The Chinese Scale Back their Ambitious High-Speed Rail Plans because their Keynesian Polices Unleashed Inflation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 30th, 2011

Week in Review

Railroads are expensive to build.  And to operate.  Especially high-speed railroads.  Why?  Because unlike airplanes that fly in the air between cities trains have to travel on track between cities.  And that’s a whole lot of railroad infrastructure.  That’s why railroads don’t suffer as much during times of escalating fuel costs as trucking and aviation.  Because fuel isn’t their greatest cost.  As it is for trucks and planes.  It’s that massive infrastructure that they have to build.  And maintain.

To build a railroad you need lots of money.  And lots of labor.  Preferably cheap labor.  And that usually means government money.  And immigrant labor.  That’s how they built the first transcontinental railroad in America.  Along with a lot of inefficiencies.  And corruption.  Typical when you put government and big piles of money together.

That first transcontinental railroad needed a lot of ‘fixing up’ before it was safe for use.  They had to move some track from ice to terra firma.  Rebuild some bridges that weren’t disposable after a few uses.  That kind of thing.  Because that’s the kind of craftsmanship you get when government is in charge of the money.  What we call crony capitalism.  Government rewarding their friends.  Picking winners and losers.  And helping those who will help them.  That is, return the favor of government contracts with campaign contributions.

Governments all around the world are in favor of building more high-speed rail.  Because it will ‘put people to work’.  And ‘save the planet’.  By moving people out of gasoline-powered cars into electricity-powered trains.  Electricity that is generated from even more polluting coal-fired power plants.

The Americans have been trying.  Obama’s stimulus included billions for high-speed rail.  That did nothing.  Meanwhile the Chinese have been doing it.  By making money for the banks to lend.  And using cheap ‘second-class’ migrant labor from China’s countryside to build their high-speed rail.  And how has that been working?  Not so good (see Can’t pay, won’t pay posted 10/29/2011 on The Economist).

EFFORTS to curb inflation in China are having some painful side-effects. A squeeze on bank lending has prompted some businesses short of cash to stop paying wages to blue-collar workers. Even the much-vaunted state sector is feeling the pinch. Work has all but ground to a halt on thousands of kilometres of railway track, and many of the network’s 6m construction workers have been complaining about not being paid for weeks or sometimes months…

The government touted building railways as a great way to keep the economy buoyant during global financial trouble, and boost employment. But the $600 billion stimulus launched in 2008 is all but spent. Indeed, the central government has urged state banks to cut back on lending in order to curb inflation, which in the year to July reached a three-year high of 6.5%, before dropping to 6.1% in September.

Yet another example of why Keynesian economic stimulus stimulates only economic bubbles and inflation.  Which are always corrected by recessions.  And the greater the stimulus/bubble the greater the recession.  Of course Keynesian government economists everywhere will all come to the same conclusion.  That China isn’t spending enough.  And that governments everywhere should follow the Chinese example.  But without the one flaw of turning off the easy credit spigot.  Because Keynesians always say that any inflation created by government stimulus is minor and negligible in comparison to all the good that it does.

Similar problems have also been reported in road building and property construction, prompting a growing number of demonstrations and violent incidents, including clashes with employers and suicides. Such difficulties are likely to get worse towards the end of the year, when companies traditionally try to settle accounts with employees. Wage inflation is adding to employers’ woes. Minimum wages have risen by an average of nearly 22% in the two-thirds of China’s provinces which have adjusted them this year. Nice if you can get it, but not much use if you are not being paid at all.

But the Keynesians couldn’t be more wrong.  Once inflation starts it ripples through the economy.  Costs go up.  Wages go up.  Increasing consumer prices everywhere.  There’ll be some economic prosperity for a little while.  But soon inflation will eat away at the standard of living.  People will be making more money everywhere.  But that money will buy less and less.  It will buy less of a house.  Fewer toys.  And even less food.  This is the endgame of Keynesian stimulus.  And we’re seeing it played out on a grand scale in China.  Like we saw in Japan during their Lost Decade.  Where the Japanese suffered a deflationary spiral that just never ended.  To correct all that damage caused by their Keynesian bubble.

This could prove to have a devastating effect on the American economy.  For the Americans will have no one left to finance their debt.  And yet President Obama, the Democrats and all those mainstream Keynesian economists are all clamoring for one thing.  Can you guess what that is?  That’s right.  More Keynesian stimulus.

Some people just never learn.

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