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About this book

Joan Robinson was a member of the famous Keynes Circus of young economists at Cambridge in the 1930's. She was a theorist par excellence, making outstanding contributions to the understanding of competition, aggregate demand and capital. At the same time, she developed an interest in underdeveloped economies and alternatives to capitalism that eventually produced a long list of writings on China between the 1950's to the 1970's. These writings were neither theoretical nor empirical, but a series of opinion pieces and reports. Yet it is these writings that arguably cost Joan Robinson the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics.

This short book reviews those writings and comments on what has happened since with regard to China’s development, Joan Robinson's interpretation and predictions, and how her 1950's lectures in China match up to China’s policies since Mao.

This book will be of interest to students and scholars interested in how the history of economic thought can inform and progress development economics.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

1. Introduction

Abstract
Joan Robinson’s fascination with the Chinese development took her to China eight times between 1953 and 1978. These visits led to several writings, mostly laudatory. This was the period of Chinese isolation from the world that knew only one side of the story. A number of these attempts to inform the world about developments in China reflect, in the words of Geoff Harcourt “a deliberate leaven of advocacy”. In the economics profession, this was not expected of a scholar of Joan Robinson’s standing. The main objective here is to separate analysis from advocacy. At a time when theories and models of development are being subjected to intense re-examination in view of the accumulation of experience in the developing countries as well the availability of more reliable information about socialist economies, it is instructive to look afresh at the insights as well as prejudices acquired by a theorist of the stature of Joan Robinson.
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2. The Contributions

Abstract
Joan Robinson’s seven major publications on China were in the nature of end-of-visit reports. Each visit coincided with a major event. Between the visits, the writings provided further explanations or responses to the critics. During the second visit in 1957, Joan Robinson delivered three lectures on the relations between the rate of accumulation and the price level, choice of techniques and usefulness of price system in a planned economy. These analytically interesting lectures remained unpublished. She also became an activist. First, she was associated with the Britain-China Friendship Association and left it for the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding formed after the Sino-Soviet ideological conflict. One of the writings was titled “The Chinese Point of View”. Perturbed over the way information on the Lin Piao affair was managed, Joan Robinson began to ask questions about the cultural revolution. At the end, she did not think that post-Mao reform was a great leap backward.
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3. The First Phase: Thoughts on Socialist Development in a Backward Overpopulated Economy

Abstract
Joan Robinson had formulated her views on economic development in backward overpopulated economies before visiting China. Socialist rather than Soviet development was preferred to capitalist development due to the possibility of a higher rate of capital accumulation resulting from a higher reinvestible surplus in the absence of capitalist consumption. In the first phase spanning first two visits and until the third visit, she elaborated on these views in the Chinese context. These views were close to the rightists’ agenda. By developing productive forces, she believed that the economy of China was “well on the way to surmounting the hump of the first and the hardest stage of industrialization.” The broad parameters of economic development included capital accumulation at a humanly possible rate, birth control, some concern for consumer’s sovereignty, economic management avoiding the bureaucratic tendency, selective use of prices and some role for moral incentives.
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4. The Second Phase: A “Starry-eyed” Joan Robinson

Abstract
Joan Robinson’s writings on China after the Sino-Soviet ideological dispute and before the death of Mao betray a general bias towards the Maoist view. Even if it was a sympathetic observer’s attempt to counterbalance the US-led policy of isolating China, she did not have any special information to uncritically accept the official Chinese pronouncements. She failed to realise that the great leap forward and the rush towards farm collectivisation led to a massive famine, besides the return of orthodoxy to population control and family planning. Her original position that collectivisation without mechanisation cannot deliver the desired agricultural surplus changed to justifying it as a blend of individual incentive and collective advantage. The sudden withdrawal of Soviet assistance in 1960 led her to believe that national independence had priority over economic independence, even if it required nuclear testing. In the return of the abandoned ideas of the leap with a militant ideology as cultural revolution, Joan Robinson thought that the moment had arrived for the ideas which were ahead of time during the leap.
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5. The Third Phase: Self-criticism

Abstract
Joan Robinson had the time to rethink her thoughts on China in the light of greater information. She admitted that she had no special knowledge of China. During her visits, she was dependent on interpreters and the preferences of those showing her around. However, she thought it was her duty to balance the hostile view of China spread in the world by the China-watchers. What happened during the decade beginning 1966 was described as “a medieval drama of ambition and treachery”. On the whole, Joan Robinson was able to accept the major part of the post-Mao reform because she had had no serious problems with the rightist economic policies and management even in the past. The problem was not so much with the capitalist road as with Confucian respect for hierarchy. As the two were considered one in the cultural revolution and violently attacked, the self-criticism seems incomplete.
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6. Concluding Observations

Abstract
Joan Robinson analysed and critiqued capitalist and, to a lesser extent, Soviet-type development in underdeveloped economies. China attracted her as an alternative. Her prescription was not significantly different from those dubbed rightist by the Maoists. This group viewed China as a backward overpopulated economy requiring sustained development of productive forces through central planning supplemented by a regulated use of the price system. To Joan Robinson also, capital accumulation was the key to development. The socialist state was capable of taking it to the desired high level by avoiding capitalist consumption and controlling population, but without imposing unbearable sacrifice on ordinary consumption. This needed a system of planning investment and managing the market. For some time she thought the Cultural Revolution was the social experiment to find a cooperative arrangement motivated by service rather than profit to overcome the bureaucratic tendency in planning and the injustice of the market system. In the post-Mao China, she returned to the central line that in her view outlasted the two-lines struggles of the past.
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Backmatter

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