Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, May 05, 2017

The last links are the most difficult

"The last mile… is a colloquial phrase widely used… to refer to the final leg of the telecommunications networks that deliver… services to retail end-users (customers). More specifically, the last mile refers to the portion of the telecommunications network chain that physically reaches the end-user's premises… The word 'mile' is used metaphorically… The last mile is typically the speed bottleneck in communication networks…"

-Wikipedia

The last, toughest mile: China’s new approach to beating poverty

MOST of Tian Shuang’s relatives are herding goats in the barren hills of Ningxia province, one of the poorest parts of western China. But last year Mr Tian came down to Minning, a small town in the valley, when the local government, as part of an anti-poverty programme, gave him a job growing mushrooms and ornamental plants in a commercial nursery garden. His name, address and income (20,000 yuan a year, or $2,900—six times the minimum wage) are written on a board by its greenhouse door…

Minning is a model town. Its poverty-alleviation scheme was set up by Xi Jinping, China’s president, between 1999 and 2002 when he was governor of Fujian, a wealthy province in the south… The system that Minning pioneered is now spreading throughout China. It focuses on poor individuals, and on drawing up specific plans for each, rather than merely helping poor places to develop in the hope that wealth will trickle down to the poorest…

China has been a hero of the world’s poverty-reduction efforts. It has eradicated poverty in cities (by its definition, at least) and reduced the number of rural people below the official poverty line…

Politically, poverty reduction matters because, as one party member says, unless China solves the problem of income inequality, the party’s legitimacy will be questioned. The party owes its power to a revolt fuelled by the miseries of the countryside. It does not want to be accused of failing to fulfil its mandate to eliminate them…

But the last stage of poverty reduction will be the most difficult. China’s success so far has been based largely on economic growth, which has generated jobs for the able-bodied. The final stage will be costly and complicated because many of the remaining poor are people who, because of physical or mental disabilities, cannot hold down jobs. A recent government survey found that 46% of China’s poor were poor because of their health…

There are signs that China’s is indeed improving its main form of poor relief, which is called “subsistence guarantee”, or dibao. The dibao programme has been notoriously inefficient. Many households that qualify for payments do not receive them because of corruption and bureaucratic failings…

All these efforts are aimed only at extreme poverty in the countryside. The government claims the urban kind does not exist, ie, that no one in cities has less than 2,300 yuan a year. But that minimum is too low for cities, where living costs are higher…

At current rates of reduction (more than 10m fewer people annually in extreme poverty), Mr Xi should be able meet his target by 2020. It will be hailed as a great achievement. But huge government effort will still be needed to help the worse-off. It will not be the end of poverty in China.

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