The Overseas Development Institute has a new report out on rural wages in Asia which is not exactly being overwhelmed with attention but which, as Oxfam's Duncan Green argues, has momentous implications (my emphasis):
Rural wages are rising across much of Asia, and in some cases have accelerated since the mid 2000s...Doubling in China in the last decade, tripling or quadrupling in Vietnam. A bit slower in Bangladesh, but still up by half. This really matters because landless rural people are bottom of the heap (72% of Asia’s extreme poor are rural – some 687m people in 2008), so what they can pick up from their casual labour is a key determinant of poverty, or the lack of it. (Report co-author) Steve (Wiggins) argues that if the trend continues (and it looks like it will) this spells ‘the end of mass (extreme) poverty in Asia.'
Two other nuggets from Duncan Green's summary of the research. First this:
The two main drivers are a slowdown in the growth of the rural labour force, probably mainly from lower fertility rates, and the growth of manufacturing that attracts workers from rural areas....
...The focus on shrinking rural populations is...intriguing – is this the biggest success story yet for women’s education, empowerment and sexual/reproductive rights (at least outside China, whose fertility fall is based more on coercion)?
Higher rural wages are driving up the cost of food production, thereby creating opportunities for other countries to export to Asia. Steve (Wiggins) agues that this will undermine Asian countries’ preference for self sufficiency in food (they’ve already come to rely on imports for vegetable oil and animal feed), opening up big new markets for food exporters.
They also contribute to higher wages in manufacturing. As costs rise in China, for example, it is likely that some plants will relocate to low income Asia and to Africa. Former World Bank chief economist Justin Lin has talked about 80 million manufacturing jobs leaving China as wages rise. Many of those could go to Africa, as the last global repository of truly cheap labour.
(H/t Dart-Throwing Chimp.)