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Reexamining China’s Economic Growth: Law, Finance, and Political Economy. Franklin Allen University of Pennsylvania Jun Qian Boston College Advanced Summer Training Program in Finance Chengdu, China July 8, 2007. Introduction.

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Reexamining china s economic growth law finance and political economy

Reexamining China’s Economic Growth: Law, Finance, and Political Economy

Franklin Allen

University of Pennsylvania

Jun Qian

Boston College

Advanced Summer Training Program in Finance

Chengdu, China

July 8, 2007


  • Back in 1960s, developing countries chosen by the World Bank and other experts’ to have the highest economic growth in the next 40 years

  • The economic achievements of China in the last twenty-eight years have been quite remarkable

  • It is one of the great economic transformations in history

When will china overtake the u s
When will China overtake the U.S.?

  • Using IMF 2006 estimates:

    • China: $10.1 trillion; growth rates from 1990-2005 of 10.1%

    • U.S.: $12.9 trillion; growth rates during same period of 3.0

    • Extrapolating (a big assumption!): China will become the world’s largest economy in 2010.

  • 2015: China PPP GDP = 1.5 × US PPP GDP

  • 2020: China PPP GDP = 2 × US PPP GDP

Other successful economies
Other Successful Economies

Only three large economies have been as successful:

  • Japan

  • South Korea

  • Taiwan

    China can do better but no large country has done so by a significant amount and in such a short period of time

Other successful economies cont
Other Successful Economies (cont.)

  • In recent years India has also been remarkably successful

  • Not as successful as China

  • Contrast with its own past (1950-1980) and with China is informative

Key questions
Key Questions

  • What economic lessons can be learned from the remarkable performance of China and India?

  • Are they simply applying the conventional wisdom?

  • Or are they doing something fundamentally different that (Western) economists have yet to fully understand?

Conventional wisdom
Conventional Wisdom

  • What is needed for a successful economy and a high growth rate is:

    • Good legal system

    • Good financial system

    • Good corporate governance

    • Good (non-corrupt) government (Acemoglu and Johnson 2005)

Conventional wisdom cont d
Conventional Wisdom (cont’d)

  • Literature on law and finance:

    • Stronger legal protection of investors is associated with more efficient institutions and better financial and economic ‘outcomes’

      (La Porta, Lopez-de-Silanes, Shleifer, and Vishny (LLSV; 97, 98, 99, 00))

  • Literature on finance and growth:

    • The development of financial system (stock market and intermediation sector) contributes to overall economic growth (McKinnon 73, King & Levine 93, Levine 97, Levine & Zervos 98)

    • Evidence at industry- and firm-levels (Rajan and Zingales 98)

  • Literature on law, finance, and growth:

    • Country level evidence: Levine (99)

    • Evidence at industry level (Beck and Levine 02) and firm level (Demirguc-Kunt & Maksimovic 98)

Alternative views
Alternative Views

Political economy factors

  • Great reversals (Rajan & Zingales 03a): Argentina

  • Legal system becomes captured by special interest groups who obtain rents and they prevent change – “Save Capitalism from the Capitalists” (Rajan and Zingales 03b)

Alternative views cont
Alternative Views (cont.)

  • China as a counter-example to law, finance and growth literature:

    • One of the largest and fastest growing economies despite its poor legal and financial systems and a corrupt and autocratic government;

    • Alternative and informal financing and governance mechanisms have substituted for formal channels and mechanisms

      (Allen, Qian and Qian 05)

  • India as a counter-example

    • India inherited the best legal system in terms of investor and shareholder protection

    • Because of corruption and ineffective enforcement the legal system is not used very much

    • Again Alternative and informal financing and governance mechanisms have substituted for formal channels and mechanisms

      (Allen, Chakrabarti, De, Qian, and Qian 07)


  • What lessons can we draw from these alternative views?

  • China is the extreme example of the “Eastern Model”

  • In the West people take it as given that finance and commerce should be undertaken using the law as the basis for contracts (“Western Model”)

Lessons cont
Lessons (cont.)

What should China do going forward?

“The modern corporation on a Western model would be the essential vehicle for private economic development”

Lessons cont1
Lessons (cont.)

  • This was not written today but rather was the view of the drafters of China’s first Company Law in 1904 (Gongsilu)

  • It turned out to be very wide of the mark (Kirby 1995)

  • Chinese firms on the mainland and later in Taiwan did not use the provisions of the law but again conducted commerce outside the legal system

Alternatives to the legal system in china
Alternatives to the legal system in China

  • Historically, China did not use the legal system in commerce

  • However, it had a highly commercialized society (late 19th Century to early 20th Century)

  • How did this operate?

  • Other systems for dispute resolution were used instead

Alternatives to the legal system in china cont
Alternatives to the legal system in China (cont.)

Dispute resolution (see Kirby 95):

  • Longstanding custom

  • Regulation of Guilds and Families

  • Local notables

    We need to better understand modern equivalents

Alternatives to the legal system in china cont1
Alternatives to the legal system in China (cont.)

  • The alternative to law in assuring performance is other mechanisms such as

    • Reputation

    • Connections and networks

    • Positive financial incentives

Law finance and commerce
Law, finance and commerce

  • The alternatives that China has traditionally used raises the issue of what are the advantages and disadvantages of making the law the basis for finance and commerce


  • Criminal law

    • Can use criminal penalties such as imprisonment to affect people’s behavior and provide high-powered incentives

  • Civil law

    • Can use financial penalties to affect behavior

  • The legal process can be anonymous and transparent


  • Political economy factors suggested by Rajan and Zingales and others

    • Difficult to change the system if circumstances change and a new set of rules becomes optimal

    • Any change must be passed by the government

    • Interest groups may try to prevent such changes if it affects the rents they obtain

Disadvantages cont
Disadvantages (cont.)

  • In democracies the electorate has to be persuaded that the change is desirable despite the fact that they may have little information about the issues

  • There is a limited amount of time each year that can be devoted to financial and commercial laws

  • The legislature has a monopoly and is the only body that can make changes

When is the use of the legal system optimal
When is the use of the legal system optimal?

  • In a static environment where growth rates are low the advantages of using the law can outweigh the disadvantages

    • The incentives that can be provided by the legal system mean that efficient systems can be designed that do not rely solely on positive monetary incentives

    • The fact that change is difficult does not matter in such circumstances

When is the use of the legal system optimal cont
When is the use of the legal system optimal? (cont.)

  • In a dynamic environment barriers to change can outweigh the static incentive aspects

    • Rather than rely on incentives provided by legal mechanisms it’s necessary to rely on reputation, connections, and financial incentives

    • However, private systems can change much more quickly

    • Competition between different systems is possible and often the most efficient will prevail

Why is china successful
Why is China successful?

  • The conventional view is that China is successful despite it’s lack of Western institutions

  • The suggestion here is that China is successful because of it’s lack of Western institutions

Examples of inefficiencies
Examples of inefficiencies

  • US Payments System

Examples cont
Examples (cont.)

Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act

  • At the start of the 21st Century the US had a 19th Century payments system relying on checks and the mail

  • Checks had to be physically transported from where they were deposited to a central operations center, then to clearer and then back to the banks they were drawn on

  • September 11, 2001 acted as a catalyst for change

  • Act signed in October 2003 that allows electronic image to be a substitute

Examples cont1
Examples (cont.)

Google and the scanning of libraries

  • JSTOR is a great academic innovation

  • Google’s Print Library Project proposes to do a similar thing for books by scanning in the libraries of Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford Universities, the University of Michigan, and New York Public Library

  • Google has met tremendous opposition from publishers and this has slowed down the project considerably

Examples cont2
Examples (cont.)

Intellectual property

  • Shanghai saying: “We can copy everything except your mother”

  • Chery QQ appeared six months before the Chevy Spark which it was a copy of

  • Shanghuan Automobile’s CEO model is remarkably similar to a BMW X5

  • Legal action by foreign firms has been nearly useless in preventing this

  • Good or bad?

Examples cont3
Examples (cont.)


  • Economy is unbalanced relative to other emerging economies in that 52% of output is from services, 26% is from manufacturing and 22% is from agriculture (67% of workforce)

  • Manufacturing has not done well perhaps because it is constrained by unions and traditional political economy factors

  • New industries like software do well because they are not constrained by political economy factors

Examples cont4
Examples (cont.)

  • Diamond industry (Bernstein 92)

  • Mediaeval trade in the Mediterranean (Greif 89)

  • Mediaeval Bills of Exchange


  • China and India’s success contains important lessons

  • Using the law in finance and commerce is a Western idea

  • It can be optimal in static environments

Conclusions cont
Conclusions (cont.)

  • In dynamic environments such as China and India it may be better to use other mechanisms that do not rely on the law because this reduces the inefficiencies associated with political economy factors

  • Designing economic institutions that minimize political economy problems by not relying on the legal system is one of the keys to fast economic growth