Ghosts Of The Future
In what surely is a sign that we live in a future far weirder than sci-fi could have imagined, China has huge empty cities. These ghost cities became part of the narrative of a China that was in full out of control development mode. Flush with cash earned from the manufacturing boom, the country encouraged the growth of cities via subsidies. They were planning a migration of millions of people from the countryside into the city.
No one has had a good idea of what these cities look like. There's lots of photographs of mostly deserted cities, and descriptions of echoey grocery stores. China's Google, Baidu, is using smartphones to map out who lives in these cities. Motherboard has a good interview with the team, who wants to know exactly how vacant the towns are. What they found was a picture that was far more complicated than Detroit-still-in-the-blister-pack porn would lead you to believe.
Some of this is because China’s planning agencies are making long bets. They do point out there was a new ghost city that was never documented previously, an oil boom town that never materialized. This mixture of market economics with Communist central planning is a mutant that would memorize Cold Warriors. It’s a strange place for the country to live, even stranger that much of it is being subsidized by American consumption. Whether it’s our companies subcontracting manufacturing in Shenzhen, or buying huge amounts of Treasury bonds. The latter reveals the complicated relationship created by the trade imbalance created by the former.
Ghost cities are a function of Markets not strictly controlled by demand. Even Baidu’s research appears to be something they teamed with Beijing University to get data the government isn’t giving the public. The picture of modern China is even weirder when you consider that many US companies are vying for competition there, and China’s economic slowdown caused a stock crisis in the US. As the US tries to escape the ghosts of its industrial past, China may be the first civilization to be haunted by its own future.