How China Escaped the Poverty Trap tackles a long-standing chicken-and-egg problem of development: Was it strong institutions of good governance that led to economic growth, or growth that enabled good governance? Focusing on China’s great transformation since market opening in 1978, Ang Yuen Yuen argues that the first step of development is paradoxically to harness existing weak, wrong, or seemingly corrupt institutions to kick-start markets. So-called good governance emerges at the end, rather than beginning, of development. The ability of ground-level agents to improvise solutions to evolving problems of development, however, requires certain enabling conditions. Ang identifies the strategies taken by China’s leadership to foster adaptation within its massive party-state—she calls this system “directed improvisation.” China’s model offers lessons not only for other developing countries, but also for high-income countries like Singapore, which today confront complex problems that defy precise state planning and control.
See reviews of the book at the World Bank, Straits Times, and Harvard’s Building State Capability Blog