China Voice: Why does a market-oriented China need a plan?

BEIJING, July 21 (Xinhua) — The 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China has just decided to hold its fifth plenary session in October. High on the agenda is the 13th five-year plan for national development (2016-2020).

Neo-liberals claim that economic planning is a key characteristic of centralized economies and runs counter to the market. Why then, is the world’s second largest economy, already pledged to let the market play a “decisive” role, still clinging to such a national plan?

China’s five-year plans are basically a series of social and economic development initiatives that came into being along with the socialist regime in the middle of the last century. Concerned mainly with government development priorities and growth targets, the plans are a guide for Chinese regulators.

For market economy die hards, a government cannot “plan” an economy, and especially cannot plan how enterprises and the market will operate, but in today’s world, where the concept of free market is considered sacrosanct, no economy functions without intervention.

China has relied on a strong government steering its economy for over 60 years, so it would be unwise not to draw on a tradition that has proven effective in the last few decades, especially with the economy at a crux of upgrades and changes of emphasis.

Critics of economic planning fear that government intervention erodes efficiency, but the market is not right all the time, although it is right most of the time. The free market itself can be a cause of low efficiency, as shown by the number of modern economic recessions. If we countenance government help when the economy needs rescuing, we should, in the same light, acknowledge government support during the good times.

When we eventually see the new five-year plan, we may be pleasantly surprised. The approach may be an inheritance from the age of planning, but it will be no meticulous description of every nut and bolt.

An economic plan does not mean a backing-off from the market economy nor stronger intervention by the state. Rather than a script, it is an extensive agenda of support. The plan may be more micro and specific than the goals set by European and American governments, but such an approach suits the developing economy.

The five-year plan offers investors, home and abroad, a chance to see the government’s priorities and make better plans themselves.

As one of China’s most prominent economists and most active reform advocates Fan Gang put it, the plan “puts forward the development vision and roughs out what the government’s [rather than the market’s] tasks are.” Enditem





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