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Two-child policy unlikely to ease pension pressure

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On October 29, China adopted a policy of two children per family, instead of one. This change is, in large part, intended to mitigate the adverse demographic trend plaguing China's social security system: the rapidly declining ratio of active to retired workers. The ratio is falling from over 6:1 in 2000 to under 2:1 in 2050.

2015年10月29日,中国出台了“二孩政策”,取代了之前的“一胎化政策”。这种改变在很大程度上是为了缓解困扰中国社保体系的不利人口趋势:劳动人口与退休人口的比例正在快速下降。到2050年,该比例将从2000年的6:1降至不足2:1。

However, the new two-child policy is not likely to have a big impact on the worker-retiree ratio, so China's retirement system will remain under stress. To sustain social security, China needs to implement other reforms — moving from a local to a national system and expanding the permissible investments for Chinese pensions.

然而,新的“二孩政策”不太可能对劳动人口与退休人口的比例产生重大影响,因此中国的养老体系将依然承压。为了维持社保体系,中国需要推行其他改革——从地方体系转向全国性体系,并扩大中国养老金的投资许可范围。

The one-child policy always had exceptions, such as for rural and ethnic communities. These exceptions were broadened in 2013 to cover couples where both were only children. Yet the birth rate did not take off.

“一胎化政策”一直存在例外,比如农村和少数民族地区。2013年,这些例外被扩大至涵盖夫妻双方均为独生子女的夫妇。然而出生率并未因此大幅上升。

Why? A combination of rising levels of urbanization and housing costs, more education and jobs for women, and rapidly increasing expenses for child rearing. These factors have driven fertility rates down in other south-east Asian countries, such as Singapore and South Korea, without any government restrictions on family size.

原因是城镇化水平和住房成本不断提高、妇女受教育和就业机会增加,以及抚养孩子成本快速上升。这些因素压低了新加坡和韩国等其他亚洲国家的生育率,尽管这些国家的政府并未限制家庭规模。

Indeed, if China's two-child policy were to lead to many larger families, the result could well be a lower ratio of workers to retirees for the next two decades. That is because women with two children are less likely to take jobs outside the house until their children have left the nest.

的确,如果中国的“二孩政策”导致许多家庭人口增加,结果很可能是未来20年劳动人口与退休人口的比例更低。这是因为有了两个孩子的女士在孩子“离巢”之前更不可能外出工作。

Given the declining worker-retiree ratio, the key to stabilising social security is ensuring that current pension contributions are used to fund the future retirement benefits of current workers. Since the pension reforms of 1997, urban employers have been required to contribute 20 percent of each worker's wages to social security, while workers have to contribute 8 percent of their wages to an individual retirement account. These high contributions could form the foundation of a viable pension system.

鉴于劳动人口与退休人口的比例不断下降,稳定社保的关键在于确保当前工人缴纳的养老金被用于支付他们未来的退休金。自1997年养老金改革以来,城市雇主一直被要求按照每个工人薪资的20%缴纳社保,同时工人不得不拿出工资的8%向个人退休账户缴款。这些较高的缴纳比例有望为一个切实可行的养老金体系奠定基础。

However, such contributions are made to local governments, which often "borrow" a large portion to pay the legacy pensions of pre-1977 workers at state-owned enterprises. These workers were promised retirement benefits during the era of the "iron rice bowl", when the Communist party took care of worker welfare. At that time, no one tried to fund the future retirement benefits of SOE workers.

然而,这些缴纳全都由地方政府经手,后者往往会“借”一大部分资金用于支付1997年之前国企工人的养老金。在中共对工人福利大包大揽的“铁饭碗”期间,政府承诺为这些工人发放养老金。那时,没有人试图为国企工人未来的退休金落实资金。

The flow of pension contributions and benefits through local governments not only undermines funding of the current pension system, but also erects barriers to labor mobility.

养老金缴纳和福利由地方政府经手,不仅削弱了当前养老金体系的资金基础,而且还为劳动力流动设置了障碍。

When workers move from one city to another to get a better job, they remain tied to the pension plan in their original city unless they can obtain a residency permit (hukou) for the destination city. And the retirement benefits from an inland town will be much lower than those under the Beijing pension plan.

当工人为了更好的工作从一座城市迁至另一座城市时,他们依然与原城市的养老金计划捆绑在一起——除非他们能获得目的地城市的户口。内陆城市的退休金待遇远远低于北京的标准。

To address both the funding and mobility problems, I suggest that China's national government should assume responsibility for legacy pensions and, in return, local governments should stop handling pension contributions and benefits.

为了解决融资和流动问题,我建议,中国中央政府应该承担起历史遗留的养老金支付责任,相应地,应该停止让地方政府经手养老金缴纳和福利事宜。

Then the national government could ensure that current pension contributions are dedicated to the retirement benefits of current workers. In addition, Beijing could build a computerised central repository of all pension contributions, wherever workers held jobs in China.

接下来,中央政府可以确保当前的养老金缴费专款专用,即用于支付当前工人的退休金。此外,北京可以建立一个追踪所有养老金缴费的中央数据库,无论工人在国内什么地方工作。

At the same time, China should adopt more flexible rules on investing pension contributions. At present, pension investments are generally limited to Chinese government bonds and bank deposits, which pay low interest rates. The main exception is the National Social Security Fund, which was established to help local governments finance the pension system.

中国应该出台更为灵活的养老金投资规则。目前,养老金投资一般只限于利率很低的中国政府债券和银行存款。明显的例外是帮助地方政府为养老金体系提供资金的全国社保基金(National Social Security Fund)。

The NSSF now has a group of investment professionals who are allowed to invest pension assets in stocks and bonds, including foreign securities.

全国社保基金现在拥有一个专业投资团队,他们被允许将养老金资产投资于股票和债券,包括外国证券。

Thus the NSSF could invest current pension contributions in an internationally diversified portfolio with higher long-term returns than government bonds and bank deposits.

因此,全国社保基金可以借助一个多元化的国际投资组合投资当前的养老金缴款,获得高于政府债券和银行存款的长期回报。

Moreover, the NSSF could play a significant role in developing a longer-term perspective in China's capital markets, rather than one dominated by day traders.

此外,全国社保基金可以推动中国资本市场发展更长期的视野(而不是由短线交易主导),在这方面扮演关键角色。

In short, while the two-child policy is a step in the right direction, it will not move the needle on China's declining ratio of workers to retirees. To sustain social security, China's national government should establish separate trusts with current pension contributions, which would be invested to provide future retirement benefits for current workers.

简言之,尽管“二孩政策”是向正确方向迈出的一步,但它不会改变中国劳动人口与退休人口比例日趋下降的趋势。为了维持社保体系,中国中央政府应该用当前的养老金缴款建立独立的信托。

2016-06-23

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