根據官方統計，1978年至2015年間，中國成年人口的實質人均所得足足增幅了八倍之多。1978年時，他們每月的國民平均所得僅120歐元（以2015年匯率計算），但時至2015年，此數字卻已突破每月1000歐元（見圖2） 註更多中國成年人每年的人均國民所得（annual per adult national income）在1978年為6500元人民幣，到2015年後升至57800元人民幣，若以2015年人民幣與歐元的購買力平價（purchasing power parity）匯率計算，則1978年約為1400歐元，而2015年約為12500歐元。。
事實上，用於研究中國財富分配情況的家庭收支調查，多會碰上大量漏報情事，尤其是頂層群體更是如此，而這些調查也往往與用以評估總體經濟成長的資料來源（即national accounts；國民經濟會計帳）有所出入。這一議題不只對中國及其未來的發展道路來說意義重大，對於世界其他國家和全球化的社會永續性（social sustainability）也是極為重要。
皮凱提（Thomas Piketty）、楊利及祖克曼（Gabriel Zucman）等人近來發表研究，其中綜整官方及非官方的資料來源（包括針對中國財務狀況的獨立估算），提供了自中國改革開放以來首個嚴謹的估算報告，勾勒出中國國民財富的結構及水準情況。
此次轉型為中國帶來私有財富大幅增長，其相對於國民所得的比值日益升高，也就是所謂的私有財富／所得比（private wealth-income ratio）。自1978年改革開放以來，中國的私有財富／所得比到2015年已增至490%，成長近五倍之多（見圖3）。
另一方面，中國公有財富相對於國民所得的比值，意即公有財富／所得比（public wealth-income ratio），自1978年起便穩定維持於250%左右。此消彼長之下，公有財富占國民財富的比例自然一路下降，1978年雖仍占70%左右，但到了2015年僅剩下約30%。時至今日，超過95%的住宅存量（housing stock）都已為私人家庭所有，要是換作1978年，這個數字則僅有50%左右而已。
1980年起，中國便課徵起了所得稅，但很長一段時間都沒有詳細的稅務資料可供參考，因此學者僅能仰賴家庭收支調查，研究各家各戶自行填寫、回報的資料。2006年，中國稅務機關發布通告，要求課稅所得額（taxable income）高於12萬元人民幣的納稅人要特別申報，並進一步公布這些人的稅務資料 註更多根據通告，課稅所得額為薪資所得、營業所得，加上課稅資本所得（taxable capital income）的總數減去扣除額（估計平均為預扣財政收入之20%，因此12萬元人民幣的課稅所得額門檻，約相當於15萬元人民幣的財政收入門檻）。中國的所得稅共分為三個部分，薪資所得、營業所得和資本所得是分開課稅（薪資所得從0%起至45%，採累進稅率；營業所得從0%起至35%，採累進稅率；資本所得則採統一稅率，多半落在20%），因此除非是2006年通告的情形，否則人民多半不必申報總課稅所得額。該通告的目的是要改善稅收，並且打擊貪腐情事。。
俄羅斯則是沒有事先協調，反而躁進地採取「震盪療法」（shock therapy），導致經濟轉型為之「震盪」。在俄國如此混亂的貨幣政策及政治生態下，有一小群人得用相對低廉的價格，購入大量股權憑證（voucher），並跟當局達成利潤豐厚的交易案，譬如著名的「貸款換股權協議」（loans-for-shares agreement），便促成了不少這般交易。除此之外，再加上資本外流和境外基金增加，種種情形很可能促使俄羅斯成為今天的樣子，不但所得水準極端，財富分配也是極其集中。
For Up-media (Taiwan) only. The article will be translated and published in Chinese only.
Author Li Yang
Capital Accumulation, Private Property, and Inequality in China, 1978-2015
Between 1978 and 2015, China has moved from a poor, underdeveloped country to the world’s leading emerging economy. Despite the decline in its share of world population, China’s share of world GDP has increased from less than 3% in 1978 to about 20% by 2015 (see Figure 1). According to official statistics, real national income per adult has grown more than eightfold between 1978 and 2015. While average national income per adult was approximately EUR 120 per month in 1978 (expressed in 2015 euros), it exceeded EUR 1 000 per month in 2015 (see Figure 2).
However, relatively little is known about how the distribution of income and wealth within China has changed over this critical period. To be more precise, there is no consistent estimates of the extent to which the different income and wealth groups have benefited (or not) from the enormous macroeconomic growth. The household surveys that are used to study distributional issues in China suffer from massive under-reporting, particularly at the top of the distribution, and are typically not consistent with the data sources that are used to measure macro growth (namely, national accounts). This is an issue of tremendous importance not only for China and its future development path, but also for the rest of the world and the social sustainability of globalization.
Wealth accumulation (1978-2015)
In the recent research, Thomas Piketty, Li Yang, and Gabriel Zucman combine official and non-official sources (including independent estimates of China’s balance sheets) to provide the first systematic estimates of the level and structure of China’s national wealth since the beginning of the market reform process.
Since 1978, China embarked on a managed transition that involved the step-by-step introduction of elements of capitalism, instead of seeking to directly convert its state-owned, planned economy into a private, market-based one. The transition has involved gradual but nevertheless wide-ranging reforms. The reforms were implemented progressively, from special economic zones in coastal cities towards inland provincial regions, and in sectoral waves. The transition brought about large rises in the countries’ private wealth as a proportion of national income (private wealth-income ratios). Since the time of the “opening-up” policy reforms in 1978, the private wealth-income ratio in China has more than quadrupled, reaching 490% of national income in 2015, (see Figure 3).
In contrast public wealth as a proportion of national income (public wealth-income ratio) in China has remained relatively stable since 1978 at around 250%. Consequently, the share of public property in national wealth has declined from about 70% in 1978 to about 30% in 2015. More than 95% of the housing stock is now owned by private households, as compared to about 50% in 1978. Chinese corporations, however, are still predominantly publicly owned: close to 60% of Chinese equities belong to the government (with a small but significant rebound since 2009), 30% to private Chinese owners, and 10% to foreigners—less than in the United States, and much less than in Europe (See Figure 4).
Interestingly, many high-income countries have also experienced a similar decline in the share of public property since the 1980s, due both to the rise of public debt and the privatization of public assets. The share of public wealth in China today is not incomparable to levels observed in Western high-income countries during the “mixed economy” period (1950-1980). In effect, the share of public property in China today (30%) is higher than in the West during the mixed economy regime of the post-World War 2 decades (around 15%-25%), but not hugely so. And while the share of public property in national wealth has declined to 0% or even less than 0% in Western countries (with public debt exceeding public assets in the United States, Britain, Japan, and Italy today), the public’s share of national wealth in China seems to have strengthened since the 2008 financial crisis.
It is interesting to compare the evolution of the public share in national wealth in China and a resource-rich country with a large sovereign wealth fund such as Norway. These two countries have essentially switched positions: while the public share in Chinese national declined from 70% to 30% between 1978 and 2015, while it rose from 30% to 60% in Norway over the same period. A key difference between public wealth in Norway and China is that most of Norway’s public wealth is invested abroad. Norway’s large positive net public Wealth generates capital income that is mostly used to finance further foreign capital accumulation, which in the long-run can be used to reduce taxes and to finance more public spending. In that sense, it is a very different form of public property than in China. Norwegian public property has therefore largely been accumulated for fiscal and financial purposes, rather than for industrial development and retaining a measure of control over the economy as seen in China. Norway’s sovereign fund has, however, also been used at times to promote certain policies, for example, regarding social and environmental objectives.
The size and structure of China’s publicly-held wealth assets has large implications for economic development. the size of public property has important consequences for the state’s ability to conduct industrial and regional development policies; sometimes more efficiently and sometimes less so. It also has potentially considerable fiscal consequences, as governments with negative net public wealth typically have to pay large interest payments before they can finance public spending and welfare transfers, while those with large positive net public wealth can benefit from substantial capital incomes, enabling them to finance more public spending than could be possible through tax collection.
In brief: China has moved a long way toward private property between 1978 and 2015, but its property regime is still markedly different than in other parts of the world. China has ceased to be communist, but is not entirely capitalist; it should rather be viewed as a mixed economy with a strong public ownership component.
Income inequality (1978-2015)
By combining recently released tax statistics on high-income individuals with household surveys and national account data, Thomas Piketty, Li Yang, and Gabriel Zucman provided new estimates of income inequality, which, to the authors’ knowledge, represents the first attempt to use tax data on high earners to correct inequality statistics in China.
An income tax has been in place in China since 1980, but until recently no detailed income tax data was available, and scholars therefore had to rely on household surveys based upon self-reported information. In 2006, the Chinese tax administration issued a circular requiring all taxpayers with individual taxable income above 120,000 yuans to file a special declaration, and it started to release the number of such taxpayers and their taxable incomes. These new fiscal statistics on high earners were released annually at the national level from 2006 to 2010, but the publication was interrupted in 2011. The circular, however, still applies today, and for income years 2011 to 2015 publication of the data continued at the provincial level (sometime with additional information on taxpayers with incomes above 500,000 yuans and 1 million yuans). The authors collected both national and provincial tabulations, which together provide useful information about top incomes. Relying on these tax tabulations, the author made significant upwards correction on the existing inequality estimations, which are mainly based on survey data (see Figure 5). .
According to their series, income inequality increased markedly in China as she made her respective transitions. The share of national income going to the top 10% rose from 27% to 41% between 1978 and 2015, while the share for the bottom 50% fell from 27% to 15%. The urban-rural income gap increased, but income concentration also rose significantly within both urban and rural China ． To summarize, the level of inequality in China in the late 1970s used to be less than the European average – closer to those observed in the most egalitarian Nordic countries – but they are now approaching a level that is almost comparable with the USA. The bottom 50% in China earn approximately 15% of total national income versus 12% in the USA and 22% in France; while the top 1% earns about 15% of national income, versus 20% in the USA and 10% in France (See Figure 6a and 6b).
Comparing the average annual growth rate of real per adult pre-tax national income for different income groups in China, U.S. and France from 1978-2015, as shown in Figure 7, the top 1% of the income distribution experienced a growth rate of 8.4% in China, 3.0% in the USA, and 1.4% in France. However, the average annual growth rates for the bottom 50% in China and the US are significantly lower at 4.5% and 0% respectively, while the same figure was 0.9% in France. For the time being, China’s development model appears to be more egalitarian than that of the United States, but less than that in European countries. Although in China growth has not been equally shared, the outstanding growth experienced has lifted the living standards of the poorest very substantially, while the bulk of the growth in USA has been mainly captured by those at the very top.
An interesting question is the extent to which the declining of the public ownership and rising income inequality are related. An interesting case is to compare China with former communism countries, especially Russia. Both Russia and China have experienced the same decline in the share of public property during their economic transition, while income inequality has increased markedly in both countries since the beginning of their respective transitions toward market-orientated economies. However, the rise of inequality was much more pronounced and immediate in Russia, and was more limited and gradual in China (See Figure 8). The evolution of income inequality in China and Russia partly reflects the different privatization strategies pursued in the two countries. The gradual privatization process in China—where the government is still the majority owner of corporate assets—has limited the rise of income concentration. In Russia, the uncoordinated and rapid shock therapy transition process was particularly abrupt. Within the chaotic monetary and political context of the Russian transition, small groups of individuals were able to amass large quantities of vouchers at relatively low prices, and obtained highly profitable deals with public authorities (e.g., via the loans-for-shares agreements). Together with capital flight and the rise of offshore wealth, this process is likely to have led to the extreme levels of income and wealth concentration we now see in Russia.
In this sense, China’s mixed economy structure might contribute to mitigating the rise of inequality. However, based on the author, a quantitative analysis of how public property, taxes, public services, and welfare spending shape the distribution of income in China can only be addressed in future research.