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January 14, 2012 12:25 PM   Subscribe


 
From "China's Ghost Cities", a documentary news report by by SBS Dateline on Youtube:
"The big question, though is how much longer all these shops and properties can remain vacant."
posted by mhoye at 12:51 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder how fireproof and earthquake ready those buildings are.
posted by ocschwar at 1:07 PM on January 14, 2012


Yeah. Chinese manufacturing is, yes, known for being fast and cheap. Not so much with the healthy and well-constructed, though.
posted by curious nu at 1:09 PM on January 14, 2012


Doesn't concrete take weeks to cure?
posted by scruss at 1:10 PM on January 14, 2012


If your erection lasts longer than 15 days, call your doctor.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:11 PM on January 14, 2012 [18 favorites]


I wonder how fireproof and earthquake ready those buildings are.

Forget it, Jake. It's China.
posted by Trochanter at 1:13 PM on January 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Gosh ... I can't think of any other country that could be rebuilding crumbling infrastructure to stimulate the economy ...

How to get rid of an excess of blessed paper? Convert it into something bound to retain some value.
posted by Twang at 1:14 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lotta work for Mrs. O'Leary's cow, then ...

(No, but seriously, cities that go up super-fast and super-dense without a lot of regard for safety or planning have catastrophic events guaranteed.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:17 PM on January 14, 2012


as Lee shin otis said thousands o years ago:
what goes up comes down
posted by Postroad at 1:27 PM on January 14, 2012


Interesting how the first video dedicates a few slides to air quality. It's like they've accepted their fate - it's useless to try to stop the pollution in cities, so they just filter the air three times instead.
posted by ymgve at 1:33 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder how fireproof and earthquake ready those buildings are.

One of the films says that the building will withstand a "Magnitude 9 earthquake", but I don't know what scale that is.
posted by Jehan at 1:34 PM on January 14, 2012


According to the company that made the skyscraper, it's been tested to a 9.0 magnitude, filters the air, has quadruple paned window glass, and exterior solar shades. All in about the time it takes us to schedule a meeting to discuss the possibility of giving out a water permit.

Not that it's necessarily a good thing, but there it is.
posted by deanklear at 1:38 PM on January 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


JeHAAAAAAAAN
posted by deanklear at 1:38 PM on January 14, 2012


Gosh ... I can't think of any other country that could be rebuilding crumbling infrastructure to stimulate the economy ...

...and if you build it shoddy enough you never have to stop rebuilding your infrastructure. It's like Keynes' self-satire, paying people to dig holes and fill them again.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:54 PM on January 14, 2012


410 days - 102 stories = Empire State Building. Still standing 80 years later.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 1:59 PM on January 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


...and if you build it shoddy enough you never have to stop rebuilding your infrastructure. It's like Keynes' self-satire, paying people to dig holes and fill them again.

If this economic theory doesn't exist, call it the Klear Theorem: paying people to dig holes has far more positive economic impact than pushing up the value of luxury items (like art, second homes, etc).

Say you've got 10 million bucks. You give it to a rich guy, and he buys a piece of art with it, bumping the value from 30 million to 40 million. Now, what jobs are created there? The same people curate it, move it around, maybe there's another insurance guy hired because of it, but mostly the money just sits there, doing nothing.

Take that same 10 million bucks and give out one hundred full ride scholarships, or build a road that cuts commute times by tens of thousands of hours, or reduce class sizes in a poor high school, or offer it as an x-prize for improving solar technology in shady areas. Even if all these projects turn out to not change the world, it'd be hard to argue that you'd be better off with inflated art prices.
posted by deanklear at 2:04 PM on January 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Say you've got 10 million bucks. You give it to a rich guy, and he buys a piece of art with it, bumping the value from 30 million to 40 million. Now, what jobs are created there? The same people curate it, move it around, maybe there's another insurance guy hired because of it, but mostly the money just sits there, doing nothing.
If after selling something to someone, you just let the money you receive from the sale sit there, you're doing it wrong.
posted by planet at 2:14 PM on January 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just to be Captain Obvious, simply because it's faster than we can do it anymore doesn't mean that all of that speed is shoddiness. Some of it is our own fault. My own town has been arguing about a cell tower for a year. Exactly none of that time is making anything about it better or less risky.

It's more comfortable to say there must be something wrong with their construction, of course.
posted by tyllwin at 2:16 PM on January 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


If after selling something to someone, you just let the money you receive from the sale sit there, you're doing it wrong.

Or you're paying 15% capital gains tax while your secretary pays 33% of the paycheck she actually worked for.
The Federal Reserve reported Thursday that nonfinancial companies had socked away $1.84 trillion in cash and other liquid assets as of the end of March, up 26% from a year earlier and the largest-ever increase in records going back to 1952. Cash made up about 7% of all company assets, including factories and financial investments, the highest level since 1963.

WSJ
posted by deanklear at 2:19 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're all over the place. What do nonfinancial companies have to do with art sales? Or with a 15% capital gains rate?
posted by planet at 2:20 PM on January 14, 2012


You're all over the place. What do nonfinancial companies have to do with art sales? Or with a 15% capital gains rate?

They are all designed to place massive amounts of capital in the hands of the already wealthy, who rarely do anything smart with their money, much less create jobs or simulate demand for anything other than the "parading of riches."
posted by deanklear at 2:30 PM on January 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


They are all designed to place massive amounts of capital in the hands of the already wealthy, who rarely do anything smart with their money, much less create jobs or simulate demand for anything other than the "parading of riches."
Don't working and middle class people spend a lot of their income at nonfinancial companies? Supermarkets, Wal-Mart, Target, Amazon.com, automobile manufacturers etc.?

I'm not seeing what cash glut at nonfinancial companies has to do with the wealthy parading riches.
posted by planet at 2:34 PM on January 14, 2012


Anyone stay in the hotel or been in the building? I can't seem to find reviews online.
posted by captaincrouton at 2:41 PM on January 14, 2012


If China's economic development continues on its current trajectory, it could build a new Chicago every year until 2030 more than 1,500 new buildings that are over 30 stories high according to a [McKinsey] report.

Oh, thanks, you vapid fucking numbskulls, that's really meaningful in a universe where everything that ever happened can be predicted with linear extrapolation. Which is unfortunately not this universe. Figures that it comes from a management consulting outfit.
posted by indubitable at 2:42 PM on January 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ignoring the site prep and foundations is ignoring a good deal of the time needed to build a building.
posted by smackfu at 2:49 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


410 days - 102 stories = Empire State Building. Still standing 80 years later.

Not only that, it survived being plowed into by a B25 bomber.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:08 PM on January 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, regarding the quality of these Chinese buildings:

These examples are very simple, basic, square curtainwall buildings. Nothing particularly difficult about building them.

Modularity like this could turn out top notch structures quickly with enough manpower. Whether these buildings are good quality or not is impossible to tell from the videos, but I bet they are of higher-quality than most people are guessing.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:13 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not seeing what cash glut at nonfinancial companies has to do with the wealthy parading riches.

If the vast majority of stocks and board rooms weren't owned and operated by the rich, I'd agree with you. The top 10% own 80% of stock assets, and by ratio pay less taxes on dividends and capital gains than many people below the poverty level have taken out of their paychecks. All of the rising dividends (featured in the WSJ article) aren't going to people who need it, and even then it's not getting taxed at the same rate as anyone in the middle class would pay for real, actual work.
posted by deanklear at 3:14 PM on January 14, 2012


The top 10% own 80% of stock assets, and by ratio pay less taxes on dividends and capital gains than many people below the poverty level have taken out of their paychecks.
How do you figure? A family of 4 (husband and wife and two kids) at the poverty level makes $22,350 in 2011. Let's assume it's all wage income, so that's 7.65% of FICA tax right there (we'll ignore the tax holiday that was actually in effect in 2011). $22,350 of gross income is reduced by $14,800 (4 x $3,700 personal exemptions) and $11,600 (standard deduction), giving $0 taxable income, so they pay no U.S. federal income tax (they might actually qualify for the EIC, and receive a refund, but I'm not going to calculate that).

15% looks like more than 7.65% to me.
posted by planet at 3:36 PM on January 14, 2012


Jeez, these rich guys are gettin' robbed.
posted by Trochanter at 3:45 PM on January 14, 2012


Figures that it comes from a management consulting outfit.

Aahahah that's so true *laugh* but also isn't, it depends if they are paid to to shock'n'awe the 10 kinds of people who don't understand binary: the ones who do, the ones that don't. Linear projection makes these feel like they have a big, humongous penis!

Anyhow, the video obviously can't synthetize the whole story, but it's quite a display of what kind of construction speeds one can get with modularity.

Yet, poorly built or poorly coinceived stuff tends to collapse as well as overloaded apparently strong reinforced concrete does. Also, being pressured by the powers that be (private,public,you name it) can lead to disasters, but obviously when such things happen fault is found in the makers and builders, never in the high echelons, who usually just parade when it's a "success"; that applies to China, USA, wherever.
posted by elpapacito at 3:45 PM on January 14, 2012


planet, when I put in NC and the correct allowances (with no exemptions) for single workers I get 19%. I suspect most bottom and 4th quintile filings are single workers. According to the tax foundation, 73% of the bottom quintile files as single, head of household.

I did find an interesting link here about explaining inequality through demographics... it's causing me to rethink inequality, but not the value of investment versus cash coffins.
posted by deanklear at 4:10 PM on January 14, 2012


I'm old enough to remember when the media had stories about Beijings empty superhighways. I can't say that the ghost cities will fill up the same way as those empty multi-lane highways are now jammed with traffic
posted by humanfont at 4:12 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a different situation of course, but I saw a documentary sometime last year about modular factory-built housing that had gone up on the Gulf Coast replacing Katrina-leveled buildings. The new construction depicted was much more quickly built but far higher quality and safer than traditional construction. (And obviously with much better quality control since most components were being put together on an assembly line.)
posted by XMLicious at 5:38 PM on January 14, 2012


deanklear, that demographic stuff from the American Enterprise Institute (!) totally misses the point. Income inequality is not the big issue. The GROWTH in income inequality is the issue.

And really, the talk of quintiles is bunk, too. The problem is not the top twenty percent. It's the top 1%. (Or even the top .001%) And it's the GROWTH in the percentage of the country's wealth that's going to the top quintile, of the top quintile, of the top quintile that's the problem.
posted by Trochanter at 8:14 PM on January 14, 2012


Modularity like this could turn out top notch structures quickly with enough manpower

Agreed. I suspect that most/all of that skyscraper is off-the-shelf pre-fab architecture and framing. We've got pre-fab homes, only China has scaled it up to 30 stories.
posted by quartzcity at 8:38 PM on January 14, 2012


There are a lot of people in China. But there aren't that many. They are vastly overbuilding. But apparently people are happy to sit on an un-used apartment as a form of asset, the same way you might own gold. If you own an empty apartment with no income, it's not any worse then owning a gold brick. So the economy might not colapse due to bad mortgages the way it did here, despite the fact that they are way overbuilding

Still, new technology can still be a problem. If people suddenly find all their housing assets are totally illiquid and there's no one left to buy, rather then the price collapsing people will refuse to sell and hoard liquid capital, resulting in an economic slowdown.

But unlike gold, which you can't 'print' you can, apparently 'print' buildings in just a few days. Which means you could have the prices of buildings continue to drop as technology advances.

Very strange situation.
posted by delmoi at 8:45 PM on January 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


If after selling something to someone, you just let the money you receive from the sale sit there, you're doing it wrong.

Two problems with this: 1) Okay, eventually you'll spend the money. Great. However, during the time you didn't spend the money that consumption didn't happen. and 2) What if you just buy another painting?

Rich people trading these paintings with eachother doesn't do anything for the economy. I think we should tax people 1% of the value of these things every year, if they don't display them. If they want to buy it because they really, really, want it why not get some economic benefit? If they don't really want it in their home that bad they can display it. Use the money for arts programs for kids or something, or for new artists to do new works.
posted by delmoi at 8:50 PM on January 14, 2012


If you own an empty apartment with no income

Just asking, but they go south pretty quickly, don't they? I mean you've got to maintain them.
posted by Trochanter at 9:08 PM on January 14, 2012


I know a guy (an analyst) who has visited some of these new properties; we chatted about this a few years ago. He said that the units are completely stripped down - just bare concrete wall and floor, plumbed and electricity. That's it. They're not finished. Investors buy these things and trade them like trading cards. He said that unless the Chinese government finds a way to hide and suppress the loses that were (even at that time) beginning to appear, that there would be a "pop" in a bubble that would sound like Krakatoa, compared to what we experienced.

That said, this is a perfect example of irrational behavior, not only from the market side, but from the "quality" angle. Why invest in something that will have to be rebuilt in less than a decade? The Chinese economy is not a miracle; it's a hyper-inflated bubble that lives a top a whole bunch of smaller bubbles. It's going to get really interesting, and we're going along for the ride, whether we like it, or not.
posted by Vibrissae at 9:17 PM on January 14, 2012


From the last link:
A branch of economics .. has charted property collapses over the last 100 years and found that booms create the conditions for a downturn around every 18 years.
Looking at China's historical GDP, there was a downturn in 1994 which was 18 years after 1976 which was about the time China really started to open up economically for the first time. So if that 18 year cycle continues, 18 years after 1994 is.. 2012.
posted by stbalbach at 10:57 PM on January 14, 2012


If you own an empty apartment with no income, it's not any worse then owning a gold brick.

Gold bricks don't require maintenance. An empty building is a money hole.
posted by the_artificer at 5:04 AM on January 15, 2012


Gold bricks don't require maintenance.

But oh, how I still enjoy polishing mine..
posted by Anything at 5:31 AM on January 15, 2012


The last link seems to have some of the dates supporting it's "Skyscrapers Precede Doom" theory wrong in ways that undermine its thesis. The great Wall Street Crash happened in October of 1929. Excavation of the site for the Empire State Building began on January 22 of 1930, with actual construction starting in March of 1930.
posted by NortonDC at 6:47 AM on January 15, 2012


This crazy "skyscrapers are harbringers of doom" theory notably fails to consider any examples of skyscrapers that were built without being followed by immediate depression. Like the whole of Frankfurt, London, Kuala Lumpur, . . ..
posted by stonepharisee at 7:57 AM on January 15, 2012


Modern high-rise construction is a pretty reasonable store of wealth. Once fully closed from the elements it can last for a long time with minimal maintenance expense. The lack of finishings noted above is an asset, as unfinished high rise space is incredibly flexible -- the range of ultimate residential and commercial uses is typically limited only by the bearing capacity of the floors and the dimensions of the freight elevators. Also, expectation for continued urbanization of both population and enterprise is something that is supported both by natural economic flows and by 21st century political intervention (dramatically less carbon output by reducing commutation and increasing energy efficiency per occupied square foot).

Now none of this will keep you from getting hammered if you bought at the peak, but smart real estate investors are adroit cycle players...
posted by MattD at 8:04 AM on January 15, 2012


Oh, thanks, you vapid fucking numbskulls, that's really meaningful in a universe where everything that ever happened can be predicted with linear extrapolation. Which is unfortunately not this universe. Figures that it comes from a management consulting outfit.

If these trends continue... Ay!!!
posted by mellow seas at 10:43 AM on January 15, 2012


"Doesn't concrete take weeks to cure?"

That was my initial though but I didn't see much in the way of concrete in that building. IE: it's a steel frame building. Also it wasn't clear whether the modules were made in the 15 days. 15 days to assemble a building is different than 15 days to manufacture a couple thousand modules and assemble those modules into a building.

One of the interesting things is they appeared to work 24X7. That kind of schedule is unusual here because it it hard to manage; a personnel or material delay has a disproportionate effect; and it increases injuries. Still if you stretch it out to 45 days it is still an impressive time to build and furnish a 30 story building.

However the final shots show tarps over significant portions of the roof so I'm betting either significant finishing is required or the mechanical infrastructure (HVAC/elevators/power etc.) isn't completed.

delmoi writes "If you own an empty apartment with no income, it's not any worse then owning a gold brick. So the economy might not colapse due to bad mortgages the way it did here, despite the fact that they are way overbuilding"

The carrying costs of gold is much lower than a building.
posted by Mitheral at 11:23 AM on January 15, 2012


justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow: "Gosh ... I can't think of any other country that could be rebuilding crumbling infrastructure to stimulate the economy ...

...and if you build it shoddy enough you never have to stop rebuilding your infrastructure. It's like Keynes' self-satire, paying people to dig holes and fill them again.
"

Or, you know, modern capitalism with its shitty cheap planned obsolescent products (a la: plastic vacuum cleaners that break down after a few years instead of the rock solid hoover my folks had from the 50s through the 80s)...
posted by symbioid at 8:03 PM on January 15, 2012


tyllwin: "It's more comfortable to say there must be something wrong with their construction, of course."

Oh man, are you feelin' the cushiness of my smug superiority? I could just take a nap!
posted by symbioid at 8:05 PM on January 15, 2012


These examples are very simple, basic, square curtainwall buildings. Nothing particularly difficult about building them.

It's also not like it's that slow to build one out of steel and concrete in the normal fashion. A floor takes a few days or a week at most, and hold-ups are usually supply or weather related. It will just be a shell at the end, but that's all that's expected for leased high rises.
posted by smackfu at 6:41 AM on January 16, 2012


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