China’s dramatic rise from poverty is truly inspirational. According to World Bank, 500 million people were lifted out of extreme poverty in China over the last three decades so much so that today poverty in China refers mainly to the rural poor. Poverty rate in China — as measured by the percentage of people living on the equivalent of $1.90 or less per day in the 2011 purchasing price parity terms — fell from 88% in 1981 to 6.5% in 2012. From there onwards, the percentage of people living below the international poverty line continued to fall to 4.1% in 2014 to 2% in 2018 — with President Xi Jinping upbeat about completely eradicating poverty by 2020.
Imran Khan’s admiration of China’s poverty alleviation efforts is well known. Time and again has the Prime Minister, in his speeches, quoted the miraculous rise from poverty of the Chinese population, accounting for more than three-quarters of global poverty reduction. Eyeing a similar turnaround, Prime Minister Imran has launched Ehsas (meaning compassion) — an ambitious social safety and poverty alleviation programme meant to ensure five things to the public as their fundamental right. These five things are food, shelter, clothing, education and healthcare. Under the programme, the Prime Minister says, the money spent on underprivileged segments of society will be increased by an ‘unprecedented’ Rs120 billion by the year 2020.
The PM talks of amending Article 38(D) of the Constitution and creating a new ministry for social protection and poverty alleviation to ensure the five fundamental rights — with the former measure aimed at enabling people to approach the courts in case of the government’s failure to protect these rights. While that shows the PM’s Ehsas for public welfare, his idea of poverty alleviation can only work if it is backed by a comprehensive economic reforms programme. In case of China too, it was a protracted period of high economic growth that helped its people get rid of poverty. And the high economic growth was achieved under a wide-ranging reforms programme highlighted by measures to attain trade surplus, attract foreign investment and improve human capital.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2019.
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