Yuen Yuen Ang

Mar 29, 2021

China's Gilded Age

The Paradox of Economic Boom and Vast Corruption

Cambridge University Press 2020

How do we make sense of the “durability and gigantic scale” of China’s economic expansion alongside the reports of “rising” and “explosive” corruption? How has China moved from an “impoverished communist regime to a capitalist superpower rivaling the United States” despite a crisis of corruption that its own leadership describes as “gave” and “shocking”? Dr. Yuen Yuen Ang’s her new book China’s Gilded Age: The Paradox of Economic Boom and Vast Corruption (Cambridge University Press, 2020) argues corruption comes in different forms and she “unbundles” different types of corruption to explain not only why China can boom but why political scientists need to “fundamentally revise our believes about the relationship between corruption and capitalism.” The book demystifies the Chinese paradox of growth with corruption by unbundling the four types of corruption and placing China in comparative-historical perspective. China is an outlier but not in the ways that most analysts assume. The closest parallel is the United States in the late 19th century, a gilded age characterized by both feverish growth and glaring inequality, conniving plutocrats and corrupt politicians. The book offers a four-part explanation for this paradox focused on the dominant type of corruption (access money which stimulates growth but generates distortions and risks), the relationship between the profit sharing model (where the rewards of leaders and bureaucrats are linked to economic performance) and access money, the role of capacity-building reforms in curtailing corruption involving theft and speed money, and the checking of predatory corruption by regional competition (spurring development and deal-making).

Dr. Yuen Yuen Ang is an associate professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan. She works at the intersection of business, governance, and innovation to better understand how governments and organizations respond to deep uncertainty and complex, novel problems and which institutions are able to adapt. She considers China’s Gilded Age to be a sequel to her award-winning book, How China Escaped the Poverty Trap (Cornell University Press, 2016) and you can hear her conversation with my NBN colleague here. Dr. Ang translates her ideas to wider audiences in Foreign Affairs, Project Syndicate, and the South China Morning Post.

Susan Liebell is an associate professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Why Diehard Originalists Aren’t Really Originalists recently appeared in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage and Retreat from the Rule of Law: Locke and the Perils of Stand Your Ground” was published in the Journal of Politics (July 2020). Email her comments at sliebell@sju.edu or tweet to @SusanLiebell.

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Susan Liebell is Dirk Warren '50 Professor of Political Science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

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