Deng Xiaoping - the world's greatest economist

By John Ross
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, August 22, 2014
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To see this close relation here for example is Marx's analysis: "What we are dealing with… is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but… just as it emerges from capitalist society." For a person in such a society: "The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another." But: "In a higher phase of communist society… after the productive forces have also increased… society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs!"

Deng Xiaoping's own post-1978 formulation is almost word for word Marx's: "A Communist society is one in which… there is great material abundance, and the principle of from each according to their ability, to each according to his needs, is applied. It is impossible to apply that principle without overwhelming material wealth. But in the present period in China, before the accumulation of such wealth, the principle was to each according to their labor/work: ‘We must adhere to this socialist principle which calls for distribution according to the quantity and quality of an individual's work." Deng's fundamental characterization was: "China is in the primary stage of socialism. Socialism itself is the first stage of communism, and here in China we are still in the primary stage of socialism – that is, the underdeveloped stage. In everything we do we must proceed from this reality, and all planning must be consistent with it."

But while in one sense Deng Xiaoping "returned to Marx," he necessarily had to resolve many problems of a modern economy Marx never envisaged. Purely theoretically, a number of these had been analyzed by Keynes in the 1930s. Keynes' fundamental conclusion was that investment played the determining role in the economy, "the fluctuations of output… depend almost entirely on the amount of current investment" (Keynes conclusion has since been comprehensively confirmed by statistics). As, in a modern economy, investment is financed by borrowing, Keynes advocated very low interest rates to incentivize investment. But Keynes judged these alone would be insufficient to stably maintain an adequate investment level. It was therefore necessary for the state to play a direct role in setting the level of investment: "I am… skeptical of the success of a merely monetary policy directed towards influencing the rate of interest… I expect to see the state… taking an ever greater responsibility for directly organizing investment." Keynes noted: "I conclude that the duty of ordering the current volume of investment cannot safely be left in private hands."

But if the "the current volume of investment" were to be set, Keynes realized this meant a large state investment role: "I conceive… that a somewhat comprehensive socialization of investment will prove the only means of securing an approximation to full employment."

Keynes noted such a "somewhat comprehensive socialization of investment" did not mean eliminating the private sector, but socialized state investment operating together with a private sector: "This need not exclude all manner of compromises and devices by which public authority will co-operate with private initiative… The central controls necessary to ensure full employment will, of course, involve a large extension of the traditional functions of government." Keynes, consequently, envisaged an economy in which a private sector existed but in which the state sector was sufficiently dominant to set overall investment levels.

But Keynes' analysis remained purely theoretical. It could not be implemented in the West for an insurmountable reason – which is why the West's "Keynesianism" bears little relation to Keynes' own writings! Capital investment is "the means of production." If the most basic investment decisions were not taken by private capital, it would no longer be a capitalist society. Keynes had developed an incisive theoretical analysis, but which could not be implemented in the society in which he lived.

Problems which were insurmountable for Keynes were, however, no problem for Deng Xiaoping – as he did not intend to create a capitalist society! To be clear, there is no evidence Deng Xiaoping's economic concepts were directly influenced by Keynes. But ideas Deng Xiaoping was entirely familiar with from Marx led to the same economic structure as Keynes. The state would retain ownership of large scale (i.e. socialized) economic sectors, thereby giving it the ability to regulate the investment level, while smaller scale economic sectors (non-socialized production) could be released to the private or non-state sector. The state therefore did not need to own the overall economy, just to own enough to set the overall investment level.

This is evidently the policy applied in China from 1978 by the replacement of the rural People's Communes created in the 1950s (collectivized agriculture) with small scale based farming (the "household responsibility system"). Then the policy known as Zhuada Fangxiao ("keep the large, let go the small") could be embarked on – maintaining large state firms within the state sector and releasing small ones to the non-state/private sector.

Therefore, although a vibrant private sector was created, the state sector was still large enough to set the overall investment level – i.e. the state sector remained dominant. As the Wall Street Journal summarized: "Most economies can pull two levers to bolster growth – fiscal and monetary. China has a third option … accelerate the flow of investment projects." An economic structure envisaged only in theory by Keynes was realized in practice by Deng Xiaoping.

Deng Xiaoping's economic structure simultaneously solved the problem of diverting resources from heavy industry and creating an abundant supply of consumer products. As the state owned heavy industry, prices in this sector could be controlled, while simultaneously those in agriculture and light consumer industry were liberalized. Relative prices therefore rose in agriculture and consumer industries, resources flowed into these sectors and their output soared. Simultaneously the urban population was protected against initial negative pressures on living standards by these price rises by subsidies financed by reducing China's armaments expenditure. The extraordinarily rapid growth this structure produced created large scale savings which, in a virtuous circle, could then finance the building of heavy industry on a new basis.

Simultaneously with reintroducing small scale "non-socialized" production, China's economy pursued international "opening up," allowing it to participate in the largest scale production of all – for the global market.

Therefore, far from Deng Xiaoping's economic policies being purely pragmatic, they flowed in an integrated fashion from underlying theoretical principles through to the solving of eminently practical issues. It was this which produced by far the greatest economic growth and social advancement seen in any country in world history.

This integrated character of Deng Xiaoping's economic system also explains why any diversion from it necessarily leads to economic problems. Any return to an administered economy leads to inability to take advantage of small-scale production and to integrate with, and take advantage of, a world economic market. Any system in which private enterprise is dominant loses the ability of the state to set the investment level, and thereby recreates the crises which both Keynes and Deng Xiaoping had successfully solved how to tackle. In short, no other figure in history has ever combined such deep economic thinking with such practically successful economic policy as Deng Xiaoping.

Deng Xiaoping was above all a great leader of the Chinese people. Through pursuit of his country's national revival, lifting over 620 million people out of poverty, he also made an unparalleled contribution to humanity's overall well-being.

But if that were not enough, Deng Xiaoping had another achievement. By far the greatest economist of the 20th century was not Keynes, Hayek or Friedman but Deng Xiaoping.

The writer is a columnist with

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