This spring, I spent three weeks traveling around China and needless to say I, along with every other visitor, was impressed by the economic progress the Chinese have made in the years since the Cultural Revolution. Tens of millions have been moved from rural villages into megacities of gleaming skyscrapers, apartments, modern subways, and traffic jams of sleek, late model cars. The jams have become so bad that China’s major cities have had to implement restrictions on driving and on new car registrations.
There are of course downsides to this marvel which many believe will propel China into number one position in terms of economic and political power within a decade or two. On many days, the air in major Chinese cities is approaching lethality. Most rivers are cesspools, tap water is undrinkable, dangerous metals are building up in agricultural soil and starting to make their way into the food chain and to top it all off nobody really gets to vote for leaders or on policy. The Chinese Communist Party rules with its own version of the “social contract” – shut up about “democracy, human rights, justice,” and all that western claptrap; let us rule as we see fit; and in return we are delivering world-beating economic growth so that someday you will all be rich.