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The Casualties of China's Economic Reforms 下一步改革會犧牲誰?
The Casualties of China's Economic Reforms 下一步改革會犧牲誰?
楊恒均     阅读简体中文版

嫉惡如仇 從善如流
楊恒均微信號:yanghengjun2013

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編者按

美國THE DIPLOMAT網站2014年起推出楊恒均專欄,將楊恒均的部分博文翻譯成英文。本平臺將選登部分文章,供英語愛好者閱讀。


The Casualties of China's Economic Reforms

The next round of economic reforms should address China’s widening wealth gap.



By Yang Hengjun

August 07, 2014



Peking University’s Institute of Social Science Survey recently issued the “2014 Report on the Development of People’s Livelihood in China.” Quoting from the report, People’s Daily pointed out that wealth inequality in China has been increasing quickly. China’s Gini coefficient [Ed's note: the most commonly used measure of wealth inequality, measured on a scale of 0-1] was 0.45 in 1995; it had grown to 0.55 in 2002 and reached 0.73 in 2012. Today, China’s wealthiest one percent account for over one-third of China’s total wealth, while the bottom 25 percent represent only one percent of the country’s wealth. There are two notable characteristics of the recent changes in wealth inequality. First, households where family members work for the government are noticeably better off than other households. In addition, their wealth is increasing far more than the wealth of families who work outside the system. Second, the wealth of middle-class households is increasing more rapidly than the wealth of both low and high-income families.

This report attracted my attention. The widening gap between the rich and the poor is a serious problem, especially in a Confucian-based East Asian society that believes in the proverb “inequality, rather than want, is the cause of trouble.” Even more seriously, however, the wealth gap is caused by the use of power. Hong Kongand several Western countries also have Gini coefficients that are close to (or even worse than) China’s. But those wealth gaps have obvious causes in each individual’s family background, educational level, and individual abilities. What about in mainland China? It’s crystal clear that political power and wealth are both concentrated in the hands of China’s “one percent.” In other words, corruption is the main cause for the widening gap between the rich and the poor in China.

This is a dangerous phenomenon! It’s especially dangerous as China has not established a democratic system that can alleviate conflicts between the people and the government, as Western countries have. If the trend continues, we might repeat the vicious cycle seen before in Chinese history: movements meant to fight corruption or even to oppose the rich and aid the poor become ever more common. Then the economic development and “harmonious society” created during years of stability disappear overnight, and China returns to the beginning of the historical cycle.

For Chinese society, the most serious problem is not actually the gap between rich or poor, nor even the inequality caused by corruption. Rather, the most critical problem is that social mobility has become frozen; there’s no possibility of moving up or down the wealth ladder. This is the reason for the helplessness and bitterness I have felt many times when traveling to China’s villages and meeting China’s migrant workers. If the current situation doesn’t change, China’s disadvantaged groups (the huge numbers of rural peasants, plus those migrants who traveled to the city to find work) have no chance for upward social mobility.

Before and after my recent visit to Tibet, I spent two weeks in the Pearl River Delta and Yangtze River Delta. There, I continued the social research that I have been doing for years on the living conditions of migrant workers (I began this research for the purpose of a specific report, but since then it has become more or less a “habit” for me, an essential way of staying in touch with this side of society). Many years after beginning this research, I’m still quite concerned about the circumstances and future prospects of these migrant workers. For years, I’ve followed 35 migrant workers (14 females and 21 males), and none of them have seen any real improvement in either their work or their lives (although I have lost contact with a few). Even worse, they all seem to be living for some imagined future, but they have no idea where this hope for the future comes from.

This is why I finally lost my temper the other day when talking with a friend who works within the system. At the time, my friend was talking about Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive becoming larger and larger. He said that some officials are starting to have second thoughts about anti-corruption and reform. If this situation continues, my friend predicted, it will likely influence economic reforms and social stability, which are held together by the bureaucratic system. I responded by saying that China is developing in the direction of “small government, large society” by gradually dismissing and downsizing government workers. That strategy will both reduce government power and alleviate society’s burden.

I didn’t expect my friend to immediately object to what I’d just said. He argued that it was impossible to downsize the government. Doing so would not only influence economic development, but could threaten social stability or even harm the status of the Party. He added, “Do you think that government officials are like workers or peasants? That you can sacrifice them on a whim? Sacrificing government officials and their interests is dangerous!”

It was this last part that made me explode. The reforms of the 1990s resulted in massive lay-offs. Overnight, tens of millions of workers lost their “iron rice bowls.” There were people who didn’t want to accept it, even those who actively resisted, but the government ruled with an iron fist and eventually the reforms went through. Even today, some of these people have grown old on the edge of poverty. On a certain level, we sacrificed them in exchange for huge reforms to the economic system. Later reforms aimed at spreading the “made in China” label around the world sacrificed hundreds of millions of migrant workers.

If we can say that reform has to sacrifice some interest groups, then we’ve definitely sacrificed common workers in exchange for some level of social development and prosperity. But the prosperity won through this sacrifice has components that are absolutely unhealthy, and even abnormal. For example, with prosperity came the dominance of certain interest groups, the rampant spread of corruption, and the loss of society’s moral “bottom line.” Our quick economic growth also made China the fastest country in history to nurture a group of “one percenters” who own one-third of the country’s wealth.

To deepen economic reforms and realize social and political reforms that will make society more just and more equitable, China will have to once more bring order out of chaos. When the time comes, it will be necessary to sacrifice certain interest groups, including those government officials who currently enjoy power and privilege.



This piece srcly appeared in Chinese on Yang Hengjun’s blog. The src post can be found here.

Yang Hengjun is a Chinese independent scholar, novelist, and blogger. He once worked in the Chinese Foreign Ministry and as a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC. Yang received his Ph.D. from the University of Technology, Sydney in Australia. His Chinese language blog is featured on major Chinese current affairs and international relations portals and his pieces receive millions of hits each day. Yang’s blog can be accessed at www.yanghengjun.com


原文:


下一步改革會犧牲誰?


文 | 楊恒均


人民網引用北京大學中國社會科學調查中心發布的《中國民生發展報告2014》指出,中國的財產不平等程度在迅速升高:1995年我國財產的基尼系數為0.45,2002年為0.55,2012年我國家庭凈財產的基尼系數達到0.73,頂端1%的家庭占有全國三分之一以上的財產,底端25%的家庭擁有的財產總量僅在1%左右。在家庭層次的財產不平等及其變化有兩個特征:一、有家庭成員在體制內工作的家庭財產水平明顯高于在體制外工作的家庭,在體制內工作的家庭財產的增長幅度也明顯高于體制外家庭,這將導致體制內外家庭的財產差距進一步擴大。二、中等收入家庭財產增長幅度大,而低收入和高收入家庭的財產增長幅度相對較小。


這份報告引起我的注意。貧富差距拉大是個嚴重的問題,尤其在“不患寡而患不均”的東亞儒家社會,但更嚴重的則是這貧富不均是“權力”在作怪——中國的香港以及少數西方發達國家的基尼系數也超過或者逼近中國的程度,可那種貧富不均明顯是由出身背景、教育程度以及能力大小決定的,在中國大陸呢?明眼人幾乎都一清二楚:體制、權力和財富同那1%的家庭如影隨形——換句話說,“腐敗”是造成貧富差距的主要原因。


這是一種很危險的現象!加上我們目前并沒有實現西方那種可以緩解官民矛盾的民主制度,這一現象繼續下去,恐怕會重蹈中國歷史上循環往復多次的惡性循環:反抗貪腐甚至打富濟貧的運動此起彼伏,多年穩定換來的經濟發展與社會“和諧”遲早毀于一旦,歷史又一次回到原點……


對中國社會來說,最、最嚴重的還不是貧富差距甚至也不是貪腐造成貧富差距,而是貧富階層幾乎被固化,沒有了上下流動的可能性。這也是在我“走遍中國”走到農村與農民工中時,屢次感到的無奈與痛苦。當前這種狀態不改變,中國的“弱勢群體”——廣大的農民以及進城打工的農民工,基本上沒有向上提升的機會與可能。


在西藏之行前后,我分別抽了兩個星期去珠三角和長三角,延續我多年來對農民工生存狀況的社會追蹤調查(當初是為了寫研究報告,后來變成我接觸這方面社會的必備功課,成了我的“習慣”,并無具體學術目的與工作要求)。多年下來,對農民工的境遇與前途,我依然憂心忡忡。我跟蹤的14位女工與21位男工,除了失去聯系的,幾乎所有的在工作、生活上都并沒有什么進展與起色,更糟糕的是,他們仿佛都為了虛無縹緲的明天活著——可并不知道明天的希望在哪里。


這就是為什么在上海同體制內朋友聊天時,我終于失態,大怒了一次。當時朋友談到習總反腐力度越來越大,一些體制內的人士對反腐與改革開始有抵觸情緒,如果這種狀況持續下去,很可能會影響“官本位”體制下的經濟改革與社會發展。我說,那就向“小政府、大社會”的方向發展,逐步解雇、減少一批公務員,縮小公務員隊伍。較少公權力同時,也減輕社會的負担。


沒想到這位朋友一聽就來勁了,他說,這不可能!想解雇縮小公務員隊伍,那就不只是影響經濟發展,而是有可能危及社會穩定,最終傷及執政黨的地位。他補充說,你以為公務員是工人和農民嗎?說犧牲就犧牲?犧牲公務員和官員的利益是很危險的!


他后面這句話,讓我最終爆發了,我說,狗屁,上個世紀九十年代“改革”讓工人下崗,幾千萬工人一夜之間失去了鐵飯碗,也有人不服、鼓噪甚至抗爭過,但政府用鐵腕對付他們,最終也走過來了。至今雖然還有人生活在貧困邊緣,不過,他們畢竟漸漸老去了。犧牲他們,從某種意義上說,換來了經濟體制的一次大變革。隨后“改革”又為了“中國制造”的廉價品銷售全球而犧牲了上億的農民工的利益與權益……


如果說“改革”一定要犧牲一些群體的利益,從工人到農民工的犧牲,確實換來了某種程度的社會發展與經濟繁榮,但這一犧牲換來的繁榮與昌盛絕對有不健康與變態的成分:例如使得一些利益集團坐大,貪污腐敗如此猖獗,社會底線滑落,并以人類歷史上最快的速度培養出占全國財富三分之一的那1%的家族……


深化經濟體制改革,實行讓社會更加公正、公平的社會與政治體制改革,就是要再一次撥亂反正,必要的時候,是必須要犧牲一些利益集團和享受特權的那部分官員的利益的。


楊恒均 2014.7.28 “走遍中國”


2015-08-23 08:54

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