By Jerry Grey
For the Chinese people, the past decade was epic and inspirational. The country, under the leadership of the Communist Party of China with Xi Jinping at its core, has made great endeavors in boosting its economy, deepening reforms, improving the rights of its people and acting as a responsible power globally.
China’s success in eradicating extreme poverty is a miracle and has contributed significantly to global poverty reduction. Why has China been able to achieve this? Why are some Western countries increasingly lagging behind China in poverty reduction? The following article sheds light on those questions.
This is the seventh of the series.
The idea of China’s poverty alleviation scheme is not new, the country has been aiming to deliver the rural population from poverty for over a generation. Now that it’s been done, the work doesn’t stop there, there is much more to do to increase the prosperity of those left in what are obviously still poor conditions.
There is not a single town, village or community left in China that doesn’t have a sealed road into it, nor is there a place where at least 4G and WiFi is unavailable and modern forms of transportation run in and out of the communities but China admits, there’s a lot more work ahead. The next scheme is called Rural Revitalization and is aimed at encouraging people back into rural communities because there will be well paid work for them and infrastructure such as schools for their children and hospitals for the sick.
It was with great interest that a Canadian friend alerted me to Canada’s Manitoba, where a small town by the name of Dauphin was used as an experiment in Universal Basic Income (UBI). What happened was: for a period of four years the residents of this small town were guaranteed a minimum of 16,000 Canadian dollars a year. The results were impressive. The rate of hospitalizations fell, improvements were seen in mental health as well as physical health, the number of people who finished high school increased and alcohol fuelled incidents decreased.
Unfortunately, the end of the 1970s came along and politics got in the way. The scheme was deemed too expensive to continue and was scrapped. The benefits were logged, filed, stored and then forgotten.
Another such experiment took place in California, in a city called Stockton 150 miles East of San Francisco. In this case, 125 low-income residents of the city received $500 a month and were able to spend it any way they wished. Once again, the results were positive. The same reduction in hospitalizations, improvements in mental health, more people were able to find jobs and crime reduced considerably. Survey results found that alcohol and tobacco, the very things the detractors suggest would be purchased with this “free money” accounted for less than 1 percent of the money spent. More people spent money on training and self-improvement and most of the money was used to buy items in supermarkets or to pay for utilities.
Despite the obvious successes of trials, wherever they have occurred, not everyone is as enthused by this kind of experiment. Milton Ezrati, a wealthy Wall Street economist who hates the idea that “Communist China will be running everything” described the trials as “Wrongheaded”, Iain Duncan Smith, a UK member of Parliament, and another ardent hater of China, who lives a luxury lifestyle, rent free in a mansion belonging to his father-in-law, a Baron, and who hates China with such a passion that he formed IPAC, the “Inter Parliamentary Alliance on China”, agrees so wholeheartedly with the wealthy elites that he has set up a think tank to write papers on the topic. He decries UBI as a “false hope” which is unaffordable, doesn’t meet the needs of low-income families, provides a disincentive to work and is no more beneficial than the current system of Social Credits for people who are unemployed or impoverished.
Australia has many calls for UBI and the majority of people in the country support it but not Eric Abetz, the same man who asked ethnically Chinese Australians to denounce the CPC but only asks Chinese people this question, despite the fact that many of them have been in Australia generations longer than his own German born family.
Fortunately, the Welsh Assembly, democratically elected to represent the people of Wales in the United Kingdom, doesn’t agree. They have introduced a UBI trial for all young children who are leaving home, or leaving the care of their caregivers.
In the UK, the welfare system was introduced over a century ago, its aim was to eliminate poverty by 1948, this target obviously wasn’t met, the first 40 years were mired with two world wars but they finished over 70 years ago, it’s quite apparent that welfare systems aren’t workable as poverty rates increase to more than 22 percent in the UK and, after 5 years of decline increased again to 11.4 percent in the US, these strategies clearly need readdressing. At the same time, the opposite is occurring in China. As job security declines in the West with many people working two or three jobs just to make ends meet; in China, job security is the foundation of employment and regulations have been enhanced to protect employees. Whilst there isn’t a UBI, what there is, seems on observation to be even better. There is a national approach to a closely monitored and well managed series of projects: some individually tailored to benefit one family by improving their opportunities to earn a living income; some involve the introduction of facilities or a production plant which enhances a community and some introduce new industries and measures to improve an entire province or autonomous region.
Where people once lived without basic needs and utilities now there are none who do, where people once lived without a road or even a solid path, now everyone can get in and out by modern transportation methods. Communication has improved to the point that the introduction of fiber optic broadband has made the US look more like a third world country with 86 percent of China covered compared to only 25 percent of the US. There’s hardly a place left in China where people don’t have access to at least 4G and WiFi, in stark contrast to the US where 42 million (about 13 percent) people still don’t have broadband or WiFi and almost 1 in 4 homes can’t access the internet. The lives of China’s rural people are steadily improving not only through accessing goods online but creating e-commerce opportunities to sell their own goods which can be swiftly delivered anywhere in China by a network of private companies.
People who genuinely want to see poverty eradicated, view China with hope, those who look for alternative methods such as UBI for the same goals will look to Wales with a great deal of optimism.
Unfortunately, in the West, there will always be people who have both economic and political power as well as goals and incentives to prevent worthwhile and obviously beneficial programs from going ahead.
The author is a British Australian freelance writer who has studied cross cultural change management in China and has lived in the country, traveling extensively for 17 years. [email protected]