China’s Economic Course

In a nation that’s facing a demographic implosion (a birth rate of around 1.5 against a rate of roughly 2.1 required to maintain current population levels, and an aging population (expected by 2050 (the current generation plus their children) to have four workers in the age band 50-64 for every three aged 15-29, and for every 100 people aged 20-64, 45 over 65), that chronically lives on the edge of famine, and that has a population increasingly aware of what could be compared to what is, the PRC government is not treating its poor or its farmers (22% of whom will be over 65 as early as 2030—the current generation) very well.  And so it’s not treating its society or its economy with any foresight.

For instance:

In December 2010, when [Fu Liang]  says a campaign of harassment drove him off the small plot where he ran a fish farm, the local government paid Mr Fu just nine yuan ($1.45) a square meter for it.

The plot was quickly resold for 640 yuan [$103.11] per square meter to a developer, a national database of land transactions shows.  The developer has built villas that sell for 6,900 yuan [$1,111.67] a square meter.

A markup of a factor of nearly 10 at each stage.  Fu’s 9 yuan meter of fish farm was worth far more than he was paid.  In another sense, it was priceless, since he didn’t want to sell.

Mr Fu now is unemployed, one among tens of thousands of former farmers who inhabit the impoverished fringes of Chengdu, a city in southwestern China.  He has no heart to start another business.  “What’s the point if the government can just destroy it?” he says.

With no sense of irony, the PRC’s new president, Xi Jinping, claims to want strengthen that demographically unstable society and its unstable economy—through property (land) ownership.  After all, as Fu pointed out,

precarious land rights mean little incentive to invest in improving agricultural output, and no asset that can be sold to fund a move to the city.  Low compensation for the millions ousted from their land—coupled with ineligibility for social benefits because they aren’t registered as urban residents—means for many a life of poverty on the edges of the cities.

And no incentive to bring additional children—boys only, mind, in a mandated one child environment, with the bias’ own long-run population sustainability implications—into the world.  And the one-child policy was put in place explicitly to achieve the population reduction about to occur sharply.

Fat chance for any serious change:

“Push forward scientific development and advance social harmony,” proclaims a banner draped across one construction site, parroting a catch phrase of Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao.  Mr Fu, surveying a noodle bowl of highway overpasses, said, “A few years ago, this was all farmland.”

Because farmland—the means of feeding the population—stands in the way of progress.  Xi will have a great deal of trouble reversing that, especially with the money to be made converting farmland to urban land.

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