The last time I was in Chicago, I had some time to kill before my appointment. So I decided to go to the nearby John Hancock building in order to ride up to the observatory there and view the city. For those of you who have never visited, Chicago is quite beautiful, and this was a bright sunny day, so I could see everything.
While I was standing up there looking over the city, I started to think about the pyramids of Egypt. The pyramids are famous, and rightfully so. They are one of the wonders of the world, and people travel from all over the world to see them. But compared to the towers of cities like New York or Chicago, the pyramids are little more than stone hovels baking in the harsh desert sun. Those great monuments, some of the most impressive monuments which our past has to offer us, are absolutely nothing in the face of the buildings we work and live in every day of our lives.
And yet, for all their magnificence, the skyscrapers are absolutely nothing like the pyramds. The pyramids were built by slave labor. The skyscrapers were put up in a fraction of the time through the work of free men in a free economy. The pyramids were built to house the parasitical dead pharoahs. Skyscrapers were built to give shelter to the living and the productive. The size and grandeur of the pyramids made them anomalous in the ancient world. Skyscrapers are so common in the modern world that most most walk past them quite blithely, completely ignorant of the magnitude of achievement they represent.
At least, this is what a skyscraper is in a productive Western city such as Chicago, London or New York. In China, the meaning of a skyscraper has cycled back to the meaning of the original pyramids: empty hulks built by slave labor as symbols of government power and authority.
Take a look at some of the great pyramids of China. Empty cities, designed to house hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions... and yet the only places which show any signs of life are the buildings designed to house government functions.
Construction is 60% of the Chinese economy, whereas exports, despite the hype about China being the main supplier of the West's cheap crap, only make up about 5%. This means that over half of China's supposedly remarkable 8-10% annual GDP growth is also probably in construction, sending the number from highly impressive to surpassingly stupid. Construction and production grow an economy, but only if someone actually has a use for what you're producing. Building residental and commercial space that nobody wants to use, on the other hand, does nothing more than help prop up an artifical real estate bubble. And since China has roughly 64 million vacant properties right now, enough to accomodate nearly 200 million people if you go by a family size of 3 (two parents, one child in accordance with China's one-child policy), I suspect the bursting of this bubble is going to be far worse than what happened when the American real estate bubble burst. Especially since the Chinese government is going to have no qualms whatsoever about trying to fix their mistakes with more mistaken government action.