The Political Economy of Special Economic Zones

Forthcoming in The Journal of Institutional Economics

34 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2013 Last revised: 2 Jul 2014

Date Written: June 1, 2014


This paper is a first attempt to apply a robust political economy framework to explain when Special Economic Zones (SEZs) can contribute to economic development. A robust political economy is one that channels the actions of self-interested individuals with limited information to promote economic progress. In the right institutional context, SEZs tend to promote economic growth. In the wrong institutional context, they can cause resource misallocation and rent-seeking. Policy makers introducing SEZs must overcome the knowledge problem to avoid misdirected economic planning. Yet, the scheme can only fulfill its purpose if it also prevents destructive rent-seeking behavior, both from businesses and from government authorities. The political economy framework of SEZs can be applied to judge their potential efficacy, something that orthodox studies of country features such as natural resources, infrastructure and zone location fail to do. The Indian and Chinese experiences with SEZs illustrate these points.

Keywords: Special Economic Zones, Political Economy, Economic Development, Economic Calculation, Rent-Seeking

JEL Classification: B52, B53, H25, O24, O43, P26

Suggested Citation

Moberg, Lotta, The Political Economy of Special Economic Zones (June 1, 2014). Forthcoming in The Journal of Institutional Economics, Available at SSRN: or

Lotta Moberg (Contact Author)

William Blair ( email )

Chicago, IL
United States
+13123645011 (Phone)

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