Industrialization sucks to live through

Everyone talks up countries developing like it’s the most exciting thing ever. But it’s easy to talk about from someone sitting in a desk job. In practice, industrialization sucks.

In places like India or Vietnam, the negative externalities are everywhere. The air is unbreathable. The roads are congested. Itineraries routinely need to be re-routed. Several complained to me about how projects were wasted money that could’ve been used to help the poor. Keep in mind India in particular is a democratic country where politicians have to balance things like infrastructure buildup with keeping their voter base happy.

In Mumbai, my Airbnb host was a family who complained about how all the construction meant the nature in and around the city was destroyed. How bird migration was affected by the changes. How the peace of the city was disturbed by the sounds of banging everywhere. Or how the local farmers market they’d visit was shut down and replaced by a fancy supermarket that didn’t sell fresh vegetables.

The family even had a fantastic enrichment opportunity handed to them on a platter. Since their building was in an attractive neighborhood, there was an outstanding offer from a developer to redevelop the building. Never mind each owner would get paid market rent during the construction period and come back to a unit in the future building. It didn’t matter that the new building would have a modern gym, swimming pool, doorman, etc., some people like my host family just didn’t want change. Because the process of development means uprooting lives and adding inconveniences to the day to day. Last I heard, there’s a good chance over 50% of the building will vote to decline the proposal.

That development can suck reminds of a story I once read about China in the 90’s. This is from a Chinese individual answering a question about why Chinese now by and large support their government today.

Back when the country was poor as f**k, the government started to build highways and railways, instead of handing out free stuff to the poor.

We were unhappy. A newspaper commentator wrote: “It [will be] funny to see, decades later, excessive trains tour the country with cars of empty seats.”

Today last minute tickets are hard to come by during holidays. Trains are almost always full.

When they built roads, we were sneering: one more excuse for officials to take bribe! Building stuff we won’t be using.

Today we complain the roads aren’t wide enough because of the traffic jam.

Leadership changes during the span of these mega projects, but the followthrough was steady.

Year after year, the Chinese government does its job. It hasn’t changed much about this. The only thing that changed, is that we the people living under its governance, stopped complaining as much as we used to.

Because compared to decades ago, we do, actually, live at a higher standard.

Arriving to that higher living standard in places like Mumbai or Ho Chi Minh City will inevitably happen too (because it’s important and necessary!) but the months and years getting there are only fun in hindsight.

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