Reviews of How China Escaped the Poverty Trap have appeared in various outlets: World Bank Development Blog (reprinted in Peking Bulletin, Global Policy), Foreign Affairs, Harvard’s Building State Capability Blog, Governance, Duncan Green’s (Oxfam) Blog, Iterative Adaptation Blog, The Straits Times.
The first takeaway of the book, that a poor country can harness the institutions they have and get development going is a liberating message.
The second part of the book is equally thought provoking. While adaptive approaches to development have become new buzzwords, Yuen Yuen’s work brings rigor to this conversation.
The second takeaway is that we need to think more carefully about the source of adaptability… This analytical lens has enormous potential for thinking through the adaptive challenge, whether at the national level, subnational level or sectoral level.
This book is a triumph, opening a window onto the political economy of China’s astonishing rise that takes as its starting point systems and complexity. Its lessons apply far beyond China’s borders.
Using China as an elephant-sized case study, Ang takes a systems sledgehammer to this kind of linear thinking, and argues that development is a ‘coevolutionary process’. Institutions and markets interact with and change each other in context-specific ways that change over time. The institutions that help to achieve take off are not the same as the ones that preserve and consolidate markets later on.
Yuen-Yuen Ang, a Professor of Political Science at University of Michigan came to speak at Harvard the other day and I was lucky enough to hear her presentation. Her most recent book is How China Escaped the Poverty Trap, which is an original and insightful take on what is perhaps the biggest development puzzle of my lifetime…
Her unconventional insight is that this means the first challenge of development is to harness ‘weak/wrong/bad’ institutions to create markets… Professor Ang’s insight is that China recognized the weaknesses of each of those approaches and wanted to begin a process of “adaptation” and for that they needed to create conditions conducive to “directed improvisation.”
Professor Ang is making important advances in understanding how development can be made possible in her approach to Complexity and Development 2.0.
Book Review @ Governance, by Michael Woolcock (World Bank & Harvard Kennedy School). | PDF
Ang provides specialists and nonspecialists alike with a fresh inside-the-black-box account of how the Chinese state—from the center to the periphery, across time and space—has actually practiced (not merely preached) innovation, problem solving, and effective implementation.
Future studies of bureaucratic life in China and elsewhere must reckon seriously with Ang’s account; she has set an admirably high bar and capably filled a conspicuous scholarly vacuum. It is encouraging that the development policy community is also taking note.
As an opening statement, her book is compelling, important, and deserving of a wide audience; we can only wait with keen anticipation for the next installment.
This is an important book with a bold thesis that, at its most ambitious, demands a rethinking of the history and evolution of capitalism.
In terms of policy implications, Ang’s thesis has the potential to upend much that the global development establishment holds dear.
China’s transformation cannot be attributed to a single cause; rather, it arose from a contingent, interactive process—Ang calls it “directed improvisation.” She formalizes this insight by using a novel analytic method that she terms “coevolutionary narrative,” which has the potential to influence future studies of institutional and economic change beyond China.
Political Scientist Yuen Yuen Ang’s new book is the talk of the town in development economics.
The idea is that it isn’t enough to merely state that adaptability is necessary… One has to also identify the factors that enable adaptability, [that is] the meta-institutions.
Blog post @ Global Integrity, “5 insights on how China lifted 800 million out of poverty”
Many of our conversations at the Open Gov Hub come back to this central question: how can external actors support – not inadvertently harm – bottom-up political and economic reform? Ang’s work offers critical insight. (Hint: it requires us as international development practitioners to seriously set aside our preconceived notions about what tools need to be used to achieve economic and political growth.)
Event recap @ Global Integrity, Book talk on September 14, 2017.
Ang’s book has begun to make waves in our field (see book reviews from Yongmei Zhou, Michael Woolcock, Lant Pritchett, and Duncan Green), and we were excited to convene a discussion to help continue the conversation forward.
The key lesson: once you have established markets and healthy economic activities, any society does need ‘good’ institutions such as rule of law, but in order to create markets, societies have to start with what they have, no matter how ‘backwards’ or wrong those institutions may appear to outside Western development practitioners.
Book citation @ Foresight University.
China employed a very smart liberalization strategy Ang calls directed improvisation, a set of policies that allowed immediate bottom up innovation… This is a truly evo devo approach to development policy, and there are deep lessons here for other big developing nations like India.
Directed improvisation is an example of the 95/5 Rule (95% of important change should be bottom up), and explains how the right rulesets were able to so quickly unleash China’s unique collectivism and industriousness.
Review @ Goodreads, by reader Clay.
All this [development] goes on with loose direction from the center, like a movie director, and then improvisation from the cast of thousands below… These were incremental reforms, but not piecemeal; Starting up growth in poor places is very different from sustaining growth that already exists, and requires a different institutional and capability mix.”
Feature article @ Forbes: “Why Corruption and Weak Institutions are the Perfect Recipe for Emerging Markets,” November 4, 2016. By Wade Shepherd.
Review @ The Citizen (India), “The Myth of the Developmental State Among India’s Middle Class,” by Subhasish Ray.
Review @ Biz India, by Sonu Chandiram
Review @ Asia Book Review
Review @ Andrew Batson’s Blog