China Earthquake Tragedy: People Don’t Really Matter

Dave Schuler rounds up several press accounts of the massive earthquake damage in China, which has killed untold tens of thousands of people. Most notable is the number of schools that collapsed, dooming the children inside. He concludes,

It’s not for a lack of money: China is holding nearly a half trillion dollars worth of U. S. Treasury bonds. Why don’t they spend it? I think it’s because of a widespread belief in Chinese officialdom that the people don’t really matter.

Harsh but, I strongly suspect, exactly right.

FILED UNDER: General, Natural Disasters,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. It’s not the people don’t matter, it’s just that other priorities take precedence. Something about making omelettes as I recall.

  2. Andy Young says:

    …and this is a uniquely Chinese perspective? Glass houses, and all that.

  3. James Joyner says:

    …and this is a uniquely Chinese perspective? Glass houses, and all that.

    Unique among great powers, I think. The West has made an enormous investment in public safety. It’s not the only priority, of course, but it’s a significant one.

    This is especially true WRT children. Car seats, bike helmets, babyproofing, etc. have been put in place to protect kids. Our schools are built safely, too, with perhaps the strictest building codes applied to them.

    The worst case natural disaster, Katrina, killed
    1,836 people. That involved a bad dam, a geographically isolated community, a city basically built below sea level, and a whole host of other issues compounding the tragedy. And, still, less than 2000 dead. Factoring in population, that’s the equivalent of 500 or so Chinese.

  4. rodney dill says:

    And, still, less than 2000 dead. Factoring in population, that’s the equivalent of 500 or so Chinese.

    ??????

  5. James Joyner says:

    ??????

    In terms of comparing the scope of the two natural disasters, that is. We’ve had horrible earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, etc. Because of superior investment in infrastructure and first responder capability, our relative casualty rates are geometrically lower.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    Japan’s 1995 Kobe earthquake was roughly comparable to the Chinese earthquake that just took place. Something like 6,000 people were killed and there were no widespread reports of government buildings collapsing. Additionally, it was 20 years ago and with the changes in building codes put in place as a direct consequence of the earthquake it’s believed that if the earthquake took place today there would be far fewer deaths.

    The point here is that the Chinese now have the wherewithal to do more public investing.

  7. Ted says:

    Well is anybody here willing to help rebuild the infrastructure in Chengdu?

    They will appreciate that.

  8. rodney dill says:

    ??????

    Maybe I’m thinking of the problem wrong, but I would think our 2000- deaths would be equivalent to a higher number of Chinese, not lower

  9. James Joyner says:

    Maybe I’m thinking of the problem wrong, but I would think our 2000- deaths would be equivalent to a higher number of Chinese, not lower

    I’m doing the conversion the other way, I guess, figuring that since their population is about 4 times ours, our deaths would be discounted to 1/4. That is, hit with a similar catastrophe, we had a much smaller casualty number despite having a much smaller population.

  10. yetanotherjohn says:

    Japan and the US are democracies. So in the immortal words of Governor Lepetomane, “we got to protect our phony baloney jobs here).

    China doesn’t operate under such constraints.

    Like the Russian empire and east block countries, it will do fine until one day enough people say “enough” and it all comes tumbling down. This earthquake probably isn’t enough to trigger that though.

  11. anjin-san says:

    Unique among great powers, I think.

    Well if we value life so much, while other, bad countries don’t, how come 40 million + Americans don’t have health insurance? How many American die each year due to inadequate care and failure to catch potentially lethal health problems in the early stages when they could be cured?

    Yes folks, people MATTER to us,(at least as long as they have cash in hand) but not to those nasty Chinese…

  12. just me says:

    I think you are right that people matter less than other things in China.

    I think in disasters like this some deaths are going to occur, but I can’t help but think if the buildings were required to meet specific codes, the death toll would have been much less.

  13. James Joyner says:

    Well if we value life so much, while other, bad countries don’t, how come 40 million + Americans don’t have health insurance?

    Oh, please. Infrastructure like schools are public goods while health insurance is a private good.

    As to health care, Americans either pay their own way, have their own insurance, or rely on the state. We’ve got Medicare and Medicaid to take care of the elderly and poor and mandate no-questions-asked emergent care. There are inefficiencies there, to be sure, but it’s hardly the same thing.

  14. G.A.Phillips says:

    Well if we value life so much, while other, bad countries don’t, how come 40 million + Americans don’t have health insurance?

    Because liberals eat their weight in taxes every 3 hours.

    How many American die each year due to inadequate care and failure to catch potentially lethal health problems in the early stages when they could be cured?

    you mean like abortion?

  15. anjin-san says:

    Oh, please. Infrastructure like schools are public goods while health insurance is a private good.

    Really? What stone tablet is that little bromide carved upon? Do you have an actual thought process to back this statement up with?

    How is education a public matter and health care not? Don’t we have a dept. of Health, Education and Welfare that is part of the executive branch?

    Roughly half the homeless in this country are people who are mentally ill and receive inadequate or no health care. When they turn our sidewalks into toilets and shooting galleries that seems pretty public to me.

    How many kids in this country die each year because of inadequate health care? I guess the GOP position is “Who cares? Let’s talk about whats wrong in China”>

  16. anjin-san says:

    And while we are on the subject of how much we care and how much others don’t lets take a moment to remember how the Bush administration took swift and decisive action to relieve New Orleans after Katrina…

  17. And while we are on the subject …

    That’s a good one anjin-san. If you can be counted on for anything it has to be staying on the subject.

  18. James Joyner says:

    How is education a public matter and health care not?

    That’s not what public/private goods means.

  19. anjin-san says:

    That’s not what public/private goods means.

    Who defines what “public/private goods” means? You?

    So far your responses on this matter have a semantic value of zero.

    Our military has socialized medicine, is the health care of our troops not a matter of public good. It is paid for by taxpayers, that sounds public.

    You should consider not talking in sound bites. I hope you gave your students a better effort that this when you were teaching…

  20. James Joyner says:

    Who defines what “public/private goods” means? You?

    No, they have longstanding meanings. Public goods are those where “consumption of the good by one individual does not reduce the amount of the good available for consumption by others; and no one can be effectively excluded from using that good.” Private goods are the opposite.

  21. anjin-san says:

    Infrastructure like schools are public goods while health insurance is a private good.

    Public goods are those where “consumption of the good by one individual does not reduce the amount of the good available for consumption by others;

    OK…schools/education is a “public good” and consumption of the good by one does not reduce the amount available for others, this is your point.

    There are a limited number of spaces for incoming freshmen in the University of California (or any other public university) system. If I am admitted, somebody else is not getting in. There are only so many slots. How then is education a public good that cannot be reduced by my burning up one of the limited openings?

    A 4.0 GPA no longer automatically gets you in to UC, so I assure you that this “public good” is used up by some and therefore not available to others…

    Or are you arguing that the school building itself is a public good, but the opportunity to actually attend class inside the building and get an education not a public good?

  22. Fence says:

    Don’t we have a dept. of Health, Education and Welfare that is part of the executive branch?

    Actually, no. HEW ceased to exist in 1979 when it was divided into HHS and Dept of Ed.

  23. Fence says:

    And enough with this public good private good stuff. Resources are not unlimited, and so the government has to choose which investments can be afforded and which cannot. That’s what we have done. The great thing about America is that if you don’t like those choices you can vote for someone else and they can change it. We could spend all our money on private goods, or Mr. Goodbars, or whatever the voters want.

    And that, I suspect, is a big reason why schools in China fall down. Because the kids’ parents didn’t vote for the people who make spending decisions and they can’t vote them out.

  24. Fence says:

    The worst case natural disaster, Katrina, killed 1,836 people.

    Worst case natural disaster is the comet or meteor impact that kills us all. It’s about as likely as dying in an airplane crash

    Anyway, there are also some more likely cases that would be worse than a category three storm hitting New Orleans. An 8.5 earthquake in LA? And I’m guessing you are focused on disasters that happen in a few hours, but climate change could bring about much much worse cases.

    And I’d recommend ditching the comparison of how many U.S. deaths equals a Chinese death. If you are living in some of these Chinese cities where 75% of the people died, it is totally frickin irrelevant that the millions of people living thousands of miles away on the coast just so happen to be governed by the same government. Not to mention that while some mother is sleeping outside tonight realizing that her husband and kids are almost certainly dead we’re sitting at our computers eating fruit loops arguing about which is the numerator and which is the denominator in our pointless arbitrary equation.

  25. G.A.Phillips says:

    Or are you arguing that the school building itself is a public good, but the opportunity to actually attend class inside the building and get an education not a public good?

    I will, building good keep head dry, liberal teacher bad keep head stupid.

  26. anjin-san says:

    GA… it is no surprise that you oppose education, clearly you got little to none yourself…

  27. G.A.Phillips says:

    GA… it is no surprise that you oppose education, clearly you got little to none yourself…

    How do I oppose education, education no, propaganda yes and what would
    an education ever be needed for in a argument with a liberal?

    dude whats your real point?

    Sounds like you have been peeking at Obama’s speech notes.