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The Human Capital Roots of the Middle Income Trap: The Case of China

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  • Zhang, Linxiu
  • Yi, Hongmei
  • Luo, Renfu
  • Liu, Changfang
  • Rozelle, Scott

Abstract

China, like other middle income countries, is facing the challenges of the next stage of development as its leaders seek to guide the nation into becoming a high income country. At this same point of development, however, other countries have faltered, raising the possibility of stagnation or collapse. The stagnation of growth after reaching a level of income high enough to be call “middle income” is a phenomenon which some observers call the Middle Income Trap. In this paper we explore one of the major challenges that nations, including China, must face in the transition from middle to high income: the management of inequality. In particular, we explore the possible roots of future inequality that is associated with a nation’s underinvestment in the human capital of broad segments of its population. To meet this goal we first look at several benchmarks of successful transitions from middle to high income (e.g., the case of South Korea) and not-so-successful transitions (Mexico). We then exam more systematically the characteristics of countries that have successfully transitioned (or graduated) from middle to high income (Graduates) and those that are attempting to do so now (Aspirees). With this background, we describe the challenges that China faces in the light of rising wage rates and highly unequal income distribution today. We also document the high levels of human capital inequality in China today, a harbinger of high future inequality. In discussing the sources of the human capital inequality, in addition to the structural and institutional barriers that are discouraging many students (and their parents) from staying in school to achieve the levels of learning that we believe are necessary for preparing individuals for employment in the coming decades, we also identify severe nutritional and health problems. We believe that these nutrition and health problems, unless addressed, are creating serious China’s human capital deficiencies in poor areas of rural China and locking in decades of hard-to-address inequality. The paper ends with a call for leaders in China (and countries at the same level of income of China) to launch immediately a war on poor education, health and nutrition as one step in helping such nations avoid the Middle Income Trap in the future.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by International Association of Agricultural Economists in its series 2012 Conference, August 18-24, 2012, Foz do Iguacu, Brazil with number 131119.

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Date of creation: Aug 2012
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Handle: RePEc:ags:iaae12:131119

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Keywords: Labor and Human Capital;

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  1. David G. Blanchflower & Andrew J. Oswald, 1989. "The Wage Curve," NBER Working Papers 3181, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    • Blanchflower, D. & Oswald, A., 1989. "The Wage Curve," Papers 340, London School of Economics - Centre for Labour Economics.
  2. Yusuf , Shahid & Nabeshima, Kaoru, 2009. "Can Malaysia escape the middle-income Trap ? a strategy for Penang," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4971, The World Bank.
  3. Adam Wagstaff & Winnie Yip & Magnus Lindelow & William C. Hsiao, 2009. "China's health system and its reform: a review of recent studies," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 18(S2), pages S7-S23, July.
  4. Barro, Robert J, 1991. "Economic Growth in a Cross Section of Countries," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 106(2), pages 407-43, May.
  5. Gustavo J. Bobonis & Edward Miguel & Charu Puri-Sharma, 2006. "Anemia and School Participation," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 41(4).
  6. Singh, Lakhwinder, 2004. "Technological Progress, Structural Change and Productivity Growth in Manufacturing Sector of South Korea," MPRA Paper 99, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  7. Gordon H. Hanson & Ann Harrison, 1999. "Trade liberalization and wage inequality in Mexico," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 52(2), pages 271-288, January.
  8. Xiaobing Wang & Chengfang Liu & Linxiu Zhang & Renfu Luo & Thomas Glauben & Yaojiang Shi & Scott Rozelle & Brian Sharbono, 2011. "What is keeping the poor out of college?: Enrollment rates, educational barriers and college matriculation in China," China Agricultural Economic Review, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 3(2), pages 131-149, May.
  9. Liu, Chengfang & Zhang, Linxiu & Luo, Renfu & Wang, Xiaobing & Rozelle, Scott & Sharbono, Brian & Adams, Jennifer & Shi, Yaojiang & Yue, Ai & Li, Hongbin & Glauben, Thomas, 2011. "Early commitment on financial aid and college decision making of poor students: Evidence from a randomized evaluation in rural China," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 30(4), pages 627-640, August.
  10. Raj Nallari & Shahid Yusuf & Breda Griffith & Rwitwika Bhattacharya, 2011. "Frontiers in Development Policy : A Primer on Emerging Issues," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 2350, February.
  11. Khan, Azizur Rahman & Riskin, Carl, 2001. "Inequality and Poverty in China in the Age of Globalization," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195136494, October.
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Cited by:
  1. Fan, Shenggen & Kanbur, Ravi & Wei, Shang-Jin & Zhang, Xiaobo, 2014. "The Economics of China: Successes and Challenges," Working Papers 180153, Cornell University, Department of Applied Economics and Management.

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