Saturday, October 14, 2017

Sebastian Heilmann's Leninism Upgraded: Restoration and Innovation Under Xi Jinping

Event Recap -- Leninism Upgraded: Restoration and Innovation Under Xi Jinping. Sebastian Heilmann. Harvard's University Asia Center. April 13, 2017.

When Xi Jinping assumed the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in late 2012, he was confronted with a serious erosion of central party control, informal power networks and entrenched corruption. How did Xi handle this existential threat and consolidate his leadership? At a Critical Issues Confronting China seminar titled “Leninism Upgraded: Restoration and Innovation Under Xi Jinping,” Sebastian Heilmann, President of the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) in Berlin, former Visiting Fellow at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and former research fellow at the Harvard-Yenching Institute, explained this conundrum and distilled Xi’s approach to leadership into four restorations and five innovations.

First of all, in contrast to other post-1978 Chinese leaders, Xi prioritized political recentralization over economic restructuring in the implementation of the CCP’s agenda for “comprehensively deepening reforms” that has been under way since 2013.

Second, Xi boosted central authority by expanding disciplinary parallel bureaucracies and by implementing a relentless rectification campaign within the CCP under the cloak of anti-corruption.

Third, Xi has imposed “top-level design” (顶层设计), which stands for a system of centralized and top-down policy-making. This reversed the policies of the Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin eras of the 1980s and 1990s, when policy intelligence was believed to be distributed across the political system, and local-level experimentation and bottom-up problem-solving were actively encouraged.

Fourth, Xi streamlined political power by aggressively attacking informal groupings within the party. In effect, tangible intra-party factional activity has reached a low point in CCP history.

In addition to these restorative measures that follow classical Leninist prescriptions, there are innovative elements in Xi’s approach to transform the CCP and make it fit for the 21st century.

First, Xi reorganized the party’s core executive around leader-driven central leading groups that predetermine decisions by formal top-level CCP organs. The separation of party organs from the management of economic affairs under previous leaders was downgraded to a mere “division of labor” (党政分工), thereby bringing party organs back into regular administrative and economic decision-making.

Second, with Wang Huning as his strategic advisor, Xi put much effort into hardening CCP ideological prescriptions, with the intention to delegitimize “Western values” and re-conceptualize the global political and economic order from a Chinese perspective. Though it appears questionable whether a monistic, uniform ideology can be imposed on Chinese society today that is characterized by very diverse lifestyles, value orientations and worldviews, the intensity of CCP ideological work under Xi is starkly different from the much more relaxed approach taken by his post-1978 predecessors.

Third, under Xi Jinping’s leadership, China abandoned Deng Xiaoping’s guiding foreign policy principle of “hiding your strength and biding your time” (韬光养晦). It became more assertive on a global level and sometimes aggressive in dealing with neighboring countries (such as South Korea recently). China has significantly expanded its maritime capabilities, and broadened its economic diplomacy and external funding to open up doors abroad. Meanwhile, China moved into spaces where U.S. presence is weak (such as Central Asia) or is being weakened (multilateral trade and climate policy). Instead of Deng’s “hide and bide” guideline, Xi’s foreign policy pursues the Maoist guerrilla principle of “avoiding the solid main force and instead moving toward the empty spaces” (避实就虚).

Fourth, China harnessed new technologies in cyberspace and social media for political communication. Based on the belief that public opinion in the internet era must be actively shaped and controlled by the CCP, the party’s cyber-administrators moved beyond clumsy censorship by using, for instance, refined algorithms to steer viewers away from subversive content to officially-approved content.

Fifth, under Xi’s leadership, China is building a system of “digital Leninism” through new types of business and social regulation. With financial and communication activities increasingly taking place online, Chinese regulators aim at compiling encompassing “social credit” scores, a kind of big data-enabled rating system, for every market participant, thereby gaining access to detailed and regularly updated data profiles of all companies and citizens.

What will Xi’s leadership look like after the 19th Party Congress in the fall of 2017? According to Heilmann, the best-case scenario is that Xi, after further consolidating his power, will feel secure enough to allow some degree of political relaxation and to decentralize some decision-making power, thereby reinvigorating bottom-up economic and policy dynamism. The worst-case scenario is further political and economic ossification as a result of rigid party control and expanded surveillance instruments. For international relations, Heilmann anticipated that, if liberal democracies continue to appear torn and weak, China will find an environment conducive to attacking “Western values” and promote its own version of political order based on non-liberal principles, not just domestically but also increasingly on a global level and in multilateral institutions.

In one year China is making 107 towers taller than 200m. The US needed decades to build 189 ones.

Asia Dreams in Skyscrapers. By Jason M Barr
The New York Times, Oct 11 2017

The skyscraper was born in the United States, but in recent years, it has grown and flourished in Asia. Countries there recognize that to be seen as a player on the global stage, it helps to have tall buildings.

Over a century ago, New York and Chicago demonstrated that the skyscraper is, fundamentally, a solution to an economic problem: how to allow for hundreds, if not thousands, of people and businesses to be at the same place at the same time. Urban clustering, especially in a high-tech world, is more important than ever. By promoting density, skyscrapers confer a competitive advantage and allow a city to become a beacon of commerce.

In April, President Xi Jinping of China announced plans for a new city, Xiongan, not far from Beijing. A kind of Chinese field of dreams, Xiongan is to be built on what is now hundreds of square miles of farmland and towns, house millions of people and be a center for technology jobs. Like the cities it’s being modeled after — Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, and Shanghai, particularly its Pudong neighborhood — it may someday claim the world’s tallest skyscrapers. The Ping An Finance tower in Shenzhen, completed this year, at 115 stories, is the fourth-tallest building in the world, while the Shanghai Tower, completed in 2015, at 128 stories, is the second-tallest skyscraper on the planet.

Since the 1990s, the world’s tallest buildings have been built in the East. The current prize holder — the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (828 meters, or about 2,717 feet, 2010) — will be soon be surpassed by the Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia (1,000 meters, or about 3,281 feet, 2020). Nine of the 10 world’s tallest buildings are in Asia. In addition, the continent now has more 150-meter (about 492 feet) or taller buildings than the rest of the continents combined.

An awe-inspiring skyline is a city’s announcement that it is open for business and confident in its future growth. Supertall structures stand as “place makers” in the planning process, since they create neighborhood landmarks to draw companies, residents, tourists and foreign direct investment. China is now a nation full of capitalists. Arab workers are no longer just oil drillers, but global traders and financiers.

But just as important, cities that have record-breaking buildings are not just constructing super-tall monoliths. There is a strong correlation between the number of tall buildings of all sizes and the likelihood a city will have a supertall building; heights and frequencies are strongly related. The Burj Khalifa and Shanghai Tower, for example, are the most visible signs that a city embraces skyscrapers more broadly to enhance economic growth and the quality of life of residents and companies.

Consider where these nations stand. Over the last decade, the average annual gross domestic product growth rates in India, China, Indonesia and Malaysia were, in most years, more than three times that of the United States. As part of this development, nations expand their financial and banking sectors; research shows that skyscrapers are needed for this to happen.

Furthermore, China is witnessing what is arguably the greatest internal migration in human history. In 1979, only about 19 percent of its residents lived in urban areas; today that figure is about 57 percent, and this movement shows no sign of slowing. To put this in perspective, the number of Chinese residents who have moved to cities since 1979 (600 million) is greater than the total current population of North America (580 million). By comparison, in 1900, urbanization in the United States was at 40 percent; by 1970, it was up to 74 percent, and has since inched up to 82 percent.

Given this rapid growth, governments generally have two options: They can encourage tall buildings to satisfy the urban demand, or they can restrict building heights, which then increases sprawl, congestion and the distances between people. As a result, Asian governments establish land-use rules that increase density, as well as sponsor international architecture competitions, provide subsidies or simply lend support. Across China, we see a strong correlation between the heights of cities’ skyscrapers and the size of their populations and local economies.

Interestingly, the Chinese government has also indirectly created political incentives for their construction. Because of one-party rule, career promotion within the Communist Party is based on the ability to “get things done” — and building skyscrapers can serve that purpose. Recent research suggests that younger local officials build more skyscrapers and invest in more infrastructure to enhance their standing within the government.

In the United States, high-rise construction remains controversial. Though things are starting to change, at its core, the country remains dedicated to promoting single-family homes in the suburbs and sprawling car-dependent office parks. Many municipalities put up hurdles for tall building construction, allowing them only in densest parts of the central city. As a result, we see a flowering of new supertall buildings there, but they are frequently derided as “safe deposit boxes with views.” Because of the negative perceptions, it has become difficult to have conversations about how they can make cities more resilient and less dependent on fossil fuels.

What is the future of the skyscraper? As long as Asian countries pursue lifestyles similar to that of the West, skyscrapers will continue to be built, as they not only help foster economic growth, but also establish a city’s skyline, which then becomes part of a city’s identity and character.

As technological improvements make building skyscrapers easier and faster, the race for the world’s tallest building will continue as well. Since 1890, their heights have grown, on average, about 17 feet per year. Statistically speaking, this suggests that a mile-high building will be built in the middle of the 22nd century. But don’t tell that to Tokyo, which wants to get there first by 2045.

Jason M. Barr, a professor of economics at Rutgers University-Newark, is the author of “Building the Skyline: The Birth and Growth of Manhattan’s Skyscrapers.”

China’s booming electric vehicle market is about to run into a mountain of battery waste

China’s booming electric vehicle market is about to run into a mountain of battery waste. By Echo Huang
Quartz, September 28, 2017

China’s push to promote electric cars comes with a lot of benefits for a country that suffers from terrible air pollution from its reliance on fossil fuels. But there’s always a downside—electric car batteries are toxic if not disposed of properly, and China’s on the verge of having to deal with a slew of batteries that can no longer hold a charge.

In just a few years, China has become the world’s biggest electric vehicle market, with the help of subsidies. It saw 336,00 new electric car registrations (pdf, p.12) in 2016, according to the International Energy Agency. That includes both battery-only and hybrid models. Including other types of vehicles, China says it sold a total of half a million “new energy” vehicles last year. This month, China also said that it would eventually phase out sales of all fossil-fuel cars.

That fast-growing market, however, is also producing batteries at a faster rate too. The average lifespan of a lithium-iron phosphate (LFP) battery, the dominant type in China’s electric vehicles, is around five years, according to Li Changdong, chairman of the Hunan-based Brunp group, China’s top electric car battery recycler in 2016 (link in Chinese). Most batteries installed on electric vehicles during the 2012 to 2014 period will be retired on a large scale (link in Chinese) around 2018, Li told the Beijing-based newspaper Economic Information Daily.

In 2020, nearly 250,000 metric tons (276,000 tons) of batteries, or 35 gigawatt-hours of batteries, are set to be retired—nearly 20 times those depleted in 2016, GaoGong Industry Institute, a Shenzhen-based electric car industry research firm, told Quartz.

[Unused batteries in China]

The battery is the heart of the electric vehicle industry, and the country needs a well-established battery recycling system, Xin Guobin, a top industry and tech official, told a national forum for the battery-powered engine industry Tuesday (link in Chinese) (Sept. 26). But recycling these batteries isn’t easy, due to the sophisticated chemical procedures involved. If it’s not done properly the heavy metal contained in the battery can lead to contamination of soil and water.

According to China’s 2015 electric vehicle battery policy, car manufacturers are responsible for recycling their batteries (link in Chinese). But many auto manufacturers often leave the responsibility to battery suppliers, who find it hard to afford the cost of building a national recycling network, noted the Economic Information Daily. For now, China’s battery recycling industry is relatively small and scattered, and recycling operating costs are high, Gao Xiaobing, director of the lithium battery study center at GaoGong, told Quartz. That’s discouraging more players from entering the business.

China’s not the only one facing a recycling headache. In the European Union, only 5% (pdf) of lithium-ion batteries, another common type of battery power used in electric vehicles are recycled, according to data from non-governmental environment advocacy group Friends of the Earth Europe, which pointed out that “most of the current lithium is either dumped in landfill or incinerated.”

Marriage Advantage in Subjective Well-Being: It Is Truly Protective

Marriage Advantage in Subjective Well-Being: Causal Effect or Unmeasured Heterogeneity? Alfred DeMaris. Marriage & Family Review,

ABSTRACT: I investigate whether the marriage advantage in subjective well-being is a true protective effect vs. being attributable to self-selection into (or out of) marriage based on pre-existing mental health. I utilize 1,240 respondents from the GSS panel, a three-wave longitudinal survey collected from 2010–2014. I use a pseudo-treatment approach to informally test for the presence of self-selection. This is followed by a fixed-effect regression analysis to eliminate its influence when estimating the marriage effect. Results support the existence of self-selection: the currently married who in later waves will be exiting marriage are already more distressed than other married respondents in wave 1. And the currently not married who in later waves will be entering marriage are not more distressed in wave 1 than those remaining continuously married. A protective effect is also supported: at any given time, net of self-selection, the currently married are less distressed than the unmarried.

KEYWORDS: fixed effect regression, general social survey, longitudinal study, marriage, marriage advantage, subjective well-being

Check also: Types of intelligence predict likelihood to get married and stay married: Large-scale empirical evidence for evolutionary theory. Jaakko Aspara, Kristina Wittkowski, and Xueming Luo. Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 122, February 1 2018, Pages 1–6.

Also: In Plain Sight: The Neglected Linkage between Brideprice and Violent Conflict. Valerie M. Hudson and Hilary Matfess. August 02, 2017. International Security, v 42 | Issue 1 | Summer 2017, p.7-40, doi: 10.1162/ISEC_a_00289.

The High Cost of Good Intentions: A History of U.S. Federal Entitlement Programs, review by Tyler Cowen

*The High Cost of Good Intentions* by Tyler Cowen
Oct 14 2017

The subtitle is  A History of U.S. Federal Entitlement Programs, and the author of this new and excellent book is John F. Cogan of Stanford University and the Hoover Institution.  It is the single best history of what it covers, and thus one of the best books to read on the history of U.S. government or for that matter American economic history more generally.

How did the American entitlement state get built?  In multiple, discrete pieces:
The House and Senate overwhelmingly approved a modified version of President Truman's Social Security proposals in June 1950.  The Social Security Amendments provided a mammoth across-the-board increase in monthly benefits.  The law's sliding scale of benefits...averaged 77 percent per recipient...The 1950 Act also rewrote Social Security's eligibility rules to enable hundreds of thousands of workers with little history of contributing payroll taxes to begin collecting benefits.
...from 1969 to 1975, inflation-adjusted federal entitlements pending grew annually at a remarkable 10 percent, registering an 86 percent increase in six years...Total annual inflation-adjusted entitlement expenditures grew 20 percent faster under President Nixon than they had under President Johnson.
The eligibility liberalizations from 1997 to 2008 produced sharp increases in the food stamp and Medicaid rolls.  From 1998 to 2008, the food stamp rolls increased to 28 million people from 20 million and the Medicaid rolls increased to 59 million from 40 million people.  The liberalizations enacted during the Great Recession have lasted well beyond the recession's end in 2010.  In 2016, the number of food stamp recipients ballooned to 44 million, and the number of Medicaid recipients rose to 73 million in 2016.
Here is a good sentence:
In 2015, 41 percent of the nation's nonelderly-headed households received entitlement benefits.
This book is well-written and has useful and important information on virtually every page.

Exposure to Histological Stains Makes Abstract Art More Appealing

Taste in Art—Exposure to Histological Stains Shapes Abstract Art Preferences. Antonia M. Böthig, Gregor U. Hayn-Leichsenring. i-Perception,  Volume: 8 issue: 5.

Abstract: Exposure to art increases the appreciation of artworks. Here, we showed that this effect is domain independent. After viewing images of histological stains in a lecture, ratings increased for restricted subsets of abstract art images. In contrast, a lecture on art history generally enhanced ratings for all art images presented, while a lecture on town history without any visual stimuli did not increase the ratings. Therefore, we found a domain-independent exposure effect of images of histological stains to particular abstract paintings. This finding suggests that the ‘taste’ for abstract art is altered by visual impressions that are presented outside of an artistic context.

My commentary: Now I know whey I like to many forms of art... I see every day lots of filth, blood, pillaging, images of battered people, and very unclean pandhandlers, all sort of stains. To compensate so much violence against persons and my senses, I enjoy order, from Raffaello or any nederlander meester to current architecture, or disordered but beautiful aesthetics, like natural environments* or current painters.
* The Nature-Disorder Paradox: A Perceptual Study on How Nature Is Disorderly Yet Aesthetically Preferred. By Hiroki Kotabe, Omid Kardan & Marc Berman. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,

Candid photos made observers feel more connected to, more interested in getting to know or date, & like more the poster

A Candid Advantage? The Social Benefits of Candid Photos. Jonah Berger, Alixandra Barasch. Social Psychological and Personality Science,

Abstract: Photos are a ubiquitous mode of social communication. Analysis of thousands of online profiles finds that people overwhelmingly post posed photos of themselves. But might candids actually lead observers to react more favorably? Five studies test this possibility. Compared to posed photos, candids made observers feel more connected to the poster, feel more interested in getting to know or date them, and like them more. This was driven by candids making people seem more genuine, which made others react more favorably. Furthermore, consistent with the hypothesized role of genuineness, the benefits of candids were diminished when observers learned that the poster realized their photo was being taken. These finding highlight the role of authenticity in person perception and a potential disconnect between photo posters and viewers. Although posters seem to post mostly posed photos, observers may prefer candids because they provide a more authentic sense of who the poster really is.