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Swell the middle-income olive

Updated: 2013-12-17 07:15
By Chi Fulin ( China Daily)

Second, the middle-income group, which is currently around 25 percent of the total population, needs to be expanded to build an olive-shaped society where the majority of the population is in the middle-income group. The government should work on raising the proportion of the middle-income group by 2 percentage points on a yearly basis, so the proportion will reach around 40 percent by 2020, which means a middle-income group of around 600 million. This bigger middle-income group is of great significance, as it will prop up moderate growth and serve as a major driving force for common prosperity.

Expanding the middle-income group will be no easy task, and the key lies in the third goal of urbanizing migrant workers so that they too can join the ranks of middle-income earners. For this purpose, the government must be true to its pledge of pushing forward land reform and giving farmers more property rights, and it needs to establish a timetable for realizing the urbanization of migrant workers by 2020. For instance, in a year or two, the government should invalidate the role residents' household registrations play in giving access to basic welfare and replace the household registration in medium-and small-sized counties and townships with a population registration system.

In three to five years, large and medium-sized cities, except for a few major cities, can follow suit, and in five to eight years, the government can press ahead with comprehensive population registration with a personal identity code as the unique identifier. In this sense, the dual urban-rural household registration system can be replaced by a unified national registration system by 2020.

But wealth distribution reform and the realization of the aforementioned goals will entail a painful process of breaching vested interests. For instance, reform of the over-regulated administrative approval system can benefit the economy by stimulating the growth of small- and medium-sized businesses and thus boost employment, which will brighten the residential income prospects for many. The success of the reform, however, is subject to the will of the administrative sectors. The new leadership has vowed to cut the administrative approval items by at least one-third in the coming five years, but attaining this goal will be impossible without breaching narrow departmental interests. Likewise, entitling farmers to more property rights, especially their rights over farmland, plays a key role in raising farmers' incomes, but this will encounter resistance as land sales are still a major source of income for local government coffers.

There is no gain without pain. The leadership must not falter in its resolve to break the present relatively fixed wealth distribution pattern and address the currently unbalanced distribution of wealth. Nor should it falter in redefining the government's role to be a public service provider and letting the market play a decisive role in the allocation of resources. This is a precondition for building a fair and sustainable market economic system, where moving up the socio-economic ladder can be a matter of diligence and constant improvement of personal skills.

The author is president of the China Institute for Reform and Development.

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