5 Insights on How China Lifted 800 Million People out of Poverty

5 Insights on How China Lifted 800 Million People Out of Poverty

By Nada Zohdy, Director of the Open Gov Hub

After a bit of a summer break, things are back in full swing here at the Open Gov Hub!

We're looking forward to many things this fall, including an impressive lineup of events this season, kicking off this Thursday, September 14th with How China Escaped the Poverty Trap: Exploring the Relationship between Governance and Economic Development.

Here are 5 reasons why we are especially looking forward to this week's special book talk and panel event.

1. China's recent economic growth is the most remarkable development story in history, yet it has been a head-scratching puzzle that isn't well understood.

How exactly did China go from having a GDP per capital similar to Zambia in 1978, to becoming the world's second largest economy and lifting 800 million people out of poverty? Have other societies experienced similar journeys, even on a smaller scale? What lessons can other countries take away from this remarkable story?

Author and Professor Yuen Yuen Ang's groundbreaking book sheds light on these questions. Her work honestly asks and addresses how China's development actually took place. It especially examines the relationship between economic growth and political development or governance (in other words, the development and strength of government institutions, and the relationship of government institutions to citizens and other pillars in society).

2. Does democracy need to wait in poorer countries?

An age-old question exists: which should come first in any society’s development: economic growth or political openness? Ang's book fundamentally challenges a key assumption behind the work of many of our organizations focused on open government/governance. Naturally, many of us opengov advocates believe deeply that governments should rid themselves of corruption and become more transparent and participatory in order to make them more effective at reducing poverty and delivering economic development to their people. Yet China's story is a striking counterexample to this. What can we learn from it?

3. One lesson: work with what you have.

One of Ang's central arguments is that it is imperative for developing countries to work with their existing social and political norms and institutions to open up markets and drive economic growth, even if those institutions don't appear to be the "right" ones from a Western perspective. She offers tips on how any developing country can use its existing institutions to promote development and how to design institutions that can innovate and adapt to their specific contexts.

4. How can external actors really help developing countries (or at least do no harm)?

Our field is filled with public and private international donors, NGOs, and countless others who try to help developing countries combat poverty and achieve stable, open, and productive societies. Yet there are many pitfalls associated with external actors intervening in the domestic politics and economy of any country.

So many of our conversations at the Open Gov Hub come back to this central question: how can external actors helpfully support - not inadvertently harm - local, indigenous, domestic and bottom-up efforts within countries that support their political and economic reform? Again, Ang's work offers critical insight. (Hint: it requires us as international development practitioners to seriously set aside our preconceived notions about what tools need to be used to achieve economic and political growth.)

5. Find and foster pockets of openness, even in relatively closed governments and societies.

Finally, Ang's work also reveals how pockets of openness and innovation have existed at different levels of China's government that helped enable its unprecedented economic success. So how exactly can pockets of open government exist even in political societies that overall are closed? This is another perennial question for the Open Gov Hub community that her work sheds light on.

Excited for answers to these questions?

RSVP now to join us this Thursday afternoon!

Don't miss this stimulating presentation from Professor Yuen Yuen Ang on her book, and critical conversation on its implications for opengov and development advocates, with Mary Beth Goodman (former White House) and Edouard Daoudah (World Bank), moderated by Alan Hudson (Global Integrity).