(For those of you anxious to know more about Iraq, don't worry I'm continuing to chew away on it in the background. It's just that now I'm digging into the technical petroleum engineering and geological literature, and it takes a while. In the meantime, making graphs from Chinese stats is easy and fun).
As far as I can see, the big picture in China is that the communist government has a grand master multi-decade plan to turn the place into a developed country as fast as possible. They are doing this using a fairly unique hybrid of capitalism and communism. While they are doing a variety of things to upset western countries, so far, the project seems to be fairly successful on its own terms.
One metric of how far things have gone is the level and trend of urbanization in the country. Generally speaking, the more developed a country is, the smaller the agricultural population - eg see this next graph that I made for this Oil Drum piece of Jason Bradford's.
It is the process of urbanization and industrialization that drives the demand for huge amounts of concrete, steel, coal, oil, etc, which undeveloped economies (eg Malawi) do not use very much of. To explore this in the context of China, I looked at this census data, in order to make this graph of the rural and urban population:
As you can see, the rural population probably peaked around 1990 and is now declining, while the urban population is growing rapidly. According to this European Chamber of Commerce in China report:
1% of China’s population moves each year from rural areas1% of the population moving from the country to the city creates a 2% per year change in the urbanization rate. I show the urbanization rate based on the same data next:
into urban ones. The major housing development that results from this migration
creates massive domestic demand for construction machinery, building materials,
steel, cement, and chemical products.
The purplish line is the data, and the red dashed line is my hand-constructed wild assed scenario for the the future of the process, assuming China does not run into either serious resource constraints or major economic/political turmoil of some kind. Basically, in a single lifetime, China will have been transformed from a largely undeveloped agricultural country to a fully developed urbanized country. The process appears to be somewhere around the half-way point.
One question I had is how much of the urban population is in reasonably decent officially approved housing, and how much is in the irregular slums that tend to be such a prominent feature of third world cities. Thus, it's interesting to look at this housing data, which shows the average size of dwelling being constructed in the country over time. Here's the amount of space per inhabitant in newly constructed urban dwellings according to the official statistics:
At this point, China is up to 300 square feet per person - a 600 sq. ft. apartment for a couple, or a 1200 sq. ft. dwelling for a family of four. This sounds perfectly perfectly civilized - probably about where the US was in the 1950s or 1960s. Clearly, dwelling size is continuing to increase steadily.
However, do the official statistics really capture the situation, or are there large numbers of people falling through the cracks into the slums? One way to assess this is to look at the same housing data, which provides estimates of how much new housing is being constructed each year, and divide by the per-person space to get an estimate of how many people are being housed each year in officially recognized new construction in the cities. That looks like this:
So China is officially creating new housing for the something like the equivalent of the entire population of Iraq each year. However, given that during this period, 0.5-1% of the population was moving to the city, and the population is now 1.3 billion, the official statistics are obviously failing to account for the situation in a major way. 1% of 1.3 billion is
Ah, that would be 1% of 1.3 billion being 13 million, suggesting the amount of housing being produced is significantly more than is required for migration. Unclear what is going on here - whether the stats are bad, a lot of older smaller housing is being retired or what...