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8:50AM

The pollution trigger in China

I love that building.  Locals in Beijing have dubbed it the "squatting man" or some such (you get the idea), indicating that the Chinese sense of humor is as fine as anybody else's.

But patience wears thin on the subject of pollution, which is stunning to behold in China - as in, take my allergy issues in Indiana and times it by 10 in terms of the resulting agony.

Here we see the same fundamental failure of authoritarian rule that we saw in the Soviet Union:  when the state has unbridled power, it trashes the environment.  The Soviets took that sin to amazing depths, but the Chinese are rapidly closing in on those horrific standards.

And yes, democracy is the answer - the only answer.  We bitch about the BANANAs and NIMBYs (look 'em up) in the US, but frankly, these cranks do God's work day-in and day-out - along with our legal system.  Give me one Erin Brockovitch over a million Maos (or even a hundred Dengs) and we will all live in a much better world.

The strongest grass-roots democratization dynamics inside China involve the environment.  Some of the best progressive elements within the US during our similar out-of-control developmental age (late 19th century) were likewise focused (and again, TR leads the way politically).  It's the easiest and most direct trigger to the whole "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" dynamic that fuels democratization.  You simply push people too far with your incompetence and indifference.

Yes, the new generation of CCP leaders seems far more aware of the issue - Li  Keqiang especially.  But as the NYT front-pager today points out, that lofty talk doesn't surmount the bureaucratic infighting within the single-party state.  Here is where the lack of an out-of-power party is crucial.  No one can sweep in with an electoral mandate to clean things up - hence, nothing significant gets accomplished.  

The great dynamic of America's Progressive Era was that parties won big and ruled big, whether they were Dems or Republicans.  That's how stuff (new rules) got done and things improved dramatically.

That's also what we lack today with the evenly-and-deeply-divided Boomer-centric electorate - hence our deep need for reforms as well.  But at least we have the system in place for when the electorate gets fed-up enought to force action.

China lacks this, and it's getting to be a huge hindrance to its further progress as a nation.

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Reader Comments (1)

It's me again.

I agree with what you wrote, but New Delhi has comparable (at times, even worse) pollution statistics than Beijing. There is nothing to suggest that democracy in India has led to a more effective advocacy movement or enhanced the institutional capacity to deal with these problems.

That is the point.

A democratic China more likely to look like India than the United States - and that is a road even the most ardent democrats in China would be wary of passing through.

It is true that the NIMBY middle class don't want pollution in their backyards - but will they also want to have the same "one man, one vote" as 250 million migrant workers? I strongly doubt it. Does China's middle class (300 million) see itself as the major beneficiary of "democratisation" when there are close to a billion other people? I doubt it.

The CPC will open the valves a bit, let in some fresh air, but quite a few people aren't that sold on this democracy thing - and I'm not just talking about Politburo members.

March 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaduka

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