China’s economic transformation over the last three decades has been astonishing - and some of its implications are understudied. This fascinating new(ish) paper
by three economists looks at the impact on the sociology of Chinese elites. As the authors note, the increase in GDP per capita that China experienced between 1988 and 2013 took the West 200 years to achieve, which allowed a long period of social adjustment. Imagine the whiplash of two centuries of economic change in just 25 years.
The big stories are the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) accommodation of capitalists and rocketing inequality. In 1988, the makeup of the Chinese elite (defined here as the richest 5% in urban areas) shifted from government officials to professionals and business owners. The paper suggests that the income premium associated with CCP membership has slowly declined - except among the owners of the largest businesses, where it’s increased dramatically. This co-option has political consequences: new elites are less inclined to fight the system if they’re already part of it.
It’s interesting to read this alongside this new paper
by Shruti Rajagopalan and Alex Tabarrok, which looks at the behaviour of Indian elites. Their thesis, summarised here
, is that Indian elites often take their social/cultural cues from Western elites, which sometimes leaves the country with more regulation than it has capacity to enforce. The contrasting paths taken by India and China represent one of the most underrated threads in understanding the world today.