Most Americans have been
fed a (sparse) diet of news about the most populous nation on the planet that
consists largely of stories about what they produce for the American market in
the way of electronic gadgetry, toys and clothing.
And, they produce these
goods, so we are led to understand, at the cheapest rates of pay possible, with
the exception of a few other Asian countries, like Vietnam, but that’s not the whole
For many in China, their
industrial development is a sign of their country’s advance into the 21st
Century and they believe that it is a signal that they are taking the lead from
the “developed” or “industrialized” nations. On its way to becoming the
manufacturing and economic powerhouse of the world, Chinese leaders are causing
some of the world’s most serious environmental damage. A large part of the
reason is that they are willing to burn coal and any fossil fuel to maintain
their rapid growth rate. Not unlike other countries, they seem to believe that
public health is the price to be paid for economic preeminence.
A few years ago, the
average wage in China
was 57 cents per hour. Considering the numbers of millionaires that have been
created in the past 20 years, and the middle class that has developed, it has
taken untold millions of workers who are paid 20-30 cents an hour to bring that
average wage down to 57 cents. How is the middle class growing, so that it is
nearly equal to the entire population of the U.S.? The answer is simply that
they have a huge amount of our money and our wealth.
That middle class is
growing rapidly and now, it is said to be about 300 million, in a nation of 1.3
billion. Those in the Chinese middle class shop in the same kinds of malls that
Americans shop in and they want to live in the same style, albeit on a less
ostentatious scale for now. But, that’s a lot of consumption. What of those at
the bottom of the wage and income scale? They are the ones who do the wage
slave work which supplies America’s
(and other nations’) giant corporations, especially the retailers.
Even though China has not reached the automobile production,
per capita, that the U.S.
has, it is moving fast toward a public transit system that will likely tend to
curb the use of automobiles for virtually every activity. With an eye toward
reducing fossil fuel consumption for transit, China
has been developing a rail system, which is far ahead of what the U.S. has done. Making
the rounds on the Internet now is a series of pictures of Beijing’s passenger rail station and the
trains it serves. The station itself resembles a giant flying saucer that might
take up several city blocks and myriad sets of tracks bringing in trains that
look as if they would be more at home in space, than on a set of tracks on the
The trains move people
from Beijing to Shanghai at 350 kilometers per hour, or 217.5
miles per hour. The train can cover the 802-mile trip in just under 3 hours and 45 minutes. That would be the equivalent
of traveling from New York City to Savannah, Ga.,
in a few minutes more than the Beijing-Shanghai trip. On board the trains,
there are amenities of which any top-flight U.S. airline would be envious.
Such a rail system is in
sharp contrast with what we Americans understand as China’s best-known product: cheap labor
and cheap consumer goods. The U.S.
has a minimum wage, so the average pay of American workers would not drop to
the starvation wage of 57 cents an hour, or less. The U.S. has
millions of workers who are working at much less than their pay at their former
jobs and, of course, there are those who have stopped looking for work. China does not
seem to be uncomfortable with so many abjectly poor workers, because it
attracts investment from transnational corporations from the rich countries,
and that brings in capital to its coffers. It’s why they hold so much of our
The rail system in
question did not spring whole from the mind of one of the leaders of the
Chinese economy. It was planned long in advance, probably decades. For a
Communist Party-controlled, central-command system, they certainly do
By contrast, from Feb.
11-13, there will be a high-level transportation summit in Washington, D.C.,
to discuss, among other things, high-speed rail. The list of speakers does not at
this time include anyone from China,
who might explain how they did it. But, the contrast is crystal clear: The U.S.
is now discussing how it is going to plan for what they at the conference call
“transit oriented development.” We can assume that this means that any future
development would place transportation as the first consideration. If things go
as they usually do in the U.S.,
we might have a usable public transportation system by the time China decides
that its current rail system is old and needs to be replaced.
This happened with what
was to have become a premier new “green” industry in the U.S., the use
of solar power, which calls for development of cutting edge solar panels and
collectors, a method of storage, and inclusion of that power into the grid. A
great uproar was provoked among the political right wing, when Solyndra, the solar industry firm went belly up, after the
Obama Administration gave it $500 million. As was pointed out by analysts,
assisting Solyndra was too little, too late. The
Chinese already had developed cheaper solar panels and their solar industry was
far ahead of America’s.
Solyndra just could not compete with imported Chinese
solar panels. China’s
success and scale of production of the panels outstripped the market and their
losses in that industry have been increasing.
The cry that went up from
Republicans and the folks on the right about Solyndra
was a direct result of their unwillingness to invest much in alternative energy
and just kept plowing money into the fossil fuel industry, which heavily funds
political campaigns for national office. Meanwhile, they are willing to give
the fossil fuel industry many billions of dollars per year, without
giving it a thought.
Not only is something
wrong with this picture, it makes U.S. lag behind any country that is
willing to spend the money to find other ways to fuel its economy. Despite
their wholehearted use of fossil fuels, particularly coal, the Chinese have an
eye on the future for a green economy. If, in the process of selling
alternative energy systems to the rest of the world, China provides its people with a
cleaner environment, that’s an added benefit to them. Of primary concern for
them, though, is the race to become the world’s biggest producer of consumer
goods and, possibly, industrial goods as well.
concern about the imbalance in trade, but most do not know what to do. Last
July, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman went to China, leading
a trade mission and hoping to convince the Chinese to buy more of his state’s
export goods, and he hoped to get the Chinese to invest more in his state. The
Republican governor traveled to China
hoping to come back with some assurances that his state will develop strong
economic relations with China.
This, even though Nebraska
has suffered along with other states in the loss of a national total of 2.7
million jobs to China
in the past 10 years.
Heineman, as do most Republicans, will take any kind of
energy that he can get and, just recently, he announced his approval of the
Keystone XL pipeline, which will bring a toxic brew all the way from the tar
sands of Alberta, Canada,
to the Texas Gulf Coast,
where it would be refined. Environmentalists and others concerned about the
water sources and the people all along the 1,700-mile line say that the toxic
chemicals that the pipeline would carry will leak and that it’s not a question
of whether, but when.
Alternative energy is not
being debated by American politicians to any great extent. In fact, the few
that have made it a major issue in their campaigns have been marginalized to
the extent possible, through derision, lobbying, public relations, and
propaganda by the powerful oil and gas industry. The move toward public or mass
transit is the way to get the largest number of cars off the roads. But, right
wing politicians deny that there is a problem (just drill more wells, they say)
and they have intimidated the rest of their colleagues into backing off on
The U.S. is losing
ground and the nation does not have people of vision in charge. Rather, we have
people who vehemently deny climate change and are strongly opposed to
consideration of alternative energy sources. Where do we go from here?