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If All Chinese Had Wheels

by Dennis Pirages and Paul Ehrlich
New York Times (March 16 1972)

Now that the People's Republic of China has been admitted to the United Nations and American leaders are jetting to Peking, it is inevitable that we will be hearing more proposals for trade and aid to help the Chinese bring themselves up to "our standard of living". The idea of helping less developed nations "industrialize" or "catch up" seems as American as baseball. Few people question the common wisdom behind these programs, the idea that the developing areas of the world can somehow catch up with contemporary consumptive standards of living in industrial societies.

The emergence of China as a needy superpower must surely generate a re-evaluation of these beliefs. First, it is doubtful that the Chinese will ever reach our current standard of living; indeed it is not certain that this is even possible. But, more important, it is questionable whether such an achievement would be desirable, from any point of view. If the level of industrialization in China could be increased to the point that each Chinese family possessed an automobile and other amenities of industrial society, the effect on China and the entire world would be catastrophic. This observation immediately raises the point, of course, that the US should be considered overdeveloped by virtue of having attained a level of per capita consumption far in excess of that to which the bulk of humanity can realistically aspire.

Some very basic figures shed light on the development dilemma. There are currently at least 750 million people in mainland China. By contrast, the population of the United States is slightly over 200 million. Since there are more than 3.5 Chinese for every American, it would require some 3.5 times the present United States resource consumption to sustain China at current American levels. Such affluence in China would necessitate a tremendous shift in world consumption of raw materials.

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Apr 11th, 2010 at 02:55:10 PM EST

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