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China's Great Leap: Forward or Backward? Anatomy of a Central Planning Disaster

  • An, Mark Yuying
  • Li, Wei
  • Yang, Dennis Tao

The Great Leap Forward (GLF) disaster, characterized by a collapse of grain output, and the associated famine in China between 1959 and 1961, can be attributed to a systemic failure in central planning. Encouraged by unrealistic expectations for agricultural productivity gains from collectivization, the government switched to an accelerated and infeasible timetable for industrialization. Consequently, it diverted massive amounts of agricultural resources to industry and imposed excessive grain procurement burdens on peasants, leaving them with insufficient food to sustain labour productivity. Grain output fell sharply at the onset of these policies and started to recover gradually when the policies were reversed. Official data and our supplementary survey data support the theoretical prediction regarding the dynamic progression of the disaster. They also show that over 80% of the decline in grain output is attributable to the policies of excessive procurement and resource diversion.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 2824.

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Date of creation: Jun 2001
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:2824
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  1. Ravallion, Martin, 1996. "Famines and economics," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1693, The World Bank.
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  9. MacLeod W. Bentley, 1993. "The Role of Exit Costs in the Theory of Cooperative Teams: A Theoretical Perspective," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 521-529, June.
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