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Penn Economic History Forum: From State Resource Allocation to A ‘Low Level Equilibrium Trap’: Re-thinking Economic Performance in Mao’s China, 1949-78

Friday, January 24, 2020 - 2:00pm to 4:00pm

Kent Deng, Professor, London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)
College Hall 209

Kent Deng, Professor of Economic History, London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)
Jim Huangnan Shen, University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)

This paper provides a full picture of how Maoist economy actually performed. We argue that Mao’s China neither undertook a structural change towards industrialisation nor generated a sustainable growth from 1949 to 1978. With fatal shortcomings of a planned economic system imported from the Soviet Union – the ‘principle-agent’ problem and information asymmetry for the bureaucracy, and disincentives for producers – China’s economy remained not only deliberately unbalanced but also predominantly rural until the 1980s. More importantly, the Maoist economy was not designed to enrich and empower the masses in society. Instead, all key consumer goods including food, clothing and housing were strictly rationed. The material life of ordinary citizens in China saw no improvement. This paper aims to reveal the harsh reality of the Maoist economy with solid evidence and theoretical explanation.

The paper will be available on the seminar website several weeks before the event: https://www.history.upenn.edu/calendar/penn-economic-history-forum.  There will be no exposition or summary of the paper on the day, just brief introductory remarks from the author, detailed comments from two formal discussants, then a general discussion.  Prospective participants should read the paper in advance.