Yesterday Reuters reported that a big urbanization push in China, once thought essential to the country's economic growth model, may be in jeopardy:
China's plan to spend $6.5 trillion on urbanization to bolster the economy is running into snags, sources close to the government said, as top leaders fear another spending binge could push up local debt levels and inflate a property bubble.
Premier Li Keqiang has rejected an urbanization proposal drafted by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), seeking changes to put more emphasis on economic reform, according to the sources, who are familiar with the matter.
First, let's stop and think a minute about the number quoted here: $6.5 trillion. That's "trillion" with a "t". To put this number in perspective, it's higher than the GDP of every country in the world, except for the United States and, of course, China. This was no modest little plan.
But the figure is more than just yet another gaudy number in a country famous for mind-blowing statistics. In fact, the sum earmarked for investment -- and Premier Li's skittishness about it -- neatly encapsulate the dilemma at the core of China's economic future.
In China, economic growth and urbanization have gone hand in hand. When Deng Xiaoping initiated Reform and Opening in 1978, the vast majority of the population lived and worked in the countryside -- just as Chinese people had for centuries. But over the past three and a half decades, as special economic zones churned out exports and China modernized its cities, hundreds of millions of people migrated to urban areas seeking work in the manufacturing and service sectors. This has, in short, has made China -- and the Chinese -- much wealthier.
(This trend, by the way, is hardly unique to China: urbanization has accompanied wealth generation practically everywhere in the world, from India to Turkey to Brazil. There's a pervasive myth -- call it the Slumdog Millionaire effect -- that people living in urban slums have the lowest standard of living in the world. In fact, it's rural poverty that is really the problem. But back to China.)
China now has a lot of huge cities, with more on the way: the management consultancy McKinsey & Company estimated in 2009 that by 2025, the country will boast 221 cities with over a million people. But there's still a lot of room for more; in 2010, for instance, 36 percent of the Chinese population worked in agriculture, compared to just 2 percent for the more developed United States. If historical patterns repeat themselves, most of the hundreds of millions of people still working in the countryside will eventually migrate to cities, and China will grow even wealthier.
At least that's the plan. But while urbanization serves as an engine for China's economy, migration to the cities has spread worry that the country's boom is unsustainable.
That's because the problems with urbanization are numerous. China's municipal governments, which financed the fixed-asset infrastructure that enabled the economy to grow, now sit on a mountain of bad debt, which won't be easy to untangle. The construction of so many houses has led, in many cities, to a housing bubble no less troubling than the one plaguing the United States pre-Lehman Brothers.
Then there's income inequality. China's Gini coefficient eclipsed that of the United States, and the difference between rich and poor are likely even greater than the reported figures indicate. This is an economic program with the potential to destabilize the whole of Chinese society. And, of course, there are China's famous environmental woes. Each of these problems grow worse with economic growth -- and with urbanization.
So what can China's leaders do to resolve this thorny dilemma? Tweaking the hukou -- a household registration system that prevents rural migrants from obtaining social services in cities -- would be a start, as this would help bring China's migrant workers in from the shadows of the country's urban areas. The government has also established new regulations intended to cool the housing market, understandably fearful of how a burst bubble would wreak havoc throughout Chinese society.
Will these moves work? This is the big question in China, and given how quickly things change in the country it'd be foolish making a prediction one way or another. But Li's apparent refusal of the NDRC urbanization proposal at least signals Beijing's unwillingness to plow forward with its usual spending binge and brings hope that the Xi Jinping administration may be more willing than its predecessor to launch needed reforms.
This wasn’t terribly surprising. When Streep was asked, last year, in the course of promoting her extremely feminist film Suffragette, whether she is herself a feminist, the actor replied that, no, she isn’t. Instead: “I am a humanist,” she said. “I am for nice, easy balance.”
Einstein’s gravitational waves rest on a genuinely radical idea.
After decades of anticipation, we have directly detected gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime traveling at the speed of light through the universe. Scientists at LIGO (the Laser Interferometic Gravitational-wave Observatory) have announced that they have measured waves coming from the inspiral of two massive black holes, providing a spectacular confirmation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, whose hundredth anniversary was celebrated just last year.
Finding gravitational waves indicates that Einstein was (once again) right, and opens a new window onto energetic events occurring around the universe. But there’s a deeper lesson, as well: a reminder of the central importance of locality, an idea that underlies much of modern physics.
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
Across China, where new developments are keeping pace with the rapidly growing economy, reports continue to surface so-called "nail houses."
Across China, where new developments are keeping pace with the rapidly growing economy, reports continue to surface of so-called "nail houses." These properties, standing alone amid the ruins of other buildings, belong to owners who have stood their ground and resisted demolition. Defiant property owners say the compensation being offered is too low. Some of them have remained in their homes for years as their court cases drag on and new construction continues all around them. A few homeowners have won their fights, but most have lost. Meanwhile, these nail houses have become powerful symbols of resistance against the world's fastest-growing major economy.
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
Ben Stiller’s follow-up to his own comedy classic is a downright bummer, no matter how many celebrity cameos it tries to cram in.
You don’t need to go to the theater to get the full experience of Zoolander 2. Simply get your hands on a copy of the original, watch it, and then yell a bunch of unfunny topical lines every time somebody tells a joke. That’s how it feels to watch Ben Stiller’s sequel to his 2001 spoof of the fashion industry: Zoolander 2 takes pains to reference every successful gag you remember from the original, and then embellish them in painful—often offensive, almost always outdated—fashion. It’s a film that has no real reason to exist, and it spends its entire running time reaffirming that fact.
The original Zoolander, to be fair, had no business being as funny as it was—it made fun of an industry that already seems to exist in a constant state of self-parody, and much of its humor relied on simple malapropisms and sight gags. But it was hilarious anyway as a candid snapshot of the fizzling-out of ’90s culture. Like almost any zeitgeist comedy, it belonged to a particular moment—and boy, should it have stayed there. With Zoolander 2, Stiller (who directed, co-wrote, and stars) tries to recapture the magic of 2001 by referencing its past glories with increasing desperation, perhaps to avoid the fact that he has nothing new to say about the fashion industry or celebrity culture 15 years laters.
When four American women were murdered during El Salvador’s dirty war, a young U.S. official and his unlikely partner risked their lives to solve the case.
On December 1, 1980, two American Catholic churchwomen—an Ursuline nun and a lay missionary—sat down to dinner with Robert White, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. They worked in rural areas ministering to El Salvador’s desperately impoverished peasants, and White admired their commitment and courage. The talk turned to the government’s brutal tactics for fighting the country’s left-wing guerrillas, in a dirty war waged by death squads that dumped bodies in the streets and an army that massacred civilians. The women were alarmed by the incoming Reagan administration’s plans for a closer relationship with the military-led government. Because of a curfew, the women spent the night at the ambassador’s residence. The next day, after breakfast with the ambassador’s wife, they drove to San Salvador’s international airport to pick up two colleagues who were flying back from a conference in Nicaragua. Within hours, all four women would be dead.
Most people know how to help someone with a cut or a scrape. But what about a panic attack?
Here’s a thought experiment: You’re walking down the street with a friend when your companion falls and gashes her leg on the concrete. It’s bleeding; she’s in pain. It’s clear she’s going to need stitches. What do you do?
This one isn’t exactly a head-scratcher. You'd probably attempt to offer some sort of first-aid assistance until the bleeding stopped, or until she could get to medical help. Maybe you happen to have a Band-Aid on you, or a tissue to help her clean the wound, or a water bottle she can use to rinse it off. Maybe you pick her up and help her hobble towards transportation, or take her where she needs to go.
Here’s a harder one: What if, instead of an injured leg, that same friend has a panic attack?
The bureau successfully played the long game in both cases.
The story of law enforcement in the Oregon standoff is one of patience.
On the most obvious level, that was reflected in the 41 days that armed militia members occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns. It took 25 days before the FBI and state police moved to arrest several leaders of the occupation and to barricade the refuge. It took another 15 days before the last of the final occupiers walked out, Thursday morning Oregon time.
Each of those cases involved patience as well: Officers massed on Highway 395 didn’t shoot LaVoy Finicum when he tried to ram past a barricade, nearly striking an FBI agent, though when he reached for a gun in his pocket they finally fired. Meanwhile, despite increasingly hysterical behavior from David Fry, the final occupier, officers waited him out until he emerged peacefully.
How teachers and parents can identify and cultivate children who think creatively and unconventionally
In his new book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, the writer, Wharton professor, and erstwhile magician Adam Grant explores the circumstances that give rise to truly original thinkers. Through stories of business “originals” such as the Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio, and the Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal, he explains how unorthodox thinking can result in unprecedented success or—if shaped by groupthink or myopic vision—miserable failure.
Grant is a gifted educator himself, and, as Wharton’s top rated teacher for the past four years, knows a little something about identifying and cultivating original thinking in his students. I asked Grant about the role teachers play in educating original children, and how teachers and parents alike can protect what’s special in these original children—traits that have the potential to disrupt lesson plans today, but, if nurtured and protected, may just change the world tomorrow. Below is a lightly edited and condensed version of our conversation.