Small Works

Small Works: Poverty and Economic Development in Southwestern China

John A. Donaldson
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Small Works
    Book Description:

    How can policymakers effectively reduce poverty? Most mainstream economists advocate promoting economic growth, on the grounds that it generally reduces poverty while bringing other economic benefits. However, this dominant hypothesis offers few alternatives for economies that are unable to grow, or in places where economic growth fails to reduce or actually exacerbates poverty. In Small Works, John A. Donaldson draws on his extensive fieldwork in two Chinese provinces-Yunnan and Guizhou-that are exceptions to the purported relationship between economic growth and poverty reduction. In Yunnan, an outward-oriented developmental state, one that focuses on large-scale, urban development, has largely failed to reduce poverty, even though it succeeded in stimulating economic growth. Provincial policy shaped roads, tourism, and mining in ways that often precluded participation by poor people. By contrast, Guizhou is a micro-oriented state, one that promotes small-scale, low-skill economic opportunities-and so reduces poverty despite slow economic growth. It is no coincidence that this Guizhou approach parallels the ideas encapsulated in the "scientific development view" of China's current president Hu Jintao. After all, Hu, when Guizhou's leader, helped establish the micro-oriented state in the province. Donaldson's conclusions have implications for our understanding of development and poverty reduction, economic change in China, and the thinking behind China's policy decisions.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6277-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Figures, Tables, and Maps
    (pp. viii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  6. Chinese Terms
    (pp. xiv-xvi)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    Is economic growth good for the poor? In theory, yes. With increasing wealth, the poor should benefit along with everyone else. This argument has long prevailed in the thinking of scholars of development and poverty. Back in the eighteenth century, Adam Smith emphasized the benefits for the poor of a growing economy (Gilbert 1997). The arguments of this lonely voice have now been widely accepted, and by the mid-twentieth century, development scholars of most ideological stripes agreed that economic growth was necessary for the long-term reduction of poverty. Many took this idea further, maintaining that such growth was the most...

  8. 1 Guizhou and Yunnan in Comparison
    (pp. 21-36)

    Just as a detective scrutinizes numerous suspects implicated in a murder mystery, so we must assess the extent of involvement of various candidate factors—geographical, natural, demographic, cultural, economic, and political—in the present puzzle. For instance, if the weather was worse in Yunnan than in Guizhou, it could reduce agricultural production quite dramatically, but it might not directly affect industrial development. Similarly, if the rural (especially poor) population of Yunnan expanded faster than that of Guizhou, farmers would have more mouths to feed, which could stretch their meager funds and directly increase poverty headcounts. High population growth rates might...

  9. 2 Why Do Similar Areas Adopt Different Developmental Strategies?
    (pp. 37-60)

    The top leaders of Guizhou and Yunnan set about establishing and implementing strikingly dissimilar strategies to effect economic improvements. Even the goals pursued were markedly different. Why did the leaders of two similar provinces do so? After all, these leaders faced similar challenges, operated in similar contexts, and answered to the same vigilant and opinionated bosses in the central government. So we expect them to have adopted similar policies and approaches. Were the contrasting strategies adopted due to initiatives from provincial leaders, some centrally initiated experiment, a historical or geographical factor, or a combination of these factors? My evidence suggests...

  10. 3 Roads: Building Connections to Markets
    (pp. 61-77)

    In an administrative village in northwestern Guizhou, a large crowd of farmers, carrying heavy loads of fresh-cut vegetables on their back, had gathered. An informal weighing station had been set up, and the villagers waited patiently as men in a large green truck weighed and purchased their produce. This truck turned out to be a green China Post truck, like those common in cities throughout China. These middlemen had somehow gotten hold of the truck, which they used to transport their purchases in bulk to larger markets in Bijie and Guiyang, where greater demand and higher prices awaited. The farmers,...

  11. 4 Migration: Go East, Young Man (and Woman)
    (pp. 78-101)

    The livelihood of the Zhaos, a Miao family living in impoverished Leishan county (the name means “Thunder Mountain”) in Guizhou was greatly enhanced by the work of their indomitable daughter. At a relatively young age, this remarkable young woman made the arduous trek to Guangdong province, one of the wealthiest areas in China, to seek work. There, she was quite fortunate; she found work in a small shop, helping with sales and stocking inventory. Her hard work earned her several hundred yuan per month, most of which she sent back home to support her parents and younger brother. In spite...

  12. 5 Tourism: Joyous Village Life
    (pp. 102-129)

    My traveling companion and I finally arrived after our full-day hike through the heart of Thunder Mountain, a poor rural county in southeastern Guizhou. Turning the bend, we spotted the traditional wooden houses with ornate window frames of Upper Langde, the Miao village that was our destination. The sun was beginning to set over the black tile roofs and the smoking chimneys as we entered the central square, active with Chinese and foreign tourists bargaining with villagers who were selling embroidered clothing, Miao-style combs, and bamboo pipe instruments. Pursuing the sound of wind instruments and firecrackers, we caught up with...

  13. 6 Coal Mining: Black Gold
    (pp. 130-149)

    The man’s story was as surprising as it was haunting. In a guesthouse in the Guizhou town of Bakai early in my travels, I sat transfixed as Mr. Liu described how he made his living. In the off-season, this farmer organized several of his neighbors to mine coal. This small group of men, armed with pickaxes and other simple tools, together went into a pit mine and extracted the coal, which they then sold directly to a local brickmaker. (This was not quite as informal as it sounds—they obtained the necessary licenses from the local township government and filed...

  14. Conclusion: The Micro-Oriented State, Development, and Poverty
    (pp. 150-172)

    Scholars have long promoted numerous pathways to reducing poverty in the developing world, incorporating different state strategies, capacities, and roles. Some argue that poverty reduction is best accomplished when the state removes itself as much as possible from economic decision making while proactively facilitating the ability of the market to stimulate the economy and reduce poverty. Others counter that poverty reduction is best accomplished when the state adopts a leading role in establishing industries that provide employment for poor people, allowing them to shift from agriculture to the more productive industrial sector. Still others argue that poverty diminishes when the...

  15. Appendix: Methodology and Case Selection
    (pp. 173-194)
  16. References
    (pp. 195-214)
  17. Index
    (pp. 215-222)