The Great Pyramids of China

January 21st, 2011

By Brianna Aubin

The last time I was in Chicago, I had some time to kill before my appointment.  So I decided to go to the nearby John Hancock building in order to ride up to the observatory there and view the city.  For those of you who have never visited, Chicago is quite beautiful, and this was a bright sunny day, so I could see everything.

While I was standing up there looking over the city, I started to think about the pyramids of Egypt.  The pyramids are famous, and rightfully so.  They are one of the wonders of the world, and people travel from all over the world to see them.  But compared to the towers of cities like New York or Chicago, the pyramids are little more than stone hovels baking in the harsh desert sun.  Those great monuments, some of the most impressive monuments which our past has to offer us, are absolutely nothing in the face of the buildings we work and live in every day of our lives.

And yet, for all their magnificence, the skyscrapers are absolutely nothing like the pyramids.  The pyramids were built by slave labor.  The skyscrapers were put up in a fraction of the time through the work of free men in a free economy.  The pyramids were built to house the parasitical dead pharaohs.  Skyscrapers were built to give shelter to the living and the productive.  The size and grandeur of the pyramids made them anomalous in the ancient world.  Skyscrapers are so common in the modern world that most most walk past them quite blithely, completely ignorant of the magnitude of achievement they represent.

At least, this is what a skyscraper is in a productive Western city such as Chicago, London or New York.  In China, the meaning of a skyscraper has cycled back to the meaning of the original pyramids: empty hulks built by slave labor as symbols of government power and authority.

Take a look at some of the great pyramids of China.  Empty cities, designed to house hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions … and yet the only places which show any signs of life are the buildings designed to house government functions.

Construction is 60% of the Chinese economy, whereas exports, despite the hype about China being the main supplier of the West’s cheap crap, only make up about 5%.  This means that over half of China’s supposedly remarkable 8-10% annual GDP growth is also probably in construction, sending the number from highly impressive to surpassingly stupid.  Construction and production grow an economy, but only if someone actually has a use for what you’re producing.  Building residential and commercial space that nobody wants to use, on the other hand, does nothing more than help prop up an artificial real estate bubble.  And since China has roughly 64 million vacant properties right now, enough to accommodate nearly 200 million people if you go by a family size of 3 (two parents, one child in accordance with China’s one-child policy), I suspect the bursting of this bubble is going to be far worse than what happened when the American real estate bubble burst.  Especially since the Chinese government is going to have no qualms whatsoever about trying to fix their mistakes with more mistaken government action.

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Categories: Economics, Politics | Comments (4) | Home

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4 Responses to “The Great Pyramids of China”

  1. Clarissa |

    God, I miss Chicago. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world.

    I agree with you about skyscrapers. People often say they feel dwarfed and diminished by them. I, however, always feel inspired and elevated by the sheer immensity of the accomplishment. Nowhere do I feel so at home as in their close proximity.

  2. Tom Carter |

    Very interesting, both the comparison of modern skyscrapers with the pyramids and the discussion of China’s looming real estate bubble. I’ve read a bit about it, but I didn’t realize how serious the problem had become. We shouldn’t fear China because they might call in our debt (sell bonds, etc); we should fear them because the economic collapse they might suffer could have a pretty bad impact on the world economy.

    I’m mildly acrophobic, and that drives me to want to go to the top of every skyscraper I’ve ever seen. Seems contradictory; maybe it’s an impulse to confront the fear and the excitement that comes with that.

    I’ve been to Windows on the World at the top of the north tower of the World Trade Center. It was an amazing and thrilling place. I stood at a huge window looking out at the Harbor and the Statue of Liberty, feeling like I was floating in the sky. Every time I think about it, I feel an overwhelming rage against the Muslims who destroyed it and killed so many people. I’ve also been to the top of the Empire State Building several times (both levels) and in the Chrysler Building, even though it doesn’t have an observation deck. I’ve always meant to go to the top of Rockefeller Center but never made it.

    I’ve never been in Chicago, other than to change planes at O’Hare quite a few times. If I ever get there, I’ll go to the top of the John Hancock building, and I’ll remember what you said.

    Just an irrational thought: Maybe someone should blow up the pyramids and give those jerks something to think about. I’m kidding!

  3. Brianna |

    “We shouldn’t fear China because they might call in our debt (sell bonds, etc); we should fear them because the economic collapse they might suffer could have a pretty bad impact on the world economy.”

    Well, the two tie together Tom. The idea is that if their bubble does burst, they’ll call in our debt as a reaction to that.

    I’ve never been to New York. Hopefully I get there someday though.

  4. Tom Carter |

    You’re right; what I meant was we shouldn’t worry about them doing it as a means to damage us. If they have an economic meltdown, then we and a lot of others are in trouble.

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