Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
China Initiative

Jennifer Lind ─ Autocrats at the Cutting Edge: Chinese Innovation and the Global Balance of Power

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

12:00pm – 1:00pm

This session will be in the spirit of a “work-in-progress” research workshop. We welcome faculty and graduate student engagement. A paper will be sent out approximately one week ahead of time, but the session will also include a short presentation.

Register here. A Zoom link will be sent to you the morning of the event.

A prominent IR literature holds that China will be unable to innovate because of its authoritarian institutions. This suggests that China will be unable to evade the “middle income trap” or catch up to the United States economically or militarily. This view is grounded theoretically in an economics literature that emphasizes the importance of “inclusive” institutions in promoting economic growth and innovation. Such institutions are usually associated with democracy, suggesting a “democratic advantage” at innovation. Yet this view is increasingly refuted by evidence that China has been rising in the global innovation ranks. What explains China’s growing innovation? I explain this puzzle with two arguments. First, arguments about a “democratic advantage” in innovation neglect the tremendous heterogeneity of authoritarian regimes. While some authoritarian regimes stifle growth and innovation through corruption and other extractive policies, others provide public goods, invest in education, and pursue other policies that encourage economic growth and innovation.  Second, IR scholars tend to define innovation narrowly: emphasizing new product and science-based innovation, while not taking into account other variants that also drive productivity and growth. The case of China shows that 1) the Chinese government is pursuing inclusive policies today that encourage innovation. Furthermore, 2) China performs the strongest in the types of innovation (consumer-focused and efficiency-driven) that scholars neglect. China’s innovation success has profound implications for the global balance of power (suggesting a likely bipolar distribution of power in the future) as well as for the future of international order.

Jennifer Lind, is Associate Professor of Government at Dartmouth College, and a Faculty Associate at the Reischauer Institute for Japanese Studies at Harvard University. She is also a Research Associate at Chatham House in London. Professor Lind is the author of Sorry States: Apologies in International Politics (Cornell University Press). She has authored numerous scholarly articles in journals such as International Security and International Studies Quarterly, and writes for wider audiences in Foreign Affairs and National Interest. Lind is currently working on a book about the conditions under which countries successfully rise to be great powers.  Lind holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is also a graduate of the University of California, San Diego and the University of California, Berkeley.