“The mountains are high and the emperor is far away”

Reason.com has posted an excellent article on Wenzhou, China, a city built almost entirely upon private enterprise:

For the last 30 years, private citizens in this southeastern China metropolis have largely taken over one of the least questioned prerogatives of governments the world over: infrastructure.

Driving down the cluttered and half-constructed streets of this 3-million-strong boomtown requires frequent U-turns and the patience of Buddha, but every road eventually leads back to a factory. Each factory is in turn surrounded by a maze of roads filled with hundreds of small feeder shops selling spare parts, building materials, and scraps. Every haphazard street in this town seems to have an economic purpose….

Wenzhou shopping districtThe official channels of financing and investment are routinely bypassed, replaced by local institutions with their own governance and lending rules.  It all works, if a bit haphazardly:

Gray-market lenders are often established, though technically illegal, financial institutions that lend primarily working-capital loans at rates as high as 10 percent a month. Contacts often modify interest rates based on how well you know them. Forms of repayment enforcement differ. Weng points out that in a community so dependent on guanxi—relationships—defaulting on a contact’s loan could blackball you from future business opportunities….

Lending also takes place through a number of formal lending institutions that have become informal depositing institutions. Pawnshops in Wenzhou are very different from those in the West. The shops can give out loans of millions of dollars backed by property and stocks, and they can pay depositors interest rates three to four percentage points higher than the official lending rate at banks.

It’s a vivid example of what can be achieved when the central planners are too far away to have much influence and local bureaucrats learn to simply get out of the way.  If only U. S. bureaucracy was so ineffective!

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