Trouble? Tom Friedman and I Are Working on the Same Issues

Here  is Tom Friedman’s “China” piece from today’s NY Times.  Similar to Jared Diamond, he indulges in some scale algebra (1.3 billion people all getting richer and each eating meat, driving a car and living a Houston lifestyle adds up to a lot resources).     Friedman suggests that the Chinese cannot embrace the “American Dream” or we are all doomed.   I’m working on these same questions (urban pollution dynamics in China’s growing cities) but from the perspective of microeconomics.    To preview my new book’s themes;  the Invisible Hand will offer incentives to minimize the impact of the anticipated Chinese Carmageddon and the one party state will have strong incentives (due to self interest) to deliver policies that nudge the growing cities towards green goals.     While people in China’s cities have similar preferences as the people of Houston (seeking health, good food, peace of mind and low stress and happy kids), this doesn’t mean that Tianjin will grow up to look like Houston.

Author: Matthew E. Kahn

Professor of Economics at UCLA.

4 thoughts on “Trouble? Tom Friedman and I Are Working on the Same Issues”

  1. I sort of doubt that prosperous Chinese cities will look like Houston, with its population density of about 3500/sq mi. By contrast, Boston is over 13,000.

  2. Well professor, I think you may be right about there being, in this case, some advantages to having a one-party system. (Speaking of which, is there a snappier term for the Chinese government? Is it totalitarian, or not anymore? Is it still socialist? what *is* it anyway?) Whatever else we might say about the government there, they aren’t stupid.

    But did you mean to say that the Invisible Hand would work to depress sprawl and traffic? How come it didn’t work here then? I don’t see the Hand doing much on pollution. It is political choices that are working against pollution, imho.

    1. I would call it ‘kleptocratic’. But they can certainly use a Visible Hand, for example using time-variable road use fees instead of gasoline taxes to fund the roadways, so that even people who already have cars will think twice before taking them out at rush hour.

  3. I somewhat doubt that Tianjin will have huge swaths zoned for single family detached homes and large setbacks.
    I expect that is a big part of why Houston is the way it is (that, and empty Texas land).

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