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How to build your condos (in China)

IMG_2945.jpg

By Ezra Klein

The itinerary said "rural village," but we were actually in a suburb. A nice suburb. It looked like a small slice of Northern California had been transplanted onto the outskirts of Dalian, China. Think I'm kidding? There was even a coffee shop overlooking the lake with fresh beans ground on the premises. Dalian has some sort of "sister city" arrangement with Oakland, California, and it shows.

This nice little suburb, it turned out, had been built in 2006. And like a lot of things in China, it was built all at once, on top of a village that already existed.

The obvious question with this sort of rapid development is what happens to the people who had the shack that sat on the land where the government wanted to put condos? The answer, at least in Dalian, was that they bought the previous inhabitants off. A conversation with some residents revealed that they didn't just get one free apartment in the new building. They got four free apartments, three of which they were now renting out. And medical coverage. And money for furnishings. And a food stipend. And -- I'm not kidding, by the way -- birthday cakes on their birthdays. Sweet deal.

If you've spent any time around local politics, you'll often hear people joke of doing this sort of thing. A massive development that a lot of people are excited about will be blocked by a handful of people who're worried that the traffic will destroy their quality of life. Frustrated reformers often muse about giving each of them a million dollars and sending them on their way. In Dalian, at least, the government is pretty much doing exactly that. IMG_2945.jpg

By Ezra Klein  |  May 29, 2010; 6:13 AM ET
 
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Comments

Selfish existing local residents of an area can do great harm to the greater good. It's an important issue.

I remember driving around Silicon Valley and seeing miles and miles of little one story 1950s houses worth over a million dollars each. Yet workers were having to drive hours each day because they couldn't afford housing anywhere close to work.

Why not tear down four of these little houses and build a 50 unit (or much bigger) luxury condo building, so more than 10 times as many people can live 10 minutes from work? Because the locals enacted zoning laws to prevent it. Increasing the supply of housing might greatly increase the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of families, and greatly decrease very dangerous pollution and dependence on foreign oil, but it would increase supply and then those little houses wouldn't be worth over a million dollars anymore.

This is one of the many problems with state and local rights; the minority can really hurt a far bigger majority; it can be extremely inefficient. State's rights might be a nice sounding slogan, but it's got cons too; it's not all pros, and sometimes those cons greatly outweigh the pros. I think some national housing laws to prevent gross abuses by locals would be a very good thing.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | May 29, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

At four apartments each, either the original village was tiny -- in which case this isn't really a model for development in a densely populated country -- or quite a few original inhabitants didn't get such a deal and have been whisked away where they can't complain to credulous journalists. I know which hypothesis I favor, but I'm not there to investigate it.

Please be a bit more skeptical of your government tour guides. I'd hate to see the happy conclusions you'd draw from a guided tour of the USSR in 1980!

Posted by: Ulium | May 29, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

At four apartments each, either the original village was tiny -- in which case this isn't really a model for development in a densely populated country -- or quite a few original inhabitants didn't get such a deal and have been whisked away where they can't complain to credulous journalists. I know which hypothesis I favor, but I'm not there to investigate it.

Please be a bit more skeptical of your government tour guides. I'd hate to see the happy conclusions you'd draw from a guided tour of the USSR in 1980!

Posted by: Ulium | May 29, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Well. At least now I know I don't want to live in China. Or in Northern California.

And I may be with Ulium on this. See also, Manufactured Landscapes: http://www.edwardburtynsky.com/

Posted by: slag | May 29, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

"This nice little suburb, it turned out, had been built in 2006. And like a lot of things in China, it was built all at once"

is this a little town created to show foreign visitors, like a set at warner brothers studios, or is it a real community? ( it looks like a little town without inhabitants, in the photo.)

Posted by: jkaren | May 29, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

@jkaren-

It's traditionally called a "potemkin village". The fact that Klein and Yglesias hardly even consider the possibility, let alone seem cognizant of the historical precedents, shows how poor a job they are doing as investigators.

(This isn't to say, btw, that the complex is a literal facade; I'm sure the buildings and inhabitants, and even their stories, are probably largely real. But as something representative of the vast majority of China, it seems actively misleading -- and Klein laps it up.)

Posted by: Ulium | May 29, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

This post is peculiarly ignorant of history. The Chinese and Russian communists have a long history of misleading journalists, from Will Duranty, who reported all was well in the Soviet Union during the great famine, to Edgar Snow, whose glowing reports are now discredited. The story Klein credulously repeats sounds like a fairy tale.

Posted by: truck1 | May 29, 2010 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Ezra-bashers,

Nowhere in the post does Ezra say or imply that the Dalian suburb is "something representative of the vast majority of China."

Visitors to a place often have a look at unusual places within that country. He is sharing this place on the blog because it is an interesting piece of the Chinese experiment in rapid modernization, not because it is representative of the entire Chinese experience.

Jeesh.

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 29, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

Quite the contrary, in his last paragraph he seeks to expand the meaning of the story, making it one about people's stubborn opposition to development, and how that can be gotten around. He shows zero skepticism or curiosity. Doesn't he know that up until 2007 farmers were not even allowed to OWN land in China? They had to lease it from the state. Only in the past five to ten years has there been legislation protecting private property, and this to encourage investment from outside the country. Until very recently, and probably still, real estate could be seized by the state with minimal to no compensation. He is becoming a "useful idiot" (Lenin's phrase for duped foreigners).

Posted by: truck1 | May 29, 2010 7:27 PM | Report abuse

"Quite the contrary, in his last paragraph he seeks to expand the meaning of the story, making it one about people's stubborn opposition to development, and how that can be gotten around."

Well, I can read, and the words that I read that indicate that in that particular location ("In Dalian, at least") residents were given a buy-out.

I don't read a story about Epcot Center and conclude that it represents what all of Florida is like. Life must be very confusing if you do...

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 29, 2010 7:38 PM | Report abuse

For all its faults, this is a far more transparent society and government than China's. Most experienced journalists know that they have to have some degree of skepticism about what they are shown by their government hosts over there. The real confusion is in confounding our press with theirs, and a story about Epcot with a story Ezra was fed about a Chinese suburb. Your defense of him, in this instance, is just silly.

Posted by: truck1 | May 29, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse

off-topic.

.topkill fails.


is anyone surprised?
like putting a hat on the top of a cyclone....
or spewing mud at a vortex.
i think british petroleum knew from the beginning, that the "tophat" anf "topkill"....farm silo and mudpies, were not going to work.
i think they were deceptive ruses and diversionary tactics to buy time, before they had to admit complete failure and no idea, on how to stem this tide. it just bought them a little more time, before they had to admit this to the american people.
a scam. a deception.
and to think, they wanted to black out the spillcam....and then, when they pledged transparency, they suspended activity for 16 hours and did not tell us, or our scientists.
what a deception.
we have alleged terrorists being held for less than what mr hayward has done to this country, to our sparkling ocean, to our sealife, to our shorebirds, to our coral, to families who now have no source of income, to the heritage of the area,
to our marshes and wetlands.....to our coastal plants....to one of the most beautiful parts of our country. to the health of our citizens, to our economy.... to our earth.
mr hayward and those in charge of this have lied. they have given a new meaning to the word, "negligence."
they have done profound, inestimable damage to our country. they need to be incarcerated.
there are poor men and women who committed small crimes, by comparison, who will end up serving longer sentences than these men. and if that happens, what will it say about justice?
how in G-d's name, can any elected leaders in congress look at this catastrophe, and still vote against raising the caps on liability.....it is a travesty. why are people standing for it?
i heard a woman representing the petroleum institute yesterday, arguing against the shutting down of other wells...because each day they are inoperable, it costs them money. with no regard, to this disaster.
what are these people made out of? gosh, demons walk among us.
i read that now that they used so much dispersant, without knowing the consequences....or maybe they did....the oil is in such fine particulates, that it is being absorbed into the metabolisms of the animals in the sea.
the whole thing makes me sick.
just like it is making everybody sick.
it is very hard,here on the pacific coast, to spend the weekend at the beach, looking out at our lovely, sparkly beaches, knowing what is happening in the gulf.
a great sorrow for all of us.
this catastrophe will change our lives.

Posted by: jkaren | May 29, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

"The company plans to use robot submarines to cut off the damaged riser from which the oil is leaking, and then try to cap it with a containment valve. The effort is expected to take between four and seven days."

well, that sounds easy enough.
cut the damaged riser from which the oil is leaking, and then try to cap it with a valve.
every couple of days, do they desperately walk through the aisles of target's toy department to get ideas on what to do next?

"We're confident the job will work but obviously we can't guarantee success," Suttles said of the new plan, declining to handicap the likelihood it will work.

"we're confident the job will work but obviously we cant guarantee success."
what does that mean?
and if they are so confident that it will work, why didnt they do it in the first place.
they should be in prison. and then they can work on another great experiment. trying to bend iron bars.

Posted by: jkaren | May 29, 2010 8:43 PM | Report abuse

I think Ulium and jkaren have never been to China and have a potential to be hilarious liberal versions of Glenn Beck. It's not like the Soviet Union.

I am still waiting for some idiot to comment about how the old shacks were better than modern accommodations. I know you people are out there...

Posted by: staticvars | May 29, 2010 9:06 PM | Report abuse

"I think Ulium and jkaren have never been to China and have a potential to be hilarious liberal versions of Glenn Beck. It's not like the Soviet Union."

well you can laugh if you want.
i have never been to china, and i dont understand.
the chinese government is giving birthday cakes and free apartments to the people whose land they usurped?
it sounds a bit farfetched.....and i didnt understand it...but then, i have never been there. and most of the people i know who have been to china, did so for recreation, and to had their pictures taken by the great wall, and to be whisked around to see the terra cotta warriors. so no, i really dont understand.

Posted by: jkaren | May 29, 2010 9:26 PM | Report abuse

truck1,

Ezra is a blogger on a professional visit sharing an occasional blog post about things that he is seeing along his brief limited tour. That's all. He is not there as a journalist on a mission to uncover the whole truth about life within the most populous nation on Earth. You insult the intelligence of the readers by implying we can't understand the bite-sized quality of these observations and place them within the larger context of the reported history and sociology of the PRC from actual China experts.

Ezra's last China post was about suicides by Chinese workers at Foxconn. I notice you did not complain about the risk of that being taken as representative of China at large.


jkaren, yes no surprise that topkill failed and lord knows what this will do the Gulf and the coast if it goes on until August. Connected to your thought about micro-organisms, see this short piece by a marine toxocologist who has been in the water there:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/30/opinion/30shaw.html

It is grim.

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 29, 2010 9:30 PM | Report abuse

patrick_m

thank you for the link.


http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/30/opinion/30shaw.html
she is a very brave woman to do that.
now, everything in its wake is becoming poisoned.
a catastrophe.

Posted by: jkaren | May 29, 2010 9:48 PM | Report abuse

From Telegraph.co.uk, Jan 29, 2010

China moves to calm unrest over property seizures

A large proportion of China's estimated 100,000 protests each year are driven by rage over compulsory evictions. Over the past decade, hundreds of thousands of Chinese have been forcibly evicted from their homes to make way for one of the greatest property booms of all time.
Rapacious developers, often in cahoots with government officials, rarely pay enough compensation...and instead have employed gangs of thugs to chase out...homeowners...This week a 68 year old man..doused himself in petrol and set himself alight. {His] house was scheduled for demolition and no compensation deal had been agreed to. The government's move {to try to control developers] came in the wake of a rare protest by five of China's most senior professors who said....that increasingly, more demolition cases end in a horrible way..." Malcolm Moore, Shanghai

Posted by: truck1 | May 29, 2010 9:58 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, Klein should wind up living in such a commie rabbit warren.

It'd be interesting to know the truth of the situation in that "suburb" (like whether they managed to install plumbing), and what it looks like in another ten years, but Klein and Yglesias are pretty much writing cheap travel brochures and I wouldn't trust them for the time of day, anyway... so, too bad.

Posted by: msoja | May 29, 2010 11:34 PM | Report abuse

we have alleged terrorists being held for less than what mr hayward has done to this country, to our sparkling ocean, to our sealife, to our shorebirds, to our coral, to families who now have no source of income, to the heritage of the area. Only in the past five to ten years has there been legislation protecting private property thanks.
http://www.estudentaid.com/

Posted by: seoramsagar | May 30, 2010 12:37 AM | Report abuse

we have alleged terrorists being held for less than what mr hayward has done to this country, to our sparkling ocean, to our sealife, to our shorebirds, to our coral, to families who now have no source of income, to the heritage of the area. Only in the past five to ten years has there been legislation protecting private property thanks.
http://www.estudentaid.com/

Posted by: seoramsagar | May 30, 2010 12:37 AM | Report abuse

We used to call places like Cha’an village "Company Towns", but I suppose it wouldn't be remiss to characterize whole commie setups like China as giant company towns.

Klein lives in a sort of company town of the mind, I'd say.

Looking at Yglesias's rendition of the same stop on the same tour, and the comments underneath, I'd say Yglesias has more intelligent commenters than Klein does, on average.

By the way, I don't believe Klein has bothered to mention who his sponsors are, but then, he does have trouble on the integrity side of things. Days ago, I erroneously cited (just assuming) the Washington Post as the culprits. But I now believe he (and his "group") owes his trip to the "China-United States Exchange Foundation", and, while they seem to do a lot of these kinds of tours, who and what they are is not blatantly obvious, at least to me.

ps. Neither Klein nor Yglesias are Walter Durantys, as one of Yglesias's commenters offers. They're both too incompetent to pull it off.

Posted by: msoja | May 30, 2010 12:42 AM | Report abuse

Tell us what kind of lake it was, Klein. You mentioned a lake. What was it like? Were there motorboats on it? Or was it a dead cess pool? I see a lake on Google Maps in the city and county you were in, probably right where you were, and it looks dead. You didn't take a picture in the coffee shop you reported?

I live on a lake in Tennessee. Today, despite late day thunderstorms, there were hundreds and hundreds of people speeding around in all kinds of boats and jet skis. There were pontoon boats and ski boats with skiers and boarders, and bass boats and fishing boats. And that's what I saw from a very limited view to the lake.

What did you see besides the two people Yglesias reported as receiving outsize favors from the government? Were all those apartments occupied? Besides the coffee shop you mentioned, what other shops and what variety of shops were within short distance? Is it one of those avowed food "deserts"? Are you too stupid to write a real story? Or just too dishonest?

Posted by: msoja | May 30, 2010 12:58 AM | Report abuse

The name of the Dalian suburb that Ezra discusses here is Cha'an. Here is information about Cha'an's 36 hole private golf club, complete with luxury hotel:

http://www.expatsky.com/Golf-Club/red-flag-valley-golf-course-and-villas.html

If you explore the other tabs on the same site you can get a look at other places of interest to Westerners in and around Dalian.

The Wikipedia article on Dalian ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dalian ) includes some impressive information about the city's economic strides and foreign investment, including this passage:

"Dalian has been given many benefits by the Chinese government, including the title of "open-city" (1984), which allows it to receive considerable foreign investment (see Special Economic Zone). The Development Zone was established in Jinzhou District, to which many Japanese manufacturing companies, such as Canon, Mitsubishi Electric, Nidec, Sanyo Electric and Toshiba, followed by Korean, American and European companies (such as Pfizer). In March 2007, Intel announced plans to build a semiconductor fabrication facility (commonly known as a fab) in the Development Zone, Dalian. It is Intel's first fab to be built at an entirely new site in over 15 years. The fab at Dalian will make the chip sets that support Intel's microprocessors and is expected to begin operation in the first half of 2010. (Source: The Wall Street Journal; March 26, 2007; Page B6)"

I am sure these are all merely facades, a huge Potemkin Village with no plumbing or inhabitants, constructed to show to gullible bloggers.

Also, shocking as it may seem to the home schooled, not every culture (or even every community in America) thinks that a beautiful lake is made better by the presence of speed boats and jet skis.

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 30, 2010 1:45 AM | Report abuse

Whoa, I went to Yglesias' blog, (which I never did before) to see if things are the same there. The stories are the same, but Yglesias is not the foodie Klein is. {Shops and houses were demolished for developer/state owned buildings -- hey, where's my arugula?} But Yglesias' commenters are far more skeptical, for whatever reason. One thing is the same with the commenters, though. The constant presence of Patrick M., performing his role as a minder.

Posted by: truck1 | May 30, 2010 6:55 AM | Report abuse

To me the most interesting question raised by this trip is: Why has Klein NOT had a superb meal, the kind he had anticipated. Why has he not tasted, in China itself, the best Chinese cuisine has to offer? My guess is that the best China has to offer is not commercially available, is not available through cash transaction and thereby potentially available to all. No -- it's available through Party influence. You have to be with or connected to a high enough ranking Party boss to get the best in any category, be it food, housing, clothing, or whatever else. And the one truth Klein will NOT alter or gloss over is this: the quality of the food.

Posted by: truck1 | May 30, 2010 7:13 AM | Report abuse

As a previous poster suggested, the trip sponsor is indeed the China United States Exchange Foundation. A chinese communist organization. Trips probably similar to the ones AIPAC runs to Israel for US journalists.

Posted by: truck1 | May 30, 2010 7:54 AM | Report abuse

Go to google and type in china united states exchange foundation journalist to see a picture of Klein, Yglesias and Ron Brownstein, among others, taking notes on a presentation given by the head of some Shanghai think tank.

Posted by: truck1 | May 30, 2010 8:17 AM | Report abuse

"As a previous poster suggested, the trip sponsor is indeed the China United States Exchange Foundation. A chinese communist organization. Trips probably similar to the ones AIPAC runs to Israel for US journalists."

that may be true.
but unless you are going somewhere as part of a humanitarian or relief organization, wouldnt mostly any sponsor, (or even family member) take you around to the best parts of a place?
when people come as guests of our government, they are shown the beautiful places also.

there is only so much "shielding" that can happen, even on a short trip, ( and when it may be hard to amble off of the beaten path,) but i think, most discerning people can get a sense of the underside of things in a short time.

wouldnt you agree?

Posted by: jkaren | May 30, 2010 8:23 AM | Report abuse

only in America! privatize the profits and socialize the costs.
BP is killing the Gulf and the American Taxpayers and the Gulf Coast citizens will pay the price and these BP executives are still walking free.

Money talks and runs America. protesters get put in jail for things like Marijuana and throwing oil on ships, but Business (BP) can kill entire eco systems and destroy thousands of local business and stay free and "private."

Ah America, don't you love it!

Posted by: Beleck31 | May 30, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

"This well is evil," moaned energy analyst Byron King."


there is nothing evil about the spewing well.
it is doing exactly what it is supposed to do, under these circumstances now.

what is evil, is to knowingly not follow through on plans to control human error, and then to continue lying about it, when tampering with immense forces of nature.

Posted by: jkaren | May 30, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

From Telegraph UK, January 2010

"In November (2009) Tang Fuzhen, a 47 year old businesswoman in Changdu, stood on the roof of her home {scheduled for immediate demolition] and set herself ablaze. ..Shen Kui, one of the [protesting] academics said, "The interests of the [development] companies and the people are sharply contradictory..'

Malcolm Moore, Shanghai, in a story about State confiscation of people's dwellings.

Posted by: truck1 | May 30, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

And why the dramatic suicides, in the style of the Buddhist monks protesting the Vietnam war? These suicides also stand as violent protests against the chinese communist party which has been the cause of one of the greatest, in numbers the very greatest, of the human tragedies of the twentieth century.

Posted by: truck1 | May 30, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

"To me the most interesting question raised by this trip is: Why has Klein NOT had a superb meal, the kind he had anticipated. Why has he not tasted, in China itself, the best Chinese cuisine has to offer? My guess is that the best China has to offer is not commercially available, is not available through cash transaction and thereby potentially available to all. No -- it's available through Party influence."

If you are honestly unaware that cities in China have great restaurants (open to all), your understanding of the country really is antiquated. Look here, and use any search engine to find thousands of others:

http://www.bestfoodinchina.net

"As a previous poster suggested, the trip sponsor is indeed the China United States Exchange Foundation. A chinese communist organization. Trips probably similar to the ones AIPAC runs to Israel for US journalists."

Maybe you can get your friends in the John Birch Society to organize a China junket specifically dedicated to finding protestors who will set themselves ablaze.

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 30, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

off topic

with netanyahu's support, a humanitarian flotilla, attempting to bring supplies through the blockade, was stormed, and ten activists are dead. there was a nobel peace laureate and a holocaust survivor on board that flotilla.
it seems that the flotilla was fired upon, even before the israelis set foot on the boats.
and netanyahu does this, again, before a visit with president obama?
we need the american money going to israel, to help all of the fishermen in the gulf, who will not be fishing any longer....who are now sick because bp did not get them protective gear....and to deal with the catastrophe in our waters and wetlands.
the netanyahu government is a blot on jewish history.
it has succeeded in turning away jews from judaism, and from wanting to israel.

Posted by: jkaren | May 31, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

sorry. last line should read...
"it has succeeded in turning away jews from judaism, and from wanting to support israel in a kindred way.
the netanyahu government has gone over the brink.

Posted by: jkaren | May 31, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

president obama and hillary clinton need to condemn this action, today.
our government cannot be afraid to speak out against this.
it is the only morally correct thing to do.

Posted by: jkaren | May 31, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse

"or quite a few original inhabitants didn't get such a deal and have been whisked away where they can't complain to credulous journalists"

Ah, yes, I recall the glowing coverage of how clean and youthful China was by the American and European press when Nixon went to China in the early 70s. Of course, it was clean and youthful because there was slave labor to clean stuff up ahead of the press, and youthful because all the elderly had been killed directly or worked to death in labor camps, but . . . pish, posh. Details, details.

That being said, except for the cakes on their birthdays (really? or do they just want to see how foolish and gullible western journalists are?), it's a smart way to tackle government infrastructure. America did something very similar in the 19th century with land grants and homesteading, with one of the results being economic development.

Giving citizens apartments than they can then rent out is not a bad strategy for kickstarting the private economy. The source of these "free" apartments is unlikely to be morally justifiable, but as an economic strategy, they could do much worse. At least in China, when they talk about shovel ready jobs, they come up with a nifty condo development and a coffee shop at the end of the day.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | June 1, 2010 9:03 AM | Report abuse

National Review on the Humanitarian Flotilla . . .

http://article.nationalreview.com/435253/flotillas-and-falsehoods/mona-charen

Should the folks sponsoring a "humanitarian flotilla" look forward to being martyred? That's weird.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | June 1, 2010 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Hey Ezra, did Sean Penn give you his copy of the "Walter Duranty Book of Style"?

Posted by: Bob65 | June 2, 2010 12:18 AM | Report abuse

Hey Ezra, did Sean Penn give you his copy of the "Walter Duranty Book of Style"?

Posted by: Bob65 | June 2, 2010 12:18 AM | Report abuse

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