Development economists have been doing intensive research in recent years on conditional cash transfer programs as a tool to help get people out of poverty. Meanwhile in the US there has been a lot of talk about Universal Basic Income as a remedy for inequality and social disclocations. On paper, China’s Minimum Livelihood Guarantee, or Dibao, sounds a lot like Universal Basic Income. Jennifer Pan shows that this tool of poverty alleviation has instead been turned into a tool of surveillance and oppression. Ultimately, this focus on “stability” may backfire. Pan’s book Welfare for Autocrats: How Social Assistance in China Cares for Its Rulers (Oxford UP, 2020) offers insights gleaned from a remarkable combination of in-person field interviews, surveys, online field experiments, and data generated from automated analyses of massive numbers of government documents and social media posts.
Jennifer Pan is an Assistant Professor of Communication, and an Assistant Professor, by courtesy, of Political Science and Sociology at Stanford University. She conducts research at the intersection of political communication and authoritarian politics, showing how authoritarian governments try to control society, how the public responds, and when and why each is successful.
Host Peter Lorentzen is an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of San Francisco, where he leads a new digital economy-focused Master's program in Applied Economics. His research examines the political economy of governance and development in China.
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