Birth of plenty, but work still to be done

Updated: 2011-12-21 08:06

By Zhu Yuan (China Daily)

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Birth of plenty, but work still to be done
Property rights, scientific rationalism, capital markets, and improvements in transport and communications are the four factors that have made the world what it is now, William J. Bernstein concludes in his book The Birth of Plenty: How the Prosperity of the Modern World Was Created.
The economic growth in China in the past three decades seems to be another chapter in this story of progress, as the reform and opening-up initiated in 1978, created nothing but these four factors, albeit in their fledgling forms or preliminary stages.

Chairman Mao, of course, famously said that it is people who are the motivating power behind the progress of history.

And while there is nothing wrong with this, it is too general, and problems arose from how it was interpreted and the policies based on that interpretation: Trying every conceivable means to stimulate people's enthusiasm to contribute to the common good by denying their intrinsic sense of individualism.

What this country has achieved in the past more than three decades demonstrates that the pursuit of personal interest is not always at the expense of common prosperity.

What has made a big difference in this regard is the sense of property that Chinese people have developed in the past few decades.

Although, urban residents purchase the lease to their properties for 70 years, most believe that it will be impossible for the government to demolish or take away their homes when the 70 years are up.

Rural villagers have been given land to use and manage for their own benefit, albeit in the form of contracts with the rural authorities. These are now guaranteed for 30 years.

In the just concluded Central Economic Work Conference, the central authorities made clear that the next goal is to increase the proportion of middle-income earners, which is necessary to boost domestic consumption and to narrow the ever-widening gap between the rich and poor.

But creating the conditions to achieve this requires that the economic development mode be transformed.

By emphasizing the need to transform the economic development mode from the one driven by investment and exports to a sustainable one that focuses on innovation in the real economy and service sector, the central authorities have obviously realized that scientific rationalism is the factor that still leaves something to be desired in this country.

The lack of innovation in the country has become a bottleneck for the country's economic development. Science and technology must be the driving force for the country's continued economic development and social progress.

Just as the four factors made it possible for industrial revolution to change the outlook of the world in 1820, it is imperative for the country to create conditions for the mode of economic development to be transformed in favor of innovation and sustainable growth.

To successfully achieve this, I think one more factor should be added to the four that Bernstein has listed as essential for modernity, and that is social institutions that facilitate the other four.

We need institutional guarantees that make it difficult and costly for officials to abuse power, and we need institutional support to realize the transparency of governance at all levels of governments

Of course, it is not that easy for institutional reforms to be carried out, that has been the hardest nut to crack since reform and opening-up were first initiated. But with the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China to be held in the latter half of next year, a roadmap for the country's institutional reform may be something people can hope for.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily.

(China Daily 12/21/2011 page8)