The trend these days is to focus on inequality and on the gini coefficient, which measures inequality, and then to mercilessly criticize China for its inequality. I have a problem with that. I do not think that fair.
Please allow me to digress for a moment.
I am sometimes criticized for being to harsh on China. This criticism usually comes from Westerners and when I get it, I usually respond with something fast and somewhat flippant like, “my job is just to call it as I see it and that’s what I do.” Chinese citizens usually say something like, “you really see China as it really is. Is there anything you like about China.” To which I respond by saying something like the following: “I love China. I love its food. I love its people. I love its energy. I love its optimism. China should be very proud of all that it has accomplished. In particular, what it has done in the way of literacy, healthcare and poverty is nothing short of astounding.”
Now let’s talk about gini coefficients and poverty. Suppose you live in a Chinese village and you are not getting enough to eat and you cannot afford a television and then all of a sudden you become wealthy enough to afford both. Will you a) be happier or will you b) complain about some guy in Beijing who drives a Rolls Royce? Well, you may still complain about the guy with the Rolls, but I also think you will be happier as well and you should be. China has done an amazing job with the food and the television part, which is what really matters, and less well with the Rolls Royce part, which is — for the most part — less important.
Today’s Wall Street Journal Real Time Report has a post entitled, Here’s How Much Poverty Has Declined in China and, guess what, it’s a helluva lot. But why talk about it when a graph can do a much better job at showing it:
“The sharpest decline came in China, where the extreme poverty rate fell to 12% in 2010 from 84% in 1981.”
I think that is incredibly impressive.
What do you think?