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Then Why Weren’t 1949-1976 Years of Even Faster Economic Growth for the Chinese People?

Here’s a letter to the New York Times Magazine:

Let’s see if I’ve got Pankaj Mishra’s argument straight (“The Rise of China and the Fall of the ‘Free Trade’ Myth,” Feb. 11).  He recognizes that the all-embracing state control of the Chinese economy before Mao’s death was “calamitous,” but Mishra then credits China’s post-Mao economic growth, not to the very real liberalization of markets in China that has occurred since then, but, instead, to what remains of that state control.

I picture on an open field a large round tarpaulin with tens of thousands of helium-filled balloons confined beneath it.  The tarpaulin is being pushed upward by the force of the balloons, but neither the tarpaulin nor the balloons rise very high because around the tarpaulin’s perimeter are hundreds of people, each with a firm grip on the edge of the tarpaulin.  For hours, these people all hold tight the tarpaulin above their heads, preventing the tarpaulin and any of the balloons underneath it from rising.  Then eventually a few people release their grip.  As a result, parts of the tarpaulin now flap freely in the wind, allowing several balloons to escape the confines of the tarpaulin and finally rise high into the sky.

Were he asked to explain why the escaped balloons are rising high above the level to which they were previously confined, I suppose that Mr. Mishra would explain that they’re rising as high as they are only because much of the tarpaulin continues to be in iron-fisted grips – iron-fisted grips that ensure that many balloons remain trapped beneath the tarpaulin and unable to rise freely.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030


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