Saturday, 16 June 2012

Happiness and process

The Economist notes that rising incomes in China in the last two decades haven't increased measured happiness as much as we might have hoped. Why?
“It is a mistake to think that rising income gaps are the main or even a primary source of popular discontent in China,” Mr Whyte says. It is, he adds, procedural injustices, abuses of power and the lack of recourse that make people angry enough to take to the streets.

Most migrant workers know first-hand what Mr Whyte is talking about. Lei Pengcai, 61, moved to Beijing last year from a small town in Hunan province and took work washing the dishes in a restaurant. His monthly wage is 1,400 yuan ($220), most of which he sends back home to his wife and family. Moving to Beijing has opened his eyes to the kind of wealth that some enjoy, but he sees income disparity as a fact of life. “I haven’t been, but isn’t there great inequality in America and England too?” he asks.

Mr Lei declares himself pleased with the past decade’s reduction in rural taxation; not too bothered by moderately rising prices of goods; and somewhat concerned that, although his basic health care is adequate, his coverage would not suffice if he were to suffer a severe illness or injury. But he is clear on the one thing that does make him unhappy: official corruption. In his hometown, official posts are handed out to friends or bought and sold. Once installed, he laments, officials can grab land, charge fines, and demand bribes under threat of closing down a business. They do whatever they want, he says, and the people cannot stop them.
Fairness matters. And, it's revealed more in process than in outcomes.

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