Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

Captive of One’s Own Theory: Joan Robinson and Maoist China


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Joan Robinson was one of the most renowned leftist economists of the 20th century. She wrote for almost 30 years, until her death, about Mao Zedong’s China. While her admirers argue that her support of the Cultural Revolution in particular was an eccentric detour she later renounced, and that overall her writings on China have held up well, this paper documents that she had a long history of supporting disastrous Chinese policies because they were consistent with how she saw the world, and that her later reconsideration of these views was modest at best. Because of her overall scholarly accomplishments, much has been and will continue to be written about her. Since 1978, China has moved in a direction very different than that she recommended.