This is the most thorough examination and critique of China's agrarian policy since 1949 that we are likely to get for many years to come. It is certain to become one of the dozen or so required readings on China. Lardy's central thesis is that China's agriculture has done well in three periods since 1949, including the period since 1978 when Deng Xiaoping initiated his sweeping reforms. In all three of these periods, there was a greater reliance on indirect as opposed to direct planning; that is, a much greater use of prices and other economic levers as opposed to target and output quotas. The long-run prospects depend on a wider appreciation by the Party leaders of the virtues of agricultural specialization, on a more effective use of price policy and markets, and, above all, on acceptance by the Party of reduced control over rural China. With respect to this last criterion, Lardy is skeptical. He warns of "the reluctance of lower level Party [cadres] to relinquish the increasing power they came to exercise after 1966" and the persistence of a major constituency within the Party for a heavy industrial strategy that depends on a more coercive extraction policy.
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