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From LABOR-L@YORKU.CA Mon Mar 26 16:19:49 2001
Date: Mon, 26 Mar 2001 15:20:08 -0500
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: Jim Jaszewski <grok@SPRINT.CA>
Subject: Fwd: Progress in China - From ZNET

One Giant Step Backward for Human Kind

By Robin Hahnel, [26 March 2002]

Shortly after 1949 several of the most remarkable events in human history occurred in China. In the world's most populous and oldest civilization, where the last decadent dynasty had given way to warlordism and foreign domination, an ambitious, uncorrupted government whose power was uncontested anywhere on mainland China launched a social revolution which eventually failed for reasons I do not propose to discuss here. The same government, however, adopted some remarkable public policies, the wisdom of which has become more apparent with hindsight. Unfortunately, China's headlong rush into capitalism is reversing these wise public policies with far reaching consequences for the rest of humanity as well as the Chinese.

For hundreds of years prior to 1949 drought and floods lead to the deaths of millions of people almost every year in one part of China or another. Prior to 1949 the river of starving, landless Chinese peasants migrating to cities where they crowded into crime and disease ridden ghettos without infrastructure or services -- doubling the size of ancient cities whose infrastructure was already insufficient to support existing residents -- was as large as any human river flowing in any third world nation in Asia, Africa, or Latin America. And the population bomb, where parents sought to provide for their own eldercare in a context of high infant mortality and no public assistance for those too old to work, ticked louder and more ominously in China than anywhere else. Almost over night the new government put an end to famine, large scale rural-to-urban migration, and the population explosion for one sixth of humanity. The revolutionary government decided that regional famine would be more carefully anticipated and prevented by timely transportation of food surpluses from other regions and effective distribution unthwarted by profiteering or corruption. The new government decided that industrialization would NOT be accompanied by over urbanization in China. Land reform and industrial investment in smaller cities and towns dramatically decreased the demand for rural-urban migration, while strict enforcement of residency permits attached to work permits decreased the opportunity for rural-to-urban migration. Finally, the new government successfully enforced a one child per family policy, and created a universal public health and pension system that dramatically reduced infant mortality and provided trustworthy, public elder care. Moreover, for all their mistakes, as incomes grew over the decades the Communist government resisted making the most tragic technological mistake of twentieth century capitalism: transportation via the automobile.

Now every one of these miraculous accomplishments is in full retreat. The Communist Party once asked forthrightly, What must we prevent, and What must we do to prevent it? Now the Party asks only How can we maximize opportunities to enrich ourselves and repress the consequent social unrest? Collective agricultural was dismantled, the new rural wealthy are consolidating private holdings and prioritizing cash crops, and government food distribution systems are no longer reliable. Regional famines are again a serious possibility with food imports and international relief efforts the only stop gap. Job security, and along with it pensions and access to health care, are gone and one child per family is rapidly eroding in fact. Only China among third world countries avoided flooding its cities during the last half of the twentieth century. Now the flooding is a tidal wave. As bad as Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Cairo and Calcutta are, we have yet to see what over crowded cities look like in a country with over a billion people. But we will.

Last but not least, China has finally embraced the automobile. Ask any environmentalist what it means if even a quarter of Chinese households drive a car. Ask anyone who knows anything about global warming what it will mean. It is literally unthinkable, yet this is the road China is happily driving along. Not that anyone from the world s greatest imperial power that is addicted not just to cars, but to SUVs no less, ahs any oral right to preach to the Chinese. Nonetheless, I had already seen the numbers about cars in China, but I had repressed the nightmare until the Washington Post intruded on my self-delusion by running an eye witness account from Beijing on its front page March 12.

In Bicycle No Longer King of the Road in China Philip Pan tells us: It was just a little tap, but Song Yuhua had had enough. When the taxicab bumped her bicycle and sent her tumbling onto the pavement, the 50-year-old factory worker refused to dust herself off and pedal away. Even after the cabby apologized and cars lined up behind him, Song stood in the polluted haze of the evening rush hour and shook a finger at the long column of frustrated motorists honking their horns at her. You're not even supposed to be in this lane! she cried. This is a bike lane! And for a moment, a lone bicyclist appeared to stop the advance of the automobile in China. But then a police officer intervened, Song yielded and the cars began moving again, allowing China to resume its relentless drive toward a future in which the long-beloved bicycle may be reduced to a toy. For nearly half a century, multitudes of cyclists packed the dusty boulevards of Chinese cities. Now, after decades of steady increases, the number of bicycles on China's streets has begun to fall. There are still nearly twice as many bicycles in China -- 540 million -- as there are people in the United States. But riding one is more of a hassle than ever. Cars rule the roads now, spewing exhaust into cyclists faces, pushing them into crowded side lanes and striking them with startling frequency. Housing reform has led people to move farther from their jobs, making bicycle commutes increasingly impractical. Less than a decade ago, residents of Beijing mounted their bicycles for 60 percent of all trips in the city, according to Chinese traffic studies. Today, the figure is down to 40 percent. Farther south, in Shanghai and Guangzhou, it has dropped to as low as 20 percent. The masses did not begin to buy bicycles until after the 1949 Communist Revolution, often receiving a government subsidy to do so. Families considered the bicycle a prized possession; women sometimes refused to marry men who did not own one. But bicycle production has been falling since 1995, and almost all the bikes made in China now are exported. Barely 1 million were produced for sale here in 1999, compared with more than 30 million just five years earlier, according to government statistics. At the same time, China has been promoting car ownership to boost the nation's auto industry and give the country a more modern image. Car sales are up 15 percent a year. In Beijing alone, the number of cars has nearly tripled to 1.6 million since 1993. More often than not, city leaders have sided with the cars. In Guangzhou, they tried to outlaw bikes from downtown completely in 1993, but a popular outcry led to a partial ban instead. In Shanghai, there are plans to force bicycles out of the city center by 2010, and most major streets are already off limits during rush hour. Even in Beijing, home to 11 million bicycles, more than any other city in the world, police are experimenting with a ban on a jammed street about a mile northwest of the Forbidden City. An officer there orders bicyclists to dismount; they often respond with colorful curses. These roads used to be ours, said Du Xiaoying, 40, sneaking down the street on her black Flying Pigeon bicycle. Now, the cars have taken over. They drive too fast. They even park in our lanes. There's nothing we can do. Like many car drivers, Liu Jianshu, 38, has no patience for bicycle nostalgia. What kind of country would we be if we were all still riding bicycles? This is progress. This is development, he said. Who wants to ride a bicycle when you can drive a car? Many Chinese agree. A recent survey in 20 cities by the Association of Chinese Customers found a third of urban families plan to buy a car within five years. Such attitudes alarm environmentalists. They warn that if the percentage of the population owning cars in China reaches Western levels, there would be more automobiles here than in the rest of the world combined.

After reading this I found myself swearing, J Curve my ass! You see there is a theory in environmental economics that teaches that salvation is just around the corner provided globalization is permitted to spread capitalism s bounties to the third world, raising their average income level to ours. The idea is that what are called environmental amenities I kid you not are consumption goods for which demand increases when income rises sufficiently. You get the idea. Popular demand to protect the environment in the third world will turn around through natural market forces just like the letter J if we can just raise average income in the third world. Pollution and environmental degradation are the result of poor people in the third world choosing not to buy environmental amenities, yet, because their incomes are still too low. So, China s environment was in grave danger when Chinese income was low and evenly distributed -- and everyone bought bikes. But now, fortunately, the Chinese environment is coming out of the woods as average income rises and becomes more skewed -- and hundreds of millions of Chinese respond to new government policy and propaganda and buy a car. Isn t enough to make you want to stuff the J curve up someone s tail pipe?