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A talk on goals of common prosperity

LI SHI | 2021-12-30 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

A volunteer helps a farmer hang up the vermicelli to dry, a distinct agricultural product for poverty alleviation in Donghai County, Jiangsu Province. PHOTO: Zhang Zhengyou/cnsphoto

Over the 40+ years’ development since the reform and opening up, economic growth in China has made remarkable achievements, celebrated globally. The GNP in 2020, for the first time exceeded 100 trillion yuan, growing by more than 200 times compared with the number from 1978. At the same time, social problems such as economic gaps and educational equity gaps have also emerged. These issues are closely related to the distribution of social wealth.

So, from the perspective of system building, what specific goals should common prosperity achieve? Given the fact that the wealthy and middle classes have currently attained a certain degree of prosperity in life, the key to achieving common prosperity should be improving the wealth of low-income groups. When judging whether a country has achieved common prosperity, we should take the low-income group as the target group, examine their living conditions, improve their life prospects, and ensure equal opportunities for their children to participate in competitive society.
Social security system
To realize these goals, it is important to build a social security system which covers the whole population, so that no matter how unfortunate any situation is, people will have sufficient food, clothing, affordable medical care, and receive schooling. This huge safety net should cover each aspect of people’s life, and make a decent living possible for people anywhere in the country, whether rural or urban areas, developed or less developed areas, for people with different degrees of talent, and for people with different degrees of luck (either confronting failure in investment or suffering from illness or other maladies).
For wealthy classes, the social security system is optional—they might be able to purchase better services in the market with their personal wealth. However, for low-income groups, the social security system is usually the last straw to clutch at. From this point of view, the social security system’s main task is to guarantee the basic living of low-income groups. 
Public education system
The second goal for achieving common prosperity is to establish a superior-quality public education system. A society that has realized common prosperity should not have inter-generational transmission of poverty nor perpetuate class stratification, but should have social mobility. Comprehensive development in society depends on good education, especially a good primary education. 
To ensure equal opportunities in education, private education in the free market should not be the only solution. Private education needs to be purchased, which means that the wealth gap will lead to huge disparities in educational resource acquisition. Therefore, equitable education should be realized through public education rather than market-oriented private education. 
Equal opportunities require unified rule-making across different levels of society, and the strict implementation of rules without discrimination due to gender, ethnic group, family background, or religious belief. 
An examination of educational resource distribution in current-day China shows that the country still has a long way to go in terms of education equity. While trying to eliminate traditional and rigid exam-oriented modes, primary and middle school education in China now seeks a competency-based education. However, competency-education is still limited to schools in developed urban centers, and is not applied in rural villages and towns. It seems that few people care about whether students from rural schools have the opportunities to learn music, drawing, and athletics; whether they have access to such cultural products as films, stage plays, and concerts. 
In many less developed regions, where public education resources are scarce, rural students can only mechanically read book after book in order to change their destiny. Even if they have entered satisfactory universities after years of diligent schooling and working very hard at their studies, they would easily feel inferior to urban students who are versatile with broad horizons. Some university teachers have shared that rural students whose school fees are aided by “special funds for poor students” find it difficult to adapt to university life and socialize with other students. 
In addition, special education provided for disabled students is far from sufficient. Lacking opportunities in education and employment, many disabled people are not able to access refined education resources. Without normal employment and adequate income, they usually belong to the low-income group. 
The wealth gap narrowing 
The third goal of common prosperity is to narrow the wealth gap, bring it within a certain range, but not necessarily equalizing incomes and wealth. The low-income group’s welfare level is calculated based on purchasing-power parity. This welfare level should be the standard when deciding to what extent the wealth gap should be narrowed. When this welfare level begins to decline, it is necessary to strengthen redistribution through property taxes, income taxes, and other institutional means in order to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor.
Li Shi is an associate professor from the School of International Relations and a research fellow from the Institute of Common Prosperity at Renmin University of China. 
Edited by BAI LE