Meg Rithmire - Faculty & Research - Harvard Business School
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Meg Rithmire

F. Warren McFarlan Associate Professor of Business of Administration

Business, Government and the International Economy

Meg Rithmire is F. Warren MacFarlan associate professor in the Business, Government, and International Economy Unit. Professor Rithmire holds a PhD in Government from Harvard University, and her primary expertise is in the comparative political economy of development with a focus on China and Asia. Her first book, Land Bargains and Chinese Capitalism (Cambridge University Press, 2015), examines the role of land politics, urban governments, and local property rights regimes in the Chinese economic reforms. A new project, for which Meg conducted fieldwork in Asia 2016-2017, investigates the relationship between capital and the state and globalization in Asia. The project focuses on a comparison of China, Malaysia, and Indonesia from the early 1980s to the present. The research has two components; first, examining how governments attempt to discipline business and when those efforts succeed and, second, how business adapts to different methods of state control. 

She has conducted fieldwork in many parts of China as well as in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. 

She is a faculty associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, the Fairbank Center for East Asian Studies at Harvard, and the Harvard Faculty Committee on Southeast Asia. In 2015, she won the Faculty Teaching Award in the Required Curriculum. 

Books
  1. Land Bargains and Chinese Capitalism: The Politics of Property Rights under Reform

    Meg Rithmire

    Land reforms have been critical to the development of Chinese capitalism over the last several decades, yet land in China remains publicly owned. This book explores the political logic of reforms to land ownership and control, accounting for how land development and real estate have become synonymous with economic growth and prosperity in China. Drawing on extensive fieldwork and archival research, this book tracks land reforms and urban development at the national level and in three cities in a single Chinese region. The study reveals that the initial liberalization of land was reversed after China's first contemporary real estate bubble in the early 1990s and that property rights arrangements at the local level varied widely according to different local strategies for economic prosperity and political stability. In particular, the author links fiscal relations and economic bases to property rights regimes, finding that more "open" cities are subject to greater state control over land.

    Keywords: Property; China;

    Citation:

    Rithmire, Meg. Land Bargains and Chinese Capitalism: The Politics of Property Rights under Reform. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.  View Details
Journal Articles
  1. China Gambles on Modernizing Through Urbanization

    Kristen Looney and Meg Rithmire

    Contemporary discussions of urbanization and urban construction in China tend to focus on “ghost towns” on the one hand or urbanization as China’s silver bullet to growth and reform on the other. In this paper, we detail what China calls its “New Urbanization Policy.” While these plans aim to formalize previously informal movements of land, people, and capital between urban and rural, the new urbanization does not upend China’s longstanding duality between those categories. The central goals of the new urbanization are to manage urbanization so as to generate domestic demand and reorganize agricultural production without experiencing destabilizing social and political pressures. If successful, the Chinese Communist Party will forge a new path of urbanization, building cities before recruiting urban citizens. The process, however, entails possibilities of yet other social dislocations, including concentrated poverty, ill-planned cities, skyscraper villages, and rural landlessness.

    Keywords: Urban Development; Development Economics; Problems and Challenges; China;

    Citation:

    Looney, Kristen, and Meg Rithmire. "China Gambles on Modernizing Through Urbanization." Current History 116, no. 791 (September 2017): 203–209.  View Details
  2. Land Institutions and Chinese Political Economy: Institutional Complementarities and Macroeconomic Management

    Meg Rithmire

    This article critically examines the origins and evolution of China’s unique land institutions and situates land policy in the larger context of China’s reforms and pursuit of economic growth. It argues that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has strengthened the institutions that permit land expropriation—namely, urban/rural dualism, decentralized land ownership, and hierarchical land management—in order to use land as a key instrument of macroeconomic regulation, helping the CCP respond to domestic and international economic trends and manage expansion and contraction. Key episodes of macroeconomic policymaking are analyzed, with the use of local and central documents, to show how the CCP relied on the manipulation and distribution of the national land supply either to stimulate economic growth or to rein in an overheating economy. China’s land institutions, therefore, share “complementarities” with fiscal and financial institutions and benefit powerful political actors while imposing costs on marginal ones.

    Keywords: China; economic reform; land politics; macromanagement; Government and Politics; Macroeconomics; China;

    Citation:

    Rithmire, Meg. "Land Institutions and Chinese Political Economy: Institutional Complementarities and Macroeconomic Management." Politics & Society 45, no. 1 (March 2017): 123–153.  View Details
  3. China's 'New Regionalism': Subnational Analysis in Chinese Political Economy

    Meg Rithmire

    The study of Chinese political economy has undergone a sea change since the late 1990s; instead of debating the origins and direction of national reform, scholars have turned to examining the origins of local economic variation. This essay reviews recent work in regional political economy of contemporary China. In keeping with a movement in comparative politics toward analyzing subnational politics, the "new regionalists" seek to identify and explain meaningful heterogeneity in the Chinese polity and economy. Yet they go further than simply using subnational cases to generate or test theories about Chinese politics; instead, they propose that subnational political economies in China are a function of endogenous change rather than a reaction to national priorities. After identifying differences between "new regionalism" and previous studies of decentralization in China, I discuss this work according to the theoretical approaches (institutional, ideational, and socio-historical) used to explain the origins of regional differences. I conclude by examining the limitations of the new regionalist agenda in comparative and historical context and suggesting that scholars move past unconditional acceptance of the causal power of "socialist legacies" and instead attend to the importance of changes in the post-Mao administrative hierarchy.

    Keywords: China; political economy; Economy; Government and Politics; China;

    Citation:

    Rithmire, Meg. "China's 'New Regionalism': Subnational Analysis in Chinese Political Economy." World Politics 66, no. 1 (January 2014).  View Details
  4. Land Politics and Local State Capacities: The Political Economy of Urban Change in China

    Meg Rithmire

    Despite common national institutions and incentives to remake urban landscapes to anchor growth, generate land-lease revenues, and display a capacious administration, Chinese urban governments exhibit varying levels of control over land. This article uses a paired comparison of Dalian and Harbin in China's Northeast to link differences in local political economies to land politics. Dalian, benefitting from early access to foreign capital, consolidated control over urban territory through the designation of a development zone, which realigned local economic interests and introduced dual pressures for enterprises to restructure and relocate. Harbin, facing capital shortages, distributed urban territory to assuage losers of reform and promote economic growth. The findings suggest that 1) growth strategies, and the territorial politics they produce, are products of the post-Mao urban hierarchy rather than of socialist legacies, and, 2) perhaps surprisingly, local governments exercise the greatest control over urban land in cities that adopted market reforms earliest.

    Keywords: China; land politics; urban planning; local government; Northeast China; property rights; Urban Development; Property; Government and Politics; China;

    Citation:

    Rithmire, Meg. "Land Politics and Local State Capacities: The Political Economy of Urban Change in China." China Quarterly, no. 216 (December 2013): 872–895.  View Details
Book Chapters
  1. Will Urbanization Save the Chinese Economy or Destroy it?

    Meg Rithmire

    The Chinese leadership under Xi Jinping has announced its intentions to transition the economy from one driven by investment and exports to one driven by domestic demand. The main strategy to achieve this transformation involves massive state-led urbanization. This essay explores whether the strategy will save the Chinese economy or generate social and political problems that imperil the country's growth and stability.

    Keywords: China; urbanization; economic development; Urban Development; Economic Growth; China;

    Citation:

    Rithmire, Meg. "Will Urbanization Save the Chinese Economy or Destroy it?" Chap. 16 in The China Questions: Critical Insights into a Rising Power, edited by Jennifer Rudolph and Michael Szonyi. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018.  View Details
Cases and Teaching Materials
  1. Governing the 'Chinese Dream': Corruption, Inequality and the Rule of Law

    Rafael Di Tella, Meg Rithmire and Kait Szydlowski

    Xi Jinping assumed his position as head of China's fifth generation of leaders in 2012. Xi was head of both the People's Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party, which had ruled China since 1949. Xi inherited a country far more unequal than the one that Mao Zedong, Communist China's first leader, had left behind in 1978. The growth of markets had made China much wealthier, but also generated many social problems, including inequality, corruption, and social protests. This case discusses China's political and economic development in the 20th century to situate Xi's—and China's—contemporary challenges.

    Keywords: China; Growth; inequality; Wealth and Poverty; social stability; perceptions of inequality; chinese dream; chinese political thought; corruption; Equality and Inequality; China;

    Citation:

    Di Tella, Rafael, Meg Rithmire, and Kait Szydlowski. "Governing the 'Chinese Dream': Corruption, Inequality and the Rule of Law." Harvard Business School Case 715-023, December 2014. (Revised November 2015.)  View Details
  2. Pittsburgh

    Eric Werker, Meg Rithmire, Benjamin Kennedy and Andrew Knauer

    The case narrates the development of Pittsburgh from the 1940s to 2012. It analyzes the collapse of the steel industry in the early 1980s, the city's subsequent decline, and the city's later re-emergence as a hub for higher education, the tech sector, and the healthcare industry. Attention is given to the public-private partnerships that emerged in Pittsburgh, as well as the economic development and taxation initiatives pursued by different mayors.

    Keywords: google; population; city growth; shale; PNC; Tom Murphy; Luke Ravenstahl; Public-private partnership; Tax increment financing; brownfields; Renaissance; Industry Clusters; Industry Growth; City; Business and Government Relations; Taxation; Philanthropy and Charitable Giving; Nonprofit Organizations; Higher Education; Technology Industry; Health Industry; Steel Industry; Education Industry; Pittsburgh;

    Citation:

    Werker, Eric, Meg Rithmire, Benjamin Kennedy, and Andrew Knauer. "Pittsburgh." Harvard Business School Case 713-035, January 2013. (Revised October 2015.)  View Details
  3. The “Chongqing Model” and the Future of China

    Meg Rithmire

    Since opening to the global economy in 1979, but especially since entering the WTO in 2001, China's economy grew at rates around 10% annually by attracting FDI and promoting exports. After the financial crisis that began in 2008 and depressed demand in the United States and Europe, China's growth began to slow, and vulnerabilities in its economy came to light. It became clear to many in China that the growth strategy that got China from 1978 to the present was unsustainable and that the country needed a new strategy to resolve the country's regional inequalities, stimulate domestic consumption, and create growth less vulnerable to global contractions in demand. At exactly this time, between 2007 and 2012, the provincial municipality of Chongqing in China's mountainous southwest became the fastest growing city in China with GDP growth averaging over 15%. Chongqing's growth was the result of a suite of economic and social policies that had been dubbed the "Chongqing Model," a controversial bundle of reforms that promised public and private sector growth with benefits more equitably shared by all citizens. Yet critics found the model politically suspect and over reliant on state-owned enterprises and debt-driven investment. When the city's preeminent leader was publicly fired following a sensational murder scandal, the region's new leaders—and indeed China's new leaders—had to weigh in on the "Chongqing Model." Would it signal a new path to prosperity for post-WTO China?

    Keywords: China; Public Sector; Private Sector; Developing Countries and Economies; Macroeconomics; Public Administration Industry; China;

    Citation:

    Rithmire, Meg. "The “Chongqing Model” and the Future of China ." Harvard Business School Case 713-028, December 2012. (Revised July 2013.)  View Details