August 27, 2019 11:49AM

Pro‐​Market Chinese Think Tank to Close

I was sad to read this news:

BEIJING—An independent Chinese think tank that has served as a rare bastion for liberal economic thought will shut down, citing government pressure as President Xi Jinping ’s campaign to silence dissent rolls on.

This is bad for China and bad for the world.

I feel a particular connection to Unirule because, at Tom Palmer’s suggestion, I once nominated Mao Yushi — one of Unirule’s founders, and a Cato Friedman prize recipient — to receive an honorary degree from Harvard. So far, the committee has not selected him.

Here is that nomination statement (which, true confessions, Tom wrote):

Nomination Mao Yushi

Areas of Expertise

Mao Yushi was originally trained in railroad engineering and developed an interest in the economics of markets in socialist China. He was punished in the 1950s for suggesting that if there is no pork for sale, the price should be allowed to rise. His support for rational economic policies did not waver and he was punished severely during the various waves of economic chaos and repression. In 1981 when working at the China Academy of Railway Sciences he published a paper on the foundations of optimal resource allocation, which laid a mathematical foundation for the use of prices to allocate scarce resources among competing uses. That led to greater work and efforts to institute economic reforms based on sound economics. To continue that work, in 1993 he co‐​founded Unirule Economic Research Institute, which has since published many papers on the Chinese economy, including such sensitive subjects as the reliability of economic data from the government and the unprofitability, when calculating implicit subsidies, of the large state owned enterprises. In addition to pioneering the science of applied economics in China, he has been one of China’s most effective public educators and his book Economics in Everyday Life became a major bestseller in China. He tirelessly explains and applies the fundamental insights of economics to everyday life.

Suggested one‐​sentence degree citation

This degree has been awarded in recognition of Mao Yushi’s contributions to the economics of resource allocation and his pioneering role in applying economic science to illuminate and guide the transition from central planning to market allocation.

An impartial summary of the nominee’s accomplishments

Mao Yushi is widely considered one of the most important figures in the development of modern China. His own writings played an important role, but his establishment of a number of institutions has had far reaching impact. In 1993 he co‐​founded the Unirule Economic Research Institute, which has transformed economic discourse in China and published a vast array of detailed studies on economic transformation, municipal finance, trade policy, state subsidized industries, and many other topics. He has also pioneered non‐​state charitable and mutual aid practices in China, including his work co‐​establishing the Fuping Development Institute, which helps mainly rural and inland Chinese people to acquire skills and training to succeed economically and transform the more remote provinces of China. His work establishing and promoting those institutions led to many others that have proliferated across China. More recently Mao established the Society for Humanistic Economics to spread public education about economics and to promote an open and tolerant society. His widely read essays frequently combine universal economic principles with well known Chinese cultural themes to explain the importance of the prices, economic residuals, and non‐​tuistic economic behavior.

Mao has made a mark on China as an outspoken advocate of intellectual openness. He was an early signer of the Charter 08. Liu Xiabo, who was imprisoned for his role in Charter 08 and later received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, wrote of Mao, his “bravery is worthy of our respect.” He was named one of China’s 50 most distinguished citizens by Southern People’s Weekly in 2004 and is widely considered one of the most influential living intellectuals in China. In 2012 he was awarded the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Freedom by the Cato Institute. His essay “Returning Mao Zedong to Human Form” was published in the influential journal Caixing and set off a major debate in China about Mao’s legacy. It was taken down and later published in a shorter version in the Wall Street Journal. He is known for his public criticism of what he calls “privilege rights” and his insistence that a just and prosperous society requires a strong foundation of legal equality and the rule of law.

I will nudge the honorary degree committee to consider Mao Yushi again!