The Road to Collective Debt in Rural China: Bureaucracies, Social Institutions, and Public Goods Provision

Focusing on the episodes of the government’s Paved Road to Every Village (PREV) project in an agricultural township in northern China, this article examines two research issues: First, the role of state policies, government bureaucracies, and village cadres in the provision of public goods, especially the unintended consequences that led to huge collective debts and the erosion of the collective basis of governance and second, the role of local institutions and social relations in resource mobilization, problem solving, and response to crises, especially in the aftermath of the PREV project. The episodes provide an occasion to rethink the role of governments in economic development and the lessons learned from, to borrow an expression by James Scott, “seeing like a state.”