China claims it has succeeded in eliminating extreme poverty

This is a goal that China’s Xi Jinping has been pursuing for several years. Today, the communist country announced it had officially eliminated extreme poverty about a month ahead of it’s timeline for doing so:

China on Monday claimed extreme poverty has been eliminated nationwide, the capstone of a Communist Party policy to reduce inequities in society…

Poverty elimination by the end of this year is a key facet of a Communist Party goal to build what is termed a moderately prosperous society ahead of the party’s 100th birthday in 2021. President Xi Jinping has traveled the nation in recent years pledging attention to those at the lowest rungs of society, and has directed massive spending on schools, clinics, housing and cash handouts to meet the antipoverty target set in 2011…

Despite setbacks associated with the coronavirus pandemic, which in China like elsewhere disproportionately hit lower-income groups, Mr. Xi has repeated a determination that the poverty elimination goal would be achieved, making it a foregone conclusion that authorities would declare success before year-end. The People’s Daily earlier this year said poverty had plagued China for thousands of years so eliminating it can be considered “a Chinese miracle in human history.”

Just how effective the Chinese effort has actually been depends on who you ask. Last month the NY Times published a story about the effort which suggested it was driven by fear of local officials to disappoint Xi Jinping:

Local officials, who face the threat of punishment if they do not meet Mr. Xi’s targets, maintain detailed lists of the income levels of poor residents and hand out subsidies, housing and loans to push them above the poverty line…

China has for decades treated rural people as second-class citizens, limiting their access to high-quality health care, education and other benefits under the strict Mao-era household registration system by keeping them from moving to the cities. More than 40 percent of the population — about 600 million people — lived on less than $5 a day last year, according to government statistics.

Obviously if nearly half the population is living on less than $5 a day, China’s claim to have eliminated extreme poverty is arguable at best. And that’s assuming you believe what the local officials are telling you. In reality, China not only faced coronavirus lockdowns this year but also catastrophic flooding that wiped out some areas. One resident who lost his home to the flooding told the Times that, contrary, to the government’s announcement, things have gotten much worse for him this year.

Mr. Xu estimates that he lost at least $3,000 worth of crops in the floods, and more because of the economic slowdown during the pandemic. With fruit and vegetables still scarce in his village, he says he will have to spend at least $1,500 more on food this year than he had expected. He plans to sell his sheep this winter and grow other crops to make a living.

“Even if you aren’t out of poverty, the country will say you’re out of poverty,” he said. “That’s the way it is.”

So if you hear anyone talking about the Chinese communist miracle of eliminating poverty, remind them that a) whatever poverty was eliminated mostly happened as a result of the global market for Chinese products and b) in the rural areas the poverty is still there even if it doesn’t officially exist in communist PR.