China’s capitalism

JCA co-editor Richard Westra has reviewed the Victor Nee and Sonja Opper authored Capitalism From Below: Markets and Institutional Change in China (DOI:
10.1080/00472336.2015.1010560) published by Harvard University Press.Capture

Described as “path-breaking,” the book discusses the rise of Chinese capitalism as a story of the “ways budding entrepreneurs sprung up from within the force field of reform …, developed connections to obtain the finance required to kick start their chosen operations, harnessed the newly available and abundant labour surplus, created a culture of innovation, and ultimately compelled the state to recognise their business practices and property rights in law.” This is the “bottom-up” argument.

Westra however draws attention to a “glaring elision” in the story as told by Nee and Opper. He points to the “top-down,” and notes the “pull on China’s economy and … its entrepreneurs by global demand for the array of consumer goods, particularly electronics, clothes, shoes, household sundries, and supporting material accoutrements for these, produced under the auspices of giant multinational corporations that have routed their production and retail ‘value chains’ through China.”

He observes that the “coastal regions Nee and Opper tout as the heartland of their ‘capitalism from below’ were, and still are, in fact, designated by the state ‘from above’ as ‘special economic zones.’ Such zones are essentially apartheid enclaves that colluding states and foreign capital the world over are increasingly relying on to ensure flows of cheap goods to global markets and economic development that is externally or exogenously oriented and bereft of the cumulative spill-over effects that drove the advanced West toward the prosperity of full-scale industrialisation.”

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