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NEF interview Jack A. Goldstone



How to innovate the theory of economics? How to publish an article in 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?


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.



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?


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?



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


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.



NEF now is awarding the China Economics Prize, do you think it is meaningful at present and is in the right time? What issues do you like to talk and discuss with Chinese scholars?


I think this is an excellent time to offer the CEP – most Chinese economists, understandably, have focused on work that serves the Chinese government in its efforts to monitor and strengthen China’s economy, but this does not lead to major theoretical papers or methodological innovation.  The CEP may help focus the attention of Chinese economists on broader problems in economic theory and methods and big puzzles that are not – or only indirectly – tied to China.  That may help China “catch up” with the large number of Indian economists who have developed global reputations as leading scholars.






◆please indicate the source if authorized: National Economics Foundation

◆photo:National Economics Foundation