by Pranab Bardhan
In the last two decades I have been to China many times, mostly for lectures and conferences primarily in Beijing and Shanghai. Of course, compared to what I saw in my first visit in 1989, China has undergone a dramatic economic transformation. The most dazzling of commonly visible changes are in infrastructure, highways, skyscrapers, bullet trains, airports, etc. There are parts of Shanghai now, say the eye-catchingly rich Pudong district, where once coming out of my hotel for a moment I was confused if I was really anywhere near the Shanghai city I had seen before. My academic colleagues tell me that the pay scales in top universities are now almost the same as in America, in order to attract top talent back to China. Chinese airports and high-speed trains are certainly more advanced than the ones you see in most American cities. My Chinese students in Berkeley have often told me that in application of digital technology in daily life (particularly in retail trade and local transportation and communication) they are struck by how backward the US is compared to China.
I remember going to a conference in Beijing at the turn of this century, along with several other international economists which included Thomas Piketty (now of rock star-like fame for his work on inequality). We arrived at Peking University the day before. In the afternoon Thomas and his then wife, Nancy, went out for a walk in the streets holding between them the hands of their 3 little daughters. All the Chinese pedestrians stopped and were gawking at the extremely unusual sight of a family with 3 children in a country then with one-child policy. Read more »