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A Brief History of Neoliberalism$
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David Harvey

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780199283262

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199283262.001.0001

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Neoliberalism ‘with Chinese Characteristics’

Neoliberalism ‘with Chinese Characteristics’

5 (p.120) Neoliberalism ‘with Chinese Characteristics’
A Brief History of Neoliberalism

David Harvey

Oxford University Press

In December 1978, faced with the dual difficulties of political uncertainty in the wake of Mao’s death in 1976 and several years of economic stagnation, the Chinese leadership under Deng Xiaoping announced a programme of economic reform. We may never know for sure whether Deng was all along a secret ‘capitalist roader’ (as Mao had claimed during the Cultural Revolution) or whether the reforms were simply a desperate move to ensure China’s economic security and bolster its prestige in the face of the rising tide of capitalist development in the rest of East and South-East Asia. The reforms just happened to coincide––and it is very hard to consider this as anything other than a conjunctural accident of world-historical significance––with the turn to neoliberal solutions in Britain and the United States. The outcome in China has been the construction of a particular kind of market economy that increasingly incorporates neoliberal elements interdigitated with authoritarian centralized control. Elsewhere, as in Chile, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, the compatability between authoritarianism and the capitalist market had already been clearly established. While egalitarianism as a long-term goal for China was not abandoned, Deng argued that individual and local initiative had to be unleashed in order to increase productivity and spark economic growth. The corollary, that certain levels of inequality would inevitably arise, was well understood as something that would need to be tolerated. Under the slogan of xiaokang––the concept of an ideal society that provides well for all its citizens––Deng focused on ‘four modernizations’: in agriculture, industry, education, and science and defence. The reforms strove to bring market forces to bear internally within the Chinese economy. The idea was to stimulate competition between state-owned firms and thereby spark, it was hoped, innovation and growth. Market pricing was introduced, but this was probably far less significant than the rapid devolution of political-economic power to the regions and to the localities. This last move proved particularly astute. Confrontation with traditional power centres in Beijing was avoided and local initiatives could pioneer the way to a new social order.

Keywords:   balance of payments, devaluation, equality, inflation, migration, privatization, retail trade, sport, transport

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