Beijing’s Low-Productivity Innovation Drive: Evidence from Patents Production (co-hosted with MIT Political Science) | 2023 | Events
Co-hosted with the MIT Political Science Department as part of the Comparative Politics Speaker Series
Can China catch up with the United States technologically by mobilizing the bureaucracy and assigning ambitious targets to local governments? We analyze an original dataset of 4.6 million patents filed in China from 1990 to 2014, paired with a new, rigorous measure of patent novelty, a proximate indicator of the quality of innovation. In 2006, the central government launched a national campaign to promote indigenous innovation and introduced targets on patents production. Our statistical analysis finds evidence that the combination of top-down targets and competitive pressures pushed local governments to “game the numbers” by channeling relatively more effort toward boosting non-novel and potentially junk patents over novel patents. Beijing has pursued a “low-productivity” innovation drive: although it spurred a numerical boom in patents, it is less impressive at producing quality outcomes, as patent targets are susceptible to manipulation by local agents.
Yuen Yuen Ang is the Alfred Chandler Chair of Political Economy at Johns Hopkins University. Focusing on China and on the themes of development and innovation, Ang's work has been recognized for both its scholarly and public impact. She is the inaugural recipient of Theda Skocpol Prize, awarded by the American Political Science Association for “impactful contributions to comparative politics,” along with book awards across multiple disciplines: political science, economics, and sociology. Her most recent book, China's Gilded Age (2020), received the Alice Amsden Book Prize in socio-economics and the Douglass North Book Prize in institutional economics. She is named one of the “100 Most Influential Academics in Government” by Apolitical. She has been profiled in Freakonomics Radio and The Ezra Klein Show, among other outlets.