DP8012 | The Institutional Causes of China's Great Famine, 1959-61

Publication Date

23/09/2010

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Abstract

This paper investigates the institutional causes of China's Great Famine. It presents two empirical findings: 1) in 1959, when the famine began, food production was almost three times more than population subsistence needs; and 2) regions with higher per capita food production that year suffered higher famine mortality rates, a surprising reversal of a typically negative correlation. A simple model based on historical institutional details shows that these patterns are consistent with government policy failure in a centrally planned economy in which the government is unable to easily collect and respond to new information in the presence of an aggregate shock to production.