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Common prosperity more than material affluence

CHEN HUIXIONG | 2022-08-04 | Hits:
Chinese Social Sciences Today

Residents perform Shaoxing Opera in a village in Huzhou, Zhejiang Province. The province aims to become a demonstration zone for common prosperity by 2025. Photo: Zhu Xingxin/CHINA DAILY

Common prosperity is a concept with specific measurement criteria and spatial dimensions. According to Karl Marx, wealth, like a commodity, by its physical properties satisfies human needs of one sort or another. Prosperity is the degree of affluence to which wealth satisfies human needs, and common prosperity means wealth has satisfied different levels of human needs to achieve overall affluence. Satisfying rational human needs and restricting our behaviors based on the bearing capacity of natural resources are the two measures of common prosperity, while prosperity of both man and nature, for all, and in material and non-material senses are the three spatial dimensions. 

Two measurement criteria
As mentioned above, prosperity is the degree of affluence to which wealth satisfies human needs. However, does what we call “prosperity” also satisfy human wants and desires? This is the fundamental theoretical issue that must be clarified as we build common prosperity. Prosperity and common prosperity should always target human needs, instead of desires. This is the truly scientific, people-centered natural criterion for measuring common prosperity. 
In economics, the happiness equation generally is: happiness=utility/desire. This means the degree of people’s happiness is in direct proportion to utility (satisfaction of needs) and inversely proportionate to desire. The more reasonable needs are satisfied, the happier people will be and the stronger desire is, the more suffering it will cause. 
When opportunistic human dispositions increase, or even go unchecked, amid development of the virtual economy and the derivative financial market, there will be deviations from the commodity economy and market economy’s ideal path, a path developed to better satisfy human needs for life. This will lead to economic and ecological crises, and more seriously, a survival crisis for humanity as a whole, and confrontations will arise between man and man, and between man and nature. 
Therefore, regardless of development level, productive forces can never satisfy the insatiable human desire for money and wealth. Common prosperity can only be measured by the satisfaction of reasonable human needs, and this can satisfy people’s growing aspiration for a better life by addressing imbalanced and inadequate development through the growth of productive forces. 
Common prosperity should be realized by vigorously developing productive forces, but it should be secondary to the bearing capacity of natural resources. This is the other principle that should be observed on the path to common prosperity. 
To advance common prosperity, it is vital to abandon economic development models featuring “end-of-pipe treatment,” which disregards the environment’s bearing capacity. Instead, we should pursue the goals of carbon neutrality and carbon peaking, as well as high-quality development, to strike a balance between the self and others (including the environment). Only in this way can we improve the environment for systemic human survival, build a development model of harmonious symbiosis between man and nature, and enhance people’s sense of happiness, security, and fulfillment. 
Globally, as those with competitive advantages retain a firm grasp on economic surplus, inequalities in income distribution and the gap between the rich and the poor keep widening, which invite significant conflicts in society and with nature. However, whether in terms of technological revolution or human evolution, interpersonal harmony and ecological harmony must be the inherent logic and inevitable requirement of common prosperity. 
Three spatial dimensions
Common prosperity is basically explained as universal prosperity on the basis of terminating wealth polarization and eradicating poverty, as all people jointly occupy production materials, and work hard and help each other to ultimately secure ample food and clothing. This explanation is still relevant today. 
From the perspective of systems theory, the construction of common prosperity can be divided into three levels: co-prosperity of man and nature; prosperity for all; and prosperity in both a material and non-material sense. 
Co-prosperity of man and nature means harmony between the two. As General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping said, “lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets.” Prosperity for all means bringing prosperity to all people, with their common yet disparate needs satisfied to the greatest extent. Prosperity in both material and non-material senses indicate the mutual growth of material abundance and a rich mind. 
Each with profound connotations, the three levels form a tiered system for the construction of common prosperity. At the same time, they are closely tied to the classical Chinese theory tianren heyi, literally “man is an integral part of nature,” constituting a system of common prosperity with Chinese cultural characteristics. 
The first level—shared wealth for man and nature—is the premise for building common prosperity and also the foundation and macro system for harmonious society. Man is a part of nature, and social systems are a sub-system of ecosystems. Only by regarding man and nature as unified, to build a common prosperity system based on ecological sharing and green development, can both man and nature prosper. 
In the world today, environmental and ecological security issues have become increasingly important, carrying significant weight in the long-term political and economic strategy of a nation. The contradiction and crisis facing human survival today has shifted from supply shortages to environmental crises. Environmental threats to human survival and development, at present and in the future, have become much more grim than those posed by inadequate productivity. 
Against this backdrop, economic development and environmental protection need to be re-sequenced. The joint prosperity of man and nature is foundational to bringing prosperity to all, which is the primary logic of common prosperity. 
Prosperity for all is achieved with everyone’s productive endeavors. Under socialized production, the most striking feature of common prosperity is that it makes space for each person’s initiative and creativity in production. Enlarging the capacity for social production and raising productivity through productive endeavors is the fundamental path to common prosperity under the Chinese socialist system. 
Meanwhile, it is essential to bring distributive efforts and free-riding phenomena to a halt, and fully implement the principles of a fair primary distribution and an equitable redistribution, by improving and optimizing production relationships, reforming distribution systems and mechanisms, and adhering to equality in distribution. 
In pursuit of common prosperity, efforts are needed to motivate all owners of production factors to generate synergy in material production, resource allocation, environmental protection, cultivation of a rich mind, and coordinated regional development. Moreover, it is crucial to thoroughly understand challenges arising from humans’ biological attributes and from institutions, to establish a mutually beneficial policy framework that facilitates cooperation and strategic interaction. 
Building such a development model and institutional system through collaboration and sharing, under the guidance of the new development philosophy, requires government-led mechanism design and collective forces reshaped by social development values, along with advancement of market competition mechanisms, which have expanded spontaneously via cooperation among individuals. 
Material wealth and a rich mind are dialectical, complementary, and promote each other. Attaining wealth without a rich mind is not the same as true common prosperity. As people’s material needs are satisfied continuously, the world is redefining health in our body and mind, and reshaping the outlook on wealth. Mental poverty deserves more attention than physical poverty. 
At the 10th meeting of the CPC Central Committee for Financial and Economic Affairs, held in August 2021, General Secretary Xi Jinping emphasized achieving common prosperity in a non-material sense. “Bringing prosperity to all is highly integrated with our efforts to promote well-rounded human development. We must reinforce the guiding role of core socialist values, and strengthen education on patriotism, collectivism, and socialism. By developing public cultural undertakings and improving the public cultural service system, we will continue to satisfy people’s diverse, multileveled, and multifaceted demands in the intellectual and cultural sphere,” Xi said. 
All these are important means by which to enrich people’s minds and create prosperity for all in both a material and non-material sense. 
Today, richness in mind has begun to play an increasingly important role in people’s happiness. Attention should be paid to both accumulating material wealth and education on cultivating a rich mind, building proper outlooks on the world, values, and wealth. Only in this way can common prosperity be achieved in both material and non-material senses, and the framework for the construction of common prosperity be enriched and improved. 
All in all, common prosperity is the essential characteristic of socialism. None of the two natural criteria to measure common prosperity, nor its three spatial dimensions, is dispensable. Only by keeping in mind people’s ever-growing needs for a better life, and by limiting our behaviors according to nature’s bearing capacity, can humanity realize more sustainable common prosperity. Common prosperity is not only reflected in differentiated sharing of wealth in society. The cultivation of a rich mind, and the co-prosperity of man and nature, should be valued even more, as both are critical to sustainable human, economic, social, and ecological progress. This is the basic logical relationship between the two criteria and three spatial dimensions of common prosperity. 
Chen Huixiong is a professor of economics from the School of Business Administration at Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics.