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.