China's Unsustainable Development

Like teenagers with their first credit card, local Chinese officials armed with cheap state loans and money from land sales are splurging on lavish projects of dubious value.

What's the Latest Development?

Though they face government retaliation, Chinese citizens across the undeveloped countryside are exposing wasteful government projects undertaken to give the appearance of economic growth. In impoverished Wangjiang, "the local government is constructing a headquarters on a slab of land the size of the Pentagon building—a sprawling edifice of granite and glass with a $10-million price tag." In a small city in the central Anhui province, plans were announced to build a $44 million hotel designed to look like a pingpong paddle.

What's the Big Idea?

As China's economy slows in response to a decrease in global demand, its government officials are looking for ways to maintain (the appearance of) growth, which is an imperative in Chinese political life. That often entails local governments borrowing huge sums of money to finance construction projects. But since since localities are prohibited from borrowing directly from banks, public land is often offered as collateral to "off-the-books investment companies with little oversight." It is the Chinese version of America's sub-prime mortgage crisis. 

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