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Why has China grown so fast for so long despite vast corruption? In China's Gilded Age, Yuen Yuen Ang maintains that all corruption is harmful, but not all types of corruption hurt growth. Ang unbundles corruption into four varieties: petty theft, grand theft, speed money, and access money. While the first three types impede growth, access money - elite exchanges of power Why has China grown so fast for so long despite vast corruption? In China's Gilded Age, Yuen Yuen Ang maintains that all corruption is harmful, but not all types of corruption hurt growth. Ang unbundles corruption into four varieties: petty theft, grand theft, speed money, and access money. While the first three types impede growth, access money - elite exchanges of power and profit - cuts both ways: it stimulates investment and growth but produces serious risks for the economy and political system. Since market opening, corruption in China has evolved toward access money. Using a range of data sources, the author explains the evolution of Chinese corruption, how it differs from the West and other developing countries, and how Xi's anti-corruption campaign could affect growth and governance. In this formidable yet accessible book, Ang challenges one-dimensional measures of corruption. By unbundling the problem and adopting a comparative-historical lens, she reveals that the rise of capitalism was not accompanied by the eradication of corruption, but rather by its evolution from thuggery and theft to access money. In doing so, she changes the way we think about corruption and capitalism, not only in China but around the world.


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Why has China grown so fast for so long despite vast corruption? In China's Gilded Age, Yuen Yuen Ang maintains that all corruption is harmful, but not all types of corruption hurt growth. Ang unbundles corruption into four varieties: petty theft, grand theft, speed money, and access money. While the first three types impede growth, access money - elite exchanges of power Why has China grown so fast for so long despite vast corruption? In China's Gilded Age, Yuen Yuen Ang maintains that all corruption is harmful, but not all types of corruption hurt growth. Ang unbundles corruption into four varieties: petty theft, grand theft, speed money, and access money. While the first three types impede growth, access money - elite exchanges of power and profit - cuts both ways: it stimulates investment and growth but produces serious risks for the economy and political system. Since market opening, corruption in China has evolved toward access money. Using a range of data sources, the author explains the evolution of Chinese corruption, how it differs from the West and other developing countries, and how Xi's anti-corruption campaign could affect growth and governance. In this formidable yet accessible book, Ang challenges one-dimensional measures of corruption. By unbundling the problem and adopting a comparative-historical lens, she reveals that the rise of capitalism was not accompanied by the eradication of corruption, but rather by its evolution from thuggery and theft to access money. In doing so, she changes the way we think about corruption and capitalism, not only in China but around the world.

30 review for China's Gilded Age: The Paradox of Economic Boom and Vast Corruption

  1. 5 out of 5

    Hadrian

    Yuen Yuen Ang has written thoughtful and deeply informative books on China before. Her last book, How China Escaped the Poverty Trap, uses systems theory, or the analysis and comparison of multiple different factors or systems to explain the story of Chinese economic development. This approach avoided the overly simplistic approach of saying only one factor or decision led to China's staggering social changes over the past 40 years. This new book asks another important question. Political scienc Yuen Yuen Ang has written thoughtful and deeply informative books on China before. Her last book, How China Escaped the Poverty Trap, uses systems theory, or the analysis and comparison of multiple different factors or systems to explain the story of Chinese economic development. This approach avoided the overly simplistic approach of saying only one factor or decision led to China's staggering social changes over the past 40 years. This new book asks another important question. Political science has asserted that corruption hinders economic growth. So how does China sustained growth for so long while dealing with endemic corruption? The first step of understanding this is "unbundling" corruption into four different types. The first is petty theft, where low level bureaucrats steal or extort - like a policeman blocking a road and asking for a 'toll'. The second is grand theft, where public funds are stolen on a larger scale - like a dictator emptying out public funds and then fleeing the country. That corruption is harmful to growth. But not all corruption is about theft. There is also 'exchange' corruption. 'Speed money' encompasses petty bribes that businesses pay to public officials to speed things up or get around hurdles - getting permits or avoiding regulations. And on a larger scale, there is 'access money' - where business pays off more powerful officials for exclusive rights and more valuable privileges. It is access money that provides the key to understanding how growth and corruption can go hand in hand. The CCP acts as a kind of 'profit-sharing' model, encouraging business investment and growth so long as they get a cut. This is an economy on steroids - rapid growth, but also with risk of distortion and other costs. This method of corruption was a workaround for low state capacity. Due to the enormous size of the CCP bureaucracy for many years, local officials had to subsist on poor wages; and attempts to raise wages would easily break local budgets. Tying 'fringe benefits' to specific offices was also a way to address low state capacity, and where it became personally profitable to encourage growth instead of only stealing. In more specific case studies, Ang examines other anti-corruption reforms; how 'access money' couldn't have taken off in the first place without discouraging grand theft and other predatory practices. Different regions of the country were then competing with each other to be the best for business and to invite investment. Nor, she cautions, would it be correct to assume 'corruption is good'. Access money still has its costs - and local government leaders can go down in flames should their powerful patrons withhold their support. And big leaders can promote risky investments and unbalanced development - begetting such problems as debt burdens and rampant speculation. Ang refrains from excessive moralizing for the better or for the worse about China - her business is in understanding or making comparisons. In the last chapters, she compares 21st century China to the 19th century United States, where pervasive corruption and vast economic growth go hand in hand. This is an uncommonly thoughtful work of political science, and I anticipate seeing these approaches on corruption or development applied elsewhere or studied further.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Eric Bottorff

    Yuen Yuen Ang has done it again—innovate research executed with the grounded, historically informed, intellectual rigor that characterized her first book. Can’t wait to see what she does next! 🤓

  3. 4 out of 5

    Miroslav Beblavy

    Fantastic book. Must-read for anyone interested in corruption, state-building or governance

  4. 5 out of 5

    Diego

    China’s Gilded Age es probablemente el trabajo sobre corrupción más sofisticado que he visto. Va más allá de los lugares comunes del institucionalismo “extractive institutions” y le da contexto al estudio de la corrupción en un genuino esfuerzo por entender y no solo por construir rankings. El trabajo busca resolver la aparente paradoja de como un país con tan elevados niveles de corrupción como China puede crecer tan rápido. La respuesta es que la corrupción es más complicada que lo que solemos China’s Gilded Age es probablemente el trabajo sobre corrupción más sofisticado que he visto. Va más allá de los lugares comunes del institucionalismo “extractive institutions” y le da contexto al estudio de la corrupción en un genuino esfuerzo por entender y no solo por construir rankings. El trabajo busca resolver la aparente paradoja de como un país con tan elevados niveles de corrupción como China puede crecer tan rápido. La respuesta es que la corrupción es más complicada que lo que solemos decir de ella, distintos tipos de corrupción so más o menos compatibles con el crecimiento y son dañinos para la sociedad de formas distintas. Yuen Yuen Ang compara a China con Estados Unidos de finales del siglo XIX la era de los rober barons, su gilded age y encuentra un gran paralelismo entre el desarrollo capitalista de Estados Unidos en ese periodo y el de China ahora, siendo el lobby, el dinero usado para abrir puertas de industrias e inversiones lo que domina el espectro de corrupción en China. Es el sistema chino de compartir las ganancias del desarrollo entre los distintos niveles de su burocracia lo que le da a la corrupción en China su particular forma, al alinear los incentivos de conseguir mejoras materiales en la comunidad como mecanismo para obtener ganancias materiales en el individuo. Es un libro muy bien escrito, muy fácil de leer, con aportaciones metodológicas a la medición de la corrupción y un gran estudio de casos de elites políticas y de la economía política en China. Ojalá en todo el mundo y en especial en México adoptáramos esta forma más compleja, más sofisticada, más contextual de estudiar la corrupción y otros fenómenos sociales.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tadeusz Pudlik

    A short book that discusses corruption in China during the "reform and opening" era. It's based on relatively thorough quantitative and qualitative research; I found it persuasive and informative. The central insight is that "corruption" needs to be unbundled to understand why it only sometimes hinders growth. The dominant mode of corruption in poor countries is theft (either small-scale or grand, by political elites) and "speed money" that greases the wheels of bureaucratic procedures. In contra A short book that discusses corruption in China during the "reform and opening" era. It's based on relatively thorough quantitative and qualitative research; I found it persuasive and informative. The central insight is that "corruption" needs to be unbundled to understand why it only sometimes hinders growth. The dominant mode of corruption in poor countries is theft (either small-scale or grand, by political elites) and "speed money" that greases the wheels of bureaucratic procedures. In contrast, in rich countries (and in China) the dominant mode is "access money": businessmen exchanging favors with high-level officials, enabling entirely new business opportunities. The author doesn't use such language, but this is an extension of entrepreneurship from the private to the public sphere. An individual or small group can instigate policy changes without a slow process of aligning many stakeholders; sometimes these policy changes are improvements, and both the individuals and the public benefit. Sometimes, of course, the public loses out, especially in the long run. In any case, things can move fast. This type of freewheeling, close relationship between business and political elites appears to have also prevailed in the US during the Gilded Age. Although the main point is reiterated a few times, on the whole the book is much more terse and consistently interesting than most popular nonfiction. Anyone with an interest in China or economic growth would enjoy reading it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    KT

    The book sets up a convincing argument that rejects the simplistic dichotomous view that corruption is either good or bad for growth, rather it maintains that all corruption is harmful, but this harm varies in terms of magnitude and timescale and the associated benefits can sometimes outweigh the harm The author uses a useful and clear 2x2 matrix to show different forms of corruption that both explains the Chinese Paradox of high corruption and growth as well as the apparent contradictions in Chi The book sets up a convincing argument that rejects the simplistic dichotomous view that corruption is either good or bad for growth, rather it maintains that all corruption is harmful, but this harm varies in terms of magnitude and timescale and the associated benefits can sometimes outweigh the harm The author uses a useful and clear 2x2 matrix to show different forms of corruption that both explains the Chinese Paradox of high corruption and growth as well as the apparent contradictions in China's political economy More broadly the book provides a framework to analyse and unbundle corruption in any country, by considering elites/non-elites and transactional/non-transactional corruption and contained deep, investigative qualitative research on the compensation of Chinese bureaucrats The case studies on Bo Xilai and Ji Jianye were illuminating and clearly demonstrated that corruption can bring investment and growth; access money in China has spurred politically connected capitalists to invest and build, while enabling politicians to achieve their development targets and ascend political ladders I did disagree with the author defining China as a capitalist dictatorship, given China's explicit commitment to Marxist Leninism and their clearly Socialist policies, which underlined the fact I thought the author's political economy analysis fell short, but this doesn't take away from the high quality of their overall analysis Highly recommended for anyone interested in China's modern development and corruption more generally

  7. 5 out of 5

    Matthijs

    Yuen Yuen Ang sets forth a novel argument on the sometimes beneficial relationship between corruption and economic growth, convincingly arguing for a new understanding of corruption, both intrinsically and from a comparative perspective between countries. While China's endemic corruption has drawn headlines for decades, and has been especially awarded attention since Xi's crackdown campaign (which has since turned into a new normal), the country simultaneously posted continuous high economic gro Yuen Yuen Ang sets forth a novel argument on the sometimes beneficial relationship between corruption and economic growth, convincingly arguing for a new understanding of corruption, both intrinsically and from a comparative perspective between countries. While China's endemic corruption has drawn headlines for decades, and has been especially awarded attention since Xi's crackdown campaign (which has since turned into a new normal), the country simultaneously posted continuous high economic growth figures. Ang shows, by unbundling corruption in China's economy, how access money plays an important role in accelerating economic growth since, in particular, the 1990s. The comparison with America's Gilded Age, which saw a similar symbiotic relationship between corruption and economic growth, is apt but not enough as a stand-alone example to argue how essentially nothing new's under the sun. As Ang admits herself, a lot more research is needed to show how corruption has developed in other countries and for what reason, in order for policymakers and academics to draw lessons and gain insight. Hopefully this call is taken up by other social scientists.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Zoltan Pogatsa

    This book helps your understanding of corruption become more nuanced. The author argues, convincingly I think, that there is growth enhancing corruption (access money, dominant in CHina and the USA), and there is grows arresting corruption, such as speed money (Russia) or elite theft (Nigeria). She also brings empirical evidence that Xi Jin Ping's anticorruption campaign is real, it is not simply a political weapon as many in the West claim, based on no more than prejudice. I wish the author woul This book helps your understanding of corruption become more nuanced. The author argues, convincingly I think, that there is growth enhancing corruption (access money, dominant in CHina and the USA), and there is grows arresting corruption, such as speed money (Russia) or elite theft (Nigeria). She also brings empirical evidence that Xi Jin Ping's anticorruption campaign is real, it is not simply a political weapon as many in the West claim, based on no more than prejudice. I wish the author would reflect upon her own country, Singapore. It is one of the least corrupt countries in the world, on par with Scandinavia. Why is it so uncorrupt, unlike similarly culturally Chinese PRC, Taiwan and Hong Kong? And how can it be so uncorrupt, if to the outside it is a corrupt tax haven?

  9. 4 out of 5

    Stefan

    A very good introduction to China's institutions of corruption (and acknowledgement of our own in America), with a well-rounded and disciplined approach to research and data analysis by the author. Writing style was not extremely engaging. A very good introduction to China's institutions of corruption (and acknowledgement of our own in America), with a well-rounded and disciplined approach to research and data analysis by the author. Writing style was not extremely engaging.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Fabio Franchino

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kara Sıçan

  12. 5 out of 5

    Donald Robotham

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tommy Yao

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mladen

  15. 5 out of 5

    Artemia

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jason

  17. 5 out of 5

    Emerson Wenzel

  18. 4 out of 5

    Louis

  19. 4 out of 5

    Hamsini Hariharan

  20. 5 out of 5

    Pritika Hingorani

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bruno

  22. 5 out of 5

    Greg

  23. 4 out of 5

    Anshuman Ghosh

  24. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  25. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Clough

  26. 4 out of 5

    Daniel.Yiu

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rhys Schmidtke

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mockracy1

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sverre Georg Moe

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tim Black

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