China Richer But Not Happier

At American Public Media’s Marketplace, Kai Ryssdal and Rob Schmitz discuss a recent study from the University of Southern California which suggested that rising incomes in China are failing to bring greater happiness to broad swathes of the population. Rising prices and growing income inequality appear to be undermining any expected gains, and may be sowing the seeds of social unrest. Ryssdal: … Somebody’s making money. Schmitz: Right. Developers are obviously making a lot of money. And of course the government of China itself is getting rich and that’s something that irks a lot of the people I spoke to. In the past five years, much of China’s economic growth has come from building infrastructure. The party has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on this and most of these contracts have gone to state-owned companies. So in other words, the government is giving money to itself. So one man I spoke to was really frustrated with this. Man speaking Ryssdal: “Nothing’s OK,” right? Everything is not all right. Schmitz: Nothing is OK. So he’s saying that the Communist party originated from the poor, but now has basically left the poor behind. He’s a security guard who makes $5 a day and he lives in a 30-square-foot apartment with his wife and his daughter and he isn’t happy at all. So I asked him. I said how could the government improve the situation in China. And so get this, he said that China should start a war. Ryssdal: No, come on. Really? Schmitz: Yeah. And I said with whom and he said it doesn’t matter.  The Los Angeles Times reported the study’s release last week, and described China’s use by economists as “a real-life laboratory to study how money, inequality and change are tied to our satisfaction with life”. Easterlin ...
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