Skip to comments.Imbalance: Institutions and the Chinese Economy, Past and Present
Posted on 08/03/2013 8:40:44 PM PDT by neverdem
China was once the worlds leading economic power, but over time it fell behind the West. Why did this happen? Can it return to its earlier greatness?
In their new book Balance: The Economics of Great Powers from Ancient Rome to Modern America, economists Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane examine historys Great Powers in an attempt to learn why they rose and fell. They detect a consistent pattern: states rise on the back of strong economies and dynamic cultural and political institutions, but fall into decline when those institutions stagnate and become inflexible. In chapter 5, Treasure of China, excerpted here with minor edits, Hubbard and Kane delve into the remarkable rise, fall, stasis, and comeback of the worlds most populous nation, China.
- The Editors
China is a particularly challenging case study for our thesis that institutional stagnation leads to economic imbalance, which in turn is responsible for Great Power decline. Could there be a more obvious example in history of a country that fell to military conquest by foreign barbarians, not once, but multiple times? Unlike Rome, with its long, slow demise, the history of China seems to reinforce military failure as the key factor in imperial decline, or at least a coequal factor alongside economics.
Regardless of these military incursions, we believe economics is the best explanation for Chinas decline. Chinas dynasties should not be confused with China itself. The Great Power of China its culture and institutions survived and even thrived despite the shifting identities of sovereign dynasties at the top. Is the succession of Chinas rulers so different from Romes many emperors? Indeed, this firmness of Chinese culture explains the perseverance of its great power despite different dynastic heads. The firmness also explains Chinas later inflexibility and slowness to innovate economically. Confucianism and...
(Excerpt) Read more at american.com ...
Interesting article. But it doesn’t explain a key issue, IMO.
China had for something around 2000 years been the most innovative and creative society on the planet. A LOT of the most important inventions were generated in China. Crossbow, wheelbarrow, stirrup, compass, gunpowder, paper, arguably printing, windmill, etc., etc.
Yet sometime around 1450/1500, the time discussed in the article, Chinese innovation declined drastically, not only in comparison with the West, which was starting its meteoric rise, but even absolutely, in comparison with its own past.
IMO a power struggle between mandarins and eunuchs, which had occurred dozens or hundreds of times in Chinese history, sometimes one side winning, sometimes the other, does not explain this drastic shift in and stagnation of Chinese society. A stagnation which lasted at least till 1900 and arguably till Mao died.
These power struggles around the throne were endemic to China, and had never had such long-lasting effects before. So what was different about this one?