How can policymakers effectively reduce poverty? Most mainstream economists advocate promoting economic growth, on the grounds that it generally reduces poverty while bringing other economic benefits. However, this dominant hypothesis offers few alternatives for economies that are unable to grow, or in places where economic growth fails to reduce or actually exacerbates poverty. In Small Works, John A. Donaldson draws on his extensive fieldwork in two Chinese provinces—Yunnan and Guizhou—that are exceptions to the purported relationship between economic growth and poverty reduction.
In Yunnan, an outward-oriented developmental state, one that focuses on large-scale, urban development, has largely failed to reduce poverty, even though it succeeded in stimulating economic growth. Provincial policy shaped roads, tourism, and mining in ways that often precluded participation by poor people. By contrast, Guizhou is a micro-oriented state, one that promotes small-scale, low-skill economic opportunities—and so reduces poverty despite slow economic growth. It is no coincidence that this Guizhou approach parallels the ideas encapsulated in the "scientific development view" of China's current president Hu Jintao. After all, Hu, when Guizhou's leader, helped establish the micro-oriented state in the province. Donaldson's conclusions have implications for our understanding of development and poverty reduction, economic change in China, and the thinking behind China's policy decisions.