DP8791 Political Institution and Long Run Economic Trajectory: Some Lessons from Two Millennia of Chinese Civilization

Author(s): Debin Ma
Publication Date: January 2012
Keyword(s): incentive and information, political institution, unification and fragmentation, warfare
JEL(s): H50, N4, O11
Programme Areas: International Macroeconomics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=8791

Based on a reconstruction of a weighted index of political unification and a time series of incidences of warfare for the past two millennia, this paper develops a narrative to show that the establishment and consolidation towards a single unitary monopoly of political power in China was an endogenous historical process. Drawing on new institutional economics, this article develops a historical narrative to demonstrate that monopoly rule, a long time-horizon and the large size of the empire could give rise to a path of low-taxation and dynastic stability co-evolving with the growth of a private sector under China?s imperial system. But the fundamental problems of incentive misalignment and information asymmetry within its centralized and hierarchical political structure also placed limits to institutional change necessary for modern economic growth.