China’s remarkable economic rise over the past three decades has yielded many benefits to its own citizens and to people all around the globe. But the export-led growth model that underpinned China’s success and its increased role in the global economy has also led over time to the development of some serious imbalances in its economy. How China deals with these imbalances will have important implications for the rest of the world going forward—in particular, the quantitative analysis reported here suggests that were China to experience a financial crisis, the hit to the rest of the world would be substantial.
This paper develops a framework for China’s rebalancing, reviews past progress, and discusses medium-term prospects. China has advanced well in reducing its excessive external surplus and moving towards consumption and services, while still lagging behind in reducing credit reliance, environmental pollution, and income inequality. Going forward, the economy will continue rebalancing in many dimensions, while credit will remain China’s Achilles heel unless decisive corporate restructuring and SOE reforms are implemented.
By using data on 137 counties in north China, we find that the density of financial institutions (Qianzhuang and Diandang) in the late Qing period has a significant positive effect on the number and total assets of small loan companies, a dominant institution of informal finance today. The persistent effect of historical financial institutions can be explained by Confucian culture, which instills integrity, lineage solidarity and acquaintance networks.
Despite reforms to the hukou household registration system and the very large rural-urban migration experienced in China, rural households are still experiencing a risk of losing their land allocation if they migrate. We argue that this risk leads to an inefficient rental market with low rents and is an impediment to migration, with consequent over-employment in agriculture and low productivity.
The general lesson from this book is this: for a reform to be successful, it is important to use the universal principles, even if they are not enough by themselves, and it is equally important to find specific ways to implement the reform by fully incorporating the initial historical conditions as well as contemporary constraints. The perspective of reform provided by this book’s analysis on China can also be useful beyond China, precisely because it emphasizes that to make reform work, it is not enough to understand why reform works, but also how reform works.