LBJ School research on China and work in developing communities published in a top journal | LBJ School of Public Affairs | The University of Texas at Austin

The LBJ School's Joshua Eisenman, Erin Lentz and Raj Patel have published new studies in Development and Change, a top journal in the development economics field from the Institute of Social Studies. One piece looks at how Maoist China's rural collectives siphoned away household savings to invest in the country's capital investments and agricultural production; another examines how international agriculture development tends to ignore or treat as a mystery the division of labor within a household.

Commune Kabuki: Development and Productivity Growth under Maoist China's Rural Collectives

By Joshua Eisenman, assistant professor of public affairs

How did Maoist China — a poor, developing country with a fast-growing population and a closed economy — increase savings rates and make productive investments that took advantage of high returns to capital and produced sustained growth? In this revisionist study, LBJ School Professor Joshua Eisenman demonstrates that after the disastrous Great Leap Forward (1958-61), China's commune system administered a nationwide agricultural modernization program that was able to deliver continuous robust increases in agricultural productivity throughout the 1970s.

"China is now celebrating the 40th anniversary of the beginning of Reform and Opening Up, which makes it the perfect time to reflect on China's development path," Eisenman said. "'Commune Kabuki' explains how the Maoist agricultural system modernized agriculture, increased productivity and laid the foundation for China's future rapid growth."

Eisenman argues that through the extraction of household savings via the workpoint remuneration system, China's communes impoverished the local populace while investing locally via the research and extension system. The two systems worked together to extract an increasing percentage of household savings that underwrote investments in productive capital and technology that produced a decade of rapid increases in food output.

This article builds on Professor Eisenman's recently published book, "Red China’s Green Revolution: Technological Innovation, Institutional Change, and Economic Development Under the Commune" (Columbia University Press, 2018).

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The Invisible Hand that Rocks the Cradle: On the Limits of Time Use Surveys

By Erin Lentz, assistant professor of public affairs, LBJ School; Raj Patel, research professor, LBJ School; Rachel Bezner Kerr, Cornell University; and Laifolo Dakishoni and Esther Lupafya of the nonprofit organization Soils, Food and Healthy Communities (SFHC) in Malawai

A substantial body of research shows that women's work — especially caring for others — is undercounted and undervalued. Worse, the social scientific tools designed to capture how that work happens, namely time-use surveys, will never be up to the task of measuring it, according to research by the LBJ School, Cornell University and the nonprofit organization Soils, Food and Health Communities (SFHC) in Malawi.

The study looks at how time use surveys systematically miss the many ways that care work happens: often squeezed in around other activities. For example, a mother might feed her baby in several short bursts between cooking, cleaning and watching over other children, but women underreport these.

"How do you quantify and classify an hour in which someone is cooking, gardening for themselves, looking after their kid and someone else's, preparing a meal, chatting with a neighbor, listening to the radio about crop prices, thinking about the harvest, and cleaning up?" said Patel. "Most of that is care work — some is arguably leisure, and some might be paid work, though not paid when it happens."

In the end, the researchers, social scientists may need to take a more qualitative approach to get a clearer picture of how women and their families spend their time.

Read the study