22 June 2011

China's Ticking Time Bomb to Widespread Unrest

China has many serious problems threatening its future prosperity and strength. Among them are a virtual absence of social benefits for migrant workers, and dangerous exposure to toxic materials of all kinds for both workers and ordinary citizens. The article excerpted below discusses two of these many problems:
The root of the problem is China's hukou system of household registration. Migrant workers aren't considered residents of the cities where they live, which means they aren't entitled to health care, pensions, housing subsidies or education for their children. To educate their children, migrant workers either have to find the money to pay for schooling in the cities where they work or send their children back to the rural areas where they officially still live. With migrant workers earning so little -- the average is about $250 a month -- sending children back home is often the only option.

The hukou system is nothing new, so why the increase in protests now? Three reasons, I think. First, the contrast between the country's newly wealthy and this vast migrant underclass has fed anger at the unfairness of the system. Second, because China's growth has produced labor shortages in many parts of eastern, export-oriented China and because Beijing has pushed growth into lagging western provinces, migrant workers have more bargaining power. They can find work closer to home if they don't like the way they're treated in the traditional fast-growth provinces. Third, China's increasing inflation rate has come down particularly hard on the country's poorest residents. The annual overall inflation rate was 5.5% in May, but food inflation is running at well over 10% annually. If you make just $250 a month -- and remember that's the average, so some migrant workers make even less -- and spend 35% of your family budget on food, then 10% food inflation is pinning you to the wall....

...China is the world's largest consumer of lead. National data are sketchy, but a 2006 review of the existing data suggests that one-third of Chinese children suffer from elevated blood-lead levels. Part of the problem is enforcement -- officials are reluctant to clamp down on businesses that provide jobs. But national environmental standards are also woefully inadequate. Based on U.S. regulations, lead levels of 40 micrograms per deciliter of blood are poisonous for adults. Chinese rules call 400 micrograms per deciliter, a common reading for lead workers, "moderately elevated."

Tightening and enforcing national standards would require closing marginal factories, mandating expensive environmental upgrades for every company that works with lead -- including the country's increasingly large battery industry -- and providing compensation and treatment to affected workers. All that would disrupt local economies and be incredibly expensive. It's easier to treat each outbreak of the national problem as a local event and address it with force and limited payments. _money.msn
Chronic lead toxicity among workers, children, and ordinary citizens is destructive enough. But even worse poisons and poisonings afflict various parts of the Chinese population. And authorities appear extremely hesitant to do anything about them, for fear of upsetting the current run of prosperity in high places.

China's leaders are deluding themselves if they think they can keep China within a bubble of their own making and under their complete control. People and ideas cross freely over the Chinese border on a daily basis, and each person and idea represents a potential threat to the autocratic system of the CCP. But stopping the relative free flow of ideas and people would mean going back to the dismal age of Mao and the cultural revolution of death and fanatical ideology out of control.

The situation is intrinsically unstable. Sooner or later, something has to give.

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10 Comments:

Blogger neil craig said...

This is a country where, a generation ago, famine used to kill millions. The western countries may get worried about asbestos, low level radiation, mobile phones and breast enhancements being dangerous but I doubt they will bring down China.

Wednesday, 22 June, 2011  
Blogger al fin said...

The normal state of humanity is poverty and violence. The modern affluence of the west, East Asia, and emerging trading partners is a gross aberration from the normal.

The normal state of China is warring factions of warlords, power brokers, and barbarians at the gates.

Nothing is required to bring down China except an entropic return to the normal condition. Given the CCP's corrupt mishandling of human capital and command misallocation of wealth, entropic forces are gaining dominance.

Given the PLA's latent strength within the government, when things begin to fray rapidly, war is likely.

Wednesday, 22 June, 2011  
Blogger yamahaeleven said...

Great post, as always, Al.

My thoughts on China's headlong lunge to modernism.

Even our good old US of A went through a hundred years of poisoning ourselves and our environment, and vast differences in income, etc. Once we passed a threshold of average income, we could afford to take care of ourselves and our environment, and enjoyed periods of narrow income distribution, as we will again. The Chinese are moving through their industrial phase at a pace that far exceeds the pace we enjoyed. I suggest using Japan as a likely example of how the Chinese will get through this phase. Japan was highly feudalistic and was forced through the industrial birth canal by a powerful bureaucracy backed by monarchy, not much different than China now. They all have the US of A as an example of what they can achieve. No doubt there will be many a disruption and setbacks, but, ultimately, China will become a citizen of the 21st century.

Wednesday, 22 June, 2011  
Blogger neil craig said...

Surely that applies everywhere Al. All that is required to bring down modern American or European civilisation is a return to the Middle Ahes. If anything the Chinese being less far removed from such conditions would be likely to adapt better.

I count myself an optimist. Unless we have a firm world government technology will survive and grow somewhere and if it survives it will win. Hopefully we (or the Chinese if necessary) will have a spacegoing civilisation before a world government.

Wednesday, 22 June, 2011  
Blogger al fin said...

I suspect that it is a mistake to view the ongoing evolution of Chinese civilisation under an oppressive regime as analogous to the evolution of a young US under relative freedoms of opportunity, movement, worship, assembly, speech, etc etc.

The Chinese people are intelligent, ambitious, and hard working. Too bad they are being poisoned -- mind and body -- on an industrial scale.

Wednesday, 22 June, 2011  
Blogger kurt9 said...

The Lead poisoning will result in decreased IQ and increased violence and criminality among those affected. Mercury poisoning is likely a problem in China as well. Sensitivity to Mercury correlates with IQ. So, Mercury poisoning will be a serious problem in China as well.

A significant contributor to the crime wave in the U.S. during the 60's to 90's period and the decline in crime since then is environmental Lead. Lead exposure peaked in the mid 70's (when the early 90's crack war criminals were born) and began declining with its use in gasoline and paints banned in the mid 70's.

Interestingly, environmental Lead was the most serious environmental problem of our time AND was the only problem the leftist greenies never actually talked about. It was the failure of the greenies to identify this problem that became one of the reasons why I rejected them (I used to be somewhat of a greenie when I was young).

Wednesday, 22 June, 2011  
Blogger Benjamin said...

We had lots of pollution before in the USA. I remember a Los Angeles so smoggy you could not see for more than a few city blocks, and gasoline was leaded.

I agree that China may misallocate resources due to the CCP, and that repression is the norm there. They have had central government and civil service for thousands of years, with some epochs defined by warlords etc.

Of course, the USA just allocated $3 trillion to Iraqistan, so who else misallocates resources?

My rough guess is that China keeps consumer spending so low, it has many extra hundreds of billions to solve all problems, and that they will go green in coming decades, perhaps following the lead of S. Korea.

In general, I see the world becoming more prosperous and greener in coming decades.

Wednesday, 22 June, 2011  
Blogger neil craig said...

Lead is also almost the only environmental problem which has been solved. Many others dieappeared or turned out not to be so but solved - no. It was solved using the free market to push up the price of leaded petrol. No other enforcement needed - people had the choice and they chose the cheaper option.

One might almost think that the Greens didn't actually want to have problems solved, as it would deprive them of publicity and subsidies.

Wednesday, 22 June, 2011  
Blogger LeighG said...

Lead contamination to soils and homes has most certainly NOT been solved yet. Yes - the lead burden of children and adults in the US is much less than even 15 years ago; but that doesn't mean the levels are safe. CDC and EPA agree that there is no safe level for lead exposure and studies show that MOST of the PERMANENT IQ loss for kids happens from blood lead levels levels lower than 10 micrograms/deciliter (which is the current recommended EPA/CDC action threshold.) CDC/EPA has lowered the action threshold 3 times before... and it has been at 10 micrograms per deciliter since 1991. Probably will be moved to 2.0 micrograms per deciliter in the near future as scientific and medical opinion gels.

Lead levels in contaminated soils only reduce by 0.5-1.5% per year (depends on rainfall carrying dissolved lead to deeper soil profiles.) We will be dealing with the environmental fallout from our historical use of lead for some time yet.

It isn't yet time to declare the lead problem solved in the US.

Friday, 24 June, 2011  
Blogger al fin said...

The fact that the US is constantly lowering toxic thresholds is irrelevant to the problem in China -- which is the subject at hand.

China is so far behind the US in terms of environmental toxicity enforcement that it is absurd to even compare the two countries, other than to illustrate the problems which China will eventually be forced to face.

Sunday, 26 June, 2011  

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