In days gone by, government jobs in China were for the most part poorly paid. Those determined to carve out a substantial portion of the total economic pie for themselves tended to depend on corruption.
In today’s heady times living it up as a government official has become a far simpler matter. True, for the most part there is still little to nothing to do – literally many have hardly a few hours of “work” per week – but the pay now matches or exceeds private sector salary levels. Government in China has never in living memory had so much cash to spend. Previously promised but unprovided pensions from earlier days are getting paid. “Stimulus” spending provides plentiful opportunities to get a piece of the action. And meanwhile, salaries have been doubled, tripled and even quadrupled.
The “entrance exams” for government jobs (公务员考试) are packed. Private sector industry is actually losing highly paid skilled staff to government. Once again for the first time in living memory. It seems that given the choice between perceived security without meaning and meaning without perceived security, in many circles meaning doesn’t fare too well.
In essence, what’s going on is the consumption of part of the vast amount of perceived new “wealth” created via the real estate bubble. What happens when much of this asset value is revealed to have been illusory? What happens if/when the flow of funds from the real-estate industry then comes to a halt? Are government salaries going to be cut back down to the levels of 2005? Or perhaps (horror!) staff numbers trimmed down a bit?? If history is any guide, neither scenario seems likely. Someone’s gonna have to pay.