The Asian Miracle and Modern Growth Theory

46 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2016

See all articles by Howard Pack

Howard Pack

University of Pennsylvania - Management Department; University of Pennsylvania - Business & Public Policy Department

Richard R. Nelson

Columbia University - School of International & Public Affairs (SIPA)

Date Written: October 1997


The policy differences between accumulation and assimilation growth theories may be much smaller than the conceptual or analytic differences. Can the Asian miracle be explained in terms of capital investments? Or were entrepreneurship, innovation, and learning significant factors in the rapid growth of the Asian tigers?

In the past 35 years, China, Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan (China) have transformed themselves from technologically backwards and poor economies to relatively modern, affluent economies. Each has experienced more than a fourfold increase in per capita income. In each, a significant number of firms are producing technologically complex products competitive with firms in Europe, Japan, and the United States. Their growth performance has exceeded that of virtually all comparable economies. How they did it is a question of great importance.

Virtually all theories about how they did it place investments in capital stock at the center of the explanation. Nelson and Pack divide most growth theories about the Asian miracle into two groups:

The accumulation theories stress the role of capital investments in moving these economies along their production functions. What lies behind rapid development, according to this type of theory, is very high investment rates. If a nation makes the investments, marshals the resources, development will follow.

The assimilation theories stress the entrepreneurship, innovation, and learning these economies went through before they could master the new technologies they were adopting from more advanced industrial nations. They see investment in human and physical capital as an essential but far from sufficient part of assimilation. In addition, people must learn about, take the risk of operating, and come to master technologies and other practices new to the country, if not the world. The emphasis for assimilation theorists is on innovation and learning, rather than on marshalling. If one marshals but does not innovate and learn, development does not follow. These are complex theories that raise as many questions as they answer.

Nelson and Pack discuss differences in the way the two groups of theorists treat four matters:

Entrepreneurial decisionmaking.

The nature of technology.

The economic capabilities possible with a well-educated work force.

The role exports play in a country`s rapid development.

The differences between the theories matter because they affect our understanding of why the Asian miracle happened and because they imply different things about appropriate economic development policy.

This paper-a product of the Development Research Group-is part of a larger effort in the group to study the impact of public policy on growth.

Suggested Citation

Pack, Howard and Nelson, Richard R., The Asian Miracle and Modern Growth Theory (October 1997). Available at SSRN:

Howard Pack (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - Management Department ( email )

The Wharton School
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6370
United States

University of Pennsylvania - Business & Public Policy Department ( email )

3641 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6372
United States

Richard R. Nelson

Columbia University - School of International & Public Affairs (SIPA) ( email )

420 West 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

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