Chinese / English
Home >> Academic Events >>  World Famous Economists InterviewWorld Famous Economists Interview
ENF Interview-Pol Antràs、Hans Michael Trautwein、Jack A. Goldstone、Yuk-fai Fong

 

 

NEF

How to innovate the theory of Economics? How to publish an article in an international top journal? Can you give an introduction about the theoretical innovation of the articles/papers that Chinese scholars have published in a top international journal?

 

Pol Antràs:Publishing in top journal in Economics is now harder than ever before. The number of Ph.D. researchers in Economics has greatly increased in recent years, yet the number of papers published in the most distinguished journals in Economics has essentially remained flat. Many papers published in a top journal in Economics now offer a combination of theoretical methods and empirical ones, and as a result, co-authorship is much more frequent these days than in the past. It is hard to pinpoint particular types of innovations associated with Chinese scholars, but it strikes me that Econometrics is a field in which Chinese scholars have made particularly path breaking contributions. There is also a very active literature studying the recent evolution of the Chinese economy, and many important contributions to that literature have been at least co-authored by Chinese economists.

 

Hans Michael Trautwein:Three big questions – and no simple answers, at least not to the first two of them.


First question: There are no cooking recipes for innovations. They are, by definition new, ways of thinking – different from existing approaches; and they vary a lot, depending on the field of specialization in which they are made, on the questions tackled, the methods used etc. However, one thing can be said in general: It is important to create environments that are favourable to innovations. Researchers need resources (access to data, labs etc.) and networks for peer review in seminars, conferences, journals; but most importantly they need (1) time to think, and (2) freedom to think “out of the box”. Too many researchers stick to their own perceptions of current modelling conventions, political correctness and fashionable topics. In search for their career slots, they thus blind themselves for opportunities to innovate economic thinking.


Second question: Publishing in international top journals requires brilliant ideas, writing skills and good networks for pre-submission peer review. Even if you have all of this, it may not be enough. You may have to show a “track record” of publications in other journals, and you may need a great portion of luck with the referees and editors. Even at the top journals, not all referees are diligent and unbiased experts. It is not necessarily the best strategy to try with the top journals only. Sometimes it is better to submit the paper to a less highly ranked journal that is closer to your research and has competent editors and referees. You may get more readers, more citations and a track record that increases your chances to get into a top journal later on.


Third question: My knowledge of what Chinese scholars have achieved in top international journals is very limited. For present purposes, I would single out two articles by Chinese scholars in international top journals that have impressed me. The first is Chenggang Xu’s article on “The fundamental institutions of China’s reforms and development” (Journal of Economic Literature 49, 2011), which describes the institutional dynamics of China’s economic development in terms of governance structures, in which central control over personnel is combined with decentralized and partly competitive control over local resources. The second article is the paper by Jiangdong Ju, Justin Yifu Lin and Yong Wang on “Endowment structures, industrial dynamics, and economic growth” (Journal of Monetary Economics 76, 2015), which is noteworthy for its thorough and general analysis of the role that capital accumulation plays for sectoral structural change and endogenous economic growth.

 

Jack A. Goldstone:First, it is important to recognize that Chinese economics was destroyed by Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as the dominant theory of economics up to 1980; this was simply not a fruitful approach to innovation in modern economics.  So only Chinese economists trained in the US or in China since about 2000 would have the basic training to make contributions to top international economics journals.  This means that there are no Chinese economists with long lists of highly-cited articles. The most-cited Chinese economist on the IDEAS ranking of highly-cited economists is Shang-jin Wei of Tsinghua University – however, he has done much of his work in collaboration with US economists.


In a way, this is surprising.  The way to publish an article in a top journal is to offer a solution to a puzzle of wide interest.  One of the most interesting puzzles in economics today is why China has been able to sustain rapid economic growth for decades, despite having characteristics – major state intervention in firms and markets, rampant corruption, limited transparency of data, a controlled currency, and strict control of information – that most western economists would say should hinder growth.  Yet most Chinese economists have not published original theories to explain China’s economic growth.  The best work on this by Chinese economists in my view is by Chinese scholars working in America: Victor Nee at Cornell and Nan Lin at Duke.  Both are economic sociologists rather than economists but that makes sense, as one has to account for China’s social organization to make sense of why its economy has grown so much despite what conventional economics would see as limitations.


While a great deal of research has been published by Chinese economists analyzing elements of the Chinese economy, and with growing rigor in data and analysis, Chinese economists have not put forth new theories or original solutions to the overall puzzle.  Nor have they tackled broader problems in economics in general, preferring to stay focused on China.   An interesting contrast is with economists from India – Abhijit Banerjee, who developed the application of randomized control field experiments to economic development policies; Amartya Sen, who won a Nobel prize for early work on formalizing welfare economics and the theory of famines; Jagdish Baghwati, who did pioneering work in international trade theory;  Partha Dasgupta who is widely regarded as the world expert on poverty; and many others such as Raghuran Rajan, Avniash Dixit, T.N. Srinivasan, Tapan Mitra.  Indian economists are well-represented in top-ranked journals and the top American and European economics departments.  They did this by tacking big problems, developing new mathematical or experimental methods of analysis, and developing original theories to solve major puzzles.

 

Yuk-fai Fong:Answer: Many thanks for inviting me for the interview. I think many Chinese scholars are much more qualified than me to answer these questions, but I am happy to share my personal opinion. Regarding how to make innovation in economic theory, I don’t think there is a teachable approach or formula to come up with new ideas. Some people simply have a lot of ideas, but others struggle to think differently from what is known in the literature. It’s especially difficult for PhD students to come up with their own ideas, but it gets easier with experience. I think critical thinking is very important. When I read works in the existing literature, I would constantly ask, “Are the assumptions made in the paper reasonable? What if an important assumption is changed? Would we get very different findings?” For those who struggle to come up with their own ideas but are strong in technical skills, I suggest that they first collaborate with others who have more new ideas. They can contribute with their mathematical and problem-solving skills. After they get through a couple of collaborative projects, they probably would become better thinkers and start to come up with their own ideas. 


On the question of how to publish in top journals, I can only speak from my experience working in the field of applied microeconomic theory. To publish in a Top-5 international journal, the paper has to contain a non-trivial theoretical contribution and has at least some real-life relevance. If either one element is lacking, the chance of getting into a top journal is very slim. Therefore, apart from producing a sound and innovative theory, it is important to write a good introduction and convince the reader that your theory helps us better understand real-life phenomena.


Finally, I would like to remark that for PhD students who aspire to be a theorist, I strongly encourage them to tool up with mathematical skills. No one can effectively teach you how to come up with new ideas, but everyone can try to improve his/her mathematics. Unsolved theoretical issues in Economics have become increasingly mathematical. Also, for the same idea one conceives, with better mathematical skills, he/she can explore the idea with more depth and this can improve the chance of getting the paper into a top journal.


It is difficult to give an introduction on the theoretical innovations by Chinese scholars because these contributions are made in various ares of Economics. I’m happy to say that it is not uncommon for Chinese economists to publish in the top-5 economics journals. Generally it is very difficult to publish in these journals and it is even harder to publish serially in these journals. On the other hand, many Chinese scholars are able to do that and some of them have published five times or more. These scholars include Professors Jushan BAI, Xiaohong CHEN, Han HONG, Hanming FANG, Qingmin LIU, Shouyong SHI, Lungfei LI, Wing SUEN, Serena Ng, Shang-Jin WEI, Wei XIONG, Junsen ZHANG, etc. I’m sure I’ve made important omissions.

 

NEF

What is the most interesting topic about the economic development in China and other developing countries among the international academic circles? What is the problem that the international academic circles think it is worth to discuss in depth in theory?


Jack A. Goldstone:There are two topics (1) Why has China’s economy has succeeded so remarkably well, rising to become the 2nd largest in the world; and (2) Why have only some other developing countries have followed, mainly in Asia, while countries in Africa remain mostly poor and countries in north Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia as well as parts of Latin American and south Asia, though no longer impoverished, struggle to sustain growth.   In regard to both questions, there are many specific puzzles – how important is human capital vs. financial and physical capital?  How important is technological progress and can it deliver a new phase of rapid growth?  How important is sound monetary and fiscal policy?  How important is rule of law and curbing corruption?   Is labor-intensive manufacturing the only path from poverty to middle income, or are there other pathways with more emphasis on services and capital-intensive infrastructure?   Will automation and artificial intelligence yield more jobs and great growth or prove an obstacle to developing countries achieving their own widespread increases in income?

 

Pol Antràs:I would highlight three aspects of the economic development in China that have been of particular interest to scholars. First, many people have studies the symbiosis between state-owned and private companies, and how the capital and labor markets in China is shaped by the coexistence of these type of firms.Second, there has been a keen interest in the massive migration of labor from the hinterland in China to coastal areas where manufacturing (at least initially) was flourishing. Third, international trade economists have been keen on understanding the spectacular growth of Chinese exports to many developed countries (particularly the U.S.) and how that has shaped labor markets in those developed economies. Of course there are many other fascinating aspects of the Chinese economy, but these three are ones I am particularly familiar with.

 

Hans Michael Trautwein:The two articles that I have singled out in responding to the third question of block (1) characterize two out of the three currently most relevant topics concerning economic development in China and elsewhere. They relate both to central challenges of transformational growth that China is facing at present. I see three problems that international academic circles consider requiring deeper analysis:

(a) the potentials for economic performance and conflict in China’s structures of political governance,

(b) the industrial dynamics required for smooth structural change and sustainable growth after an extraordinary process of high-speed catching-up, and

(c) the long-term prospects of involvement of China in the world economy, both in the structures of production (global value chains) and the structures of finance (exchange rates and financial stability).

 

Yuk-fai Fong:Answer: I’m sorry that I’m not an expert in economic development in China so I’m afraid that I am unable to provide an insightful answer to this important question.

 


NEF

At present, which Chinese scholar is worthy of attention in the world economics circle? And why?

 


Hans Michael Trautwein:Chinese scholars may attract attention from the international community of economists for different reasons, which reflect a certain division of labour (or tasks) within the discipline: for example, research achievements, political advice, and management of scientific progress. There is always a risk of putting forward some names, as others equally worthy to be mentioned are ignored. From the perspective of my own academic work I would nevertheless like to name:

 Chenggang Xu as representative for multi-faceted scholarly work that helps the world to understand China

 Justin Yifu Lin for building a theoretical vision of China’s economic development that is internationally highly visible

 Yingyi Qian for skilfully playing the role of an academic entrepreneur who develops the professional training and research of young economists in China with an eye to global communication.

 

Yuk-fai Fong:Answer: Quite a number of famous Chinese scholars have made significant contributions to the field of economics. I have a great deal of respect for them and it is hard to single out one or two as most worthy of attention. Instead, I can talk about a couple of younger rising stars. They are Professor Zhiguo He of University of Chicago and Professor Qingmin Liu of Columbia University. They are respectively Full Professor and Tenured Associate Professor at top universities and are respected scholars in their respective fields. Since they’re still young, they have a great deal of potential to accomplish even more and that’s why I think they’re worthy of attention.

 

Pol Antràs:I am not sure I could single out just one, and even mentioning a few would probably get me in trouble (due to omissions). Within the field of Econometrics, I would highlight Gregory Chow among the older cohort and Xiaohong Chen among younger cohorts, who have provided path-breaking contributions. In my field (International Economics), an obvious name that comes to mind is Shang-Jin Wei, who has done highly creative work in both international trade and international finance topics.

 

Jack A. Goldstone:As I said, I think Victor Nee and Nan Lin, though economic sociologists, are more worthy of attention by economists.  But they are certainly well known.  Several Chinese scholars worthy of attention are Justin Lin for his experience in shaping development policy at the World Bank; Andy Xie for his radical views on China’s economy; Larry Lau for his construction of a detailed model of the Chinese economy; and David Daokui Li for his work on Chinese monetary policy.


 

 

◆please indicate the source if authorized: National Economics Foundation

◆photo:National Economics Foundation