Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Survey to gauge China's wealth gap

BEIJING: China plans to conduct a nationwide income survey to help it calculate a politically sensitive measure of wealth inequality.

The state-run China Daily newspaper yesterday quoted a National Statistics Bureau official as saying the survey will be conducted with help from Canada and the results will be published next year.
The comprehensive survey will cover 140,000 households in urban and rural areas, and may help Chinese leaders better gauge the country's income gap, said Mr Xie Hongguang, deputy chief of the National Bureau of Statistics.
He said the release of the standardised survey data will pave the way for calculating an income-gap statistic known as the Gini coefficient. The statistic has previously been released for rural residents but not urban ones.
Statistics Canada, the country's national statistical agency, has shared with China its experiences in collecting and processing data, Mr Xie added.
Inaccurate information and fragmented efforts in the past have hindered the Chinese authorities' attempts to produce a nationwide Gini coefficient, according to the head of the statistics bureau, Mr Ma Jiantang.
A measure of 0 means that all money is evenly distributed; 1 means one person has it all.
The World Bank said China's Gini coefficient reached 0.47 in 2009, exceeding the 0.4 mark used as a predictor for social unrest.
The index stood at 0.3897 for China's rural households last year, Mr Ma said at a press briefing on Jan 17.
He explained that the bureau did not disclose an urban coefficient because it could not obtain accurate information from high-income urban families.
The urban disposable income stood at 21,810 yuan (S$4,300) last year, more than triple the level of the rural cash income of 6,977 yuan, according to the bureau's latest data.
The index may have climbed from less than 0.3 a quarter century ago, estimated economics professor Li Shi from Beijing Normal University, in March last year.
China had 960,000 millionaires with more than 10 million yuan in personal wealth in 2010, a rise of 9.7 per cent over the previous year, reported the Hurun Research Institute and GroupM Knowledge last year.
The Chinese government has promised hefty increases in social spending to help narrow the gap between China's poor majority and an elite who has profited from three decades of economic reform.
A separate survey published yesterday found that more than half of Chinese farmers are not satisfied with rural policies, amid rising cases of agricultural land seizures by the state.
Premier Wen Jiabao said at the weekend that China's government failed to give farmers enough protection from land confiscation for what many of them see as paltry compensation.
The survey of 1,791 farmers overseen by the Landesa Rural Development Institute, based in Seattle, gave statistical flesh to the extent of complaints over losses of land to commercial development.
'Dissatisfied farmers outnumber the satisfied by a margin of two to one,' said a summary of the survey, which found that 36.7 per cent of respondents said they were 'dissatisfied' and 16.7 per cent said they were 'very dissatisfied'. By contrast, 2.8 per cent of respondents said they were 'very satisfied'.
'To make an enduring dent in tenure insecurity and to improve welfare for its 700 million rural people, China must consider carrying out fundamental reforms of the tenure system and strict enforcement on the ground,' the Landesa researchers said.
The Landesa survey, done across 17 provinces mid-last year, found 43.1 per cent of farmers had experienced 'takings of land' for non-farming uses since the late 1990s, and an accompanying graph showed that such 'takings' rose dramatically from 2007.
Farmers in China do not directly own most of their fields. Instead, most rural land is owned collectively by a village, and farmers receive leases that last for decades. In theory, villagers can collectively decide whether to apply to sell off or develop land. In practice, however, local officials usually decide. And hoping to win investment, revenues and pay-offs, they often override the wishes of farmers.