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Nobel laureate Edmund Phelps slams China’s ‘public servant frenzy’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 6:09pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 6:10pm

An American Nobel Laureate in Economics has lashed out at the “public servant frenzy” prevalent among young people in China, calling it a waste of talent.

Edmund Phelps, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, said that government posts are not designed for young people and that they do not test young people’s capabilities and are a waste of their education, commenting on the growing numbers of young people in China applying to become civil servants.

“We hope to see more bright young men telling their mothers, ‘Mom, I am heading west, south and north to run a company,’” The Beijing News quoted him as saying, as the economist encouraged young people to start businesses away from China’s more prosperous eastern region.

The 80-year-old made the remarks on the second day of the Nobel Laureates Beijing Forum 2013 on Wednesday. The conference focuses on economic and environmental sustainable development in China. Four Nobel Prize winners including Phelps and four of the world’s top scientists attended the convention.

Phelps’s remarks reflect the fact that increasing numbers of fresh-graduates in China are striving to pursue civil service careers.

While government posts in general do not offer competitive salaries, they provide job security, good benefits and limited responsibility, making them an attractive option in an increasingly competitive job market.

Official records show the ratio of examinees to posts available in the national civil servant examination has remained above 50:1 in the past five years.

China’s civil service is frequently criticised by the public for inefficiency and staff arrogance, and is seen as a hotbed of nepotism and corruption.

A city government in Henan was found to be paying over 100 million yuan a year in salaries for 5,700 non-existent civil servant posts, City Express reported on Wednesday.

Phelps said the ultimate driving force behind China’s development was innovation.

Many Chinese companies were still absorbing advanced technology from abroad, supporting business expansion and GDP growth, he said.

Foreign countries’ technological advances would diminish sooner or later, however, and China would have to innovate before that happened, he added.

Phelps also called for financial reform in China to bolster medium- and small-sized enterprises that were in desperate need of talent.


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This article is now closed to comments

Can't blame these young men, who were probably brought up by their parents with the mindset of an 'iron rice bowl' job. It will take a long time to change the traditional thinking.
Edmund Phelps comment on this are spot on, but I think "TheFundamentals' comments are actually wrong. For most young people in China today they have a relatively more secure position than their parents, yet they are less likely to pursue working for a private company or doing their own business than their parents. Not sure the reason, more 1 child per family over protection has been offered as one theory.
I see some evidence that innovation in China is actually declining, I see that decline in the power industry, as real innovation has been increasingly displaced by dubious innovation. A decline in entrepreneurship is certainly an important aspect of innovation decline.
The problem with China, and the whole world really, is not that talents are wasted, but that there are too many talents (mouths to feed) than there are suitable positions. In the US today thousands of PhD scientists cannot find posts relevant to their training, and are reduced to menial bench jobs or doing things totally irrelevant. Gov't support in the form of more investment is important if they want young graduates to maximize their potentials in their respective sector. This is unfortunately unlikely in today's austere atmosphere.
Having said that, it's possible that this problem is more prominent in China because Chinese are sometimes too pragmatic. For many Chinese an education is little more than a means of landing a decent job, and less attention is paid to the nature of the job itself or its relevance to one's interest and education.
Easiest way to get rich, sir. That is why they go that path.


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