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Capital Accumulation, Private Property and Rising Inequality in China, 1978-2015

Listed author(s):
  • Thomas Piketty
  • Li Yang
  • Gabriel Zucman

This paper combines national accounts, survey, wealth and fiscal data (including recently released tax data on high-income taxpayers) in order to provide consistent series on the accumulation and distribution of income and wealth in China over the 1978-2015 period. We find that the aggregate national wealth-income ratio has increased from 350% in 1978 to 700% in 2015. This can be accounted for by a combination of high saving and investment rates and a gradual rise in relative asset prices, reflecting changes in the legal system of property. The share of public property in national wealth has declined from about 70% in 1978 to 30% in 2015, which is still a lot higher than in rich countries (close to 0% or negative). Next, we provide sharp upward revision of official inequality estimates. The top 10% income share rose from 27% to 41% of national income between 1978 and 2015, while the bottom 50% share dropped from 27% to 15%. China’s inequality levels used to be close to Nordic countries and are now approaching U.S. levels.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w23368.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 23368.

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Date of creation: Apr 2017
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23368
Note: DEV EFG PE
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  1. Rawski, Thomas G., 2001. "What is happening to China's GDP statistics?," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 12(4), pages 347-354.
  2. Wing Thye Woo, "undated". "Chinese Economic Growth: Sources And Prospects," Department of Economics 96-08, California Davis - Department of Economics.
  3. Angus Maddison, 2009. "Measuring The Economic Performance Of Transition Economies: Some Lessons From Chinese Experience," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 55(s1), pages 423-441, 07.
  4. Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez & Gabriel Zucman, 2016. "Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States," NBER Working Papers 22945, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Wu, Harry X., 2011. "The Real Growth of Chinese Industry Debate Revisited--Reconstructing China's Industrial GDP in 1949-2008--," Economic Review, Hitotsubashi University, vol. 62(3), pages 209-224, July.
  6. Gregory C. Chow, 1993. "Capital Formation and Economic Growth in China," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 108(3), pages 809-842.
  7. Wu, Harry X, 2002. "How Fast Has Chinese Industry Grown?--Measuring the Real Output of Chinese Industry, 1949-97," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 48(2), pages 179-204, June.
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