Hu Xingdou: China’s Poor: Always with Us?

On Open Democracy, Hu Xingdou, professor of economics at the Beijing Institute of Technology, writes about the reasons why it is difficult to break out of the cycle of poverty in China:

In China, the cycle of poverty is due to the failings and irrationalities of a number of systems – of household registration, , state-owned monopolies, taxation, distribution of resources, welfare, the press, representation and government .

[…] China’s welfare system works on three levels, or classes. Cadres and civil servants enjoy the best treatment. Next are urban residents and company employees, many of whom face issues with unemployment or healthcare provision. The third class is rural residents, with medical care and pension provision only just getting started and currently at a very low level. Generational poverty will, I fear, just carry on.

But these are just the secondary causes of second-generation poverty. The most fundamental cause is that vulnerable groups lack the right to speak, to organize and to exercise oversight of government. We lack private publications – control radio, TV and the new media to protect and add to their own interests. The voices of the poor, petitioners, the workers and the rural are not heard. Workers and rural residents lack a truly representative organization. They are therefore unable to negotiate on a level playing field with capital, and so wages and benefits stay low. There are severe restrictions on what can do to market their products, so rural incomes remain low and quality and safety remain in question. Meanwhile, people’s representatives and officials who have not been appointed through genuine elections will not of their own accord represent the people’s interests. And so poverty will be passed on again and again through a vast and vulnerable population.

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