How can one best explain China's remarkable economic growth during twenty-one years and its rise from autarky to world economic power? The exercise requires chutzpah; it demands simplification; it cries out for the trained capacity to present a unifying theme with a weighty set of policy implications. Fortunately the academic establishment possesses these traits in abundance. Examples range broadly from the socialist romantic to the capitalist romantics; the former believing that China has developed its own and specifically noncapitalist path, the latter that it is transforming itself into a free-market system.The two camps hurl paper missiles at each other in a satisfying postlude to the Cold War.
But this battle is not, alas, about China. At least, it is not about China specifically. It is about economics, the economics profession, the indoctrination of students and policy analysts, and the politically and academically correct set of beliefs for those who practice development. As a result, it bears an eerie resemblance to the long history of policy discussions in China itself, which similarly are not about the actual problems of the country. Rather, they focus on the correct line and the ascendancy of adherents of one line over the adherents of another.