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Was it Worth It? The Benefit-Cost of Air Pollution in China



My brother sent me a link for Under the Dome and asked me what I thought of it. Under the Dome is a brave documentary on how China’s policy of develop at any cost is costing the people it is meant to benefit. It is made by Chai Jing, a former investigative journalist of CCTV (the State-owned TV network), and was originally hosted on the People Daily’s (another State-owned media organ) website until the Chinese Government ordered its removal. What I find most interesting about the documentary is how personal it is: this documentary rams home the point that the cost of environmental pollution is deeply personal, not an ideological preoccupation of the rich, Western global elite.

Environmental impacts have been depicted as a rich world obsession. But we can see in China that the people most affected are ordinary people, not the elite of the business and political cadres. Ultimately, people will suffer the costs of pollution. The costs to people are the result of environmental degradation and should be weighed against the economic benefits of development in public policy analysis. This blog post will ask the question, was all the air pollution worth it?


Lucky Money and Information Revelation

Happy Lunar New Year! Or if you want to impress your Chinese friends, in Mandarin you could say, xin nian kuai le (新年快乐) Or in Cantonese, gong hei fat choy (恭禧發財). Handy tip: find out what dialect your friend speaks before showing off your cultural expertise (I’m assuming you know they are Chinese). For some of you, you may partake in the celebrations at a family home or in a Chinese restaurant (food is always involved when the Chinese celebrate anything). If so, you may witness the bizarre tradition (to non-Asian people) of older people giving money to the younger generation in red envelopes. You may also witness three generations stuffing their faces with unseemly haste, don’t worry it’s polite in Chinese culture to eat too much and complain afterwards. Some Western people think giving money is a materialistic way of gift-giving since you couldn’t even bother to invest time and effort to get a proper gift. Actually, a lot of thought has gone into it. How much you give reveals private information on what you really think of your younger and unmarried relatives. Here is a useful guide for those of you new to giving ‘Lucky Money’.


Ross Garnaut: No Link Between Economic Growth and Pollution

Last night I went to see Prof. Ross Garnaut speak on ‘China’s Energy Transition: Effects on Global Climate and Sustainable Development’. Me and Ross go back a long way. Not personally of course, but my career in economics has somehow become enmeshed with his. His report on ‘North Asia’s Economic Ascendancy’ was the first government report I read when I was a callow youth at university. It set out a path for Australia to exploit the economic opportunity of North Asia (i.e. Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan). It wasn’t about resources, instead he said we should aim to be an exporter of ‘elaborately-transformed manufactures’ – i.e. advanced manufacturing goods that require significant use of Australia’s design expertise and creativity. It was a report that inspired me to think how economics could be used to guide governments. (more…)