Thursday, July 31, 2008

Pew results on social justice

Considerable attention has been paid to the Pew Research Center's recent findings on a disconnect between how the world views China and how Chinese believe the world views their country, as well as the extraordinary optimism of Chinese concerning the PRC's future (86 percent were satisfied with the direction of their country).

There has been less talk about the report's numbers on Chinese attitudes toward various social problems. For me, the most interesting number in this regard is the percentage of those surveyed who saw China's rich / poor gap as a "very big" problem or "moderately big" problem: 89 percent. This is second only to the percentage concerned about rising prices (96 percent) and far outstrips concerns about, say, crime (61 percent see crime as a problem, but only 17 percent say the problem is "very big").

That convictions about economic justice have survived the tumult of these past two-almost-three decades---and have survived a general optimism about the economy, too (82 percent optimism)--- is immensely encouraging. It means there is a base that can keep a rein on liberal economics under any future Beijing governments (but hopefully allow for more liberal politics).

There are precedents for this. Look what Brazil has done since Lula came to power, according to the NYT:
Long famous for its unequal distribution of wealth, Brazil has shrunk its income gap by six percentage points since 2001, more than any other country in South America this decade, said Francisco Ferreira, a lead economist at the World Bank.
While the top 10 percent of Brazil’s earners saw their cumulative income rise by 7 percent from 2001 to 2006, the bottom 10 percent shot up by 58 percent, according to Marcelo CĂ´rtes Neri, the director of the Center for Social Policies at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Rio de Janeiro.
Has this leveling been a great blow to Brazil's economy? No, in fact the country is riding "its biggest economic expansion in three decades." Fairness and prosperity are actually related, or can be:
...while exports of commodities like oil and agricultural goods have driven much of its recent growth, Brazil is less and less dependent on them, economists say, having the advantage of a huge domestic market — 185 million people — that has grown wealthier with the success of people like Ms. Sousa [a small businesswoman profiled at the outset of the NYT article].
Now, if China were to really take "scientific development" and "people first" and a "harmonious society" seriously...


wuming said...

You correctly point out the two important features of the Pew results: this first is the general optimism and support for its leadership; the second is Chinese people's understanding of the biggest and toughest issues facing the nation. These two seeming conflicting results point to something that I believe is very profound. That Chinese are exceptionally in tuned with the reality of their domestic situation.

How can this be reconciled with the contention that Chinese can not possibly be well informed due to state censorship? There is a answer which is only slightly simplistic, lives of people, especially Chinese, are lived outside of the political sphere, while censorship mostly target political speeches.

Old Tales Retold said...

Great points. I wrote a few paragraphs in response and then deleted them--they didn't add anything to what you said.