Growth in China, of a sort

Are China’s forests, which appear to have been ruinously chopped down under socialism, starting to return? According to the first independent western report on the topic, in the AAAS’s Scientific Advances journal this week, the answer is “well, sort-of, a little bit…”.

Given the amount of regional corruption and statistics-fiddling in China, Michigan State University researchers turned to hi-res satellite imaging of the Chinese landscape. That showed an increase of 61,000 square miles (1.6%) in forest cover from 2000-2010, but also a loss of 14,400 square miles of forest. 46,000 square miles of new forest in 10 years is pretty good, and so it seems that China’s tree-planting initiatives are not just ‘Potemkin Village’ propaganda-plantings. Why isn’t there more than 1.6%, given China’s vast willpower and energy on such matters? It’s suggested that perhaps the 2010 photography may have been unable to pick up China’s tree-planting programme, since many of the newly-planted areas would then have still been in their very early stages.

So, somewhat good news on China, though it’s worrying that the Michigan State University researchers suggest that China may simply have displaced its voracious logging needs to the virgin forests of Madagascar, Vietnam, Indonesia and Burma, during the boom years of 2000-2010. Indeed, the researchers state import tonnages from those nations that suggest they may be correct on that point. Which is not good. One wonders if Africa’s forests may be next on the Chinese shopping list?

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Finland’s new ‘Fincome’ income

Wonderful news. Finland is to very seriously test a mass universal basic income in the wild…

“This year, the Finnish government hopes to begin granting every adult citizen a monthly allowance of €800 (roughly $900 [£623, about twice what someone on the UK dole would get]). Whether rich or poor, each citizen will be free to use the money as he or she sees fit.”

En masse, it seems. No pussyfooting around. In return, all the income-based welfare benefits will be stopped, and with it a giant and soul-grinding welfare bureaucracy…

“There will no longer be any need to ask for government help, nor to fill out forms or wait for authorities to examine each dossier to determine eligibility.”

High-earning people will have to declare their €800 for tax, and will thus presumably see a lot of of it clawed back at the end of each year. Low-earning people will still be under the tax threshold, and so will keep their €800. It appears to be excellent for artists and creatives, and I’d expect a resultant cultural as well as an economic flowering.

“Remarkably, every major Finnish political party has signed on. The Left is cheered by the socialistic idea of government-assistance-for-all. The Right looks forward to the unprecedented drop in bureaucratic control over citizens, an unheard-of extension of freedom of choice, and an unconditional restitution of part of citizens’ taxes.”

I really hope this this apparently simple solution works well, that any problems get ironed out quickly, and it becomes an exportable model. As far as I know Finland is outside Europe’s free-movement zone, and the scheme is limited to bona fide citizens, so presumably it won’t suck in a whole lot of freeloaders from elsewhere who just want to laze around and live on the payments. If it were to be implemented elsewhere, then it might have to have some criteria set — to prevent it from sucking in every addict in Europe.

Once established, the scheme might also extend a gratis June-July-Aug €800 p.m. payment to first-class recent graduates from across Europe — who want to do a time-limited innovative scientific or cultural project work in Finland, of a sort which would not otherwise get done. So the scheme could potentially become a selective high-value talent-recruiting tool.

The Future will Be Quiet

The Atlantic muses on an unexpected and welcome benefit of progress, and one which can’t come soon enough for me — “The Future will Be Quiet”.

I’d suggest that coffee shop chains could benefit from leading the way in this, declaring that they will chop noise levels by half at busy times, and try to get their space back toward more reasonable ambient levels of noise. Turn down the music, install much quieter coffee-making and blending machines, fit rubber heels on scraping chairs, tell staff not to clatter plates and cutlery, and stop the bl**dy tables from wobbling while you’re at it.

On Africa’s agricultural boom

A leader in this week’s The Economist, “Miracle grow”, highlights Africa’s agricultural boom…

“… between 2000 and 2014 grain production tripled in countries as far-flung as Ethiopia, Mali and Zambia. […] African countries are on the whole more peaceful and better run than they were. Farmers are no longer forced into disastrous socialist collectives or banned from selling their crops in open markets. Border tariffs are lower and export bans rarer. As a result, innovation is accelerating.”

The same issue (12th March 2016) also as a more in-depth article, “A green evolution”, on the same topic.

It’s not all good news. In Uganda farmers are being conned…

“The key finding was that the vast majority of fertiliser samples were substandard. Additionally, very few of the allegedly improved seeds showed success in producing large crops. In short, the agricultural inputs sold at retail level in Uganda are often ‘fake’ or of very poor quality. As such, the return on investment from these technologies is much lower than expected. Farmers’ choices can thus be seen to be much more rational than the rejection of modern techniques suggests on the surface.”

“The Doctorow will see you now, comrade…”

Cory Doctorow has a muddled new article “Against optimism”.

He opens with the idea that optimism is a kind of prediction about what is “foreordained” to happen to us. It therefore denies human agency, and makes us just as apathetic as pessimism does.

That may be somewhat true of a certain sort of caricatured shorthand ‘jet-packs’ sci-fi optimism for the future, but it’s definitely not about the Matt Ridley type of rational optimism.

And the article’s first paragraph is about it for Doctorow’s serious argument. We then get an extended and scatter-gun riff on evil megacorps using globalised technology to repress and suppress the poverty-stricken masses, and the need for solidarity, comrade. Having vaguely described his tattered and antique political worldview, even Doctorow has to admit that he finds it…

“hard to be optimistic in th[is] Thomas Piketty Singularity.”

And finally he falls back on a standard crutch from the political play-book, saying that what progressives now need is “hope” that will allow them to lead a wider…

“argument about the society we want to build”.

Beauty and Ugliness

I’ve been thinking recently about the near-total exhaustion of contemporary white-wall gallery art (even the paintings — see any recent issue of Modern Painters, for instance). Theodore Dalrymple in City Journal points out a small-p political dimension to this, in “Beauty and Ugliness”

“Our view of the world has become so politicized that we think that the unembarrassed celebration of beauty is a sign of insensibility to suffering — and that exclusively to focus on the world’s deformations, its horrors, is in itself a sign of compassion.”

“The UK’s biggest export is its pessimism…”

Gerard Lyons in The Telegraph today, on how “Britain can learn from London’s optimism”

The UK’s biggest export is its pessimism. There seems to be a fear that someone, somewhere else will do it better; that our best days are behind us and that we are somehow not strong enough to confront the future in a changing global economy. This is often central to how we approach economic issues.

It needs to change because it is just not true.”