Grotesque Domestic Product

I have read, as most anyone has, that China will within the next few years overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy. I used to be impressed by this, and, to a certain degree, I still am.  However, the more I realize that this statistic pertains to each nation’s respective GDP, I have become increasingly skeptical.  

GDP, as best I understand it, has to do with total goods produced, plain and simple.  It has nothing to do with whether those goods are in fact productive, beneficial, lead to development, or are of any use whatsoever.  They simply need to be produced, and in so doing produce jobs, revenue, and so on.

Here in the Middle Kingdom I am recognizing that much of the country’s GDP must literally go up in smoke.  Here’s my for-instance.  Even in the winter, schools in China insist on keeping doors to the outside world open. And, when people see them open, they simply walk through them without closing them.  Closing them does not enter most people’s, students’ or teachers’, conceptual framework here.  Open doors offer a path of least resistance, so take it.  

What I have tried to explain to students is that keeping doors open in winter wastes energy.  Wasted energy forces Beijing’s coal-fired power plants to burn more coal.  More burning of coal creates more air pollution.  One would think that this would result in immediate awareness and that people would begin to close doors.  

What I have begun to realize is, of course, keeping doors open does in fact mean more burning of coal.  Burning more coal means that more coal has to be produced.  Producing more coal increases expenditures as well as revenues.  Increased expenditures, jobs, revenues and so forth increases GDP.  And, one must not forget that this cycle, whether beneficial or not, of increasing the GDP leads to bonuses.  Bonuses accrue to individuals, and those individuals become beholden to those who pay the bonuses, who are often members of or closely connected to the Party.  So, much like smokers in the United States subsidize all sorts of wasteful and harmful practices and policies, the “Open Door” policy here does the same.  Each, of course, lines the pockets of certain beneficiaries and benefactors alike.  Again, it doesn’t matter what is made or produced, as long as it is in fact made or produced.  One would not normally think of wasted energy as a product, but here in China it appears to be.  

Are school administrators and students tacitly instructed to keep doors open in order to increase wasteful spending?  I don’t know, but it seems that way.  Implementing a policy that would encourage a school not to waste energy would seem to be a simple and non-controversial thing to do.  Still, I have been through two winters here, and thus far open doors to the winter cold appear to be the norm.  


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