Making a more effective income distribution policy for inclusive development: China's experiences
- poverty reduction approaches
- endogenous poverty alleviation
- vulnerable groups
- targeted poverty alleviation components
- supporting policies
Making a more effective income distribution policy for inclusive development: China's experiences
Title : Making a more effective income distribution policy for inclusive development: China's experiences
Commencement Date : Tue Mar 06 2018--
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Abstract Summary :
In recent years, the concept of inclusive growth or inclusive development has been universally accepted by academics and policy-makers. The concept was first proposed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and the launch of the inclusive growth strategy covered developing countries in Asia. The Chinese government has accepted this concept, by incorporating it into the 12th Five-Year Plan for economic and social development in China. The effective inclusive growth strategy, according to the ADB, implies the need to focus on high growth to create productive jobs and to ensure equal opportunities for all social groups as well as to give the most vulnerable people a social safety net. This shows that inclusive growth has three aspects: first, to promote high growth with a rise in productive employment; second, to provide equal opportunities for all social groups and development results equally shared among people; and third, to provide social security for the poor and vulnerable groups.
Income distribution policies vary from one country to another. One of the most important effects of income distribution policies is the narrowing of income inequalities. Income distribution policies contribute to alleviating poverty and help economic growth. They can be divided into primary distribution policies and redistributive policies. In terms of the content of the policies, this includes lax policy, transfer payment programs, social security policy and so on. it is clear that inclusive development cannot be promoted without the support of income distribution policies. Income distribution policies to promote inclusive development should have the following basic characteristics.
First, income distribution policies to promote inclusive development should increase both economic growth and employment. In other words, income distribution policies should not hinder economic growth, and should be conducive to an increase in employment. For developing countries, giving priority to full employment has gradually become the top target of economic development. Even if an income distribution policy could help to narrow income inequality, it would not be conducive to employment and does not belong to the income distribution policies to promote inclusive development.
Second, income distribution policies to promote inclusive development should contribute to the achievement of equal opportunities and social equity. The reason that the poor and low-income population remains in low-income status is mainly its lack of social rights and equal opportunities. Therefore, improvement of basic rights and creation of more opportunities in income-generating ability for these population groups will become the important features of income distribution policies from the perspective of inclusive development.
Finally, from the view of the broader concept of income, personal income or family income not only includes disposable income, but also includes the market value of the public services enjoyed. Social security and welfare system constitute the main content of public services. Therefore, basic social security for all members of society, especially vulnerable groups, to obviate the risk of their participation in the competition in the market, will also be an important feature of the income distribution policies for inclusive development.
China has achieved rapid economic growth over the past 30 years, greatly reducing the absolute poverty of the urban and rural population. However, due to the continuous expansion of the income gap between urban and rural areas and the regional development imbalance, relative poverty has become increasingly prominent. For China, with economic development and the improvement of residents’ income levels, the understanding of poverty will change accordingly, from a focus on absolute poverty to an emphasis on relative poverty. Some relevant changes in poverty reduction strategy indicate that poverty alleviation in a country is needed to solve the problem of food and clothing for those living in absolute poverty in the stage of low income levels. However, poverty alleviation should tackle the problems of development capability of the relatively poor as a country moves into the ranks of middle- and high-income countries. China has become a middle-income country and is also facing the transformation of its poverty reduction strategy.
This report will describe the existing income distribution policies in China. In particular, it focuses on the policies that help promote inclusive development and also proposes future policy adjustments. This report is divided into the following sections. In Section II, it discusses the concept of inclusive development and its relationship with income distribution, or how inclusive development is to be judged from the perspective of income distribution. Absolute standards and relative standards of inclusive development are proposed. Section I.II discusses the income distribution and poverty issues facing China, especially relative poverty. Section IV evaluates existing income distribution policies, especially from the perspective of inclusive development. Section V provides some policy recommendations.
1. Inclusive development and income inequality: discussion of concepts
In the past three decades, China’s economic growth rate was staggering. Particularly in the past ten years, the GDP growth rate was above 10% annually. With the rapid economic growth, the poverty in urban and rural areas has been significantly eased, but the income inequalities have expanded. In this situation, from the inclusive development point of view, how should we judge China’s development model? From the perspective of income inequality, not all social groups benefit from economic growth equally. However, from the point of view of poverty reduction it is an inclusive development mode. Obviously, there are differences in the understanding of the concept of inclusive development. A key problem is that the inclusive development model requires that all members of society share equally the fruits of economic development. Does this allow different members of society to enjoy different development outcomes?
In order to address this issue, it is necessary to distinguish between three kinds of standards of inclusive development: absolute (two kinds) and relative. The former refers to every member of society being able to enjoy economic and social development achievements, but allows different members to have different outcomes. The latter refers to all members of society enjoying the same economic and social development outcomes with no differences in the distribution outcomes. From the point of view of income inequality, the absolute standard of inclusive development allows inequality to widen, or to be maintained at a constant level, while the relative standard requires narrowing income inequality. Regarding the absolute standard, if high-income people benefit more than low-income people, the income gap is still widening, which is only a low absolute standard. Ln another case, if high-income and low-income people share the outcome equally, then the high absolute standard has been applied. Distinctions among the three standards are shown in Figure 1. The Yh line represents income growth for high-income people, Y, low-income growth. At the OP stage, both high-income and low-income populations have income growth, but the income growth of the former is faster than the latter, so the income gap is rising. This stage is the low absolute standard of inclusive development. At the PW stage, in which high-income and low-income populations have synchronous income growth, the income gap will not expand. Thus it is a high absolute standard of inclusive development.
Which standards should be adopted for inclusive development model largely depends on the initial conditions of the income inequality in a country. If a country has modest inequality, such as income inequality at the beginning of China’s reform, due to the expanding income gap and promotion of efficiency, it became necessary to adopt a low absolute standard model of inclusive development. If the initial conditions of a country are the opposite, and the income gap is large, the low absolute standard of inclusive development model becomes undesirable, and the relative standard model of inclusive development is a necessary choice, or at least the high absolute standard should be chosen. The Chinese government understands the difficulty of choosing a relatively standard inclusive development model, and therefore adheres to the high absolute standard model.
1. Changes in income distribution and poverty in China
Since the reform was launched in the late 1970s, China’s income distribution system has undergone substantial changes, and the pattern of income distribution has greatly changed. The country has moved from an egalitarian society into highly unequal one. Some suggest that China has become one of the countries with highly unequal income distribution. To make a judgment on the mode of economic development of China over the past 30 years, it is necessary to describe and explain the main features of China’s income inequality. Several important characteristics of changes in the distribution of income among the Chinese in the last three decades are summarized as follows.
Feature 1: All-around expansion of the income gap. This feature is illustrated through the changes in income inequality within urban areas, within rural areas and in the country as a whole.
Regarding income distribution within the urban areas in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Gini coefficient was estimated at about 0. 23. The income inequality was wider compared to the inequality at early stage of the reform, but at a low level. The Gini coefficient of the income distribution among urban residents reached 0.33 in 2002 (Li and Yue, 2004). Meanwhile, the income gap between high-income groups and low-income groups tended to further expand. The income share of the richest 5% of the population in the urban areas was 15% in 2002, while the share of the richest 10% of the population was 28% . By contrast, the income share of the poorest 5% of the population was only 1.2%, and the share of the poorest 10% of the population was only 3% . It is not difficult to calculate the income ratio of the richest 5% to the poorest 5% in the urban areas. It is nearly 13:1. The ratio of the richest 10% to the poorest 10% is nearly 10:1 (Li and Yue, 2004). The latest data show that the Gini coefficient within urban China has risen to 0. 36 ( see Figure 2). Therefore, the income growth of low-income people was slower than that of high-income people in the past three decades, with the income gap widening, so China had low absolute standard inclusive development at this stage.
The Gini coefficient of rural income inequality is estimated to be 0. 38 (see Figure 3). Regarding changes in the rural income gap, although the findings lead to different conclusions, there are two points that we agree with.
First, the existing rural income gap is much larger than it was at the beginning of economic reform. Some relevant studies have shown that, for the distribution of income of rural residents, the Gini coefficient was about 0. 22 in 1978 (Li Shi, 1997). In other words, in 30 years of the process of economic transition and development, the rural income inequality has widened by 68 percent.
Second, rural China experienced two periods, “fast and slow”, in the expansion of income inequality in the period 1997 -2007. According to estimates of NBS, the rural Gini coefficient rose from 0. 32 in 1997 to 0. 37 in 2002, an increase of 5 percent. This was a faster period for widening of the income gap. In rural areas in 2002, the richest 5% of the population accounted for 18% of total revenue, and the share of the richest 10% of the population was 28% . Meanwhile, the total income of the poorest 5% represented a share of only 1 % , while there was a larger share for the poorest 10% of the population, but this figure was 2. 5% , The average income of the richest 5% of the population was nearly 18 times the average income of the poorest 5%; the figure for the richest 10% of the population was more than 11 times that of the poorest 10% of the population (Li Shi and Yue Ximing, 2004). Rural income disparities narrowed very slowly from 2002 - 2007, as the Gini coefficient rose by only 1% (see Figure 3).
As for the national income gap and its changes, the NBS rarely calculated the Gini coefficient for China as a whole, so this discussion can only be based on the estimated results of the research projects.
According to the estimates by the World Bank, in the early 1980s, the national Gini coefficient was about 0. 31 (Ravallion and Chen, 2004). At the end of the 1980s, according to the data from the first wave of the China Household Income Project surveys, which included in-kind income of urban households and housing subsidies, as well as imputed rent for privately owned housing, in the personal disposable income, the estimated national Gini coefficient was 0. 382 (Griffin and Zhao, 1993). The income share of the 10% with the highest income in 1988 was 7. 3 limes higher than that of the lowest-income group (Khan et al., 1992). The findings of the research project indicate that the country’s Gini coefficient reached close to 0. 46 in 2002. The income share of the top 10% top was nearly 32% of the total income; the figure for the 10% lowest was 1.7%. Obviously, the average income of the highest group was 19 times that of the 10% lowest (Li and Yue 2004). The Gini coefficient of national income inequality in 2007 was estimated to be about 0. 49, and the average income of the highest group was 23 times that of the 10% lowest group (Li et al., 2010).
Feature 2: The income gap between urban and rural areas is particularly prominent. The income ratio between urban and rural residents reflects changes in the relative income gap. Since 1990, the ratio experienced a rise-fall-rise process (see Figure 4). The income gap between urban and rural areas in the 1990 - 1994 period widened, with the income ratio rising from 2. 2 times in 1990 to 2. 6 times in 1994. Therefore, the income gap between urban and rural groups narrowed, a process that lasted just three years, in which the income ratio decreased from 2. 6 times in 1994 to 2. 2 times in 1997, down to 1990 levels.
However, since 1998, the income ratio between urban and rural areas has been rising, from 2. 2 times in 1997 to 2. 5 times in 2000, and a further rise to 3. 23 times in 2003. In recent years, the income gap between urban and rural areas has basically fluctuated up and down at a high level. Based on the household survey data of the NBS, in 2009, the income ratio between urban and rural areas reached 3. 3:1, 3-2:1 in 2010 and 3. L I in 2011.
It is worth mentioning that the nationwide personal income inequality is broken down into three parts, within the urban areas, within rural areas and between urban and rural areas. The income gap between urban and rural areas in the period 1995 -2002 as a percentage of the national income gap increased from 38% to 43%, an increase by five percent (Li and Yue 2004). This means that more than two-fifths of the national income gap was explained by the income gap between urban and rural areas in 2002. This also means that the rapid expansion of the income gap between urban and rural areas constitutes one of the main driving factors of the national income disparities. The decomposition results (using the 2007 data) indicate that the contribution of the income gap between urban and rural areas to the national income gap rose to about 48% (Li et al., 2010).
Feature 3: The income disparities across regions are still relatively large. Over the past years, China has had a significant income gap between regions. The regional income disparities are too large both for historical reasons and due to the subsequent emergence of new problems. Regional disparities are caused by regional differences in the urban and rural populations, which in turn are partially caused by the regional income gap within rural and urban areas. The regional income gap within rural areas, even at the beginning of reform and opening up, was quite obvious. In the last century, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, due to the process of rural industrialization, there was greater regional imbalance in rural residents” income growth across provinces.
However, in the late 1990s, with stagnation in agricultural production and a recession in production of township enterprises, there was no obvious widening regional gap within the rural areas. However, the changes in regional disparities within urban areas demonstrate that the urban household income gap is expanding across provinces. As shown in Figure 5, in the 1990 - 2003 period, measured by the coefficient of variation between provinces, urban per capita disposable income differences expanded, especially in the early 1990s. This was particularly evident in the coefficient of variation rising from 0. 192 in 1990 to 0.278 in 1994. From the mid-1990s, the coefficient of variation of the per capita income of urban areas across provinces fluctuated between 0. 27 and 0. 29. This means that the regional income differences between provinces was widening at a slower rate, but did not appear to have a narrowing trend.
Despite China’s widening income gap, it does not appear to be a case of polarization. The widening income gap was mainly due to the fact that income growth of high-income groups was faster than that of low-income groups. Moreover, the poor population dropped significantly in the last three decades. In this sense, China’s development pattern is a low absolute standard model of inclusive development.
Looking at the poor population’s changes in rural China, it is also clear that the income of poor and low-income people is in a growing trend. Figure 6 indicates the number of the rural poor in China since the 1980s. Obviously, the number of the poor is in a declining trend, whether it is based on the lower poverty line or upper poverty line. Based on the lower poverty line, the rural poor decreased from 150 million in the early 1980s to 16 million in 2007. Based on the upper poverty line, the rural poor decreased from nearly 100 million to fewer than 40 million in the past decade.
The Chinese government raised the rural poverty line from RMB 1360 / year / person to RMB 2, 300/year/person in 2011, in order to assume more responsibility for poverty reduction. Under the new poverty line, the number will increase to 130 million rural poor. To some extent, the government’s anti-poverty policies will benefit the rural population more.
1. Income distribution policies in China: evaluation from the perspective of inclusive development
The policy tools for income redistribution in the era of the planned economy that the Chinese government was able to use were very limited. However, the measures to narrow the income gap were more institutional arrangements, such as restricting the private economy, strictly controlling the wage distribution system in public enterprises, and widely adopting a collective distribution system in the people’s commune system in rural areas. With low levels of per capita income and a small income gap, the income distribution policy became useless. In the past thirty years, the Chinese government introduced a number of income distribution policies.
The agricultural tax and its reform
In the planned economy period, the income of urban residents was higher than that of rural residents. The former were not subject to personal income tax, while the latter were required to pay agricultural tax and other taxes. The taxes paid by farmers included agricultural tax, special agricultural product tax, slaughter tax and deed tax, known as “Four Agricultural Taxes”.
In addition, farmers had to pay a variety of other taxes and those required by government were summed up as “Three Retained Fees and Five Overall Planned Fees”. In many places, these fees was much higher than the agricultural tax. In addition, farmers were required to pay other fees with all kinds of names, especially in the 1990s; the tax burden on Chinese farmers reached a high level, resulting in public resentment and complaints. Facing over-taxation of some local governments, the central government issued repealed orders and various documents to curb the behavior of local governments. However, as the central and local governments did not make a fundamental adjustment of the financial relationship between the central government and local governments, the binding provisions did not fundamentally solve the problem.
In accordance with the provisions of the central government, the amount of the all taxes and fees must not exceed 5% of the net income of local farmers in the previous year. Some survey data suggest that this amount was much higher than the standard in many places. The research group of “County Finance and Income Growth of Farmers” of the Development Research Center of the State Council carried out a special investigation into farmers’ burden recently in three agricultural counties and found that the tax rate levied on the farmers in these three counties in 1997 was 12%, and this figure even reached 28% in one county where rural residents had the heaviest tax burden.
Facing the growing burden of farmers, the central government finally made a determined effort to fundamentally solve the problem. Therefore, from 2006 the government exempted the agricultural tax nationwide and no longer allowed local government to collect the so-called “Three Retained Fees and Five Overall Planned Fees”. As the 2007 household survey data show, the tax burden on farmers has become negligible.
Table I shows the changes in tax burden on rural households in the two decades from 1988 to 2007. The average tax burden in 1988 was 5% and reached 5. 3% in 1995. In 2000, pilot reform of agricultural tax was launched and the tax burden in some places began to decline, dropping to 2. 8% in 2002. One year after the 2006 exemption of agricultural tax, the average tax burden on farmers dropped to 0. 3% . Such a process of change reflects the general situation of the water purchase burden of farmers during this period.
Table 1 also shows the tax burdens of rural high-income and low-income households. These results are more interesting. It is obvious that in 1988, 1995 and 2002, the average tax (rate) burden on low-income households was significantly more (higher) than that of high-income households. The tax rate imposed on the lowest-income households (10% of the total) was nearly double that imposed on the highest-income households (10% of the total) in 1988 and, in 1995, the former was four times the latter. Although the average household lax (fee) rate decreased in 2002, the difference between the tax (fee) rates of the low-income group and high-income group did not fundamentally change.
From the perspective of income distribution, rural tax policy has a strong regressive effect. It is not conducive to narrowing the income gap. Instead, it leads to a growing income gap. On one hand, it expands the income gap within rural areas. The relevant results show that the Gini coefficient of income inequality after tax is higher than the Gini coefficient before lax, which was particularly evident in 1995. This indicates that the tax has led to the expansion of the rural income gap. On the other hand, rural tax policy expands the income gap between urban and rural residents. In 1995, for example, the income gap between urban and rural residents was 2. 47 times. If agricultural tax had been exempted, the income gap between urban and rural residents would have dropped to 2. 34 times.
From the perspective of inclusive development, China implemented the rural taxes with a strong intention to increase government revenue. It did not realize that they would widen income gaps and aggravate rural poverty, and thus would be against the basic principles of the inclusive development model. By contrast, the Chinese government waived the rural tax and fee policy, which conforms to the requirements of inclusive development to some extent.
Personal income tax policy
In the 1980s, the Chinese government introduced personal income tax policy. However, as the required threshold was much higher than the income level of average urban residents, and only a small proportion of the population had income reaching the threshold, the personal income tax did not play a role in regulating the distribution of income. Later, with the rapid growth of urban residents’ income, coupled with Ihe lack of timely adjustments to the threshold, more and more people needed to pay personal income tax. As a result, the growth rate of personal income tax is higher than that of urban residents’ income, having reached RMB 483. 7 billion in 2011, a real increase of 9. 4 times compared with that in 1999.
The growing personal income tax actually does not play a significant role in adjusting the income distribution of urban residents. The main reason is that China’s personal income tax is a single-item tax (a tax on each income) rather than integrated tax (tax collection based on family income and the population).
Another reason is that some high-income groups have a variety of methods of tax evasion. However, the proportion of personal income tax in the government revenue is not high. For example, in 2010 it accounted for only 6. 6% of total government revenue. Instead, a large part of the government revenue comes from indirect laxes such as value added tax, consumption tax and business tax.
In order to further analyze the income distribution effect of personal income tax and make clear how it helps narrow the income gap instead of expanding the gap, we used the data of 12700 households participating in the National Bureau of Statistics’ survey of urban residents in 2008 to calculate the income taxes paid by urban residents and the tax rate (tax/income). We found that both the amount of the personal income taxes paid by urban residents and the tax rate were relatively low. In 2008, the average personal income tax paid by urban residents was RMB 268 per person, and the
average tax rate was less than 1 %. Meanwhile, the personal income tax and tax rate for each decile group can also be calculated, as shown in Table 2. It is obvious that the tax rate is certainly progressive. The tax rate of high-income groups is higher than that of low-income groups. This means that at least by 2008, urban personal income tax played a positive role in reducing income inequality, although its role was limited. For example, before tax collection, the income per capita of the highest- income group was 9. 48 times that of the lowest-income group. It dropped to 9. 29 times after the start of tax collection.
Minimum living standard guarantee
Transfer payments to low-income people in the Chinese government welfare programs are very limited, one of which is the Minimum Income Guarantee System (MIGS, or Dibao) implemented in the past decade. The system was first introduced in the city, and later extended to the rural areas. At the end of 2010, 23. 1 million urban residents and 52. 1 million rural residents were supported by MIGS (Table 3). The annual expenditure of the government on urban subsistence allowances was RMB 52. 47 billion, 8. 8% up over the previous year, of which RMB 36. 56 billion comprised central government subsidies, accounting for 69.7% of the total expenditure in 2010. People who received the subsistence allowances were mainly unemployed persons, elderly people without pensions and minors. These three kinds of people accounted for more than 70% of people receiving subsistence allowances. In 2010, the average urban subsistence allowance standard nationwide was RMB 251. 2 per person, up 10. 3% over the previous year; and the monthly subsistence allowances received by urban residents was RMB 189. 0 per person, up 9. 9% over the previous year.
Although the urban MIGS does not have a significant impact on the income gap, it has an obvious effect on poverty alleviation. If the local minimum income standard is taken as the poverty line, then, based on CHIP 2007 urban household survey data, we can work out the changes in poverty incidence, the poverty gap and the weighted poverty gap before and after the subsistence allowances.
The results show that the poverty incidence declined by 42% as a whole. More importantly, the decreased rate of the poverty gap and weighted poverty gap was even higher, respectively reaching 57% and 63% (Li and Yang, 2009). This means that the subsistence allowance has not only lifted a considerable number of people out of poverty, but also brought their income above the poverty line. Even tor those who have not shaken off poverty, living standards have been improved and poverty has been alleviated.
Thus, the urban MIGS is not only a government income transfer policy, but also a policy for redistribution of income. Its impact on income distribution, in terms of narrowing the income gap, is very limited. However, in terms of poverty alleviation, its impact is significant. Clearly, it is an effective pro-poor income distribution policy.
Compared to the urban MIGS, the rural MIGS was established a few years later and was not promoted in all rural areas until 2007. Compared to 2007, for example, more than 46% of the rural residents received the subsistence allowance in 2010. There was an increase of 67% in per capita subsistence allowances. The increase in real terms was more than 55%. Moreover, the per capita subsistence allowance income of the secured households also almost doubled.
The coverage of rural subsistence allowances expanded rapidly, but due to the low level of protection, the impact for narrowing the rural income gap is very limited. The urban low-income redistribution effect is identical. What, then, should be done to alleviate rural poverty? Table 8 of the Rural Poverty Monitoring Survey 2008 obtained data on the Foster - Greer -Thorbecke index changes before and after the guaranteed income. The data cover counties with a total of 3, 835 low households and 16,636 individuals as the minimum target. In the impoverished counties, coverage is 7.28%, higher than the national rural average. As shown in Table 8, using the poverty line of RMB 1,196 (official new adjusted poverty line), guaranteed income caused this group’s incidence of poverty to fall by 21%, the poverty gap to decline by 32.6%, and the weighted poverty gap to decline by 37. 5%. This means that the guarantee policy lifted more than two percent of the population out of poverty.
From the beginning of the new century, in order to better implement the strategy of balanced development, the Chinese government implemented a series of pro-farmer policies. Based on the ways to benefit farmers, the government’s pro-farmer policies can be divided into two categories. First, subsidy policies aimed to directly increase farmers’ income, including direct subsidies for grain, improved varieties, farm machinery purchases, etc. Second, public service policies aimed to establish a social security network for farmers, mainly in the form of a new cooperative medical system, “two exemptions and one subsidy” policy for education, rural minimum income guarantee policy, etc. Clearly, these pro-farmer policies played a certain role in increasing farmers’ income and reducing the income gap between urban and rural areas.
More importantly, these policies played a positive role in narrowing the income gap within rural areas and alleviating rural poverty. For a long time, agricultural prices in China were generally low. These, coupled with the decentralization of land management and low scale of production, caused agricultural yield to be low, and so the income of farmers from agricultural production was very limited. It means that the farmers engaged in agricultural production, especially grain production, were low-income or poverty-stricken people.
Some research shows that farmers obtain income from agriculture, which has an equalizing effect on the income gap in rural areas to some extent (Khan and Riskin, 1998). Thus, subsidies to agriculture, including grain subsidies and price subsidies for agricultural production, would benefit those households which are engaged in agricultural production. It would also make their income increase at a higher speed, narrow the income gap within rural areas and reduce their risk of falling into poverty.
In addition, the compensation policy for reforestation was issued in 1999. The pilot projects of reforestation were carried out in Shaanxi, Gansu and Sichuan provinces. In 2000, the project implementation areas expanded to the upper reaches of Yangtze River in the west such as Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou, Chongqing and Hubei, and 174 counties of 13 provinces in the middle and upper reaches of the Yellow River, including Shaanxi, Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Henan and Xinjiang. In 2002, the project of reforestation was implemented comprehensively across China and the coverage extended from west-based 20 provinces (autonomous regions) to 1897 counties in 25 provinces (autonomous regions, municipalities) nationwide. With the gradual increase in the compensation standards, this policy has been widely welcomed by local farmers.
In terms of the geographical distribution of the project, most of the benefited farmers live in the mountainous and ethnic minority areas with income levels far below the national average. The compensation policy for reforestation has increased their income to some extent. It helps narrow the income gap within rural areas and between regions. Meanwhile, these people live in the areas with high incidence of poverty. The direct subsidies from the project will help to alleviate the poverty of these regions and increase opportunities for them to create income. People at the edge of poverty usually have a strong sense of risk aversion; combined with their low income, this makes them unable to take a risk or deal with liquidity costs and often reluctant to work outside. For the poor, the subsidy from the projects to a certain degree will increase their intention and opportunities of working outside the home or engaging in non-agricultural industries, thus promoting poverty alleviation in these project areas.
It should be noted that these pro-farmer policies are reflected in the fanners’ income composition to some extent. As Table 4 shows, in the period from 2005 to 2008, the proportion of transfer income in the net income of rural households in the poverty-stricken countries grew by 50%, and the growth rate of the poor households was even higher, exceeding 66%. In addition, the proportion of transfer income in the net income of poor households was actually higher than that of the non-poor. For example, in 2008, the former was 30% higher than the latter. The main factors promoting the rapid growth of rural households’ transfer income are the government’s pro-farmer policies, especially subsidies and relief in cash, such as grain subsidies and subsistence allowances.
Social security system
In the past ten years, China experienced social security system reform and one of the objectives of the reform was to establish a social security system covering all Chinese. The social security system was expanded towards the urban informal sector and migrant workers. The income distribution and poverty reduction effects of China’s social security system reform are also worth mentioning, but there are some difficulties in the research. This is because social security is part of public policy and is, to a great extent, only reflected in government or persona) expenses rather than individual residents’ or families’ income. The basic indicator used in both research on the distribution of income and the measurement of poverty is income. For example, people with health insurance will forgo personal medical expenses, but Ihis does not affect their income. If income is taken as an indicator to measure poverty, it will not affect their poverty status no matter whether people have participated in medical insurance.
For China, the good momentum of social security in rural areas is worth mentioning. The new rural cooperative medical system (NCMS) has basically come to cover the whole rural population. By the end of 2008, it had covered all the counties (municipalities and autonomous regions) with rural populations and a total of 815 million fanners had participated in the system, accounting for 91. 5% of the total rural population. A total of 3. 5 billion people nationwide have received the compensation and the compensation fund expenses amounted to RMB 125. 3 billion.
In addition, in the last two years, the government continued to raise the proportion of government investment funds and the proportion of reimbursement of medical expenses, causing the actual benefits to farmers to continue to increase. This is of great significance to rural poverty alleviation, especially the poverty caused by diseases. The pro-poor effect of the pilot projects of the new rural endowment insurance system implemented in 2010 have not been explored so far. After it is widely promoted in rural areas across the country over four years, it will play an important role in reducing poverty, especially the poverty of the rural elderly. Because these social security projects are supported by government funds, they can be called the government’s income redistribution policies to a large extent. Given their anti-poverty characteristics, they can also be called income distribution policies conducive to poverty reduction.
1. Making income distribution policies more conducive to inclusive development
From the perspective of inclusive development, there are many improvements and adjustments that can be made to China’s income distribution and redistribution policies. This is mainly reflected in two aspects. First, the policy system needs to be completed. Second, close coordination between the various policies is required. Based on the different standards of our concept of inclusive development, China’s economic and social development in the past 30 years can be viewed as an inclusive development model, but of the low absolute standard. In the long run, this pattern of development is not sustainable, because it cannot guarantee that all people of the society will share the fruits of economic development equally. In addition, the large income gap will lead to an imbalance of economic development and social instability. Thus, China’s economic and social development needs a transition from a low absolute standard model of inclusive development to one with a high absolute standard, and the income distribution policy needs to promote the transition.
Income distribution policy can be divided into two types - direct policies and indirect policies. A so-called direct policy itself has direct effects on income of different income groups to cause a change in the income inequality. For instance, personal income tax is one of the direct policies. If a direct income distribution policy leads to a narrowing income gap, then the policy is progressive; if it leads to a widening income gap, it is regressive. The agriculture tax in China is such an example. An indirect policy aims at changing opportunities of different population groups to generate income, to lead to changes in the pattern of income distribution, such as employment policies contributing to achievement of the goal of full employment, and has a role in narrowing the income gap. An employment policy can be termed an indirect income distribution policy.
Based on the above considerations, we propose the following income distribution policies, with particular emphasis on their role in promoting inclusive development of Chinese society.
First, China should achieve full employment as one of the most important income distribution policies. Achieving full employment is also one of the main objectives of the inclusive development model.
Second, in order to enhance its anti-poverty function and the function of distribution and redistribution of income, China’s tax revenue system should be adjusted in two aspects. On the one hand, indirect taxes should be decreased and direct taxes should be increased gradually. Tax theory suggests that indirect taxes are for all with the same tax rate for different income groups. In other words, people who spend more pay more taxes, including the poor, who face the same tax rate as the rich. Direct tax, however, is based on personal income and business income, and a progressive tax rate can be determined based on the income level, hence strengthening its role of reducing income inequality. Reduction of indirect taxes may help enhance the wage level. It also leads to a rapid growth of wages of the poor. On the other hand, the government should change the personal income tax from the current itemized tax to general tax. The former is taxation on each income while the latter is general tax on family income. The implementation of general tax can avoid the embarrassment of tax payment of low-income groups and the poor and might enhance the function of narrowing the income gap of personal income tax.
Third, China’s income distribution policy does not involve a large number of government transfer payment projects. The existing transfer payment projects such as urban and rural MIGS and social relief projects are at a low level of security. The government should classify different vulnerable groups, especially the vulnerable people without the ability to work, and develop related transfer payment projects based on the characteristics of various vulnerable groups. Apart from a minimum income guarantee for low-income people, the government should also develop targeted transfer payment projects for the disabled, orphans, AIDS patients, children and the elderly from low-income families, single-parent families and other vulnerable groups. The experience of some countries shows that a child allowance is an effective way to alleviate child poverty and prevent child malnutrition. For China, the implementation of a nationwide system of child allowances is unrealistic, but this does not mean that we must implement this policy in rural areas or rural poor regions. Rather, the government should implement the child allowance for urban low-income families. Similarly, the old age subsidy is also an option for income transfer payment policy. China’s long-established social pension insurance is linked with formal sector employment, which means that a large portion of the population is not covered by social pension insurance, including the elderly in rural areas, the urban elderly without employment experience and people retired from the informal sector. An old age subsidy is necessary for the elderly and can help to alleviate their poverty, as they usually form the most vulnerable group of people in terms of poverty.
Fourth, complete coverage of the social security system and the equalization of public services will not only help regulate the distribution of income, but also help alleviate poverty. The reform should be kept going. In the reform process, the government should make sure that the poor enjoy social security benefits. As for the NCMS, the government has increased investment in recent years. However, farmers’ reimbursement rate is merely around 50 percent, which is lower than in many other regions. For some low-income families, the proportion of the burden of medical costs is extremely high. As a result, some poor people do not see a doctor when they are ill. In this case, different reimbursement rates for different income groups can be determined. The lower the income of farmers is, the higher the reimbursement rate they can enjoy. This will make the NCMS have a better pro-poor effect. The pension subsidy policy implemented in some places has the same problem. In issuing the pension subsidy, the income status of families is not taken into account and the same standard is used. Therefore, regarding the future development of the elderly’s subsidy policy, the Chinse government should consider the income level of the family of the elderly and develop different subsidy standards to make the pension subsidy have a better pro-poor effect.
Fifth, the implementation of China’s pro-farmer policy will continue, as it has played a positive role in narrowing the income gap between urban and rural areas and alleviating rural poverty. Meanwhile, in the implementation process, the policy will be continuously improved. One important improvement measure is enhancement of its poverty reduction role. So far grain subsidies have used relatively uniform national standards for both developed areas and poverty-stricken regions. It is not necessary to use different standards. The government can enhance the grain subsidy standard for backward areas, especially impo verished areas, to make the farmers engaged in agricultural production and low-income farmers gain more benefits. It is possible to develop different food subsidies for different regions and different income groups, which may not have predictable side effect. In addition, the significance of this policy in reducing poverty will be emphasized. Regarding other agricultural subsidies, we should develop different subsidy standards.
Sixth, while striving to achieve the goal of equalization of public services, the government should give more compensation to poverty-stricken areas and the poor. The equalization of public services has positive policy implications. It attempts to correct the discriminatory public services policies that have long been practiced. However, as these discriminatory policies have had a long-term effect, some discriminated people such as farmers and rural migrants lag far behind the national average in human capital accumulation and wealth accumulation. Even if we achieved the goal of equalization of public services, in a short period of time, it is difficult for these people to catch up with those who have long been enjoying the public service benefits, so it is more possible for them to fall into poverty than other groups. Thus, at the early stage of the policy changing, public service supply should be prioritize these people. Only in this way can we eliminate the differences in development opportunities for different groups and lift the vulnerable people out of poverty in the near future.
In this regard, one of the most prominent examples is the development of basic education in backward areas. Although nine-year compulsory education is basically universally implemented in rural areas nowadays, the quality of education is worrying. If the government cannot fundamentally solve the problem of the low quality of compulsory education in rural areas, poverty in China will continue to exist and poverty will “transfer” from rural areas to the cities with the movement of the rural population. To improve the quality of compulsory education in rural areas and narrow its divergence from the quality of urban education, support from the government, especially a large amount of government investment, is needed. Meanwhile, high-quality educational resources need to be transferred to rural areas and poverty-stricken areas.
In conclusion, from the perspective of inclusive development, there are many actions to take for China to reform the income distribution system. China has adopted an inclusive development model, supported by income distribution policy which can bring a higher rate of economic growth, equal employment opportunities, a more equitable mechanism for sharing public resources, and a more harmonious and stable social environment.
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