How are all Chinese to Escape Poverty by 2020?

澎湃新闻

中文 English

Editor’s Note

This article originally appeared in 澎湃新闻 (thepaper.cn). It recounts the main points that were made during a recent event in Beijing on the topic of poverty alleviation in which three prominent figures in this field, professors Li Shi and Li Xiaoyun and CASS researcher Xun Lili, exchanged their views. Below is CDB’s translation.  

According to the poverty relief goals set by the central government, by 2020 all of China’s presently impoverished people will have escaped poverty, and we shall enter a poverty-free era.

On the afternoon of July 8th, ‘Cultural Review’ (文化纵横) and Narada Insights (南都观察) co-hosted a salon in Beijing with the theme “Poverty is heading towards its conclusion – how should we respond to the era of ‘new poverty’?”, at which Professor Li Shi (李实), the executive director of the China Institute for Income Distribution at Beijing Normal University, Professor Li Xiaoyun (李小云) of the College of Humanities and Development Studies of China Agricultural University, and Xun Lili (荀丽丽), associate research fellow in the Sociology Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, engaged in an in-depth discussion on the topic of poverty relief and ‘new poverty’.

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China’s achievements in poverty relief are remarkable, but poverty remains a serious problem

According to Li Shi, China’s achievements in poverty relief over the last 30 years are remarkable, but poverty remains a serious problem. China’s rural poverty relief standards are based solely on income, and the standards set have for a long time been low, leading to an underestimation of both the scale of rural poverty and the proportion of the rural population that is impoverished.

Various ways of defining poverty exist, one of which is setting an absolute standard. In this case, a standard is set in terms of income, consumption, or basic living conditions, such as the often mentioned annual per capita income of 2300 RMB for rural areas. Another way is to set a relative standard, which is determined relative to a relevant factor (such as income) for the entire population, for example 50% of average per capita income. Both of these are fixed poverty standards which do not take into account specific circumstances, such as how much money a particular family actually requires, and whether or not a family has young or old dependents. Such factors mean that even if per capita income is identical, basic needs may be widely divergent.

The Chinese state, however, has always used absolute poverty standards. At the beginning of the Reform and Opening Up, the line was set at an annual per capita rural income of 100 RMB, which at that time was very high, as per capita rural income in 1978 was only about 130 RMB. In 2008, the rural absolute poverty standard was 895 RMB. Between 1978 and 2008 the figure was merely adjusted in line with the price index, and did not undergo any change in substance. Compared with the World Bank’s one, this poverty line is very low: the World Bank’s standard in 1978 was one US dollar a day, equivalent to a per capita annual income of 876 RMB. Therefore, although China has achieved enormous results in poverty reduction, it has also received much international criticism, as its poverty level has been greatly underestimated. For this reason, in 2008 a ‘low income line’ was introduced in addition to the absolute poverty line, and in 2010 a new poverty line of 2300 RMB was introduced. This new line is about 70% higher than the earlier ‘low income line”, and rural poverty measured by this new standard is 18%, as opposed to 3% as measured by the earlier poverty standard. Therefore, eliminating poverty by 2020 remains a formidable task.

From the perspective of relative standards, the increase in the average income of Chinese residents far exceeds the results of the government’s efforts to relieve poverty, which is to say, income inequality has been continually increasing. In recent years, the rate of relative poverty has been increasing rather than decreasing. This provides a basic foundation to look at the problem of poverty after 2020.

Poverty rates and achievements in poverty reduction are therefore closely connected with the standards by which poverty is defined – the higher the poverty standard, the more difficult the task of poverty reduction. In addition, from the perspective of efficiency in poverty reduction, although in recent years the government has invested a lot in the western part of the country, the effects of poverty reduction efforts are clearly greater in the east. This isn’t to say that the government has done a bad job in poverty relief, but to point out that the characteristics of the problem are different in different parts of the country. Moreover, the poverty rate varies considerably between different groups of people: it is 14% among ethnic minorities, almost 10% among children, and around 13% among the disabled, in each case noticeably higher than the national average rate of around 8%.

Once we enter the era of targeted poverty relief, however, identifying the overall number of impoverished people becomes less important than actually finding them. In the past we adopted a policy of regional poverty relief, including measures like designating impoverished counties, because at the time poverty tended to be geographically concentrated. Poverty has become increasingly dispersed, however, raising the question of what kind of targeted measures can be taken to assist these people to genuinely escape poverty. Provinces and cities throughout the country have been setting up a system of minimum subsidies (低保制度), with the result that by the end of 2015 the number of rural residents receiving such support reached 49 million. However, this number contains a lot of people who should not be receiving a subsidy, while excluding many who should. Therefore, the key to reducing poverty in a targeted way is to accurately identify the impoverished population, and in practice the errors in this process remain very large.

Will the problem of poverty reach its conclusion in 2020? First of all, we face the question of how to define poverty, which depends in turn on what poverty standard we use. The understanding of poverty varies with the level of economic development, meaning that conditions that we can tolerate at one point may become intolerable after a certain number of years. Based on the current poverty standards, it should be possible to eliminate poverty by 2020. If, however, we adopt multi-dimensional standards, or raise the current standards, this will become less likely.

The adoption of relative poverty standards is rather unlikely, as relative poverty is the direct consequence of income inequality – this is also the case in Europe, where relative poverty rates are about 13%. Relative poverty is something society can never eliminate, and the only possible response is to think of ways to help the relatively impoverished population, such as various kinds of preferential policies and protective measures, thereby preventing their economic situation from continually worsening, and allowing them to keep up with the rate of development of society.

Eliminating absolute poverty still requires good institutional design, the accurate targeting of the impoverished population, and the adoption of different measures to respond to different kinds of poverty.

The core of poverty alleviation is poverty-stricken areas and groups

In 2015 Li Xiaoyun registered a grassroots public welfare organization, the “Xiaoyun Poverty Alleviation Center”, in Mengla County, Yunnan Province, by a riverside village of the Yao minority in Xishuangbanna, as an experimental base for implementing a comprehensive governance plan for the impoverished. The riverside village is a typical impoverished village, although it enjoys great natural advantages and scenic landscapes, and it has the potential to develop into a high quality economy. Taking this situation into account, the “Xiaoyun Poverty Alleviation” collected government and public welfare funds, launched crowdfunding and collected donations in order to raise funds for every Yao family to have a new house. Every new house would be built in the “embedded” stilt house style, but would also have the ability to be a high-quality business guesthouse. At the same time a sale of “rainforest eggs” was launched to help villagers make money directly.

These efforts led the villagers down their own path towards poverty alleviation. In Li Xiaoyun’s opinion, the greatest challenge facing current poverty alleviation is the “extreme poverty of regions and groups”, and not “individual extreme poverty.” The problem of individuals is modern society’s occasional “sickness”, which is very easy to solve. The problem of impoverished regions and groups, on the other hand, means there is a greater distance between individuals’ overall social and cultural norms and the modern ethics our society has adopted, and the poor cannot grasp basic market principles. Future poverty alleviation should be more precise in addressing impoverished regions and groups.

Li Xiaoyun proposes three core poverty alleviation strategies. The first is to interrupt the inter-generational transfer of poverty between parents and their children. The specific measures are to advance children’s education and nutrition as they grow up, to help them gradually develop and adapt to modern ethics. After they’ve grown up they will be able to change the appearance of rural areas and become a vessel for development. Compared with the current large-scale development and educational projects, this will better help solve the fundamental problems of poverty-stricken regions and groups. The second strategy is to strengthen basic infrastructure construction. In Li Xiaoyun’s opinion, the lack of basic infrastructure not only obstructs the ability of impoverished areas to get rich but also in turn consumes the residents’ income.

Taking the example of the riverside village where Xiaoyun registered his organization, it used to be eight kilometers on a dirt road to the nearest town. Once the entire road was paved, a motorcycle could save 500 or 600 yuan on gas in a year, not including the avoidance of personal injuries caused by the poor road conditions. Basic infrastructure construction can carry with it returns that surpass the cost of the infrastructure itself. The third strategy is the one Li Xiaoyun is currently employing, improving residents’ income. From his point of view, minor income growth won’t help to transform the attitudes of poverty-stricken areas and groups, and there must be a substantial income increase in order to balance the gap between impoverished areas and modern society.

Addressing the “locality” blind spot in the “Who should we support? How to support them? Who will help?” questions.

In Xun Lili’s opinion, the long-term existence of poverty is not an issue that needs debating. As a result of long-term uncertainty and risk, in the era of “new poverty” the basis for eradicating poverty should not simply be the issues of “low income” or of “raising incomes”, but instead it should be how to build a social support network. Each group’s adaptability and flexibility must be raised; this is an ecological, economic and social issue of sustainable development.

Xun Lili proposes the concept of poverty alleviation “in the locality”. This is to say that when working on poverty alleviation not only must we fully understand the characteristics of the local climate and landscape, but more attention should be paid to the way local people behave and the concept of public participation in the local context. This way the core questions in poverty alleviation —“Who to support? How to support them? Who will help?” — can overcome the “locality” blind-spot.

First of all, the issue of “who to support?” focuses on the problem of poverty alleviation. Poverty alleviation with top to bottom “targeted control” and “targeted distribution” determines that there is a systemic bias in the aims of poverty alleviation. Despite the government investing manpower and money on an unprecedented scale, resources for poverty alleviation remain limited. Looking at the poverty alleviation standards, we can see that the state’s logic and the rural logic do not match. The state’s logic requires that poverty be identified down to the individual, in a way that is clear and easy to control, for instance with the establishment of household information cards. The rural logic is not the same however, because in order to avoid conflict village cadres want to equalize benefits. They can normally choose the share of benefits for each group within the village, and very often groups with a lot of poor within them will be unable to receive a larger proportion of the resources marked for poverty alleviation, while groups with less poor among them will continue to receive their share of such resources. In the past, in poor areas with little income differentiation the villagers would receive the benefits in turn according to the year, but this is not consistent with the fixed poverty indicators of the household information card.

Secondly, when it comes to the issue of “how to help”, first of all the local government’s current practice of targeted poverty alleviation practice has the characteristics of a political movement. Poverty alleviation resources largely flow into model localities where political achievements are more in evidence, while other localities get less attention, as the effects of poverty alleviation in some remote villages are less easily noticeable. Secondly, in the poverty alleviation industry there is a clear issue concerning the abstractness of the poor. Local governments generally prefer large-scale projects with quick results, in a “capitalistic” approach to industrial design, with the poverty alleviation funds concentrated in the hands of cooperatives or leading companies. Poor households seem to benefit without lifting a finger, but in reality it is very difficult for them to effectively participate in the production or distribution phases, and improving their self-development abilities remains unachievable.

Once again, we find that when it comes to poverty alleviation in some remote areas, genuine innovation that could alleviate poverty faces challenges. For instance, in a village in Yunnan it was difficult to get the support of the local government to introduce technology for every family to independently raise wild mushrooms. The scattered nature of the raising is too hard to control, the scale isn’t large enough, and the political achievements don’t look good enough.

Thirdly, on the question of “who is helping”, we may have discovered a common problem: compared with the international community, the government-led model of poverty alleviation has always been our country’s special characteristic and advantage. But now that we are indeed in the midst of a tremendous targeted poverty alleviation, we discover that the government is the sole source of setbacks. The possibility and space for pluralistic social forces to participate in poverty governance is enormous. To go beyond the blind spots of the government’s poverty alleviation system, it is necessary to integrate the new body of greater social activism.

In addition, poverty management needs to be linked to an institutionalized design for rural revival. In future development, the villages should have their own autonomy and flexibility to adapt to risks, and then the anti-poverty framework will enter into the scope of villages’ public affairs governance and stimulate the rural communities’ endogenous drive . Researchers should also pay attention to the issue of how to reconstruct the capacity and mechanisms for rural areas to conduct public affairs.

2020年中国人全部脱贫,该怎样实现

卢南峰

 

根据中央提出的扶贫目标,2020年,中国现有的贫困人口将全部脱贫,我们将迎来一个没有贫困的时代。

7月8日下午,由《文化纵横》杂志、南都观察主办的“贫困走向‘终结’,如何应对‘新贫困’时代”主题沙龙在北京举行,北京师范大学中国收入分配研究院执行院长李实教授、中国农业大学人文与发展学院李小云教授、中国社会科学院社会学研究所荀丽丽副研究员就扶贫与“新贫困”问题展开了深入的讨论。

讨论会现场

中国减贫成果显著,但贫困问题仍然严重

在李实看来,中国在过去30年减贫成效显著,但是贫困问题仍很严重。中国的农村扶贫标准是一维的收入标准,而且在很长时期内是被低估的,因而中国农村贫困人口规模和贫困发生率也存在着低估问题。

贫困的标准有很多种,一种是绝对贫困标准,就是按照收入、消费或者基本生活状态的某一个维度确定的标准,比如我们常常提到农村人均年收入2300元,就是绝对贫困标准。而另一种是相对贫困标准,是根据整体人群收入变动而确定的,比如人均收入的50%。这两者都是客观贫困标准,还有主观贫困标准,也就是某个家庭实际需要多少钱,家中有老有小与无老无小,即便人均年收入相同,基本生活需要是迥然不同的。

而一直以来,我们国家采取的扶贫标准采取的是绝对贫困标准。改革开放之初标准是农村人均年收入100元,这在当时是很高的标准,1978年农村人均年收入只有130元左右。2008年的农村绝对贫困标准是895元,从1978年到2008年三十年间,只是根据物价指数调整了数值,本质上是没有变化的。这样的贫困标准相对于世界银行的标准是严重偏低的,世界银行在1978年的标准是1天1美元,相当于人均年收入876元人民币。所以,虽然中国在脱贫问题上取得了极大的成果,但一直以来也受到国际批评,因为中国的贫困水平被远远低估了。因此,在2008年,在农村绝对贫困标准之上引入了农村低收入标准,2010年又提出2300元的新贫困标准。新贫困标准的提出,比之前的低收入标准高出70%左右,这种情况下,农村贫困发生率从3%又回到了18%,到2020年要消除这部分贫困人口仍然是一个艰巨的任务。

而从相对标准的角度来看,居民平均收入的增长,远远超过政府扶贫措施的成果,也就是说社会收入差距不断扩大。所以近年来,相对贫困的发生率是有增无减。这对2020年后的贫困问题提供了一个基本依据。

所以,贫困发生率以及减贫的效果,很大程度上与贫困标准有关,贫困标准定得高,减贫的任务也就越艰巨。另外,从减贫效率上而言,尽管近年来政府将大量扶贫资金投入西部,但东部的减贫效果明显高于西部,这并不能说明政府的扶贫工作没有做好,而是说明不同地区的贫困问题的特征和类型不同。此外,不同人群的贫困发生率也有很大的差异性,比如少数民族贫困发生率为14%,儿童的贫困发生率将近10%,残疾人的贫困发生率约13%,都明显高于全国平均水平约8%。

但是进入精准扶贫时代,贫困人口的总量变得没那么重要了,重要的是找出这些贫困人口。过去,我们扶贫采取的是区域扶贫的策略,也就是采取划定贫困县等措施,因为当时贫困人口集中于一个区域,但现在贫困人口越来越分散,分散之后怎么有针对性地帮助这些人真正脱贫?全国各省市陆续建立低保制度,2015年底农村低保人群达到4900万,但是,这里面有大量不应该保但是被保的人,还有应该保但是没有保的人,也就是说低保存在很大的偏差。于是,后来要求精准扶贫,精准扶贫的关键是对贫困人口的精准识别,而实际上贫困人口的识别误差仍然很大。

2020年,贫困问题是否走到终结?首先我们面临的是如何定义贫困的问题,我们知道这取决于我们将来采取什么样的贫困标准。而经济发展到不同阶段,对贫困的理解也会不同,过去我们容忍一种贫困状态,可能过几年就无法容忍。按照现行的贫困标准,应该说2020年全面消除贫困的问题不大。但是,如果我们采取多维的标准,或者提高现行贫困标准,就不太可能全面消除贫困。

采取相对贫困标准的可能性并不大,因为相对贫困是伴随收入不平等带来的贫困,只要存在社会不公平,就会存在相对贫困,包括欧洲在内——欧洲国家采取相对贫困标准,基本贫困发生率在13%左右。相对贫困是一个社会永远消除不了的问题,只能考虑如何帮助相对贫困人口,制定各种优惠政策、保护性措施,让他们的经济状况不至于不断恶化,始终能跟上这个社会的发展节奏。

而消除绝对贫困,仍然需要好的制度设计,精准地瞄准贫困人口,针对不同类型的贫困采取不同措施。

深度性贫困地区和群体是扶贫的核心

2015年,李小云在云南省勐腊县注册了草根公益组织“小云扶贫中心”,将西双版纳河边瑶族村庄作为实施贫困综合治理方案的实验基地。河边村是一个典型的贫困村寨,却又有着得天独厚的自然景观,具有发展高端会议经济的潜力。出于这样的考虑,“小云助贫”整合政府资金,发动众筹及公益基金募捐等方式为每户瑶族新房筹集资金。建盖民居房时,在每家每户“嵌入”一间干栏式建筑风格、又具备接纳高端商务的客房。同时开展“热带雨林鸡蛋”营销,帮助村民直接创收。这些行动,将村民引导上自觉的脱贫道路。

在李小云看来,当前的扶贫面临的最大的挑战是“深度性的贫困地区和群体”,而非“深度性的贫困个体”,个体的问题是现代社会出现的偶然“病态”,很容易解决,而地区和群体的问题则意味着这批人的整体社会文化与我们已经掌握的现代伦理之间有较大的距离,他们无法把握市场的基本原则。未来的扶贫应该更加精准地针对深度性贫困地区和群体。

李小云提出三条核心的扶贫策略。第一,是阻断父母与孩童之间的代际贫困,其具体措施是规范化学前儿童教育和营养,在孩子成长的过程中,帮助其逐渐建立起与现代伦理相适应的观念,他们长大后才能改变家乡的面貌,又能赶上发展的列车,这比现阶段大规模的开发和养殖,更能解决深度性贫困地区与群体的根本问题。第二,加强基础设施建设,在李小云看来,基础施舍的匮乏不仅阻碍了贫困地区致富,而且反过来消耗居民的收入,以河边村前往乡镇的八公里土路为例,路面硬化前后,一辆摩托车一年的油钱至少能省下五六百,更遑论之前由于道路不畅造成的人身意外伤害,基础设施建设带来的效益高于基础设施本身的功能。第三,才是李小云当前在做的提高居民收入,在他看来,对于深度性贫困地区和群体,微弱的收入增长并不能起到转变观念的作用,必须是大幅度的增长,才能平衡贫困地区与现代社会之间的落差。

超越“扶持谁?怎么扶?谁来扶?”中的“在地性”盲点

在荀丽丽看来,贫困现象的长期存在不是一个需要争议的问题。由于不确定性与风险的长期存在,在“新贫困”时代,贫困治理的基本问题应该不是简单的“收入贫困”或者“提高收入”的问题,而应该是一个如何通过建立社会支持网络,来提高各个群体的适应性和弹性的问题,是一个生态、经济与社会的可持续发展问题。

荀丽丽提出“在地性”(locality)的扶贫概念,也就是说,在精准扶贫中,不仅要充分理解贫困地区天气物候和自然风土的特性、更应关注当地人行事为人的方式与观念、社区公共参与的惯习等“在地范畴”。由此,在精准扶贫的核心问题——“扶持谁、怎么扶、谁来扶”——上超越“在地性”的盲点。

第一,“扶持谁”的问题,就是扶贫瞄准的问题。精准扶贫中自上而下的“指标控制”和“指标分配”决定了扶贫瞄准是存在系统性偏误的。尽管政府投入了空前规模的人力和财力,扶贫资源依然是有限的。在扶贫标准中,我们会发现国家逻辑和乡村逻辑的不匹配。国家逻辑是要求贫困识别精确到人,清晰可控,比如要对贫困人口实行建档立卡;乡村逻辑则不一样,村干部首先要摆平利益,避免冲突。他们通常会选择各个村小组利益均沾,贫困人口多的村组不能获得多的扶贫指标,而贫困人口少的组也还是要将扶贫指标分下去。在收入分化小的贫困社区,以往村民之间可能存在按年份轮流受益的情况,这与将贫困指标固定化的建档立卡制度不契合。

第二,在“怎么扶”问题上,首先,当下地方政府的精准扶贫实践表现出运动式治理的特点。扶贫资源较多地流入凸显政绩的示范点,而非示范点则较少受到关注,一些偏远村庄的扶贫效果更是难以顾及。其次,在产业扶贫当中存在较为突出的贫困者主体性的虚化问题。地方政府普遍偏好一些见效快,带动面广的大项目,在产业设计上通过“资本化”的途径,将扶贫资金或权益集中到合作社或者龙头公司的手中,贫困户看似坐享红利,事实上他们无论在生产阶段还是分配阶段都很难实现有效的参与,无法实现自我发展能力的提高。再次,我们发现在一些偏远地区的扶贫实践中,真正扶贫性的技术创新却面临着较大的困境,比如在云南的一个村子,散养蘑菇的技术难以得到基层政府的支持,因为分散不可控、规模不够大、政绩效果不够好。

第三,在“谁来扶”的问题上,我们可能发现了一个共同的问题:与国际社会相比较,政府主导模式一直是我国贫困治理的特色和优势。但是我们也确实在声势浩大的精准扶贫中,发现了政府作为唯一能动主体的弊端。多元社会力量参与贫困治理的可能性和空间是巨大的。要超越政府扶贫体系的盲点,需要融入更多社会能动的新主体。

此外,贫困治理还需要与乡村复兴的制度化设计联系在一起。在未来发展中,乡村应该有自己的自主性和适应风险的弹性,将反贫困纳入乡村公共事务治理的范畴,激发乡村社区的内生动力。如何重构乡村公共事务治理的能力与机制也是研究者需要关注的问题。

Translated by Mark Czeller and Jennifer Hinz

Edited by Gabriel Corsetti

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