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Thursday, July 23

Utopia vs Chinese solution to revolution

The Hope


The artwork, by Joe Magee, is to illustrate an excerpt from PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future by Paul Mason, Economics Editor at Britain's Channel 4 News, published July 17 in The Guardian and titled The end of capitalism has begun.

Dyed-in-the-wool capitalists can relax; Mason is really talking about the death of the way that capital has traditionally been controlled in the industrial eras, and its metamorphisis via modern information into a mass-networked phenomenon.  So he's made a yeoman effort to sketch out the economics of the New Age; that he's done this in one writing makes the effort quite lengthy but worth the read, even though one of his major arguments has already been skewered.  But no matter; it's the big picture Mason is trying to convey.  

He dares hope to the point of irrational exuberance that uptopia is now within humanity's reach. Granted the utopia he envisions is a communist's dream scenario but again, stick with the big picture. It's hard not to be exuberant about an era in which business startups can go straight to the public to raise capital and individuals can turn to crowd-sourcing for loans.  However.


The Reality 

Dawn over a residential complex in Yanjiao, Hebai. Photo: Sim Chi Yin for The New York Times

I don't think I'd have the heart to tell Paul Mason what the photo actually represents.  I even quail to lay the bad news on Pundita's hard-boiled readers. As for The New York Times, they're still in lala-land. But I'll let these quotes from their report, As Beijing Becomes a Supercity, the Rapid Growth Brings Pains set the stage:

As Chinese officials are developing a megalopolis that will contain more than 130 million people, some suburban residents cope with difficult commutes and shortages of public services.
[...]
The new region will link the research facilities and creative culture of Beijing with the economic muscle of the port city of Tianjin and the hinterlands of Hebei Province, forcing areas that have never cooperated to work together.
This month, the Beijing city government announced its part of the plan, vowing to move much of its bureaucracy, as well as factories and hospitals, to the hinterlands in an effort to offset the city’s strict residency limits, easing congestion, and to spread good-paying jobs into less-developed areas.
Jing-Jin-Ji, as the region is called (“Jing” for Beijing, “Jin” for Tianjin and “Ji,” the traditional name for Hebei Province), is meant to help the area catch up to China’s more prosperous economic belts: the Yangtze River Delta around Shanghai and Nanjing in central China, and the Pearl River Delta around Guangzhou and Shenzhen in southern China.
But the new supercity is intended to be different in scope and conception. It would be spread over 82,000 square miles, about the size of Kansas, and hold a population larger than a third of the United States. And unlike metro areas that have grown up organically, Jing-Jin-Ji would be a very deliberate creation. Its centerpiece: a huge expansion of high-speed rail to bring the major cities within an hour’s commute of each other.
Sorry to break the news to the Times but difficult commutes and public services shortages are the least of it. Jing-Jin-Ji is the Chinese Communist Party's solution to the problem that fueled the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe and the fall of the Pahlavi Dynasty in Iran.  

The last Shah, Mohammad Reza, had wanted to raise up his people by putting many of them through college. However, just as in the Germanic kingdoms, he forgot the part about providing enough jobs for the graduates. So not only did he soon face a lot of angry, impoverished young men, they were literate with a college-trained gift for gab and zeal for manning the printing presses.

To cut a story, the creation of Jing-Jin-Ji, as with China's 'ghost cities,' is to provide gainful employment for millions of Chinese who graduated from engineering colleges. But this means there's a certain circularity to the solution.

Having just about run out of places (in China) to build mega-dams China's government has to keep building bigger and bigger cities to stave off revolution. 

But this skyrockets what is called the "urban island heat effect" and "urban canyon effect," the latter contributing to the urban heat effect, while at the same time slurps up humongous amounts of water just to maintain the massive infrastructures of the urban canyons. 

Add to this, the replacement of trees with steel canyons not only exacerbates the urban heat effect, it leads to less rainfall regionally, which means less and less water and more and more desertification creeping up on the megacities. [laughing] You see the circularity.     

Pundita, no. Not funny. I tell you my alter-ego is developing a warped sense of humor.  

Moving along, the Chinese Solution to Revolution, shall we term it, is missed by Paul Mason. So when he writes that major changes in information technology have "reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages," he is thinking in terms of the post-industrial societies, which are still supported by the industrial societies. 

Yet the trajectory of the industrial societies is toward something even worse than dystopia:  an urban civilization rapidly cannibalizing the very resources that make all civilization possible.  The vicious cycle is working faster than decentralized populations made possible by information technologies can firmly establish themselves in all but the smallest pockets of the world. 


Last House Standing


An old residential building is seen surrounded by a newly built ring viaduct, in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China, June 18, 2015. The building was planned to be demolished, but residents in several units in the building refused to move out ... Photo REUTERS/MA QIANG/SOUTHERN METROPOLIS DAILY

The worst part is that the Solution to Revolution is not limited to China proper. Like a demented Eveready Bunny, China's government is determined to build up every square foot of the African continent and Central Asia, every mountain pass, every pasture, desert, and mountain, every ocean reef. 

This is something we didn't think of when we wrung our hands a half century ago about the population explosion. How were going to feed all those people? We should have asked how they were to be gainfully employed.   


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