Dangers of China’s cities– and ours

photo credit: Beth Burdick via Flickr (cc)

China Daily’s article “Hidden Danger Hazards of Big City Living” is really an infrastructure and construction story.  Sinkholes open up and swallow people, sections of glass-walled buildings drop down and kill people, big cities flood.  Of course, pretty much the same things happen in Chicago:  The loop floods (tho the streets are spared); neighborhoods flood regularlywindows fall from buildings killing pedestrians; sinkholes swallow cars (tho not pedestrians, probably because we have so few pedestrians). Sure, it’s not an everyday occurrence, but China’s urban population is about 250 times Chicago’s, so it’s not surprising that more accidents happen.

The article quotes officials saying that coordination among infrastructure construction and maintenance actors is poor, as is the quality of construction and building inspection. Probably true, and surely in Chicago the inspectors are trustworthy and respected, and infrastructure work is usually well-coordinated.

What really does seem to be a difference is how long infrastructure is expected to last. The China Daily article says 1200 out of 5100 total km of Beijing sewers (possibly referring only to storm sewers) is “at least 30 years old, with some of it dating back six decades. This is typical for most cities, experts say.” One infers that Chinese sewers are expected to last only 30 years.  In Chicago by contrast, 1/4 of the water pipes is said to be over 100 years old,  apparently the age at which replacement is likely to be justified. Sewers are perhaps even older.  And I think this age profile is typical of mature American cities.



Sun Yat-sen “deeply inspired” by George

Georgists claim Sun Yat-sen, founder of the Chinese republic, as one of us.  But I could never find anything in English-language books to support this assertion. So it’s good to see this article from Focus Taiwan News Channel, about an exhibition on “Sun Yat-sen and the United States.”

[Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou] noted that Sun, when he drafted his political philosophy, was deeply inspired by Henry George, a renowned American political writer of the 19th Century, as well as Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address of 1863.


China collecting some rent

Bloomberg reports that China has imposed what appears to be a 5% severance fee for coal, oil, and gas in one western province, and will extend it to others.  Revenue will be used to fund development projects in the area.

In principle, this is collecting the rent for the benefit of the community.  How it will actually work out cannot be known.

Rentiers are welcome in the U S

Some Americans may not be aware that U S Citizenship– or at least, lawful permanent residency– has long been for sale, legally and aboveboard. It’s called the EB5 program, and essentially provides that any foreigner “investing” $500,000 to $1 million in a U. S. business can become a legal permanent resident.  And, of course, entrepreneurs have found the niche market, setting up businesses in which foreigners may invest, without taking an active role in management of the enterprise.

A Chinese and American joint venture is “converting the dormant Northridge mall in Milwaukee into a regional shopping center featuring merchandise from Chinese retailers” according to Milwaukee Business Journal.  Presumably, each of the 200 Chinese retailers expected could support one or more EB5 visas.  300-500 local residents are expected to be hired, tho I think it’s a bit imaginative to suggest that these jobs would be “created” by the project.  Rather, like most economic development incentives, they are simply shifted from elsewhere.

A China Daily report on the project indicates that the Chinese investors might not be familiar with primitive North American travel conditions.  Milwaukee “is only an hour away from Chicago,” says the developer. Maybe someday.

Of course, the poor would-be immigrant has no similar opportunity.  She cannot say “I will work to build a business that will employ Americans,” nor even “I will borrow a half-million dollars to invest,” as the program doesn’t permit this.

So, as existing Americans, are we better off inviting a bunch of rentiers, or a bunch of hardworking laborers?  Too many people believe that the latter will drive down American wages– which may appear to be true, only because we fail to consider what the immigrants can produce.

If we insist on inviting rentiers, we have chosen an inefficient way to do it.  Instead of requiring $500,000 invested in a business, when plenty of American entrepreneurs are already able to supply capital, we could simply require $500,000 paid toward reduction of the Federal debt.

Speculation in an empty city

At Ordos, China, local officials reportedly have built an entire new city for a million people.  But no one can move there, because all the apartments have been bought by speculators so housing is too expensive.  Al Jazeera seems to be the only real source for this story, tho brief mentions (omitting speculation) are in the Telegraph and National Post , and of course numerous blogs link to the video.

Government land ownership vs. community collection of land rent

Bloomberg’s report on land taken for the new Shanghai Disneyland tells us something about how people may fare under government ownership of land. One retailer, whose land was taken last year for an unspecified project, still hasn’t gotten compensation:

“All I care now is how much compensation we will end up getting after layers and layers of government officials get their share,”

I don’t see why Disney should get government help in assembling land for their project– it’s not infrastructure–, tho such assistance is routinely provided in the US too. Under a geoist system, where the community collects the land rent and uses it to fund governmental services, landowners would have strong incentive to sell and little incentive to hold out.  Disney could buy land cheaply but would pay substantial rent (in the form of land tax) to retain it. Those relocating could buy land cheaply elsewhere, and if in a less desirable location would find their land tax reduced.  Folks would also, of course, have no other taxes to pay and would receive a share of the rent collected in excess of governmental needs.