American and Chinese leadership during the global financial crisis: Testing Kindleberger’s stabilization functions

Carla Norrlof, Simon Reich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Heavily reliant on the work of Charles P Kindleberger, theories of hegemony and power transition have been built on the largely unchallenged assumption that the United States acts as a global economic stabilizer in time of crisis. However, there has been no attempt systematically to delineate, operationalize and test whether the United States performs this role utilizing Kindleberger’s five functions. Proponents of these theories have, in contrast, characterized China as either a free-rider or a predator waiting to challenge American leadership in times of crisis. In evaluating these characterizations, we test two hypotheses that examine the extent to which the United States and China have performed these stabilizing functions with regard to three major economic crises (the 1997 Asian economic crisis, the 2001 “DotCom” crisis and the Great Recession of 2007–2009). Our findings suggest that Kindleberger’s functions are more evenly shared than conventional scholarship would predict and that China has played a supportive, stabilizing role. Without evidence of explicit collaboration between the two countries, these functions were shared. Furthermore, China played an increasingly important role in supporting the global economic system over time and the trend line suggests they will continue to do so in the future. If Kindleberger’s criteria are correct, the assumption of a single country, the United States, acting as a stabilizer is therefore empirically mistaken. If his criteria are flawed, major IR theories that have assumed the criteria to be true and/or have assumed that the United States plays this unique role in the global economy are in need of critical reassessment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-250
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Area Studies Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • Financial crisis
  • Kindleberger
  • hegemony
  • investment
  • leadership
  • money
  • public goods
  • trade


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