A Bloomberg News article from Michael Forsythe on China’s National People’s Congress is making waves today. Coming on the heels of the failed “Jasmine Revolution” in China, the article seeks to show that the NPC is representative of the widening income gap in China.
The richest 70 of the 2,987 members have a combined wealth of 493.1 billion yuan ($75.1 billion), and include China’s richest man, Hangzhou Wahaha Group Chairman Zong Qinghou, according to the research group Hurun Report. By comparison, the wealthiest 70 people in the 535-member U.S. House and Senate, who represent a country with about 10 times China’s per-capita income, had a maximum combined wealth of $4.8 billion, data from the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics show.
China’s income disparity is pretty awful, and if gray income were accounted for its Gini coefficient of nearly 0.5 would make some African leaders blush (though it would still be well below Hong Kong’s 0.53).
Still, Forsythe is using fuzzy math in his comparison.
The richest 70 members of the NPC account for 2.3% of China’s legislators. The richest 70 members of the US Congress account for 13% of the US’s legislators. In any normal incomes distribution, the richest 2.3% are going to be worth more than the richest 13% on average. The proper benchmark would be to compare the average net worth of the richest 70 Chinese legislators to the richest 13 US legislators, or 2.3% of the 535 members of both branches of Congress.
According to the data from the Center for Responsive Politics on that metric, China comes off slightly better. The richest 2.3% of Chinese legislators are worth an average US$1.07 billion* each, using the figures in Forsythe’s article. Meanwhile, the richest 2.3% of US legislators are worth up to US$239 million each. If you use the average net worth estimate from the CRP data, the US average comes down to US$153 million each.
So a rich member of the US Congress is worth 77%* less than the average NPC member, not the 93% reported in the Bloomberg article. Obviously that’s cold comfort to the average Chinese citizen since China’s per capita GDP is a tenth of the US’s. Then again, the Peterson Institute’s Arvind Subramanian would have you believe China’s per capital GDP level is only a fourth of the US’s, properly measured.
Check out RGE’s latest China Monthly for more on income inequality, the NPC and Chinese politics.
Editor’s note: This post was re-edited to correct for a calculation error (*) in a previous version.