adjustment.


Bloomfield, A. (1959) Monetary Policy under the International Gold Standard. New York: Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Business Insider (2013). Every Country in Europe Should be Glad it’s Not Greece. http://www.businessinsider.com/european-gdp-since-pre-crisis-chart-2013-8?IR=T [Accessed 19/03/2015].

Eurostat, Real GDP Growth Rates http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/tgm/graph.do?tab=graph&plugin=1&pcode=tec00115&language=en&toolbox=data [Accessed 21/03/2015].

Dellas, Harris; Tavlas, George S. (2013). The Gold Standard, The Euro, and The Origins of the Greek Sovereign Debt Crisis. Cato Journal 33(3): 491-520.

Gibson, Heather D; Palivos, Theodore; Tavlas, George S. (2014). The Crisis in the Euro Area: An Analytic Overview.Journal of Macroeconomics 39: 233-239.

Mundell, Robert A. (1961). A Theory of Optimum Currency Areas. The American Economic Review 51(4): 657-665.

Obstfeld, Maurice. Taylor, Alan. Shambaugh, Jay C. (2004). The Trilemma in History: Trade-Offs among Exchange Rates, Monetary Policies and Capital Mobility. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER working paper 10396).

Vinals, Jose. (1996). European Monetary Integration: A Narrow or Wide EMU?. European Economic Review 40(3-5): 1103-1109.

Wallerstein, Immanuel (1974). The Modern World-System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Academic Press.

Coming back to @PostOffice #Savings? The #east-west comparative.

Postal financial services, development and inclusion: Building on the past and looking to the future


Gonzales d’Alcantara (gonzales.dalcantara@ua.ac.be) Emeritus Professor of Econometrics at the University of Antwerp and d’Alcantara Economic Consulting

Paul H. Dembinski (pawel.dembinski@unifr.ch ) University of Fribourg, Switzerland

Odile Pilley, (odile.pilley@blueyonder.co.uk) International Consultant, formerly with International Bureau of the Universal Postal Union

Abstract: Post offices, inherited from the Industrial Revolution, were monolithic telephone and postal administrations. They were intimately linked to the fabric of nations and made significant contributions to state finances. From the 1960s onwards, integrators, such as UPS and FEDEX, started offering end-to-end express services, thus challenging the postal monopoly in new high added value services. Gradually, the liberalization paradigm gained ground. Telecommunications and sometimes financial services were spun off from postal operations. More recently, new policies and priorities started to emerge especially on the development agenda where financial inclusion has become a top priority in the developing world. The question to be addressed is which role, if any, the posts play or could play in ensuring inclusion. Despite an exceptionally scarce research in the field, this paper provides an overview of how these shifts in paradigm have affected postal policy, the postal financial services regulatory framework, the status of the organizations delivering those services and the offerings themselves in developing as well as in developed countries. After a research review, including the regulatory dimension, the paper focuses on how postal financial services institutions in their legal framework have developed bringing to the fore a panorama of a dozen of promising transformations of financial postal services in developing countries.

URL http://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:fri:fribow:fribow00451

Review by Mark Crowley

This paper by d’Alcantara, Dembinski and Pilley was circulated byNEP-HIS on 2014-09-12. The approach is unique in the sense that it seeks to compare the nature of Post Offices in Europe and the developing world, focusing primarily on their role in the savings movement. Its historical approach shows how the western Post Offices developed as a movement that sought to encourage thrift among a profligate working class, whereas in the developing world, the development of a Postal Savings movement was more in line with the growing financial markets across these nations, and the desire for individual customers to express choice in their banking processes. Moreover, it effectively shows how, following a crisis in trust experienced in the banking industry, more people across both the developed and developing world are turning to the government-backed Post Office as a safe haven for their savings in response to the perceived dangers of investing in private banks.


Citing the latter nineteenth century as the beginning of the Post Office savings movement, with British Prime Minister William Gladstone’s initiative to open a Post Office Savings Bank, this paper demonstrates that the influence of the government over consumer spending has long roots. The authors deftly show that certainly in its embryonic stages, the Post Office savings movement in developed countries focused on the provision of a secure place for working-class savings, while also encouraging thrift. Building on the lack of trust displayed by the working-class towards other alternatives, such as friendly societies, and their exclusion from private sector banks, the savings option offered by Post Offices had fertile ground on which it could flourish.              
gladstone 2

The paper also documents the differences between the supervisory natures of the Post Office Savings activities in developing countries, comparing them to that in the developed world. Citing the Asian and Latin American examples, the authors show that the levels of government control over the activities of postal savings banks were significantly more than that in the developed world, with the respective central banks exerting a supervisory role over postal and financial affairs. In the developed world, following with the liberalisation of financial services, the level of central government control over deposits made in postal savings banks has significantly diminished, with initiatives to delegate the administration of post office banking activity to private banks. Although responsibility is still being underwritten by central government (with Bank of Ireland UK as the example for postal savings in the UK) the level of micro-management previously present has now diminished.

d’Alcantara, Dembinski and Pilley also document the necessity of a world legal framework and understanding to evolve with the growing influence of the postal savings movement, especially in the developed world. Citing the aim for legal and financial autonomy to be awarded to postal savings institutions as part of the United Nations millennium goals, it effectively demonstrates the challenges that both the developed and the developing world face in terms of striking the right balance to facilitate the effective supervision of the financial system at a time when the role of private investment banks have been criticised for their excessive risk taking. While many countries in the west still pride themselves on liberal nature of their governments and markets, the definition of this is likely to change in the name of ensuring proportionality and responsibility concerning financial affairs in an age when consumer confidence in private banks is at an all-time low.


While seeking to emphasise the differences between the postal savings movement in the developed and developing world, this paper also draws on examples of convergence. In the period after the 2008 world financial crisis, there has been evidence that consumers, once more, have come back to the government-backed Post Office savings banks in response to not only their anger about the actions of private banks, but also the perception that government-backed savings institutions are safer in terms of securing deposits during periods of financial crisis. For example, in 2008, much resentment was created in the UK when the government bailed out banks deemed “too big to fail”, costing the taxpayer billions of pounds. While such action ensured that the deposits of savers were guaranteed, many responded angrily that taxpayer’s money was being used to save banks that had shown financial irresponsibility on such a grand scale.

post office uk

The paper ends on an optimistic note for the savings movement in Asia, with particular reference to China. In noting that the Chinese Postal Savings Bank is the fourth largest in China, with its customer base expanding beyond the traditional labouring classes to include students and businesspeople, the authors argue that this has been a triumph for the postal savings movement in the world’s most populous country. While it is worth noting that the level of central government control over all banks in China is possibly significantly more than in any other developed nation, it is a point well made that in a country with a flourishing middle class population, it is the postal savings movement that seems to be gaining the biggest traction.

posb china


d’Alcantara, Dembinski and Pilley covered a huge chronological and geographical period in their analysis, and have effectively compared the nature of the postal savings movement in the developed and developing world. Perhaps an area that could be explored further is the western government’s ideas of financial liberalisation as a principle that stops short of a full-scale privatisation of Post Office counters (which include financial services)? For example, Margaret Thatcher, despite pursuing a very ambitious privatisation programme in the 1980s, stopped short of privatising Post Office counters, despite taking steps to remove the ‘Giro’ from government control. Deeming the issue to be too much of a political hot potato, Thatcher left financial services at the Post Office largely untouched, encouraging only the intervention of private banks to compete for the option of underwriting (with the support of government) Post Office financial services. Today, both in the US and the UK, Post Office counters, and individual postmasters complain vehemently about their struggle for survival in the face of growing competition from private banks that now include the offers of financial services by supermarkets, and initiatives that have reduced the numerous functions of Post Office counters, including direct debit payments. Perhaps the question the authors could explore is why do western governments, while taking efforts to remove services from the Post Offices (such as bill payments) do not embark on a full scale privatisation, whereas in developing countries, where the extent of government control over the savings movement, including postal savings, is significantly stronger, the movement appears to be going from strength to strength?

Further Reading

Booth, Alan and Mark Billings, ‘Techno-nationalism, the Post Office and the creation of Britain’s National Giro’ in B Bátiz-Lazo, J.C. Maixé-Altés and P. Thomes Technological Innovation in Retail Finance: International Historical Perspectives (Abingdon: Routledge, 2011).

Campbell-Kelly, Martin, ‘Data Processing and Technological Change’ Technology and Culture, 39, 1 (Jan. 1998), pp. 1-32.

Campbell Smith, Duncan, Masters of the Post: The Authorized History of Royal Mail (London: Penguin, 2011).

Crowley, Mark J. Saving for the Nation: The Post Office and National Consumerism, c1860-1945’ in Erika Rappaport, Sandra Dawson and Mark J Crowley (eds.), Consuming Behaviours: Identity, Politics and Pleasure in Twentieth Century Britain (forthcoming Bloomsbury, 2015).

Failed by #EconomicGrowth?

Asia’s Little Divergence: State Capacity in China and Japan before 1850

by Tuan-Hwee Sng (National University of Singapore) and Chiaki Moriguchi (Hitotsubashi University)

Abstract: This paper explores the role of state capacity in the comparative economic development of China and Japan. Before 1850, both nations were ruled by stable dictators who relied on bureaucrats to govern their domains. We hypothesize that agency problems increase with the geographical size of a domain. In a large domain, the ruler’s inability to closely monitor bureaucrats creates opportunities for the bureaucrats to exploit taxpayers. To prevent overexploitation, the ruler has to keep taxes low and government small. Our dynamic model shows that while economic expansion improves the ruler’s finances in a small domain, it could lead to lower tax revenues in a large domain as it exacerbates bureaucratic expropriation. To test these implications, we assemble comparable quantitative data from primary and secondary sources. We find that the state taxed less and provided fewer local public goods per capita in China than in Japan. Furthermore, while the Tokugawa shogunate’s tax revenue grew in tandem with demographic trends, Qing China underwent fiscal contraction after 1750 despite demographic expansion. We conjecture that a greater state capacity might have prepared Japan better for the transition from stagnation to growth.

URL: http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/hithitcei/2014-6.htm

Reviewed by Joyman Lee


This paper was distributed by NEP-HIS on 2014-09-25 and 2014-10-03. In it Sng and Moriguchi ask why China – with its large population and high levels of technological prowess – was not the first country to industrialize. Existing studies of “divergence” have not explained differences in economic performance between China and Japan. Despite the similarities between the two economies in levels of proto-industrialization, political and legal structures, and living standards. Sng and Moriguchi argue that differences in public finance accounted for important differences in the two countries’ ability to promote economic growth.

In this paper Sng and Moriguchi focus on the important question of size and geography as the central explanatory variable. In particular, the authors develop a context-specific model which suggests that rulers’ need to rely on agents to govern (principal-agent problem) in a pre-modern dictatorship meant that “agency problems increase with its geographical size and heterogeneity” (p5), owing to information challenges which precluded close supervision by rulers of their agents. The model predicts that the larger the polity, the higher the corruption rate, and the lower the tax rate out of fear that subjects will revolt, as expropriation reduces the ruler’s ability to provide social goods commensurate to the tax levied. The higher level of corruption also reduces rulers’ incentives to invest, and hence the provision of public goods per capita. Graft and inefficiencies mean that population and economic growth actually reduces the proportion of the economic surplus available to the ruler. As a result, the size of the polity lowers the tipping point where the negative effects of growth outweigh the positive effects.

Qing military officials. Qing China had a chronic corruption problem.

Qing military officials. Qing China had a chronic corruption problem.

Sng and Moriguchi test their hypothesis against a pool of primary and secondary data, which confirms that tax rates were higher in Japan than China, averaging around 34% in Japan (rising to 50-55% in some domains, p29): more than twice of China’s level in 1700 and approximately six times by 1850. Population growth was far greater in China than Japan, where the population stagnated after 1700. Compared to the Qing, Tokugawa Japan enjoyed a higher level of public services in terms of coinage, transportation, urban management, and environmental management (forestry), and in famine relief the Qing’s strengths were cancelled out by 1850. The authors conclude that the large size of China “imposed increasingly insurmountable constraints on the regime’s capacity to collect taxes and provide essential local public goods as its economy expanded,” and that “this factor alone might have been sufficient in holding back China’s transition from stagnation to growth even in the absence of Western imperialism” (p38). In line with the existing scholarship, Sng and Moriguchi contend that Japan’s healthier tax system provided the Westernizing Meiji regime (1868-1912) with revenues to conduct far-reaching reforms.


Despite its significance in global history, the comparative history of China and Japan is surprisingly overlooked. The “California school,” for instance, has focused largely on the economic “divergence” between China and the West, whereas Japanese economic historians have labored over Japan-Europe differences (Saito 2010). Sng and Moriguchi’s focus on the comparative history of China and Japan is thus relatively new. The authors join political scientist Wenkai He, whose recent book Paths toward the Modern Fiscal State also explores China’s failure to develop a modern fiscal state in the nineteenth century, in comparison with early modern England and Meiji Japan (He 2013). China’s “failure” is especially puzzling in view of the Qing’s overall success in raising revenue in the late nineteenth century (Wong 1997, 155-56).

Sng and Moriguchi’s argument that a state’s ability to increase revenue is inversely affected by size is persuasive. In the absence of institutions to monitor graft, China had seldom been able to pursue rational fiscal strategies – especially at the county level – since the Tang-Song transition (Hartwell 1982, 395-96). In contrast, Japan’s decentralized polity in the early modern period bore close resemblance to Europe. Perhaps unsurprisingly, early modern Japan’s experiences of proto-industrialization and industrious revolution had clear parallels both in England and in the Netherlands.

A magistrate's office in Jiangxi province. Arguments on the Qing's inadequacies hinge partly on the Qing's ideological goals.

A magistrate’s office in Jiangxi province. Arguments on the Qing’s inadequacies hinge partly on the Qing’s ideological goals.

What this narrative does not explain, however, is why China pursued such an inefficient mode of fiscal management. Given the challenges of graft and the fear of revolt, Sng and Moriguchi assume that it was the most rational or “optimal” course. The authors point to but dismiss lightly the question posed by Qing historians that the goals of the late imperial Confucian state might not have been compatible with “rational” state expansion. In other words, rather than fearing peasant revolt, the choice of tax rate might have to do with ideological reasons. Similarly, the idea that the Japanese state shared a “Confucian” outlook (p4) is overly simplistic, especially as consistently high levels of taxation in Tokugawa Japan undermine the idea that Tokugawa Japan was a “benevolent” state.

While size might have been a key variable in China’s state “weakness,” this does not in itself explain the strengths or weaknesses of China’s overall economy. The large size of China’s internal market, for example, allowed differentiation and specialization which appear to have sustained economic growth even in the absence of an active state. This was true both in the Qing and more recently in China’s informal and private sectors since 1978. Thus there is no reason to assume that the adoption of a “modern” fiscal apparatus was a natural goal for the Qing before 1850. Similarly, by focusing on the state’s fiscal abilities to the exclusion of other factors, Sng and Moriguchi also sidestep an important Japan-centered literature that considers how similarities in economic structures between China and Japan enabled the results of Westernizing experiments in Japan after 1850 to be transferred to China. This point is important because revenues from Japan’s trade with Asia propelled Meiji Japan’s economic growth, no less than the revenues collected by Japan’s indigenous tax structures. Moreover, this was a form of self-sustaining growth built upon constant competitive pressures from below, i.e. from China which was rapidly reproducing strategies developed in Japan (ed. Sugihara 2005).

Despite these criticisms, Sng and Moriguchi’s model offers clear quantitative analysis on an important aspect of a greatly understudied topic, and is recommended for anyone interested in the longue durée economic development of the two countries.

Additional References

Hartwell, R. 1982. “Demographic, Political, and Social Transformations of China, 750-1550,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, vol. 42, no. 2, pp. 365-442 [Dec, 1982].

He, W 2013. The Paths toward the Modern Fiscal State: Early Modern England, Meiji Japan, and Qing China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Saito, O. 2010. “An Industrious Revolution in an East Asian Market Economy? Tokugawa Japan and Implications for the Great Divergence,” Australian Economic History Review, vol. 2010, vol. 50, issue 3, pp. 240-261.

Sugihara, K. (ed.) 2005. Japan, China, and the Growth of the Asian International Economy, 1850-1949. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wong, R. 1997. China Transformed: Historical Change and the Limits of European Experience. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Managing the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere

Strategies and Organizations for Managing “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”

Tetsuji Okazaki (The University of Tokyo)

Abstract: During the World War II, Japan occupied a large part of East and South East Asia, called “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” (Daitoa Kyoei Ken). This paper overviews what the Japanese military authorities and the government did to develop the occupied areas in the 1930s and the early 1940s. It is remarkable that different development policies and organizations were applied across occupied areas. In Manchuria, which Japan occupied earlier, after trial and error, a system of planning and control was introduced. By this system, more or less systematic development of industries was undertaken. Meanwhile, in China Proper, the Japanese military authorities and the government prepared the statutory holding companies as channels for investment from Japan, but industrial development was basically entrusted to those holding companies and individual companies affiliated to them. Finally in South East Asia, development was almost totally entrusted to existing Japanese firms.

URL: http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/tkyfseres/2013cf900.htm

Review by Masayoshi Noguchi

This paper by the leading authority on the history of Japanese wartime economy was distributed by NEP-HIS on September 13th, 2013. It provides a very interesting general overview and understanding of the process behind the formation of the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. Thanks to a very thorough and detailed literature review, the paper provides a comprehensive overview of “what the Japanese military authorities and the government did to develop the occupied areas [called Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere] in the 1930s and the early 1940s” (p. 1); while also summarising and contrasting different approaches taken by the Japanese authorities to the development of Japanese interests in Manchuria, mainland China and South East Asia. Comments are also offered as to the consequences of these different approaches.

Between 1915 and 1945, the Manchurian region was one of the major locations of China’s steel industry. The development of steel industry in that region was closely related to the Japanese invasion of China. Following the establishment of the (puppet) State of Manchuria in 1932, the Japanese government encouraged the formation of iron-steel factories with national capital to help transform Manchuria’s steel industry into a typical export-oriented industry. The main features of the development policy for Manchuria were the establishment of “special corporations” and so called “one industry, one corporation policy”. The five-year industrial plan for the State of Manchuria recognised the need for a business entity to administrate the overall development. It thus encourage the Nissan zaibatsu to form the Manchuria Heavy Industry and Development (MHID) Corporation, which was established in December of 1936. Nissan also took over the management of the Showa Steel Factory and invested in the Benxihu Coal and Iron Company, thereby gaining control over the steel industry in Northeast China. However, the initial plan for the MHID was soon subjected to a major revision as the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in July of 1938 significantly increased the demand to supply the Japanese military. At the same time, control of the MHID transformed and it became subject of direct control by the state. Later, when the export of steel products to Japan turned out to be less than originally expected, the steel industry ceased to be operated as an export-oriented industry.

The promotion of the economic development of mainland China was based on “the Outline of Measures to deal with the Incident” (p. 4). In order to support this development and attract capital investments from Japan to China, in November 1938 the Japanese government established two entities, namely the North China Development Corporation and the Middle China Promotion Corporation. These two corporations made significant investments to their affiliated companies in the fields of transportation, telecommunication, electricity, and coal mining.

Immediately after the outbreak of the Pacific War in December 1941, “the Outline of Economic Policies in the South East Asia” was promulgated, but in South East Asia, unlike the other two cases, “a policy to develop the local economies in a systematic way was not taken” (p. 7) and the “development was almost totally entrusted to existing Japanese firms” (p. 8).

In summary, Okazaki’s study shows how the formation of Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere was not unique or consistently applied across geographies as it was conditioned with several restrictions. These included geographical terms and conditions of each area to which the Japanese army advanced, the success or failure of the military strategies, the interaction of the military, the state and economic interests as well as the economic terms and conditions of Japan itself. Although it is not easy to agree with a part of description presented by Okazaki (for instance that the advance of the Army into Manchuria was primarily motivated by its own economic concerns (p. 7)), the paper is required reading in order to understand this very important phase of the Japanese wartime economy.

A Natural Experiment in Chinese Villages

The Effects of Democratization on Public Goods and Redistribution: Evidence from China

Monica Martinez-Bravo (Johns Hopkins University) (mmb@jhu.edu)

Gerard Padro i Miquel (STICERD LSE) (g.padro@lse.ac.uk)

Nancy Qian (Yale University) (nancy.qian@yale.edu)

Yang Yao (China Center for Economic Research Peking University) (yyao@ccer.pku.edu.cn)

URL http://d.repec.org/n?u=RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18101&r=his

This study investigates the effects of introducing elections on public goods and redistribution in rural China. We collect a large and unique survey to document the history of political reforms and economic policies and exploit the staggered timing of the introduction of elections for causal identification. We find that elections significantly increase public goods expenditure, the increase corresponds to demand and is paralleled by an increase in public goods provision and local taxes. We also find that elections cause significant income redistribution within villages. The results support the basic assumptions of recent theories of democratization (Acemoglu and Robinson, 2000; Lizzeri and Persico, 2004). In addition, we show that the main mechanism underlying the effect of elections is increased leader incentives.

Keywords: China; Democratization and Public Goods

Review by Anna Missiaia

This paper was circulated by NEP-HIS on 2012-05-29. If you have a taste for historical natural experiments, the work of Martinez-Bravo, Padro i Miquel, Qian and Yao is going to be of your interest. This NBER working paper describes the effects of the introduction of elections in Chinese villages on the provision of public goods and on redistribution in rural China starting from the 1980s. Villages are the lowest administrative units in China. They are in charge of the provision of public goods at local level, the allocation of land and also have the power to impose local taxes. The authors exploit the fairly fast and exogenous introduction of elections in villages. This is to study the impact of democratization on decisions over public goods expenditure. The reform started in the early 1980s and was progressively completed over about 15 years. The pace of the reform allows using a difference-in-difference approach, comparing the performance of the democratized villages to the non-democratized ones.

This work represents a significant contribution in terms of data gathering. In particular, the retrospective Village Democracy Survey conducted by the authors on the characteristics of village leaders is new. This was done on the same 217 villages included into the NFS Survey conducted by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture on villages’ characteristics. The two surveys together allow testing a model that explains a policy outcome using province-year trends, village and year fixed effects and a dummy variable that takes value 1 when the village has experienced an election.

The main result of this paper is that the introduction of elections leads to a substantial increase on public goods expenditure (27%) and to income redistribution. The latter result is not surprising in any transition from a democratic to a non democratic decision system. The former result is more interesting: the authors find that before the reform there was under provision of public goods. The increase in expenditure is essentially financed by an increase in taxes. This result is far from being obvious: a vast literature in political economics shows how elected leaders can fail to provide the policies preferred by the majority. The paper also shows that this increase in public goods expenditure is a response to an actual demand. The increase in a given type of good is different in villages with different characteristic. For example, in villages with more farming, irrigation is increased more; in villages with more school-age children, schooling is increased more.

This study is particularly solid thank to the comprehensive database used and to the various robustness checks and the complementary insights provided to support the results (i.e. the study of the demand for public goods). However, one question that is not fully addressed is what the incentives of the local representatives were before the elections were introduced. The paper proves that they were not concerned with providing the optimal level of public goods to the local population, which turned out to be willing to pay more taxes to receive it. The historical reasons for this mismatch prior the reform are not clear. Also, the results here are very strong in terms of the effect of these particular reform. However, it is not clear how much this result is due to the previous decision mechanism that was in place before. The increase could be very idiosyncratic with respect to the Chinese political experience. Can these results be generalized to other local elections in other parts of the world or to elections at different administrative level? Lastly, the increase in the provision of public goods financed by taxes happened in this case for a given level of per capita income, however the demand for public goods might change at different income levels, leading to different consequences of democratization. To conclude, this paper is an excellent piece of research applying political economics models to a novel dataset for Chinese villages. Hopefully it will stimulate further studies of decision making over public goods provision in China. This might be useful to develop further the historical perspective on this topic.

History matters: the influence of pre-industrial China’s institutions on post-1978 economic boom.

From divergence to convergence: re-evaluating the history behind China’s economic boom

by  Loren Brandt  (brandt@chass.utoronto.ca),  Debin Ma (d.ma1@lse.ac.uk) and  Thomas G. Rawski (tgrawski@pitt.edu)

URL: http://d.repec.org/n?u=RePEc:ehl:wpaper:41660&r=his


“China’s long-term economic dynamics pose a formidable challenge to economic historians. The Qing Empire (1644-1911), the world’s largest national economy prior to the 19th century, experienced a tripling of population during the 17th and 18th centuries with no signs of diminishing per capita income. In some regions, the standard of living may have matched levels recorded in advanced regions of Western Europe. However, with the Industrial Revolution a vast gap emerged between newly rich industrial nations and China’s lagging economy. Only with an unprecedented growth spurt beginning in the late 1970s has the gap separating China from the global leaders been substantially diminished, and China regained its former standing among the world’s largest economies. This essay develops an integrated framework for understanding this entire history, including both the long period of divergence and the more recent convergent trend. The analysis sets out to explain how deeply embedded political and economic institutions that had contributed to a long process of extensive growth subsequently prevented China from capturing the benefits associated with new technologies and information arising from the Industrial Revolution. During the 20th century, the gradual erosion of these historic constraints and of new obstacles created by socialist planning eventually opened the door to China’s current boom. Our analysis links China’s recent economic development to important elements of its past, while using the success of the last three decades to provide fresh perspectives on the critical obstacles undermining earlier modernization efforts, and their removal over the last century and a half.”

Review by: Anna Missiaia

China’s economic performance in the long run is one of the hot topics in economic history today. The growth pattern followed by China since the mid-14th century until today has been characterized by one of prosperity until the end of the 18th century, a period of falling behind in the 19th century and throughout the Revolution, to later observe a reversal in post-1978 years until today. In particular, economic historians face the riddle of China having had comparable economic conditions to Western Europe until the eve of the British Industrial Revolution when China missed the opportunity for the industrial take off. The debate is also focused on how China managed to reverse this trend after the death of Mao Zedong in the 1970s, experiencing very high levels of economic growth that we still see today. The paper by Loren Brandt (University of Toronto), Debin Ma (London School of Economics) and Thomas G. Rawski (University of Pittsburgh) is concerned with the link between the historical picture that underlays China’s long term economic performance. The main questions addressed here are why China was unable to industrialize in the 19th century in spite of similar starting conditions of Britain; why it did not take advantage of the new technology and information made available by the British Industrial Revolution and how China managed to catch up in the post-1978 period. The paper proposes a very detailed and exhaustive review of existing literature on Chinese economic history. In particular, the view proposed by Pomeranz (2000) in his work The Great Divergence is the one that has recently taken root. The claim is that the divergence of the 19th century was due to a better factor endowment (such as coal abundance and access to land-intensive goods) by Britain. In this view there is little room for institutional factors, such as differences in the financial, political and legal system. The main contribution of the paper by Brandt , Ma and Rawski is to propose an alternative view based on institutional factors that seeks to explain both the 19th century divergence and the 20th convergence within the same analytical framework. The authors adopt a political economy perspective and guide us through the historical roots of present China’s economic boom, finding many analogies (and influences) between past and present Chinese institutions. The authors identify several institutional continuities between the Qing period (1644-1911) and the People’s Republic today: both systems were authoritarian and lacked of a checks and balances; both had monitoring problems in their implementation of central policies, suffering from corrupt diversion of tax payments;  in both periods economic policy was quite decentralized; education was in both periods a primary concern of the state;  finally, both today and in the Qing era, the state was able to align the incentives of the leading class and those of common people, achieving prosperity and stability. In the view of the authors, these elements were present in the Qing period until the beginning of the 19th century and were fully re-established after the death of Mao Zedong. According to the authors, the reasons for the period of divergence during the British Industrial Revolution lay in Qing China’s inadequate response to this new phenomenon. In particular, they offer a few institutional departures between People’s Republic in the reform era and the Qing rule that can help understand how post 1978 China managed to reverse its fortune. In particular they underline the increased ability to effectively implement and enforce policies at national level and the opening of the Chinese economy to foreign trade and investment. The analysis proposed in this work points at institutional obstacles that prevented China from joining the West in its 19th century Industrial Revolution. It also describes the slow changes that took place over the 19th century until 1970s that culminated in the boom we see today. According to the authors, today’s success is due to two factors. One is the slow erosion of constraints from the Qing period, such as lack of monitoring and closeness to the foreign trade. The other is the reversal of new obstacles created during the pre-1978 Revolutionary period, such as the creation of conflicts of objectives among different social groups and the loss of focus on education. The parallel between the early Qing period and the post-1978 period has major implications for policy-makers today: according to the authors the Chinese model for economic growth is far from being applicable to any other low income nation. This is because Chinese history and past institutions had a major role in shaping post-1978 Chinese success.  In its conclusions, this paper provides a very detailed historic and literature review of Chinese economic growth and proposes a unified institutional framework to link pre-industrial and present China, challenging the established endowment view on the 19th century divergence.