The Chinese government has strong incentives to advance environmental goals, from reducing air and water pollution to restoring habitat and ecosystems. “Trees or Shrubs? Study Disputes Success of China’s $100 Billion Forest Effort,” (New York Times, May 3, 2017) challenges UN and Chinese government forest planting claims of: “167,568 square miles of forest, an area slightly larger than California”:

But the newly released study, based partly on an analysis of high-resolution photographs, found that China had gained only about 12,741 square miles of forest over the same period, an area roughly the size of Maryland. And it found that much of the government’s reported new forests were actually just collections of shrubs.

The study’s:

findings were consistent with recent research suggesting that China’s forest resources have not significantly increased despite the government’s extensive tree-planting campaign or its efforts to halt commercial logging in forests.

The article notes there are some 800 different definitions for forest, so much room for confusion in trying to measure forest cover changes.

A 2014 Economist article “Great Green Wall,” (August 23, 2014) reports on China’s diminished forests and grasslands releasing sand to Chinese cities:

Blown from northern deserts and degraded drylands, it coats roads, clogs railways and desiccates pastures. According to Greenpeace, just 2% of China’s original forests are intact. Decades of rampant logging and overgrazing have speeded the degradation of its land and soil; over a quarter of its territory is now covered in sand.

(Maybe all this sand can help address another problem noted by the New York Times: “The World’s Disappearing Sand,” (June 23, 2016), and The New Yorker, “The World is Running Out of Sand,” (May 29, 2017)).

The Economist article notes forest planting projects have gone wrong:

Just 15% of trees planted on China’s drylands since 1949 survive today, estimates Cao Shixiong of Beijing Forestry University. Many died of age, as those grown from cuttings (as most are) only have a lifespan of around four decades. But many were simply unsuited to the soil. Monocultures are prone to disease. In Ningxia, in northwest China, a pest wiped out 1 billion poplar trees in 2000—two decades of planting efforts. In arid areas trees may even aggravate desertification by depleting groundwater and killing grasses that bind the soil.

Economists are not surprised that government forest plans failed since most other centrally-planned industrial and agricultural plans failed as well.

Similar mega-forest plans have failed in Africa, though with some emerging successes. The “Great Green Wall” Didn’t Stop Desertification, but it Evolved Into Something That Might, (The Smithsonian, August 23, 2016) tells of the plan was to plant a forest from Africa’s west to east to stop expanding deserts.

It was a simple plan to combat a complex problem. The plan: plant a Great Green Wall of trees 10 miles wide and 4,350 miles long, bisecting a dozen countries from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east. The problem: the creeping desertification across Africa. …

“If all the trees that had been planted in the Sahara since the early 1980s had survived, it would look like Amazonia,” adds Chris Reij, a sustainable land management specialist and senior fellow at the World Resources Institute who has been working in Africa since 1978. “Essentially 80 percent or more of planted trees have died.”

But while the top-down plans to create forests along the edge of African deserts failed, researchers found local farmers are expanding forest and productive agricultural land on their own:

Over two years traveling through Burkina Faso and Niger, they uncovered a remarkable metamorphosis. Hundreds of thousands of farmers had embraced ingenious modifications of traditional agriculture practices, transforming large swaths into productive land, improving food and fuel production for about 3 million people.

“This regreening went on under our radar, everyone’s radar, because we weren’t using detailed enough satellite imagery. We were looking at general land use patterns, but we couldn’t see the trees,” Tappan says. “When we began to do aerial photography and field surveys, then we realized, boy, there is something very, very special going on here. These landscapes are really being transformed.”

Innovative farmers in Burkina Faso had adapted years earlier by necessity. They built zai, a grid of deep planting pits across rock-hard plots of land that enhanced water infiltration and retention during dry periods. They built stone barriers around fields to contain runoff and increase infiltration from rain.

In Niger, Reij and Tappan discovered what has become a central part of the new Great Green Wall campaign: farmer-managed natural regeneration, a middle ground between clearing the land and letting it go wild.

Colonialism played a key role here, as colonial powers disrupted long-standing property rights institutions:

Farmers in the Sahel had learned from French colonists to clear land for agriculture and keep crops separate from trees. Under French colonial law and new laws that countries adopted after independence, any trees on a farmer’s property belonged to the government. Farmers who cut down a tree for fuel would be threatened with jail. The idea was to preserve forests; it had the opposite effect.

“This was a terrific negative incentive to have a tree,” Garrity says, during an interview from his Nairobi office. “For years and years, tree populations were declining.”

Unfortunately, colonial tree policies were kept in place after independence, and continued to damage natural ecosystems:

But over decades without the shelter of trees, the topsoil dried up and blew away. Rainfall ran off instead of soaking into cropland. When Reij arrived in Africa, crop yields were less than 400 pounds per acre (compared to 5,600 pounds per acre in the United States) and water levels in wells were dropping by three feet per year.

Since the 1980s local farmers have been restoring trees and, for example: aerial images show: “Niger’s Zinder Valley had 50 times more trees than it did in 1975.”

Africa’s green wall lessons can apply in China. Local farmers and land owners have strong incentives to discover ways to maintain and restore grasslands and forests.

A Michigan State University article claims: “China’s Efforts to Restore Forests are Working,” (MSU Today, March 18, 2016):

The MSU scientists examined the big-picture view of NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer annual Vegetation Continuous Fields tree cover product, along with high spatial resolution imagery available in Google Earth. Then they combined data at different scales to correlate the status of the forests with the implementation of China’s program.

And, as the Chinese government has contended, the initiative is working and forests are recovering, with about 1.6 percent, or nearly 61,000 square miles, of China’s territory seeing a significant gain in tree cover. In comparison, 0.38 percent, or 14,400 square miles, experienced significant loss.

The claimed forest gain here is five times that cited in the first article above. A Stanford News article “China’s environmental conservation efforts are making a positive impact, Stanford scientists say,” (June 16, 2016), also claims positive results:

By 2000, China developed the Natural Forest Conservation Program and the Sloping Land Conversion Program, $50 billion projects aimed at reducing natural disaster risks by restoring forest and grassland, while also improving life conditions for 120 million poverty-stricken farmers.

However, this seems more a report on the intentions of the Chinese government than a report on actual progress. (More details in the article.)

The problem with economic planning…

At the center of economics are two sets of challenges: knowledge problems and incentives problems. The Chinese government recognized significant environmental problems caused by deforestation:

Officials in China began considering significant environmental reform following a series of natural disasters in the late 1990s that were exacerbated by human activities. In particular, in 1998, massive deforestation and erosion contributed to devastating flooding along the Yangtze River. Thousands of people were killed, and more than 13 million people were left homeless following $36 billion in property damage. (Stanford News)

But recognizing problems is a far cry from solving them. Central plans face challenges, even when they can pour $100 billion into planting trees. What trees and where? Who will water the trees?

Economist Lester Thurow, in a 1986 New York Times book review, observed:

Government ownership of all the means of production fails because it cannot answer a simple question: Who should stay up all night with a sick cow? In capitalism the answer is clear: the owner. In socialism the answer is not clear, and too often it is: no one.

Market economies with property rights and rule of law make clear who owns cows, cars, farmland, and trees. Across the U.S., privately-owned, state-owned, and federally-owned forests are managed differently. “Divided Lands: State vs. Federal Management in the West,” (March 3, 2015) contrasts state management where forest revenue often supports public schools, with federal forests. Alston Chase’s classic Playing God at Yellowstone focuses on incentives and park management challenges. Forest management benefits from market-generated information as well as property ownership-generated incentives.

From Incentive Problems to Information Problems…

The division of labor and expanding scope of trade allow people and companies to gain specialized knowledge and skills to better produce goods and services. In modern society, we benefit each day from a wide range of goods that we would have no idea how to produce.

For example, we benefit the mobility cars provide without knowing how to build or repair them (and benefit from trains, buses, Uber, and Lyft, even if we don’t know how to drive). We consume a wide range of foods without knowing how to farm or even much about cooking. People and firms that have this knowhow can be nearby or far away, which allows us to focus on producing other goods and services.

The knowledge problem follows from no single person or group having enough knowledge to produce all the goods and service they consume each day, week, or month. The “I, Pencil” story explains that no one in the world even knows how to make a pencil all the way from tree to writing.

Here are three “I, Pencil” YouTube videos: One, Two, Three, and an NPR story/segment: “Trace The Remarkable History Of The Humble Pencil” (plus “I, Smartphone” video from 2012).

F.A. Hayek’s famous journal article “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” (American Economics Review, 1945) takes a deeper look at how knowledge is divided around the world through international trade, mobilized by markets, with production coordinated by prices. Hayek offers the example of a copper ore mine flooded in Chile. Through the weeks after, reduced supplies of copper ore force copper refineries to scramble for other supplies, bidding up ore prices and encouraging other mines to expand production (usually with higher costs).

Copper refiners dealing with these higher prices in turn raise their prices, so companies producing pots, pans, jumper cables with copper search for substitutes, and raise their prices to consumers. Next, millions of consumers find higher prices for copper pans in Target, Walmart, and higher prices for copper jumper cables at Autozone. Higher prices signal some consumer to buy substitute goods (aluminum pans or jumper cables), or to put off buying until later.

Copper consumers have no knowledge of the flood reducing copper ore mining in Chile, but signals from higher prices encourage reduced of copper consumption by consumers as well as increased copper ore mining by producers. And higher prices boosts copper recycling (and, unfortunately, encourages thieves to steal even more copper wires (“Copper theft ‘like an epidemic’ sweeping US,” CNBC.com, July 30, 2013)

Markets and changing prices are sending millions of signals each day about shifts in the supply and demand of goods and services. Forests in China and the United States would benefit from better legal institutions and incentives to maintain and expand ecosystems. “China’s Reforestation Programs: Big Success or Just an Illusion?,” (YaleEnvironment360, January 17, 2012), looks at the debate of China’s efforts multi-decade reforestation effort:

…informally called the “Great Green Wall” — was designed to eventually plant nearly 90 million acres of new forest in a band stretching 2,800 miles across northern China.

That could make it the largest ecological restoration project ever accomplished. But some scientists who have examined long-term trends suggest this large-scale tree-planting campaign is far less than the miracle it appears to be. Indeed, Jiang Gaoming, an ecologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has characterized it as more of a “fairy tale.”

To be sure, trees have been planted, with millions of seeds dropped from airplanes and millions more small seedlings manually planted. But in an extensive analysis of such “afforestation” efforts published last year in Earth Science Reviews, Beijing Forestry University scientist Shixiong Cao and five co-authors say that on-the-ground surveys have shown that, over time, as many as 85 percent of the plantings fail.

Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 9.30.40 PMOverview article: “China is building a Great Green Wall of trees to stop desertification,” (Plaid Zebra, February 16, 2016):

In an effort to combat the loss of its grassland to the Gobi Desert, the Chinese Government started the Three-North Shelterbelt Project, also known as the Great Green Wall in 1978.

William Perry’s May 25, 2017 US China Trade War newsletter writes:

We are representing auto parts companies, which have warned the US International Trade Commission (“ITC”) if they go affirmative and find injury in the case, in all probability the companies will close their US operations and move offshore. The US producers bringing the petition want to force auto parts companies to buy their commodity mechanical tubing, which is sold to the oil & gas industry and goes down a hole. The auto industry needs made to order mechanical tubing as their raw material because of the advanced designs and safety requirements in the United States.

If the United States is going to block raw materials, US downstream industries will have no choice. They will move offshore to obtain the high quality raw materials they need to not only be competitive but also produce high quality safe auto parts. In this first article below, one can read directly the public statements of these auto parts producers to the ITC.

Screen Shot 2017-05-26 at 11.09.39 AMThe above quote is from beginning of newsletter, this April 21 US Trade War website post reports imports from China will be hit, but the impact will especially harm downstream US manufacturers who rely on these materials to manufacture finished goods:

On April 19, 2017, ArcelorMittal Tubular Products, Michigan Seamless Tube, LLC, PTC Alliance Corp., Webco Industries, Inc., and Zekelman Industries, Inc. filed major Antidumping and Countervailing Duty cases against hundreds of millions of dollars of cold-drawn mechanical tubing from the six countries in 2016.  The petition alleges antidumping duties ranging as follows:

China: 88.2% – 188.88%

India: 25.48%

Italy: 37.23% – 69.13%

Germany: 70.53% – 148.32%

Republic of Korea: 12.14% – 48.61%

Switzerland: 40.53% – 115.21%

Automotive News (May 16, 2017) in “Commerce Dept. investigates steel imports used in auto parts,” explains:

In the auto industry, cold-drawn mechanical tubing is used to make stabilizer bars, shock absorbers and struts, trailer suspensions, axle shafts, half shells, spacers, steering columns and gears. Tubes also help reduce the number of welds, saving manufacturers time and money, while strengthening the structure and reducing overall vehicle weight.

The article notes over 150 other trade restrictions on steel imports are in place:

As of April 19, the Commerce Department has 152 anti-dumping and countervailing duty orders in place on steel from 32 countries. Twenty-eight of the 152 orders, or 18 percent, are on steel products from China.

American steel producers, associations, and lobbyists have added The steel orders represent almost 40 percent of all anti-dumping and countervailing duty orders in place. There are also 25 investigations underway for steel products.

U.S. Steel Giants Warn Foreign Imports Imperil National Security claims to economic damage claims, “U.S. Steel Giants Warn Foreign Imports Imperil National Security,” (Bloomberg Politics, May 24, 2017):

Chief executive officers of America’s largest steelmakers said global overcapacity of the metal is at crisis levels as they urged the U.S. to determine that cheap steel imports are a threat to national security.

The story also reports:

China’s steel exports to the U.S. have declined by more than 67 percent since September 2015 and the U.S. has enough domestic supply to meet its own needs, Yu Gu, first secretary at China’s Ministry of Commerce, said at the hearing.

Similar national security/trade restrictions are in store for aluminum imports, according to the Financial Times: “US launches national security probe into aluminium imports,” (April 27, 2017):

The US has launched a national security investigation into imports of aluminium, warning that its capacity to domestically produce the metal needed for fighter jets and armour plating has collapsed in recent years. 

Daniel Griswold of the Mercatus Center, in “A Matter of Steel Industry Security,” (Reason.com, April 28,2017), counters that the U.S. is still a steel industry power, producing all the military could possibly need:

Steel imports are no more a threat to U.S. national security than imported sugar or lumber or tulips. While it’s true that steel imports have risen to about a quarter of U.S. consumption, domestic steel output remains robust. During the past decade, according to the World Steel Association, annual output at U.S. steel mills has been trending slowly downward but it was still an impressive 78 million tons in 2016. That ranks the United States as the world’s fourth largest steel producer.

Domestic steel production far exceeds any foreseeable need by the U.S. military, which is a relatively small customer for domestic steel. The American Iron and Steel Institute reports that, in 2015, national defense and homeland security accounted for only 3 percent of domestic steel consumption. The Pentagon still needs steel for ships, tanks, and warplanes, but the demand has been flat or trending down for years. …

The 2001 report found that the Department of Defense’s annual requirements for steel “comprise less than 0.3 percent of the industry’s output by weight (i.e., 325,000 net tons of finished steel per year).” It also found that the steel that was imported came mostly from a diverse and “safe” list of foreign suppliers, such as Canada, Mexico, and Brazil.

Higher tariffs on imported steel and aluminum will drive prices even higher and further hurt U.S. manufacturers, especially those using imported steel and aluminum in the goods they export to the world.

Lots of domestic and imported steel are used by foreign automakers exporting cars from the U.S.  “Trump Reportedly Wants to Stop Germans From Selling So Many Cars Here, Where They’re Made,” (State.com, May 25, 2017) reports:

In 1994, BMW opened a plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Having invested $7.8 billion in the plant, BMW now boasts that it is the company’s largest single facility in the world. And it has spurred investments by a range of suppliers throughout the state. The cars made in Spartanburg there include the EX3 and X5 Sports Activity Vehicle, and the X4 and X6 Sports Activity Coupe. Last year, Spartanburg produced a record 411,171 vehicles, about 34,000 per month. According to BMW, it sells about 26,000 cars per month in the U.S. Now, not all the cars BMW sells in the U.S. are made here. Some are shipped in from overseas. And many of the vehicles made in South Carolina—287,700 last year, or 70 percent—are exported to points around the world.

Mercedes and Volkswagen also have huge U.S. manufacturing operations, as do Japanese and South Korean carmakers:

IAMA , the trade group for Asian automakers in the U.S., said its members last year produced 4.6 million cars between them, equal to 40 percent of all U.S. vehicle production, at some 300 facilities.

As earlier Debate Central posts have noted and many online articles have argued, steel and aluminum imports help U.S. manufacturers. “U.S. Steel Tariffs Create a Double-Edged Sword,” (WSJ, May 31, 2016) as higher steel prices raise costs of US manufacturing:

Duties on steel products from China, Brazil, India, Japan and other countries have contributed to the U.S. benchmark hot-rolled coil index rising more than 60% this year to $615 per ton, after falling 33% last year. In Europe, the benchmark index is up by 34%.

The article quotes U.S. challenged by import restrictions that have raised prices:

Some manufacturers are pushing back. In a letter to the Department of Commerce requesting an exemption, Steelcase Inc. Chief Executive James Keane said a tariff on a special kind of Japanese steel could cost one of his subsidiaries $4 million to $5 million a year.

The subsidiary, Polyvision, makes whiteboards for schools at a plant in Oklahoma, where it employs about 50 people. “If nothing changes, we would have to close our Oklahoma plant,” he wrote. “Schools can’t afford to pay more for these whiteboards, so if we raise prices to our customers they will use lower quality substitutes that are likely not made in the U.S.”

 

 

For NSDA debaters transitioning from the China topic to federal K-12 funding and regulatory reform, consider the connection between child labor, education, and income inequality.

Steve Mariotti, the founder of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, tells the story of his first year teaching at a New York City high school. After success in retail, Mariotti switched to teaching a remedial class of inner-city students. Not surprisingly he had a hard time managing the classroom and was unable to teach effectively. As the end of the school year he asked his unhappy students if there was anything he had taught that they enjoyed or learned from.

Student answers focused on his discussion of business and how he had made money in retail. Mariotti was astonished students remembered details from a talk months earlier of his business buying wholesale, marketing and distribution, sales and income, etc. From there Mariotti shifted his classroom teaching to weaving course materials with practical instruction on Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 8.36.33 AMstarting and running a business.

Through the following years Mariotti developed NFTE into a nationwide entrepreneurship program that has helped hundreds of thousands improve reading and math skills as they develop business enterprises. Here is a 2010 BBC News segment on Steve Mariotti and NFTE. Here is page on Ten9Eight, a documentary on teens competing. Here is trailer on YouTube.

 

Young people growing up in low-income households are motivated to find and follow paths out of poverty. Teachers can encourage studying in classes through high school and then college. But many struggle to see success down that path. Opportunities to earn income, even as elementary school students, can serve as learning experiences.

A number of education organizations offer opportunities for students to learn and earn. The Children’s Business Fair opens doors for students to become entrepreneurs and gain enterprise experience.

For over seventy years DECA has helped high school students develop practical business skills:

DECA prepares emerging leaders and  entrepreneurs for careers in marketing,  finance, hospitality and management  in high schools and colleges around  the globe.

Junior Achievement, another nonprofit, has long worked with high schools to help students gain business and enterprise experience.

Can you really teach entrepreneurship?,” (Washington Post, March 23, 2014) discusses both NFTE and JA programs:

“Many young people naturally have an entrepreneurial spirit, and many of them have great ideas, but what they don’t have are the technical skills,” Tricia Granata, executive director of the District’s Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, part of a national nonprofit, said. “We can teach them things to make sure that innate entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t get wasted.” 

Where should those skills be taught? Edward Grenier, president of Junior Achievement of Greater Washington, the local chapter of a national nonprofit organization that teaches financial literacy and entre­pre­neur­ship to students in kindergarten through high school, argued that entrepreneurship education must move beyond the classroom.

Learning practical business skills may seem too materialistic or distractions from mathematics, literature, civics, and history. But poverty is a distraction too, and early work opportunities can provide new motivations to pursue a solid education.

Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 9.06.31 AMConsider the compelling movie of rural China, Not One Less (link to Amazon page). Like Horatio Alger novels based on true stories of city and rural poverty in the U.S., Not One Less gives a glimpse of real-world city and rural poverty in China.

Many young people prefer seeking opportunities in cities over poverty in the countryside. Economic freedom includes the freedom to move, and around the world hundreds of millions have moved to shantytowns surrounding fast-growing cities of the developing world. Edward Glaeser notes in his book Triumph of the City:

Urban poverty should be judged not relative to urban wealth but relative to rural poverty. The shantytowns of Rio de Janeiro may look terrible when compared to a prosperous Chicago suburb, but poverty rates in Rio are far lower than in Brazil’s rural northeast. The poor have no way to get rich quick, but they can choose between cities and the countryside, and many of them sensibly choose cities. (from excerpt in Scientific American, April 17, 2011)

The kid that runs away to the city in the movie Not One Less seems a lot like the kids who ran away to New York City in the mid to late 1800s as told in dozens of Horatio Alger novels. These entertaining and educational stories are available free online.

Though frowned upon as unrealistic by critics, it turns out many of Alger’s characters and events reflect true stories from personal interviews and reports in the New York Times. Some sixty thousand children lived and worked on the streets of New York selling newspapers, smashing (carrying) luggage, selling apples, delivering messages, working retail, and dozens of other low-paying tasks.

Nonprofit organizations provided inexpensive housing and many were sent to live safer lives in the country. Still, over time these young “street arabs” gained job skills to raise their incomes. Alger’s “rags to riches” stories emphasize honesty, thrift, and saving, are the keys to success, along with getting an education and working hard.

Stefan Kanfer in “Horatio Alger: The Moral of the Story,” (City Journal, Autumn, 2000) notes the popularity and influence of Alger’s novels:

Horatio Alger Jr. was the biggest American media star of his day. Though nineteenth-century best-seller lists were impressionistic—and the sale of 10,000 volumes was deemed a publishing triumph in those days—readers bought at least 200 million copies of his books…

Alger was at the forefront of a phenomenally successful experiment in social reform and improvement, a broad movement that inspired poor kids to take advantage of America’s social mobility and that led tens of thousands of New York’s post-Civil War juvenile delinquents into productive lives…

New York City then was as poor at the booming cities and shantytowns across China and the developing world today:

The New York City street urchin entered the national consciousness in those years. More than 60,000 neglected or abandoned kids ran unsupervised in the streets, partly because of the fallout from the tremendous wave of immigration from Ireland and continental Europe that was taking place. With immigration came a social pathology of maladjustment to the New World: families that fell apart; alcoholism and drug abuse (opium could be purchased across the counter); out-of-wedlock pregnancies and, inevitably, neglected children…

Horatio Alger writes, in the preface to Rufus and Rose: Or, The Fortunes of Rough and Ready:

… Several of the characters are drawn from life, and nearly all of the incidents are of actual occurrence. Indeed, the materials have been found so abundant that invention has played but a subordinate part.     The principal object proposed, in the preparation of these volumes, has been to show that the large class of street boys—numbering thousands in New York alone—furnishes material out of which good citizens may be made, if the right influences are brought to bear upon them. In every case, therefore, the Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 12.01.15 PMauthor has led his hero, step by step, from vagabondage to a position of respectability; and, in so doing, has incurred the charge, in some quarters, of exaggeration. It can easily be shown, however, that he has fallen short of the truth, rather than exceeded it. In proof, the following extract from an article in a New York daily paper is submitted:—     “As a class, the newsboys of New York are worthy of more than common attention. The requirements of the trade naturally tend to develop activity both of mind and body, and, in looking over some historical facts, we find that many of our most conspicuous public men have commenced their careers as newsboys. Many of the principal offices of our city government and our chief police courts testify to the truth of this assertion. From the West we learn that many of the most enterprising journalists spring from the same stock.”

Poor children today in America’s cities and countrysides are better fed than street children of the late 1800s New York City. But in protecting children from employment, few in poor families have the opportunity to begin earning their way out of poverty until their teens or longer. Young people in middle-income and wealthy families on the other hand, participate in many organizations and activities that teach key life and job skills, from scouting to summer camps, speech and debate, volunteer work, and part-time business tasks for friends and relatives.

Low-income children today lack many of the employment and income opportunities of children much poorer “enjoyed” in the 1800s. Blocking young people from income-earning, skill-building activities frustrates their natural urge to get ahead, as well as cuts off an avenue for gaining additional income for their family. And nearly everyone in the world was poor just a century ago. Nearly all children worked to help their families.

Maybe it was unfair and inequitable that so many children were so poor in American cities in the late 1800s. And it’s similarly unfair that so many hundreds of millions of young people in rural China and India are still poor. So many around the world today live in similar poverty in the cities and countrysides of India, China, Indonesia, Brazil, the Middle East, and across Africa. (On the positive side, the World Bank reports poverty rates around the world to be the lowest ever: “World poverty rate to fall below 10% for the first time,” CNN, October 5, 2015)

Poverty is a problem, but so are regulations that prevent young people from working legally at jobs that are safe and within their abilities. Why have adults cleaning tables at restaurants, if children and young people could do the same work safely? We wouldn’t want children working ten, twelve or sixteen-hour days, as many did in the 1800s. But what about a four-hour day that comes with a free meal, after school at a nearby restaurant? Would that be the end of the world or the thin edge of the wedge to sending children back to dark and dangerous factories? Or might working in a neighborhood restaurant be both a learning and earning experience for young people?

Here is sample from an Izzit.org video featuring economist Hernando de Soto:

Poor people are migrating to the world’s cities in astounding numbers, embracing globalization despite the risks, and when the laws they encounter don’t work for them, they create their own.

The poor kid in Not One Less (trailer) wanders the city taking in sights and sounds until he get hungry. He tries taking some leftover food from a sidewalk restaurant, but is caught. The restaurant owner gives him some food and lets him clean tables. Later the kid is”rescued” and taken back to his village in a car full of reporters eager to tell his story. “How was life alone in the city?” they ask. He replies with a big smile: “The city was great!”

Another youth enterprise story from China is in this viral video of a five-year old eager to play (or work?) with his father’s machinery. (My nephew at the same age would have jumped at an opportunity to learn these skills.)

More on this story: “He’s an old hand at this! Chinese boy, 5, drives digger on building site” (Daily Mail, November, 2012)

Wang Shuhan, from Wuhan, in central China’s Hubei Province, is only five-years-old yet he’s already an expert at operating building site machinery.

The youngster was taught by his father Wang Xuebing, who videoed him calmly driving the digger around and using its scoop to pick up and move sand.

According to Xuebing he regularly brings his son to work with him and gradually the youngster grew interested in the machine he operated.

Xuebing said: ‘I sometimes explained to him the functions of the gears within the compartment, and when he was three he asked me to have a try. Amazingly he did it.’

The Center for American Progress offers an upbeat report on China energy and reducing pollution in “Everything You Think You Know About Coal in China Is Wrong,” (May 15, 2017):

In December 2016, the Center for American Progress brought a group of energy experts to China to find out what is really happening…

We found that the nation’s coal sector is undergoing a massive transformation that extends from the mines to the power plants, from Ordos to Shanghai. China is indeed going green. The nation is on track to overdeliver on the emissions reduction commitments it put forward under the Paris climate agreement, and making coal cleaner is an integral part of the process.

The study emphasizes pollution from coal power: “vary dramatically based on the type of coal and coal-burning technology used.” And Chinese coal power plants are being upgraded to burn cleaner and more efficiently.

Drawing from the same Center for American Progress report “By 2020, every Chinese coal plant will be more efficient than every US coal plant,” (Vox, May 16, 2017), notes Chinese government coal:

efforts fall roughly along two paths: one, building cleaner plants, and two, cleaning up or shutting down existing dirty plants.

And cleaner still than coal is natural gas. China has limited supplies, but continues to increase LNG imports. “China’s LNG imports continue to rise,” (LNG World News, March 23, 2017) notes:

China, world’s largest energy consumer and the third-biggest LNG importer, boosted its imports of the chilled fuel in February by 28.5 percent year-on-year.

China’s LNG imports increased to 2.37 million mt in February when compared to 1.85 million mt in the same month in 2016, according to the General Administration of Customs data.

The country’s imports rose to 3.44 million mt in January, the second-highest monthly import level, behind a record 3.73 million mt set the month before as a cold snap across the country spurred demand.

Increased LNG imports have enabled a major energy advance: “Beijing shuts last coal power plant in switch to natural gas,” (Phys.org, March 19, 2017):

According to Xinhua, Beijing has become the country’s first city to have all its power plants fuelled by natural gas, an objective laid out in 2013 in the capital’s five-year clean air action plan.

The U.S. is boosting LNG exports, but faces competition for the China market “Can U.S. LNG Compete With Qatar, Australia?,” (OilPrice.com, May 18, 2017):

Whether for political or commercial reasons, Chinese counterparties are not offtakers of any U.S. LNG export project under construction. Regardless of past U.S. policy, it is now clear that Chinese buyers are welcome to sign deals with current or future U.S. LNG exporters. It also appears that concerns about the impact U.S. LNG exports would have on the domestic price of natural gas have been abated with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross indicating that officials from Dow Chemical “gave assurances that increasing exports of natural gas wouldn’t harm the U.S. industry or consumers if sales remained less than 30 percent of total output.”

China has a long way to go in replacing current coal power with hydro, solar, wind, and natural gas power sources:

Leading energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie is also bullish on Chinese LNG demand, noting, “By 2030, we expect Chinese LNG demand to reach 75 mmtpa, triple 2016 imports. This is equivalent to $26bn a year at today’s prices ($7/mmBtu), and the U.S. is keen for a slice of the pie.”

Unfortunately, even with China’s cleaner coal plants and increasing natural gas and renewable energy sources, very dirty coal plants and even home coal burning continues outside Beijing, and pollution released still drifts to Beijing skies. “Blue skies return to Beijing, but dangerous smog still blankets northern China,” (Reuters, December 22, 2016) reports that though Beijing skies cleared:

…high readings are still being recorded in other parts of northern China, including parts of the major metropolis of Tianjin which sits next to Beijing, and the province of Hebei that surrounds Beijing.

The Chinese government has long provided inexpensive heat during the country’s cold winters:

The country’s northern provinces mostly rely on the burning of hundreds of millions of tonnes of coal each year for heating.

Natural gas and electricity can be substitutes for coal in heating buildings in north China, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing President Xi Jinping as saying at a government meeting on Wednesday.

An earlier post looked at; “For Still-Poor China, Coal Pollution from Home Heating,” looks at the challenge of adding higher-cost solar and wind power to the energy mix, which raises costs for home electricity. When electricity costs rise, many shift to heating their homes by burning cheaper coal “Beijing’s Plan for Cleaner Heat Leaves Villagers Cold,” (WSJ, Jan. 25, 2017) reports:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/gwendolyn_stansbury/17999607946/in/photolist-skSuR-tqyGm3-6BKnGC-usQwY-C7Fo4g

Creative Commons “Coal Delivery Bicycle” by Gwendolyn Stansbury, May 15, 2015, is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Reducing emissions from heating would be among the most effective ways to limit winter smog besides cleaning up industry… Coal-burning by households is particularly dirty because it often happens without the emissions filtering required in power plants. …

But Ms. Gao, whose husband earns about $500 a month at an auto plant, soon noticed a downside.

“Electric heating has become our family’s biggest expense,” Ms. Gao said. She said she may seek a job to help pay the bill.

Despite electricity subsidies for residential consumers, villagers interviewed about their state-supplied heaters said their overall costs had risen substantially. Several said it costs around $300 to heat their homes for the winter, compared with about $200 with coal.

 

Long simmering tensions between China and formerly colonial powers, especially Imperial Japan, continue to influence trade, investment, and cultural relations, and also influence Chinese movies.

A 1994 Jet Li movie, Fist of Legend, is set in the Shanghai International Settlement.during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. A fight scene early in Fist of Legend, pits two fighters, one apparently friendly with the Japanese, the other not. 
Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 6.46.07 PM

The pro-Japanese guy gets thrashed, but viewers not understanding Cantonese (spoken in Hong Kong and nearby southern China) might be confused by the conversation that follows the fight.

I watched the movie on Netflix and by accident had both English dubbing and subtitles turned on. You’d think dubbing and subtitles would tell a similar story. Not here.

Comments after the fight are very different in subtitles than spoken English. (Cantonese speakers will know which is more accurate. And I’d be curious how Mandarin dubbing and subtitles are translated for this scene, and through the movie.)

In the screen captures below, readers can (barely) read the white subtitles.

Screen Shot 2017-05-11 at 10.33.02 AM The good guy (at left) in the subtitles, sort of apologizes for winning the fight:

My victory was pure luck.

You’ve come a long way. You must be very tired.

If we have the chance, next time how about I pay you a visit?

Very diplomatic, trying to ease tensions after the conflict. Maybe a nice metaphor for improving China/Japan economic and cultural relations after past conflicts.

Whoever managed the English dubbing though, didn’t get the memo. Those listening in English hear instead:

“Understand something, if you are looking for a fight at [martial arts academy]…

“…you are asking for trouble. You, or the Japanese.”

 

 

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