• Thu
  • Jul 31, 2014
  • Updated: 5:49am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 March, 2014, 2:47am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 March, 2014, 2:47am

China's parliament a billionaires' club

Where in the world of politics would you find the greatest concentration of billionaires?

Looking at the annual Hurun list of China's richest people, a good start may be with the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, which opened their annual meetings last week.

The NPC has 86 yuan billionaires, while the CPPCC, the nation's top political advisory body, has 69 billionaires. The richest NPC members have seen their average wealth multiply more than four times over the last eight years while the 1,000 richest folks on the mainland only managed to average a threefold increase. The average fortune of the 155 NPC and CPPCC billionaires is 9.7 billion yuan, compared with the average 6.4 billion yuan of Hurun's list of the 1,000 richest people in China.

The number and wealth of the richest lawmakers are almost certain to be underestimated because the enforcement of disclosure rules ranges from lax to non-existent.

Now you may argue, perhaps, that many of them were asked to join those august bodies after they had already achieved wealth and status. And a few billionaires and their sons are from Hong Kong, where Communist Party membership would hardly guarantee wealth, but rather the opposite before the 1997 handover.

Perhaps. There are 56 billionaires who have served more than one five-year term - on either the NPC or CPPCC; their average wealth increased more than three times. Now their wealth-building may have all to do with their business acumen, but being closely associated with the Communist Party certainly doesn't hurt. The "billionaires" irony in a socialist country is just too rich, even for sarcastic and cynical Karl Marx. Luckily, I learn much of my philosophy of life from the other Marx, that is, Groucho, so I realise the only parties that are worth joining will never have someone like me as a member. It's the way of the world.

Still, like many people who dream about winning a snowballed Mark Six, I fantasise about the fabulous social status, connections and wealth-building opportunities an elite membership can confer. The Communist Party on the mainland seems like a sure ticket. If only I could get in!


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"In the US people get rich and enter politics, in China they enter politics and get rich!!"
Snippet of a discussion on BON TV
The "Two Meetings" are the largest meeting of billionaires in the world, detailed already in my 2012 book "Toxic Capitalism". Nothing new here. In China, money talks, through the "black collar" people. It would be utterly naïve, the least to say, to underestimate their influence. On the other hand, I think President Xi is slowly finding his way around those vested interests blocking many of the needed reforms.
Man, if some people on this board are teachers, based on their demonstrated ability to "teach", then I must convey my deepest sympathies to his students.
Of everything that's transpired in previous comments, your takeaway was Ukraine's Gini? You are truly unparalleled in your ability to miss the forest for the trees.
Anyway, let me re-orient you to the point of the OP...and one that you understandably don't want to talk about, given your role as CCP cheerleader: "China's power-brokers using their government position to enrich themselves." It's in quotes cuz I distilled it for you in the previous comment, but that was clearly insufficient.
It also amuses me that your smack-talk culminates in referring to me as a girl. Ouch! That really really hurts!!!!!! On the other hand, it gives me some insight into the degree of your misogyny...and it ain't pretty.
A reader quotes 0.25 Gini for Ukraine, which is likely absurd. Should people who can't tell what's media misinformation be given the right to vote?

Here is how I teach the meaning of Gini to a HK schoolgirl:
1. In imperfect societies, anyone making more or less money than average wage is theoretically unfair. To measure the degree of unfairness, we proceed as follows.
2. Divide the population with various average incomes, $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 and so on into difference groups (range). For example , 1000 has $10,000 and 300 has $15,000, etc. Plot this into a histogram with the horizontal axis for groups and vertical axis for group average income. The horizontal intervals now have different values: 0 to 1000, 1001 to 1300, etc.
3. Find the average income for the population. This is done by dividing total area under the histogram (total income) by the population.
4. List the excess (deficit) area above (below) average income for each income group. Sum the (absolute) values of these areas.
5. Divide the number obtained in (4) by the total area (total income). This is the Gini coefficient.

50 Ukrainian oligarchs own wealth equivalent to 85% GDP. Using productivity estimate of capital, their income is about 15% GDP. With a histogram of only 2 intervals – with everyone else having the same income, the lowest Gini limit is 0.3.

If my student gets the correct answer with what's given, she will get an A in HKU matriculation exam.
I agree with Impala, the raw number of billionaires alone does not paint the entire picture. In order to appreciate the nature of wealth distribution within those august bodies, a mean and standard deviation would be far more meaningful. I also agree that, regardless of statistical measure used, a comparison of the members of those bodies with China's general population would be interesting. And indeed, one wonders why it is NYT and Bloomberg that are left to ask the really difficult questions, like those about Wen's wealth, whereas even HK media demonstrate a profound lack of curiosity in that regard. Perhaps "self-censorship" is really running amok.
All that said, any stat in isolation is relatively meaningless. China's overall Gini coefficient, for instance, does not fully reflect the disparity within rural vs urban setttings, nor the divide between the east vs west parts of the country. And Afghanistan had a Gini coefficient of 0.28, while Ukraine was 0.26, in 2009, yet I don't think those are aspirational goals for HK or China. And it should also be noted that it is meaningless to directly compare Gini coefficients between developing and developed nations (not that that stops some people).
Some might caution against making China more like HK. Those folks should be equally cautioned against making HK more like China. Of course, mention of Gini obscures the point of the OP: China's power-brokers using their government position to enrich themselves.
Please don't parade your ignorance about China. Chinese leaders use NPC and other means to shake out diverse grass root inputs. Foreign media with their claim of moral high ground fail to see how random opinions -- noise in information -- must be filtered before they can be used as useful inputs.
Make no mistake, NPC is not the decision making organ. But it is an indispensable part in the "input-decision-implementation-output feedback" chain of governance.
Another difference between East and West. Whereas the English speaking folks use confrontational advocacy to determine the victorious pugilist, the East values harmony in hashing out differences. Never the twain will meet because of their different cultures.
Since you stick to the implied pejorative of China's "rubber stamped" Congress commonly used in foreign wired services, I assume you're either an expat or a China bashing banana.
Statistics don't lie, people do. Often a statistic gives only one piece of useless information because it's incomplete. Average is only one of many pieces of information.

BTW, mean is synonymous with average, what you mean by "mean" is median, which is a point dividing the population 50-50 to its left and right. When median is much greater (to the right) than mean, the wealth distribution is inequitable.

Position of median can be correlated with a quantifiable GINI coefficient, which ranges from 0 to 1 for perfect inequality. HK is the worst among all DEVELOPED nations with 0.53 GINI, followed by Singapore's 0.48 and US 0.45. Numbers quoted here include transferred payments (taxes).

As hard as most OECD governments try to use taxes to reduce inequality, GINI increases steadily in rich nations during the last 4 decades. This has to do with shifting skilled sets needed to function well in advanced technological economies. More less educated like some SCMP readers here are left behind.

Excessive taxes detract from growth and often make society collectively poorer. Using taxes to redistribute wealth often lowers economic performance. Deng Xiaoping is right about some must get rich first. Training people with marketable skills – not to be mistaken as giving them a sheepskin – is the only way. Li Ka Shing is right. HK’s GINI indicates that we lack competitiveness.

China is underdeveloped. It has a better GINI at 47. Don't make China to be more like us.
So what if the NPC and CPPCC have many billionaires? These two organisations have zilch influence on how China is actually run. Zhang DeJiang's facial expression during the speech made by that silver spooned LEE says it all.
For all I care, they can be full of singers and athletes. Or even HK Legco members.
I'd be the last one to defend the top echelons of the CCP, but the NPC has nearly 3,000 members. If 86 of them are 'yuan billionaires,' we are talking about a mere 2.9% of total. The CPPCC has even more members, so 69 billionaires amongst them makes for an even less shocking percentage. Hardly 'a billionaires club.'

In such a small sample, average wealth figures are also meaningless. It only takes a single very, very (very indeed) wealthy person to drag the average up by miles. Hong Kong's average GDP/capital looks good too, until you realise how far it deviates from the median, and what an enormous inequality it masks. Talk to us about the median instead, or percentile wealth/income vs general population.

Either way, are lot of very 'interesting' questions to ask about the wealth of many CCP politicians, but throwing these kind of meaningless numbers ('89 yuan billionaires out of 3,000 members, gosh!') around is cowardice.

Name and shame Mr Lo, don't hide behind empty statistics. Both the NYT and Bloomberg News have done a lot of real revelatory investigative journalism on CCP princelings and other suspiciously wealthy Chinese leaders in the past year or so. How about you and the SCMP follow that lead?
1 billion Yuan is USD$163 million, which is an astronomical amount of money.
In 2010, The average annual household income in China, converted to dollars, was $10,220, compared with $84,300 in the United States.
Your figures sound nice, but they distort a very clear picture.




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