More money to spend for better or worse

By Zhu Yuan (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-04-06 15:19
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Are we really becoming poorer or are we just feeling so?

This is the question that came to mind when I came across the book We Are Becoming Poorer.

It is quite natural for people to say they are becoming poorer when complaining about the rising prices of daily necessities. However, it seems cynical for the writer to just describe how a particular person has been affected by the rocketing property prices or how heavy the financial pressure is for a young white-collar worker, who has to pay a mortgage, provide for his aged parents and save money for his single child's education in the future.

Let's put things in perspective and compare the price of a single daily necessity, say rice or wheat flour, today with the price two decades ago. A kilo of rice cost 0.40 yuan in the early 1980s, now the price of rice is 6 or 8 yuan a kilo, more than 10 times the price 30 years ago. But during the same period my salary rose by more than 100 times. In the 1980s at least half of my salary would be spent on daily necessities, now the proportion is just one third or even less.

Today it should be possible for anyone who has a job, in whatever field, to feed and clothe himself or herself with his or her own salary. If an increasing number of residents are less content than before, I believe that it is more a matter of how we view life.

Statistics from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences indicate that the index of happiness has been declining since the early 1980s, despite the fact that incomes have kept growing over the past two decades. So it is clear that people's contentment does not necessarily come from ever-increasing incomes.

This is because with wealth has come more desires. The ever-widening gap between the very rich and ordinary residents has made a keeping-up-with-the-Jones mentality gnaw at the hearts of many, and some now box beyond their weight when it comes to spending.

Today most people would not consider having electric appliances or an apartment of their own as the criteria for leading a decent life as people in the early 1980s did.

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A villa, regular overseas trips, luxurious motor vehicles or several apartments under one's name are now considered a must for a decent urban life.

What makes the situation even worse is the fact that young people in their late 20s or early 30s take it for granted that they should have an apartment of their own, have enough money for them to spend their holidays overseas once or twice a year and send their children to the best and most expensive schools. They complain and have grievances against everything if they do not.

However, the rises in property prices and education have made it less possible for some people to attain this.

What is needed is a more balanced view of life. Not all of us will have the opportunity or capability to squeeze into the club of the very rich. There is no such a thing as a life free of anxieties and problems. Even the very rich have problems and anxieties of their own.

Happiness comes from striving through one's own efforts for the life one wants. It is possible we are becoming poorer - but in spirit.

The author is a senior writer of China Daily. E-mail: zhuyuan@chinadaily.com.cn