China’s Richest Man: Wealth Gap Not a Priority

China’s richest man, Wahaha beverage tycoon Zong Qinghou, proposes tax cuts and monopoly break-ups to reverse slowing economic growth which has alarmed many observers. From Bloomberg

“Economic growth will slow down again in the second half because there have been no major economic policies rolling out,” he said.

Zong’s prescription for driving a Chinese recovery is in line with Premier Li Keqiang’s call for a reduced role for the state in the economy, with the billionaire urging the breaking up of monopolies and easier administrative approvals from the government.

Zong was pessimistic about the world outlook, saying “the global economy is declining.” China will recover faster than other countries, he predicted. [Source]

Zong also stressed the social importance of continued growth, pushing the provocative argument that so long as everyone gets richer, income inequality is relatively unimportant. From AFP:

“We don’t need to solve the problem of the rich-poor gap, we need to solve the problem of common prosperity,” said Zong Qinghou, whose family fortune is estimated at US$12.6 billion.

Zong, founder of a huge soft-drinks conglomerate that has branched out into baby milk and children’s clothing, said that “rich people should help everyone to become prosperous”.

“If everyone is wealthy, society will be harmonious, and more comfortable,” the 67-year old entrepreneur told reporters in Beijing at an event to mark the launch of a series of high-end shopping malls. [Source]

An unimpressed Gwynn Guilford commented at Quartz:

Oddly enough, Zong’s wealth is actually self-made. Born into penury in Jiangsu province in 1945, Zong began making his fortune by selling popsicles and stationery from a Hangzhou grocery stand in 1987. His launch of Wahaha Oral Liquid, an appetite stimulant for children, propelled his company to national success.

So Zong probably knows a lot more about the other side of the wealth gap than most of China’s business elite. That’s why it’s galling that he’s dismissing the real frustrations of China’s working classes. A glance around any major city reveals that China has no shortage of enormous wealth. But it isn’t being distributed equitably—in fact, the gap is widening. That’s a source of rising public discontent. [Source]

At Foreign Affairs in May, however, Martin King Whyte argued that wealth inequality is a convenient distraction, allowing the Party to explain social unrest without acknowledging an often corresponding and far more problematic gap in political power. In China, as elsewhere, wealth and power often go hand in hand: recent research found that family ties to officials boost college graduates’ earnings, and while Zong is no princeling, Guilford notes that official connections appear to have served his business well.

China’s Gini coefficient, a common measure of inequality, has been estimated at between 0.474 and 0.61 for recent years. Levels above 0.4 are often described as potentially destabilizing, but the measure is not definitive or comprehensive, and an enormous drop in extreme poverty from 84% in 1981 to just 12% in 2010 has taken some of the sting out of unequal wealth distribution.


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