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Is China Socialist?


  • Barry Naughton


It has been 40 years since Deng Xiaoping broke dramatically with Maoist ideology and the Maoist variant of socialism. Since then, China has been transformed. Forty years ago, in 1978, China was unquestionably a socialist economy of the familiar and well-studied "command economy" variant, even though it was more decentralized and more loosely planned than its Soviet progenitor. Twenty years ago--that is, by the late 1990s--China had completely discarded this type of socialism and was moving decisively to a market economy. China today is quite different both from the command economy of 40 years ago, and from the "Wild West Capitalism" of 20 years ago. Throughout these enormous changes, China has always officially claimed to be socialist. Does the "socialist" label make sense when applied to China today?

Suggested Citation

  • Barry Naughton, 2017. "Is China Socialist?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 31(1), pages 3-24, Winter.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:31:y:2017:i:1:p:3-24 Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.31.1.3

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Timothy Besley & Torsten Persson, 2014. "Why Do Developing Countries Tax So Little?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 28(4), pages 99-120, Fall.
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    1. repec:ksa:szemle:1743 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Thomas Piketty & Li Yang & Gabriel Zucman, 2017. "Appendix to "Capital Accumulation, Private Property and Rising Inequality in China, 1978-2015"," Working Papers 201707, World Inequality Lab.

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    JEL classification:

    • O17 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Formal and Informal Sectors; Shadow Economy; Institutional Arrangements
    • O53 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Asia including Middle East
    • P21 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Systems and Transition Economies - - - Planning, Coordination, and Reform


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