China may soon make a big contribution to the bank's intellectual ranks. According to whispers at the institution, its new chief economist will be a Chinese citizen. Justin Yifu Lin is the director of the China Centre for Economic Research at Peking University. He has twice won his country's top economic honour, the Sun Yefang award, and he has published in the leading journal of his profession, the American Economic Review. But this brilliant record masks an unlikely past. He was born not in China but in Taiwan. He defected to the mainland after serving in the Taiwanese armed forces.
After earning a master's degree in political economy from Peking University, at a time when it was still steeped in Marxism, he earned an economics doctorate from the University of Chicago, where the market reigns. So his intellectual portfolio is perfectly hedged. That will serve him well in his new post. His adopted land has become an inspiration to many poor countries, especially in Africa. Their policymakers argue that China's path to prosperity defies and discredits the simple formulas propagated in Washington.
Mr Lin is a student of China's economic reforms. But his scholarship, like his past, straddles ideological gaps. He believes governments go wrong when they defy the law of comparative advantage, promoting heavy industries in countries where capital is scarce and labour abundant. The government's first duty, he argues, is “to remove all possible obstacles for the function of free, open and competitive markets”. Spoken like a Chicago man.
But Mr Lin also says government has a second duty. As an economy develops, the state should coax firms into more sophisticated industries. This prodding may be needed for several reasons. To cite one: firms may not know which industries are viable, and which are not. So the government should subsidise pioneers who break a path for others.
-An economist with an unusual past
Some publications of Lin from World Bank
Development Strategy, Viability, and Economic Convergence
Lessons of Experience and Future Directions
For Discussion: World Bank staffers, your reactions please- is he the best man for the job or is it just politics?