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

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  • Thomas Piketty
  • Li Yang
  • Gabriel Zucman

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas Piketty & Li Yang & Gabriel Zucman, 2017. "Capital Accumulation, Private Property and Rising Inequality in China, 1978-2015," NBER Working Papers 23368, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23368
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    1. repec:kap:jecinq:v:16:y:2018:i:2:d:10.1007_s10888-018-9383-0 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Li, Cheng, 2017. "China’s Household Balance Sheet: Accounting Issues, Wealth Accumulation, and Risk Diagnosis," MPRA Paper 79838, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. Khan, Haider Ali & Schettino, Francesco & Gabriele, Alberto, 2017. "Polarization and the Middle Class in China: a Non-Parametric Evaluation Using CHNS and CHIP Data," MPRA Paper 86133, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Rishabh Kumar, 2018. "Poor country, rich history, many lessons: The evolution of wealth-income ratios in India 1860-2012," Working Papers 1802, New School for Social Research, Department of Economics.
    5. Dieppe, Alistair & Gilhooly, Robert & Han, Jenny & Korhonen, Iikka & Lodge, David, 2018. "The transition of China to sustainable growth – implications for the global economy and the euro area," Occasional Paper Series 206, European Central Bank.
    6. repec:eee:chieco:v:46:y:2017:i:c:p:208-228 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Filip Novokmet & Thomas Piketty & Gabriel Zucman, 2017. "Appendix to "From Soviets to Oligarchs: Inequality and Property in Russia, 1905-2016"," Working Papers 201710, World Inequality Lab.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • E01 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General - - - Measurement and Data on National Income and Product Accounts and Wealth; Environmental Accounts
    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • O53 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Asia including Middle East

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