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Four Years After Declaring War on Pollution, China Is Winning (nytimes.com)
115 points by keeganjw 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 125 comments

For some useless anecdata, I visited Beijing five times in the last year - compared to my visits in years prior, the air was definitely cleaner. In years past they’ve had entire months where the particulate level never dropped below “very high” - visiting in that month was like suffocating in an airport smoking room.

The authoritarian government has its pros - not having to worry about your regulations, laws and work rolled back every four years is nice. It makes it possible to have long-term plans and execute really aggressive, even economically harmful policies in pursuit of a goal.

Of course, the negatives of such a government - the corruption, the abuses, the drive to maintain power - are all too often the downfalls of such a system, and I’m rather afraid that Xi has started down a bad road by trying to cling to power there.

Another anecdote: I visited a less-visited area in China a few months ago and was told a steel plant was recently moved there from Beijing.

So, maybe they haven't shutdown or cleaned up many of those polluters, they just moved them to less politically sensitive areas.

That has always been true. Most of Beijing’s heavy industry was actually moved out before the 2008 Olympics. But they are running out of places to move them, northern china, especially Hebei, has a serious pollution problem that is drastically worse than Beijing’s.

I just checked Hebei on iqicn.org, and it’s polution level is around 500. Twice the level of Beijing. Holy Molly.

Beijing would probably be in Hebei if it was part of a province. Ditto with Tianjin.

Look at its map and you can see those cities pretty distinctly carved out in the center: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebei.

From a public health perspective that’s still a net gain, even if it’s not an environmental one.

I'm not so sure: it was still to a city with a couple million residents and a smog problem.

It looks like it's still pretty bad. Aqicn.org (pretty accurate from what I remember) shows the current PM2.5 level in Beijing at 242. (For comparison, the closest station to my house near Washington, DC shows a level of 27.) I don't doubt that it's better, but it still has quite a way to go.

Authoritarian governments can be great until they go wrong. It's commonly said that a benevolent dictatorship is the best form of government. The problem is ensuring benevolence, which is really hard in the long term. Democracy's advantages lie not in the ability to get stuff done (which they suck at), but in their ability to transfer power peacefully and limit the damage caused by power-hungry maniacs.

Interestingly enough ancient Chinese texts like the Tao Te Ching emphasize that the best ruler is one who doesn't seem to exist. Similarly with free markets and letting people do there thing in peace an invisible quality emerges. The Emergence of quality from frictionless interaction is a very interesting thing. Ants seem to have agency. Our brains seem to create consciousness. Markets seem to have an invisible hand.

Hubris creating actions that seek to understand what can't be understood that destroy these sources of quality is a common trope that happens in history.

It does say that but that’s not quite it. I actually just read a translation with some really cool annotations and explanatory text. That said, I’m no expert, etc. But ....

... basically what this author was saying was that in the context of Taoism “do nothing” kinda means to do what is natural - as you say, ants just do ants. To do “something” would be to go against the nature of what being an ant is. This is also true for badgers, bears, flowers, people, etc - everything has its “way.”

So, the “way” of being a person could, say, involve taking compassionate action to help a fellow human beings, if the way/nature of humanity is to help others, say.

I dunno about the Tao of free markets. If anything you could argue for a harmonious balance of unregulated and regulated. Not sure what “free” means for the consumer if they face a monopoly or a syndicate or shit wages or dangerously defective products or tons of pollution.

FWIW Detroit, MI peaked at 154 earlier today [http://aqicn.org/city/usa/michigan/detroit-w-lafayette/] (the peak for Beijing was 286), so not everywhere is quite as clean as Washington, DC :)

It looks like that was an anomaly, though, whereas 200+ is routine for Beijing.

Then again if they had a democratic government it is very unlikely they would get in the present state of pollution to begin with.

I find it hard to believe that if you truly sat down and thought about it from first principles for an hour, that you would actually believe that

Or looking at historical pictures of a city with street lights on at mid-day because of industrial smog ... https://www.buzzfeed.com/kevintang/stunning-photos-of-pittsb...

I live in Pittsburgh. The air is clean now and the water is clear - but there's constant reminders that it wasn't always this way. Although most of the historic buildings were cleaned of soot, a few chose to keep some parts sooty and black as a reminder of what once was - a great example is the Mellon Institute just a few blocks from my work (https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/mellon-institute-columns).

It did take Pittsburgh a long time to start fixing its environmental issues, and it took the total collapse of the steel industry to fully clear the air. Even back when I came here (~2011) people had an impression of Pittsburgh as a polluted, industrial hell-hole - I'm so glad that it wasn't the case when I came.

Good thing you elected Trump to rebuild that industry!

I wonder how those pictures would compare if they were taken by the same camera technology.

Try this on for size: https://cdn.theatlantic.com/static/mt/assets/science/lastwin... from this following article: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/01/aghas...

The left image is, amazingly, a daytime shot - the sun is visible in the top-left corner. The smog was so bad on that day ("Black Tuesday", November 1939) that a camera essentially could not capture any detail _in broad daylight_.

Well, tell me why I wouldn't believe it. I don't have an hour to spare.

I lived in a communist dictatorship when I was young and pollution was definitely worse than the democratic country I migrated to. And while the general voting populace in america is much less environmental than I would hope them to be, it seems to me that once pollution becomes overwhelming and its health effects obvious and impossible to ignore, the general public usually does something about it.

In America it was the extreme smog and the acid rain that caused a backlash. But China got much much worse than America before there was an attempt to stop pollution, and the environmentalism was brought on mostly after the Beijing Olympics. I.e., it was the result of the reaction of foreigners to the mass pollution not Chinese citizens.

I still think China would be less polluted had it been a democratic country.

So from a sample size of one, you thoroughly concluded that this was because of democracy vs dictatorship. Just to offset that for you, India is a democracy with pollution even worse than China (although conveniently not often discussed in western media).

The conclusion you came to that China is trying to curb pollution "mostly" because of foreigners visiting during the Beijing Olympics, again do you honestly believe that?

You don't think the CCP, even being one of those "communist dictatorships", cares at all about lowered life expectancy across its population? Why did the CCP lift most of its people out of severe poverty over the last 20 years? What evil agenda was it trying to achieve then?

Ah the famous HN "first principles" strikes again, pouncing on hapless and unsuspecting victims at the most inconvenient of moments.

then how do you explain India? Its AQI rivals China's.

I agree. It irks me to see apologia for dictatorship.

I get that democracy is your "team", and dictatorship is bad, but on this issue the form of government seems nearly orthogonal.

It only took the US about 10 years to beat air pollution, and the technology had to be developed. Now, all the needed technology is known; it just has to be deployed.

The article writes of the US that "market-based regulations having proved the most cost-effective." No, that's not how the Clean Air Act did the first 90% of cleanup. It was done by mandating controls and fining polluters.

I am no expert but I do live in China. AFAIK China's greatest air quality issues are deforestation, desertification, a growing number of cars and the size and concentration of its industrial base, which essentially manufactures for the world. I don't think it's fair or useful to relate its pollution management to that of the US, which has never had the population density, rapid gentrification or scale of industry that China has. Anecdata follows.

A German professional I met recently in the air quality monitoring area (responsible for the development, specification and deployment of sensor platforms for international clients) reported that the trucks you often see driving around China spraying roads and air with water are actually a highly effective means of reducing airborne pollution. I had never seen such an approach until China. The same person told me that even in the capital of New Delhi, many cities in India have air pollution so high it's literally off the charts - as sensor values are unreliable at such high concentrations so nobody actually knows how bad it is.

Whereas, in Shenzhen (which is considered relatively clean but often has uncommon industrial pollutants) the air is often so bad I get asthma-like symptoms (constricted airway) despite no history of asthma, ten minutes after landing, almost every time. I stopped cycling when I realised this was happening after cycling to work, again almost every time. Still, there's many clean places in China (it's a huge country!), things are improving and there's many good sides to living here, but consistent air quality isn't one of them. Some days it's lovely. Most days it's tolerable. Sometimes it's "don't open any windows" and visibility drops from kilometers to meters.

Shenzhen is much better than Beijing. For us, it was don’t open the window from November to April. When my wife got pregnant, we had no choice but to leave.

Coal is a big problem in the north because of central mandated heating. In the south, coal isn’t a problem because there is no indoor heating at all...you just freeze if you aren’t far enough south.

> Coal is a big problem in the north because of central mandated heating. In the south, coal isn’t a problem because there is no indoor heating at all...you just freeze if you aren’t far enough south.

When I lived in San Francisco, my apartment had a steam heater built into it which I basically couldn't control and which leaked water onto the little metal platform under it that was built into the apartment.

When I lived in Shanghai ("the south" by some standards, not by others), apartments all had air conditioners, but if I wanted heat I generally had to install a space heater. Winter in Shanghai is bitterly cold, even if not generally below freezing during the day.

What form does northern central mandated heating take?

Anything north of the Yangtze gets central heating, anything south does not, Shanghai is just on the border :). The coldest winter I've ever had to deal with was in South China.

Typically, they just have boilers through the city soviet style that pipe hot water through the apartment buildings. Now, this all used to be coal, but that just exacerbated the air pollution problem, since these were small plants, didn't have any kind of environmental protection. So they have been transformed into natural gas in recent years, at least in Beijing.

> Michael Greenstone runs the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago and is the Milton Friedman professor of economics at the university.

Mr Greenstone's job likely depends on shoe-horning "market-based" into everything he writes.

Anyway, setting limits and fines are a market-based approach. The author contrasts against "engineering approached", where the central government prescribes action instead of constraints.

> prescribes action instead of constraints

Interesting line in the sand to draw. Reading the actual actions:

> Prohibiting coal power plants, mandating emissions reduction, restricting # of cars on road, shutting down mines, removing coal boilers from homes.

These so called prescribed actions are really limits and fines (and further stronger disincentives, presumably). The number of coal plants in a city is now limited, on pain of fine or jail. The number of coal boilers per building is now limited, on pain of fine or jail. How is this different from the "free market" approach of setting limits and fines, other than the fact that it happened in China? On matters of public health and safety, capitalist democracies are perfectly happy with an endless number of such prescriptions.

The difference between a "prescribed" course of action and a "constrained" set of actions is a matter of degree, and what these people call free market vs communist has more to do with geographic borders.

Which lead to the actual US solution: outsourcing production to China.

The USA had solved its pollution problem by the 80s, while the China outsource boom started in the mid-late 90s.

The USA had also lost lots of factories to Japan and Taiwan "by the 80s".

I'm not sure what those two places have to do with China.

If you look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manufacturing_in_the_United_St..., you'll see the steep drop off in manufacturing jobs started around 2000-ish. There was a peak in the 80s for sure, but its not like it came crashing down that much.

>I'm not sure what those two places have to do with China.

Who said they had? The comment is about how the US didn't just magically end pollution by better laws, filters and factories, but also by dropping factories.

Original comment:

> Which lead to the actual US solution: outsourcing production to China.


> The USA had solved its pollution problem by the 80s, while the China outsource boom started in the mid-late 90s. reply

Your reply:

> The USA had also lost lots of factories to Japan and Taiwan "by the 80s".

Connection to grand parent implied.

Connection to the parent though is explicit. Obviously I'm addressing the parent's objection -- that outsourcing to China couldn't be the US solution, since China outsource happened in mid-90s.

And I'm saying that, sure, it might not have been outsourced to China, but it was to Japan/Taiwan and co.

Or, as another commenter wrote about my comment: "it’s clear that the other commenter is addressing your question of how the US could “outsource production” if not to China."

Don’t be facetious—it’s clear that the other commenter is addressing your question of how the US could “outsource production” if not to China.

And of all the subjects on which we could argue about US exceptionalism, heavy pollution during industrialization is one of the hardest to defend; we need only open a history book.

EDIT; Also, it’s surprising that you are implying that all industry is equally pollution-causing. A quick search reveals many articles about how especially polluting industries were outsourced to other countries.

I didn't imply anything of the sort. I just said that the pollution problem was solved by the 80s, and the Chinese outsourcing boom occurred in the 90s. These two issues have no strong connection.

The EPA was created in the 70s, while the USA has strongish rule of law like any modern western democracy. California implemented strict clean air requirements then at the same time that were copied country wide (e.g. on vehicle emissions). This was also in the wrong time frame to have "simply outsourced our pollution to China".

Consequently, if we are talking about Taiwan or Japan, then no, the polluting industries didn't go there (given what we imported from them). Maybe they meant Canada and Mexico when NAFTA came on line? The mystical "quick search" without any details proves very little.

Have you ever used Google Scholar? First result: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9780470670590.wbe...

With these conditions in mind, it is argued that a large proportion of foreign direct investment in less developed countries finances highly polluting and ecologically inefficient manufacturing processes and facilities, many of which are outsourced from the wealthy nations. While this allows for transnational firms headquartered in the global North to treat less developed countries as waste repositories, the commodities produced by these heavily polluting facilities are largely intended for export to high-consuming developed nations. Cross-national studies of less developed countries support these arguments, indicating that foreign direct investment contributes to the growth of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants (Jorgenson, Dick & Mahutga 2007) and the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers (Jorgenson & Kuykendall 2008) in these nations. Complementing cross-national research on foreign direct investment and the environment are case studies of the Maquiladora centers in Mexico (where heavily polluting plants owned by US interests are concentrated) as well as various communities within other less developed countries. These studies provide in-depth illustrations of how transnational economic relationships lead to the treatment of less developed countries as waste repositories for the wealthy nations and contribute to tragic public health and regional ecological problems in these poorer countries (Frey 2003; Pellow 2007).

I’m not sure where you are getting your data from, and it’s unsettling that you keep changing the goalposts. I don’t have anything more to say; you need to catch up with mainstream research.

EDIT: Ah, perhaps your confusion is over whether people are discussing outsourcing to Japan, Taiwan, and China specifically, or to other countries in general. You have to learn that you can’t get by interpreting other people’s words as uncharitably as possible and then asking them to interpret your own as generously as you’d like. I see this a lot with engineers who don’t interact much with other disciplines—this “works” for proofs and problem sets, not for discussions about less well defined issues.

As the other commenter stated, “The comment is about how the US didn't just magically end pollution by better laws, filters and factories, but also by dropping factories.” This is accepted fact; see the article I linked for many references.

EDIT#2: Interest piqued by writing this up. Here’s an interesting article addressing Japan and the US specifically: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030142150...

Again, just quick Google Scholar searches; nothing “mystical” about them.

You can't outsource local transportation to another country, and that's historically been a huge component of the most dangerous air pollution in population centers.

Also, the peak of US manufacturing output is right now.

>Also, the peak of US manufacturing output is right now.

Actually it was around 2005. But even so, it doesn't mean much if most of the parts are now coming from abroad and just assembled in the US.

We got back up to the previous peak (2007) in 2014, and have since just barely exceeded it in 2017/2018. The difference today is that the ratio of manufacturing jobs to manufacturing output is vastly lower than it used to be.

Industrial capacity moved to China from all over, and even happened for not particularly polluting industries like assembling shoes. US pollution controls clearly weren't the primary cause.

Combined with cheap labor, they were.

Just like the (carcinogenic) dye companies did with their nagging externalities, after moving them out of Europe to the U.S. back in mid-20th-century.

Fighting air pollution in the US is not a solved problem.

There's been tons of advancement, which certainly includes the development of technologies and techniques that can readily be deployed elsewhere.

Major population centers like Los Angeles and San Francisco have certainly reaped benefits from industrial and transportation regulations over past decades. The smog is less dense, less harmful, and has more appealing colors.

However, it still exists, does cause harm, and needs constant attention to make sure it doesn't get worse. There's still a ton that can be done.

>It only took the US about 10 years to beat air pollution, and the technology had to be developed. Now, all the needed technology is known; it just has to be deployed.

That was in a time the US was de-industrialized and China was heavily industrialized.

So Apples to Oranges.

There is no evidence that the cleanup achieved under the Clean Air Act through mandated blanked controls was achieved in a particularly cost-effective way.

On the other hand there is theory for why cap-and-trade schemes should produce results more cheaply. That is the market-based system that was likely being discussed.

The lack of downstream price spikes provides some weak evidence about the cost.

The lack of price spikes suggests that marginal costs did not greatly change. It says rather less about fixed costs. And it says nothing about whether that regulatory approach was the most cost-effective way of achieving those results.

Looking at the linked PDFs, all the data comes from "China National Environmental Monitoring Center". Should we even trust this as much as we trust the Chinese government's macroeconomic data?

The US embassy in Beijing does their own monitoring of air quality and has a public feed for it (this was the source of the "crazy bad" description from a couple years ago). Presumably their numbers agree with these, or the author would've pointed it out.

That is a big assumption to make

Only if you didn't read the article since the author straight up says he checked against US embassy numbers.

"Using data from almost 250 government monitors throughout the country, which closely matches monitors maintained by the United States embassy in Beijing and consulates around the country, I found major improvements."

It is a bit ironic that we were told in 2010 that the government could take as long as five years to the solve the pollution problem. I think its a bit disingenuous to say they declared war on pollution in 2014, they declared war on it much earlier than that; it would be more accurate to say that they really meant it this time. Still, I was curious, so I looked at Beijing's current AQI at the time of this comment:


260, in the purple zone (very unhealthy, vs. just unhealthy for the red zone), so still a long ways to go.

They have always been at war with Eurasia.

It's already great that the overall direction of what they say and what they do coincides. And cleaning one's air is always an achievement, let's not debase their work just because somebody else made it faster.

I think you misunderstood my comment: I was living in Beijing at the time (from 2007-2016) and was suffering from the pollution. So those promises and failures were more than just a pissing contest for me personally, it was a direct problem with my quality of life (to the point that my wife and I had arguments about staying/leaving). The baby finally forced us to leave, even 260 is way too high for a newborn's lungs, I hope that is obvious!

Many of my friends left similarly or were effected by the pollution in seriously adverse ways (one of my Chinese coworker's wife as particularly serverely negatively effected). Let's not debase their suffering just to play up China's achievements here. There were costs, and there will be continued costs until they can breathe fresh air reliably. Progress is great, but it came way too late for most of us!

How is the electricity used by the ev produced?

Electricity is not clean or dirty per se, as it is only a method of energy transport (well, it is a bit dirty per se, since it has losses - which can obviously be discarded if it is used to connect clean production facilities and replace dirty energy production)

There are a LOT of differences enabled by the "method of energy transport".

If I own a coal power station that powers 500 000 electric cars, one government inspector shows up and he says "No, no, no, you must install this scrubber, or we will close you down". So now I need a scrubber.

If I own one of the 500 000 diesel cars, the government cannot afford to send an inspector to examine my car, maybe they will ask the mechanic who services it to do their work, but I can trivially bribe him to turn a blind eye. So I can keep polluting.

If I own the coal plant, the government will make me build a tall chimney to pump the waste gases into the upper atmosphere and spread them out more, and of course I shan't build the plant on expensive city centre land, but further away.

But if I own just a car I can spew the waste gases out onto the street, and collectively they will be densest in city centres where the most people are because that's where they use their cars.

We'll know we've turned the corner when the hot spot on local pollution maps is always some big old power station not a city.

It actually doesn’t work like this in china: the coal plant manager is connected, their relatives are officials, they turn off the scrubbers and use lower quality coal to make a higher profit. And let’s not forget the industries that use coal directly (e.g. smelters).

On the other hand, the personal car market is much more regulated, China demands relatively recent emissions equipment and have cracked down on dirty gasoline in many cities. This doesn’t apply to blue trucks, which are super polluting and use shitty gas from outside the city, but personal cars weren’t the major polluter like coal was.

So China made great strides in just banning coal and using NG for electric generation even though they don’t have much local supplies. Renewables will eventually help also, but they are generally far away from where they are needed (in western China, whereas everyone lives east). Now that coal is less of a problem, cars will eventually dominate, and probably already do in southern cities that don’t have indoor heating.

It doesn't matter. One big power plant is so much more efficient than a million little ICE cars that you typically end up with lower emissions and less pollution from EVs even if 100% of your electricity is from coal.

That said, China - and most of the world - is on an exponential growth curve for renewables right now. It will take a long time for the world to switch over to EVs, so we're better off starting now, regardless of the current emission profiles for electricity generation.

Beijing has a separate lottery for EVs also, so if you want a car now, you can wait for a few years for a typical ICE one, or you can get one tomorrow if you don't mind EV. Tesla S's are selling like hotcakes accordingly.

Out of curiousity, how high up in the party would I have to be to get an ICE tomorrow instead of in a few years?

Who knows. Since almost everyone has party connections in Beijing, it has become difficult to game the system that way (it would be useless otherwise).

what about the manufacturing processes for EVs. Arent they a lot more polluting esp, the battery parts, compared to traditional auto manufacturing?

With the cost reduction curve of solar energy being as fast as it is, prices might just make solar the default sooner than you think.

Cars are especially good for this, since they all need to use batteries and are parked for most of their lifetime. Peak power usage isn't as much of an issue with smart meters.

I travel quarterly to China and the air is disgusting. To say they are "winning" is fake news.

You better name the part of China you visited. Because China is too big to draw a broad conclusion.

When the gov announced their war on pollution, I was very much skeptical and wasn't expecting to see a big improvement in such a short time. Lots articles circulated in wechat were talking about moving to the south and immigrating to foreign countries two years ago, the high of the air pollution. Everyone was complaining. I think the Air pollution was on the verge of becoming a bigger problem that could harm the country stability and the party ruling.

Then, We see the pros of authoritarian government in play, to echo another poster.

From what I have heard, lot of factories got shutdown, or gone through mandated facility upgrades to meet the standard, cities are shamed by publishing the the worst polluted list in the national news. Air pollution became one of the local official KPIs.

Beijing's air quality has dramatically improved this year. There were way more blue sky days than I expected.

Granted, there are bad days like the passed few days in Beijing.

But If the Gov keeps at it, I am hopeful that clean air is coming soon.

Given the gains are mainly in cities - I wonder if the elecrification of the vehicle fleet and electric bike startups are having a big impact.

Really wish the article provided actual info on how China is beating pollution other than banning coal in certain regions.

Coal is the big pollution problem in northern China: Chinese coal is dirty (compared to USA coal), scrubbers are often missing or turned off, much of the coal is also burned in rural personal furnaces for heat. It is obvious now most of the pollution was from coal. Banning was the only thing they found effective, since China does not have enough rule of law capabilities to just regulate it.

Cars, in comparison, usually have all their emission equipment installed, and are not running on shitty gasoline (well, ever since sinopec stopped importing the low grade stuff from Saudi Arabia that no one else would go near). Cars still cause pollution, but on a different lower scale from coal. Well, there are still problem with blue trucks that lack emission equipment and use bad gas from outside the city (they are only allowed in at night and you can see the pollution spike then).

Electric bikes play a bit of a role in this improvement, but mainly in suppressing the need for gasoline-based mopeds popular in the rest of Asia. China moved straight from foot power bikes to electric power bikes, so they never became much of a problem.

EV cars are still new and can potentially lead to future improvements in air quality. For example, getting rid of coal has brought Beijing's winter average down from 300 to 120 or 150, but that is just going from really bad to just bad. EVs could potentially get Beijing into the good column.

They're still consuming more coal than the rest of the world combined. That's going to continue indefinitely with their current policies. The amount of other energy they're going to need to substantially dent their coal consumption, is truly enormous. It's going to take decades to bring their CO2 output down by a lot. Every time China so much as blinks about cleaning up their disastrous environmental policies, the NYTimes and others write a story about how they're winning. It's absurd.

China is much more worried about their pollution problem than their CO2 problem. The latter is more abstract in that it leads to eventual global warming, the former is a much more concrete and immediate QOL problem. Hopefully, solving the former will help with the latter, but not necessarily.

Per capita?



What is the aggregated CO2 emission by the USA since the 1800, divided by the total population since then?

Last time I was in Shanghai a couple years ago, it seemed like a good 20% of the motorbikes on the street were actually electric bikes. A dizzying variety of electric bikes too. I've yet to seen that kind of uptake of electric bikes in Vietnam or Thailand. Would be great if most motorbikes were electric, and cars too.

Only 20%? I'm pretty sure E-bikes are much more common than gasoline bikes, if only because the latter requires a driver's license and very expensive plates (13K RMB!). China has very aggressively pushed for e-bikes via regulations and periodic crackdowns on illegal gasoline bikes.

Having lived in China for the last year it’s pretty much 99.8% ebikes. Petrol motorbikes don’t make an appearance except in very poor areas.

Well, sometimes illegal ones make an appearance until the next crackdown occurs, at least in Beijing. Had a laowai friend who was dumb enough to by one, once.

So you don't see very many Honda Waves/Dreams or other 110/125cc motorbikes anymore?

One thing I could not find anywhere in the net - maybe someone here knows.

Does the Chinese government offer incentives for hybrids, EVs, and cleaner public transit? While it may not have a significant short-term effect, it should work in the long term.

Many Chinese cities offer a tax rebate for EVs, but only Chinese-made ones; the Tesla S doesn't qualify.

More importantly, they get a separate allocation in the "right to car" lottery in some cities (Beijing), or a reduced plate tax rate, or can even drive everyday instead of 2 out of 3 days.

Electric (battery, not overhead trolly-style) and natural gas buses are increasingly common, though I'm not aware what the current status is here. There was one that passed in front of our apartment building in Beijing.

I always found it interesting that somehow the western world solved this problem by outsourcing manufacturing to countries like China. Wonder where China is this outsourcing to?

China can fix the issue overnight if they were to mandate filters on coal fired heat and powerplants, yet that never happened on my memory.

CCP interest in fixing the smog issue is not than genuine. The smog, and efforts fighting it serve as a potent detractor of public opinion from real problems. I believe, CCP is happy to keep things as they are just for that.

Just putting this into context, NYT has an article "How China Is Challenging American Dominance in Asia" on their front page. Not saying it's intentional on their part, but it may be useful to understand how the title "China is Winning" impacts the publication's larger narrative and how that can shape peoples' perspectives.

There's a radio program in my country featuring two country-famous (war|geopolitical)-strategists. They discuss worldnews every week. Lately, China's dominance was the topic, and the phrase "USA only has two things: a nice weapons industry and Silicon Valley" stuck with me. As I thought about it the days after, I could not really find anything to beat the quote with. Only the dollar can maybe come in as a third; but even that has significant competition from the euro and increasingly the yuan.

How about US

1.) having the biggest economy in the world, and growing 3% per year

2.) having the biggest worldly influential movie business

3.) having the biggest worldly influential video game business

4.) having 40% of assets in the world

5.) having most of the innovations in technology

6.) having most of the biggest corporations

7.) having the most brands


Like many external observers I'm astonished at how many Americans take their position for granted.

This is a list of things that can go away in a heartbeat. Someone living in Victorian England couldn't possibly imagine a world where Britain wasn't at the absolute centre and on in charge of everything, yet within two generations that power had all but faded.

It took two wars for Britain to slink back. But Britain is also inherently limited by its size. The US has a rather stronger foundation and unlikely to really go anywhere even if no longer absolutely dominant at some future time.

The current political entity that is the "United States of America" is geographically larger, but it's not as assured in its dominance as you think.

What if Texas splits off and takes a few states with it? What if California decides to bail as well? That'd put a lot of pressure on New England, which might just call it quits, too, rather than be saddled with the South.

A single thing could lead to the complete erosion of the United States as we know it, and politically it would never recover.

If you think this is impossible, that it will never happen, the Austro-Hungarian empire was once like this, geographically and economically dominant, yet it fell apart surprisingly quickly.

Consider: The United States has only fought only a handful of wars on its own soil and a few of those went really badly. A large country is harder to defend, and if the entire might of the US military can't keep a lid on a place like Afghanistan or Iraq what hope does it have holding together half a continent?

Austria-Hungry was cobbled together in a "personal union," and ended when the notion of how states are built shifted to nationalities. Barring such a large shift in statecraft which would affect every country, I don't see the US breaking apart, and it wouldn't be because the military could/could not keep it so, but because there is no real secessionist movement in the US today.

There are good reasons for this, one is unity of culture compared to most other countries in the world, and another is federalism to tide over the differences. Things could change if say, cloning started happening and the South couldn't handle it, or Trump became a dictator-for-life and institutional means didn't stop him, but somebody would have to change their way of life for secession to be seriously on the table again. Why would California or Texas break away today? Internal economic dynamics are beneficial enough to keep them in. Things like language differences that might break apart other centralized countries simply aren't issues (some localities print their official stuff in Spanish, Vietnamese, whatever, others don't; ethnic radio stations and TV stations exist if you want to have them, nobody cares; you can incorporate your own cities if there are enough of "you" living together, whatever "you" are, and you can elect one of your own as mayor, it's a big country). During the Civil War there was still a strong notion of states' rights, today there is not and the country is a lot more similar than different.

Also Texas was independent. It chose to join and wasn't forced in. Texas seceding is just a joke. There is a lot to be said for a country built on strong institutional legitimacy (even the re-organized South after the Civil War was re-admitted state by state through local votes): people don't jump for the exits at the first sign of trouble.

The reason the US is a single country is because the Union fought a war to bring the South back into line. It has already split, and it could split again.

California could quit if a dictator arises, a threat that was unthinkable a decade ago but is now unnervingly probable. Other states like Vermont would likely cut loose as well, they don't have time for that.

> During the Civil War there was still a strong notion of states' rights, today there is not and the country is a lot more similar than different.

I'd argue that people more strongly identify with their home state than with some vague concept of "America", especially when it comes to states like California, Texas and Florida that have their own identity. The more these states differentiate, the more likely they are to disagree, and from there, eventually split.

Europe's had a long time to end up in its current state, and it's still shifting wildly. Belgium might split in half. Spain might rip apart. England might lose Scotland. Ireland might get unified. Nothing stays static for long.

Consider the United States in its current form only really came about in 1912. That's basically yesterday in terms of history. To think that will remain static for another hundred years is ridiculous.

England didn't have the natural resources, population, geography, techno-centric culture to sustain its leadership. US does.

By the standards of its time it did. Unlimited amounts of coal, access to any resource it could ever want through it's expansive colonial assets, a large population, ideal geography for trade, and considerable military assets.

> can go away in a heartbeat

> within two generations

"If there's one thing Americans need to learn it's a hundred years is not a long time, just as Europeans need to learn a hundred miles is not a long distance."

Sure, USA has a lot! That's not at discussion here. The discussion is about dominance. SV dominates the world as everyone uses Google, Facebook & Apple. The military industrial complex has no match, not one even close to that of the USA.

The economy has strong contenders with Europe and China. Yes, it's a strong economy, but the maker-industry has largely been moved to China, which now surely dominates it. Point 6 & 7 include economy.

Hollywood surely tops any other in the western world - don't underestimate the Chinese movie industry and Bollywood. They account for a significant userbase of the world population, combined ~1-2 billion. That's not far off Hollywood's.

The video game business I bundle with Silicon Valley.

What's left is a strong and influential USA but declining slowly but surely. For Silicon Valley as well: India and China have a large population now with more and more skilled workers. It won't be for long until SV will lose is leadership position.

I would honestly say a lot of that is legacy from when the US really was indisputably dominant, and not really a reflection of current native capabilities.

There's also probably a list of many, more important strengths, that the US has lost, for example: It's no longer "the world's workshop."

I'd also challenge a lot of the items in your list:

> 1.) having the biggest economy in the world, and growing 3% per year

This might not be true for much longer, maybe only a couple of decades.

> 3.) having the biggest worldly influential video game business

If this is in the top 10, it's damning with faint praise.

> 4.) having 40% of assets in the world

This is really just #1 repeated, IMHO. Also, the strength of "ownership," especially that of foreign assets, is a legal concept that could be undone with the stroke of a pen. It could also be easily undone of those assets become less valuable (e.g. if the US enters a serious decline, it's unlikely that US stocks would remain a good investment).

> 5.) having most of the innovations in technology

Innovations and technology can be stolen, it's the ability to continuously create AND implement them that matters.

> 6.) having most of the biggest corporations

This is basically #4 repeated, IMHO.

> 7.) having the most brands

This is basically #6 repeated. Furthermore, what real power comes from having a "brand" let along a lot of them? Also, how long can this last if "brands" are often used in a shell game to mask quality declines (see https://recraigslist.com/2015/10/they-used-to-last-50-years/)?

> This might not be true for much longer, maybe only a couple of decades.

nobody can estimate out to decades. anyone who claim to be able to do so is a charlatan.

> If this is in the top 10, it's damning with faint praise

1.2B people play games worldwide....what's your point?

>This is really just #1 repeated

no it's not. having assets and the ability to generate even more assets are seperate issues (look at Saudi Arabia post oil)

> Innovations and technology can be stolen

Until you try selling your stolen technology in US or Europe or Japan....oh wait you can't.

> This is basically #4 repeated

population having asset is different than the country having corporations.

> nobody can estimate out to decades. anyone who claim to be able to do so is a charlatan.

No one can with certainty, but it's also foolish not to try.

Anyway, you're doing the same thing: any enumeration of strengths (in this context) comes with the implication that those strengths will remain. Otherwise the list is moot.

>> If [video games] is in the top 10, it's damning with faint praise

> 1.2B people play games worldwide....what's your point?

Clearly that "games" aren't actually an important category in any sensible reckoning, and that an one that treats them as such is a mockery or something that can't be taken seriously.

> no it's not. having assets and the ability to generate even more assets are seperate issues (look at Saudi Arabia post oil)

This might be the time to point out that you didn't even define what "assets" you were talking about, let alone how you determined that the US has "40%" of them.

> Until you try selling your stolen technology in US or Europe or Japan....oh wait you can't.

There's more to the world that Europe or Japan.

> population having asset is different than the country having corporations.

Maybe technically, but most American "assets" are owned or controlled by corporations. And their value is that they control those assets.

> nobody can estimate out to decades. anyone who claim to be able to do so is a charlatan.

...You're doing the same thing, though.

> 1.2B people play games worldwide....what's your point?

7.6B people worldwide sit on chairs. That doesn't mean that "world's largest, most influential chair industry" is a significant marker of global power.

With regards to 3), considering that TenCent owns both SuperCell (developer of the most popular mobile game) and Riot Games (developer of the most popular PC game), that may not be true for much longer, or at least you could say that there is serious competition in that area.

Did Tencent move those studios (based in Finland, LA) to China already?

It looks like the HQ is in Tencent Seafront Towers, Nanshan District, Shenzhen, China.


Wow, all those Finnish and american game developers relocated to Shenzhen. Amazing (no, not really, tendentious bought some foreign companies doesn’t make chinese talent a video game power house, it has nothing to do with it)

The US has: an old, stable, trustworthy democratic government (trustworthy in the sense that the people trust elections and the courts, i.e. “the system”, not necessarily any single president or party), a huge population, an astonishing amount of natural resources (relative to population - both land and what’s in it), and excellent natural barriers.

It’s near the top of the world in any of these categories alone, but if you combine them, it’s pretty much impossible to beat (unless it collapses from internal tensions of course).

Edit: Also, in the grand scheme of things, Silicon Valley isn’t even that important... most of the startup-y companies could turn to dust tomorrow and the world would go on, with less Instagram photos but with the US still on top. Sure, there are some companies that actually do stuff (Intel, Cisco, Apple, etc) but most have foreign or open-source alternatives anyhow.

The US makes a lot of tiny things that individually are not that important, but collectively they are very important for civilization, and far exceed the value of anything big you can think of. (The same can be said for all but a handful of completely backward countries) Fortunately we are in an interconnected world where a rising tide lifts all boats. Given the population of China, they should be expected to beat the US in GDP eventually, but that will be a positive on US GDP.

> "USA only has two things: a nice weapons industry and Silicon Valley" stuck with me. As I thought about it the days after, I could not really find anything to beat the quote with.

The U.S. has liberty, democracy, and opportunity, and believes in those things as universal principles for everyone. The current administration and their party have, unusually for the U.S., moved away from those principles, but they are the core of U.S. influence in the world. It's not a fringe idea, but it has been the core of U.S. policy and that has been very broadly accepted by experts and practitioners for generations.

It also has great affects on the economic and political systems: By empowering people economically and politically, they thrive. You end up with a far better meritocracy and far more effective, more just, and more compassionate government. All the richest, most free, most prosperous countries in the world follow this same core belief, and it has spread around the world.

The US is pretty darn good at manufacturing and has gotten stronger with global competition. Even if US geopolitical dominance fades, it's hard to see this changing this century.

That ignores agriculture as well.


The US is the world's largest exporter of TV, movies, music, and culture.

I’m sure Bollywood is giving Hollywood a run for its money with popularity in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia.

Cultural exports. Thanks to Hollywood, most the world confuses American for International.

Despite appearances, the US has an almost insurmountable position in the world. So it's up to its citizens whether they want to lose it. If they retain a health dose of fear and perspective, pull their heads out of their arses, roll up their sleeves, and get to work, nobody can catch up. If they rest on their laurels, become lazy, and try to take a shortcut they will surely lose.

China's killing it.

- Comrade, you must close your factory tonight at 12.01 am.

- (a millisecond later) Yes sir.

It's that simple. No matter how much money you invested in it, or what contracts you have signed. Countries like China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the likes have, let's just say, "efficient" systems. The government wants it done and so it is.

Every government is a democracy. Monarchies, fascist dictators, republicans, all of them are democracies. They function by the consent of the people. The people may be sheep, brainwashed, terrorized or whatever, but in every case there are more of them then there are government enforcers. If you push them too hard or ask them to do the impossible, it will not work. Dictatorship is not as easy as you seem to think - it still takes effective management to get anywhere.

In cases of brainwashing and terrorism, it's important to acknowledge that is no longer what we commonly mean by democracy, because free consent of the people is impaired. Majorities who do not give their consent can and are being subjugated.

Here's a simple thought experiment:

Me to a group of five people: "Everyone, give me a dollar." Group: "No."

Then, I pull out a gun. Let's repeat the conversation:

Me to a group of five people: "Everyone, give me a dollar." Group: "OK."

I'd call that coercion, not a reasonable use of the word democracy just because they all technically gave their consent.

Venezuela's government seems to be pretty able to survive even with open revolt and people fleecing the country at the rate of thousands a day.

Modern governments are way overpowered when compared to starving civilians.

For a long time, the air pollution control authorities in China didn't have enough authority to make much happen. Inspectors were basically told to get lost, and not allowed to inspect, let alone stop anything. That changed in 2015. Now companies get shut down for violating environmental rules. Some bosses go to jail.

"For a long time, the air pollution control authorities in China didn't have enough authority to make much happen...That changed in 2015"

That was my point, whatever is needed (new laws or enforcement of existing ones) is done in a heartbeat. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/02/27...

I cannot get it why people think this is easy. That's a country with f*king 1.4B people in vastly different social systems.

Totalitarian/authoritarian is hard, otherwise it should be the dominant nation structure on this planet.

Totalitarian/authoritarian is hard, otherwise it should be the dominant nation structure on this planet.

Widespread democracy is very new, take away the last few decades and see. So you have a few decades of some sort of democracy versus millennia of totalitarian rule.

Widespread totalitarianism is also relatively new. Until the last few centuries, most governments were far too decentralized to really call them totalitarian.

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