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Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 26 No. 4 (Fall 2012)

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Understanding China's Growth: Past, Present, and Future

Article Citation

Zhu, Xiaodong. 2012. "Understanding China's Growth: Past, Present, and Future." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 26(4): 103-24.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.26.4.103

Abstract

The pace and scale of China's economic transformation have no historical precedent. In 1978, China was one of the poorest countries in the world. The real per capita GDP in China was only one-fortieth of the U.S. level and one-tenth the Brazilian level. Since then, China's real per capita GDP has grown at an average rate exceeding 8 percent per year. As a result, China's real per capita GDP is now almost one-fifth the U.S. level and at the same level as Brazil. This rapid and sustained improvement in average living standard has occurred in a country with more than 20 percent of the world’s population so that China is now the second-largest economy in the world. I will begin by discussing briefly China's historical growth performance from 1800 to 1950. I then present growth accounting results for the period from 1952 to 1978 and the period since 1978, decomposing the sources of growth into capital deepening, labor deepening, and productivity growth. But the main focus of this paper will be to examine the sources of growth since 1978, the year when China started economic reform. Perhaps surprisingly, given China's well-documented sky-high rates of saving and investment, I will argue that China’s rapid growth over the last three decades has been driven by productivity growth rather than by capital investment. I also examine the contributions of sector-level productivity growth, and of resource reallocation across sectors and across firms within a sector, to aggregate productivity growth. Overall, gradual and persistent institutional change and policy reforms that have reduced distortions and improved economic incentives are the main reasons for the productivity growth.

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Authors

Zhu, Xiaodong (U Toronto)

JEL Classifications

E23: Macroeconomics: Production
I31: General Welfare
N15: Economic History: Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations: Asia including Middle East
O11: Macroeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
O47: Measurement of Economic Growth; Aggregate Productivity; Cross-Country Output Convergence
P24: Socialist Systems and Transitional Economies: National Income, Product, and Expenditure; Money; Inflation

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