Throw another stone in the river, Paul Carttar

Fascinating article in the New Yorker on the head economist of the World Bank, who’s Chinese, and his relationship to China’s boom. For me the most intriguing parts are the implications of the boom for our understanding of the relationship between markets and democracy. As I’ve been saying, the two aren’t inexorably linked (an insight I owe to Jeff Weintraub from a political science seminar lo these many years ago at Williams College). China’s the best example of this: an opening up of markets happening comfortably under an authoritarian regime, and flourishing. At least for the moment; the reaction to the Nobel Peace Prize being given to a leading Tiananmen dissident is indicative of some of the tensions behind the model.

But what’s interesting about the China boom for current philanthropic discussions is the country’s approach to scale. The article describes the policies of the three main economic reformers, Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun, and Zhao Ziyang:

“Of all their principles, the most important was the willingness to experiment and adapt. When the villagers of Xiaogang and elsewhere stumbled on success, Party leaders expanded their initiative to eight hundred million farmers around the country.”

Sounds like a typical command-and-control economy; what the center says is imposed everywhere – an approach very compatible with authoritarianism, some would say ideally suited. But wait for it:

“China’s reforms had no blueprint. The strategy, as Chen Yen put it, was ‘crossing the river by feeling for the stones.'”

Now there’s a twist: not that they were making it up as they went along, but that they were taking a Social Innovation Fund-style approach to looking for strong local solutions and providing funding to implement them on a large scale.¬†Interesting that the type of political regime best able to take advantage of such an approach (expanding to eight hundred million people!)¬†is an authoritarian one. Talk about varieties of capitalism….


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One Response to “Throw another stone in the river, Paul Carttar”

  1. The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" » Blog Archive » Stones in the river (continued) Says:

    […] The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" BETA version, new title in the works. New post each Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday (for now). « Throw another stone in the river, Paul Carttar […]

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