Premier's remarks point to personal stories behind economic data

Wang Yong
Tackling China's unemployment challenges requires concrete actions which directly benefit those facing hard times.
Wang Yong

In illustrating the importance of jobs for average citizens, China’s premier on Thursday told the story of a middle-aged migrant worker who left a message on the official website of the central government.

“About one-third of the messages I have read on the Chinese government website (www.gov.cn) over the past few days are about employment,” said Premier Li Keqiang at Thursday’s press conference after the conclusion of the country’s annual legislative and political consultative meetings. He was answering a question about how the government would tackle a tough employment challenge this year. 

“A migrant worker said he was in his 50s and had been working away from his hometown for more than 30 years, but hasn’t found a job this year, and his whole family is in difficulty,” said the premier. “A few self-employed have been out of business for a few months, and some foreign trade firms have no business orders now ..."

These examples, though short of statistical figures, are long in empathetic thoughts for the real persons and real firms working really hard to save jobs in an economy affected by uncertainties caused to a large extent by COVID-19. 

Statistical analyses about China’s employment challenges abound, but few mathematical figures are so moving as the simple message from an ordinary figure among the masses of job seekers. The plain way in which Premier Li quoted the migrant worker’s message showed his attitude in addressing the real problems for grassroots people in a down-to-earth manner. He knows stories of ordinary people as well as figures in analysis. He heeds the slightest voice.

“Employment matters most to livelihood,” he said. “It’s of utterly most importance to a family.”

Having given examples of grassroots people striving to safeguard their livelihoods, the premier prescribed a solution, among others: “We will come to their rescue with regard to their difficulties, but fundamentally we need to help them with employment.”

China has a labor force of 900 million. “Without a job, they are merely 900 million mouths to be fed; with a job, they are 900 million pairs of hands which can build huge wealth,” said the premier, who listed a number of concrete measures to safeguard employment, including reduction of taxes, fees and rents for businesses, job trainings for the unemployed, and the creation of new jobs by breaking unreasonable barriers to market entry.

These measures, though adopted by the government, are in nature market-oriented, as they help enterprises and individuals tide over temporary difficulties and survive as market competitors. In other words, the country’s macro policies on stability revolve around market entities and their difficulties.

Indeed, Premier Li expressed confidence in what he called the people’s limitless creative power. “Chinese people are hardworking, and the Chinese market has kept expanding and upgrading.” 

Here again, he gave a concrete example to flesh out an otherwise more-or-less abstract discussion of employment. A city in western China had of late launched 36,000 movable booths for peddlers. Guess what happened then? The move actually created 100,000 jobs overnight, the premier said, citing a report he had read lately.

Movable booths. Peddlers. A western city. These concrete images help visualize the effect of the current round of market-oriented macro policies. They are for the people, for the market, for the future.

Returning to the migrant worker remembered by the premier, let’s hope he will find a job as more and more firms find their footing again with reduced tax burdens, or after he is trained for new skills, or when he can break certain barriers to enter a new market as his own boss.

However small we are as rank-and-files, we can try to grow with a dream, not least because we are remembered. Every one of us is a potential mover and maker of a better market economy, not to be forgotten in a sea of abstract economic figures.

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