(Less) High Speed Rail

The Chinese government has reduced speed on its high speed rail line over concerns about safety, the rail ministry is in debt to the tune of $271 billion dollars, its charismatic leader, Liu Zhijun, was fired for embezzlement, and cheaper buses are turning out to be more appealing to typical travelers. Charles Lane at the Washington Post has the story.

Liu exploited the communist leadership’s fascination with bigness and national prestige….

In 2004, the State Council signed off on Liu’s plan to build the world’s largest high-speed-rail network by 2020. The first leg, a 72-mile stretch between Beijing and Tianjin, would open in time for the 2008 Olympics.

Word went forth that state-owned banks and local governments were to give Liu all the money, land and labor he required. When Chinese journalists found that Liu’s ministry was using cheap, low-quality concrete, creating a safety hazard, the Communist Party’s propaganda department quashed the reports, according to a January piece in the South China Morning Post.

Students and other humble citizens greeted the first fast trains with complaints about high ticket prices. They crowded aboard buses instead.

Oh well, at least the train didn’t go to Ordos.

By simple virtue of its size, China’s government can spend huge amounts on marvels monuments but monuments don’t pay the bills. Communism set China back so far relative to its capabilities that catch-up growth can still drive it forward, even with a poor allocation of capital, but a cutting-edge economy requires more efficient (even if imperfect!), capitalist allocation.


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