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The Razor's Edge: Distortions and Incremental Reform in the People's Republic of China

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  • Alwyn Young

Abstract

In a partially reformed economy, distortions beget distortions. Segments of the economy which are freed from centralized control respond to the rent seeking opportunities implicit in the remaining distortions of the economy. The battle to capture, and then protect, these rents leads to the creation of new distortions, even as the reform process tries to move forward. In this paper I illustrate this idea with a study of the People's Republic of China. Under the plan, prices were skewed so as to concentrate profits, and hence revenue, in industry. As control over factor allocations was loosened, local governments throughout the economy sought to capture these rents by developing high margin industries. Continued reform, and growing interregional competition between duplicative industries, threatened the profitability of these industrial structures, leading local governments to impose a variety of interregional barriers to trade. Thus, the reform process led to the fragmentation of the domestic market and the distortion of regional production away from patterns of comparative advantage.

Suggested Citation

  • Alwyn Young, 2000. "The Razor's Edge: Distortions and Incremental Reform in the People's Republic of China," NBER Working Papers 7828, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7828
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Dewatripont, Mathias & Roland, Gerard, 1995. "The Design of Reform Packages under Uncertainty," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(5), pages 1207-1223, December.
    2. Alwyn Young, 2000. "Gold into Base Metals: Productivity Growth in the People's Republic of China during the Reform Period," NBER Working Papers 7856, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Kevin M. Murphy & Andrei Shleifer & Robert W. Vishny, 1992. "The Transition to a Market Economy: Pitfalls of Partial Reform," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(3), pages 889-906.
    4. Cesar Martinelli & Mariano Tommasi, 1993. "Sequencing of Economic Reforms in the Presence of Political Constraints," UCLA Economics Working Papers 701, UCLA Department of Economics.
    5. Gary H. Jefferson & Thomas G. Rawski, 1994. "Enterprise Reform in Chinese Industry," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 8(2), pages 47-70, Spring.
    6. Perkins, Dwight Heald, 1988. "Reforming China's Economic System," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 26(2), pages 601-645, June.
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    JEL classification:

    • P2 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Systems and Transition Economies

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