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The Institutional Causes of China's Great Famine, 1959-61

  • Meng, Xin
  • Qian, Nancy
  • Yared, Pierre

This paper investigates the institutional causes of China's Great Famine. It presents two empirical findings: 1) in 1959, when the famine began, food production was almost three times more than population subsistence needs; and 2) regions with higher per capita food production that year suffered higher famine mortality rates, a surprising reversal of a typically negative correlation. A simple model based on historical institutional details shows that these patterns are consistent with government policy failure in a centrally planned economy in which the government is unable to easily collect and respond to new information in the presence of an aggregate shock to production.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 8012.

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Date of creation: Sep 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:8012
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  1. Carol H. Shiue, 2002. "Transport Costs and the Geography of Arbitrage in Eighteenth-Century China," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1406-1419, December.
  2. Martin L. Weitzman, 1967. "Iterative Multi-Level Planning with Production Targets," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 239, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  3. Dasgupta, Partha & Ray, Debraj, 1986. "Inequality as a Determinant of Malnutrition and Unemployment: Theory," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 96(384), pages 1011-34, December.
  4. Kevin H. O'Rourke, 1993. "The economic impact of the famine in the short and long run," Working Papers 199331, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
  5. Shiue, Carol H., 2004. "Local Granaries and Central Government Disaster Relief: Moral Hazard and Intergovernmental Finance in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century China," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 64(01), pages 100-124, March.
  6. Ravallion, Martin, 1996. "Famines and economics," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1693, The World Bank.
  7. Zeckhauser, Richard J, 1996. "The Economics of Catastrophes," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 12(2-3), pages 113-40, May.
  8. Lin, Justin Yifu & Yang, Dennis Tao, 2000. "Food Availability, Entitlements and the Chinese Famine of 1959-61," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 110(460), pages 136-58, January.
  9. repec:oup:restud:v:41:y:1974:i:4:p:477-91 is not listed on IDEAS
  10. Justin Yifu Lin, 1990. "Collectivization and China's Agricultural Crisis in 1959-1961," UCLA Economics Working Papers 579, UCLA Department of Economics.
  11. Matthew E. Kahn, 2005. "The Death Toll from Natural Disasters: The Role of Income, Geography, and Institutions," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 87(2), pages 271-284, May.
  12. Gale Johnson, D., 1998. "China's great famine: Introductory remarks," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 9(2), pages 103-109.
  13. Wei Li & Dennis Tao Yang, 2005. "The Great Leap Forward: Anatomy of a Central Planning Disaster," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 113(4), pages 840-877, August.
  14. Dennis Tao Yang, 2007. "China's Agricultural Crisis and Famine of 1959-61: A Survey and Comparison to Soviet Famines," Working Papers e07-4, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Department of Economics.
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