November 29, 2005


Choking on Chemicals in China (Andreas Lorenz, 11/28/05, Der Spiegel)

Even if water began flowing once again to the city's residents on Tuesday, the horrific environmental catastrophe reveals the flipside of the socialist economic miracle. Secretiveness and sluggish crisis management highlight the price the Chinese are paying for their boom. And even as westerners envy the half-communist, half-capitalist country for its impressive growth figures and endless backyard market, China is no longer merely the world's factory. It is also the world's toxic waste dump.

China's rise as a global power, achieved with high economic growth rates, is reminiscent of the conditions in the era of early capitalism. Everything that drives production is good, and everything that slows it down -- safety technology, for example, that prevents industrial accidents from leading to massive factory explosions -- is harmful. The result is exploding tanks, burning factories, collapsing mine pits and all manner of toxic leaks. According to official statistics, 350 Chinese die each day in industrial accidents, but the unofficial figure is likely to be much higher. "Occupational safety is a serious problem, because the number of accidents and deaths remains high," said Wang Dexue, Deputy Director of the State Office of Occupational Safety, commenting on the horrifying figures from the country's manufacturing industries.

Adding to the problems are economic reforms that have made many businessmen greedy. China's laissez-faire brand of socialism doesn't prevent executives from spending their money on cars and villas instead of investing it in worker safety and environmental protection. Although the government is constantly vowing to monitor manufacturers more closely, local officials and party leaders are often in bed with the captains of industry in China. This Mafia-like alliance between the politically and economically ambitious is known as "local protectionism."

Chen Bangzhu, an environmental expert on Beijing's Parliamentary Council, says he recognizes an "irrational development" in his country. In an interview earlier this year, Pan Yue, the deputy minister of government environmental agency SEPA, predicted a bitter end to the economic miracle. "This boom will soon come to an end," he said in an interview with SPIEGEL, "because the environment isn't cooperating anymore."

Flipside? When the upside is serving as a sweatshop for America in exchange for promissory notes, you'd think socialism would have one heck of an attractive flipside instead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 29, 2005 11:50 AM

China's running the Marxist's vision of what Capitalism must be. Since it's supposed to be all about robber barons, merciless exploitation of workers, environmental devastation, etc., that's what they're doing now that they've embraced market principles.

It's very convenient, because they were already mercilessly exploiting the workers, destroying the environment et cetera. Now they don't have to pretend!!

Posted by: Twn at November 29, 2005 12:59 PM

As the saying went in the old Soviet bloc, "Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man. Socialism is the exact opposite."

Posted by: X at November 29, 2005 1:07 PM

350 deaths per day, that is 127,750 per year!

In the US, 5524 work-related deaths occurred in the United States in 2002, or approximately 15 per day.

China only has 4 times the population but an "official" death rate 24 times as high. Very impressively evil.

Posted by: Bob at November 29, 2005 3:07 PM

Bob: At a similar level of development we, too, were reckless with workers' lives. Ontogeny must recapitulate phylogeny. Now our lives are more valuable, so we're more careful.

Posted by: David Cohen at November 29, 2005 5:13 PM

and that 300+ a day rate is considered to be far lower than what is actually happening (according to the article)

Posted by: mao's toe at November 29, 2005 6:53 PM