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Renowned economist speaks about China

Will Strouth

Last Thursday University of Mississippi students had a plethora of options for on-campus entertainment — the Vanderbilt game, the Associated Student Body candidate debates and a chance to hear renowned economist Carl Riskin speak on the unequal income distribution in China.
Riskin’s lecture “Obstacles to a Harmonious Society in China: Poverty, Inequality and Economic Imbalance,” was the first discussion for the spring semester’s 2012 Visiting Speakers series sponsored by the Croft Institute for International Studies and the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.
Croft Institute associate director William Schenck said the institute chose inequality as the theme of the series this year.
He credits associate professor Joshua Howard with starting the discussion to bring Riskin to campus. Howard, who specializes in Chinese history, was familiar with Riskin’s research and worked with Croft associate professor of history Oliver Dinius to bring him to campus.  
Dinius said that it’s a good year to increase awareness of the subject not only globally, but particularly in the United States.
Riskin, who teaches economics at Queens College in New York, was brought to speak at the university because of his focus on economic disparity in China.
“We really hope they get more insight into the complexity of Chinese growth and development,” Schenck said. “There’s a lot more to the story than what you see on the news.”
To start, Riskin warned that the subject of his is complex.
Riskin said that while China is becoming a place where art and architecture is developing and becoming known internationally, it has lagged behind in economic equality. He also said poverty decreased substantially in China between 1945 and 1985.
However, after 1985, the increasing gap between income levels slowed the rate of poverty reduction.
“The inequality has proceeded to rapidly increase, and it is now among the more unequal in the world,” Riskin said.
Gabby Rangel, an international studies senior, said the discussion was helpful to her thesis.  
“The main reason I came here is because I’m writing my senior thesis on a little bit of the subject, so it’s helpful for me to see a different view not only of our Croft professors here, but someone from the outside,” she said. “Getting a different opinion and learning from people who specialize on this subject was great.”
Courtney Taylor, a senior triple major in French, political science and international studies, said she believes the lecture helped students better understand the implications of many of China’s policies.
“I think when we live in Mississippi, and even America, we don’t really understand the cultural and economic implications of the one-child policy in China,” she said.
Taylor also said that because people only look at their side of the equation, they don’t understand how several policies contribute to high import rates and other things that affect their country’s market.
China’s income inequality is comparable to Mexico, Argentina and the United States but ranks higher in income inequality than Canada and all of Europe except Bosnia and Herzegovina. Income inequality metrics is used by social scientists to measure the distribution of income.
Riskin mentioned Brazil and South Africa as two of the 33 countries that rank higher in income inequality than China.
The speaker series is a semester-long event.