I was pondering the question about wealth and voting rights and started thinking about China's Central Committee. While it's not a really good fit for that question, does anyone have numbers on the relative wealth of Central Committee members versus say the average Chinese citizen?
I'm not sure about the Central Committee itself, but this is surely interesting about their parliament, assuming the estimate is correct:
Here’s another fun fact: The richest 209 parliament delegates are each worth more than 2 billion yuan ($300 million) – their combined wealth is equivalent to the annual GDPs of Belgium and Sweden, using World Bank figures on GDP for those countries.
By comparison, the U.S. doesn’t have a single billionaire in Congress. The wealthiest member, California Republican Darrell Issa, is worth around $440 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Co-opting (rich) enteprenours into the party has been going on for three decades or so, although it has only become legal, and in fact encouraged, since 2002.
To further symbolize the CCP's support of the private sector, the 16th Party Congress in 2002 revised the Party's Constitution to include the "Three Represents" slogan promoted by Jiang Zemin. The CCP now claimed to represent not only its traditional supporters, the workers and farmers, but also the interests of the new "advanced productive forces" of urban economic and social elites, thereby justifying their inclusion in the Party. Although often ridiculed as empty rhetoric, the "Three Represents" changed the Party's strategy of co-opting entrepreneurs from an informal practice to a formal goal.
And while not a direct estimate of their personal wealth, proportionally more Central Committee (CC) members come from the richer provinces:
CC members with paternal ancestors from the wealthy provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Shandong and Beijing are overrepresented by at least 50 per cent relative to their populations.
Except for some scandals reported in the Western press, little seems to be known about the wealth of the CC members; coverage of their wealth seems to often get censored inside China. The Economist reported in 2012
An investigative report by the New York Times on October 25th has blown a hole in Mr Wen’s self-cultivated reputation as a thrifty man of the people from a modest background. The newspaper furnished evidence that close family members had acquired wealth of some $2.7 billion. This came hard on the heels of one of the party’s biggest scandals in decades that resulted in the purge of a Politburo member, Bo Xilai, for allegedly covering up a murder and for his family’s involvement in massive corruption. In June Bloomberg, an American news service, published the results of its own investigation into the business dealings of the family of Xi Jinping, who will take over from Hu Jintao as party chief this month and as president in March. It showed that Mr Xi’s relatives had also amassed considerable wealth.
The investigations confirm what has long been widely rumoured about the country’s ruling families (though the reported scale of their wealth stuns even hardened cynics). Combined with the party’s own allegations against Mr Bo, who until early this year was considered a likely candidate for one of the party’s highest positions in the upcoming shuffle, they confirm a nexus between wealth and power at the very top of the system. Though the conflicts of interest are evident, neither the New York Times nor Bloomberg accuses the leaders themselves of wrongdoing in connection with their families’ business affairs. But in a country rife with discontent over a growing gap between rich and poor, their findings compound public cynicism. China’s censors have blocked Bloomberg’s website since June, and now have now done the same to the sites in English and Chinese of the New York Times. A foreign-ministry spokesman accused the paper of that old fall-back, “ulterior motives”, suggesting it was out to smear China and foment unrest.
Then in August this year:
China effectively expelled a Wall Street Journal reporter from the country, one month after the newspaper published a report detailing allegations that a cousin of Chinese leader Xi Jinping was involved in high-stakes gambling and potential money laundering in Australia. [...]
Mr Wong was one of two authors of a July 30 report disclosing a far-reaching Australian law-enforcement and intelligence probe into Ming Chai, one of Mr Xi's cousins and an Australian citizen.
The report, citing Australian officials and casino documents, detailed Mr Chai's lavish spending in resorts owned by the gambling mogul James Packer and his links to what Australian officials deemed to be a money-laundering front in Melbourne.
The story noted that there were no indications that Mr Xi knew about his cousin's activities in Australia or that the Chinese leader was implicated in any wrongdoing.
Still, Beijing considers the private wealth of top leaders' families to be the most sensitive and taboo reporting subject of all, given the chasm between the Communist Party's ideological rhetoric and the vast, often hidden wealth accrued by elite families since the party turned towards state capitalism in the 1980s. [...]
China's Foreign Ministry, in a faxed statement, said the Chinese government handled affairs concerning foreign news organisations and correspondents in accordance with the country's laws.
"We firmly oppose that a few foreign reporters are maliciously tarnishing China, and we don't welcome such reporters," it said. [...]
Before the report's publication, Journal representatives in Beijing were warned by Chinese foreign ministry officials that running the story would result in serious consequences, two people with knowledge of the matter said. [...]
A 2012 Bloomberg News investigative report disclosing the Mr Xi family's investments resulted in a visa ban for the news agency that was only lifted after extensive discussions between Bloomberg executives and Chinese officials.
At least half a dozen correspondents for the New York Times faced lengthy delays receiving new visas or were expelled outright after the Times published a similar expose that year about former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's family wealth.
As for the 2012 Bloomberg report:
As Xi climbed the Communist Party ranks, his extended family expanded their business interests to include minerals, real estate and mobile-phone equipment, according to public documents compiled by Bloomberg.
Those interests include investments in companies with total assets of $376 million; an 18 percent indirect stake in a rare-earths company with $1.73 billion in assets; and a $20.2 million holding in a publicly traded technology company. The figures don’t account for liabilities and thus don’t reflect the family’s net worth.
No assets were traced to Xi, who turns 59 this month; his wife Peng Liyuan, 49, a famous People’s Liberation Army singer; or their daughter, the documents show. There is no indication Xi intervened to advance his relatives’ business transactions, or of any wrongdoing by Xi or his extended family. [...]
Most of the extended Xi family’s assets traced by Bloomberg were owned by Xi’s older sister, Qi Qiaoqiao, 63; her husband Deng Jiagui, 61; and Qi’s daughter Zhang Yannan, 33, according to public records compiled by Bloomberg.
Deng held an indirect 18 percent stake as recently as June 8 in Jiangxi Rare Earth & Rare Metals Tungsten Group Corp. [...]
Qi and Deng’s share of the assets of Shenzhen Yuanwei Investment Co., a real-estate and diversified holding company, totaled 1.83 billion yuan ($288 million), a December 2011 filing shows. Other companies in the Yuanwei group wholly owned by the couple have combined assets of at least 539.3 million yuan ($84.8 million).
It also covers a few more distant relatives before generalizing:
While officials in China must report their income and assets to authorities, as well as personal information about their immediate family, the disclosures aren’t public.
The lack of transparency fuels a belief that the route to wealth depends on what Chinese call “guanxi,” a catch-all word for the connections considered crucial for doing business in the country.
“If you are a sibling of someone who is very important in China, automatically people will see you as a potential agent of influence and will treat you well in the hope of gaining guanxi with the bigwig relative,” said Roderick MacFarquhar, a professor of government at Harvard who focuses on Chinese elite politics.
The link between political power and wealth isn’t unique to China. Lyndon B. Johnson was so poor starting out in life that he borrowed $75 to enroll in Southwest Texas State Teachers College in 1927, according to his presidential library. After almost three decades of elective office, he and his family had media and real-estate holdings worth $14 million in 1964, his first full year as president, according to an August 1964 article in Life Magazine.
Orville Schell, director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York, said the nexus of power and wealth can be found in any country. “But there is no country where this is more true than China,” he said. “There’s a huge passive advantage to just being in one of these family trees.”