9 hour railway station

China builds a railway station in 9 hours (HT Marginal Revolution).

Yes, it’s basically a propaganda video, but interesting nonetheless as a reflection on infrastructure.  The video does not say how long China spent on environmental review — did it disturb wetlands, threaten various species, what’s it’s carbon footprint — legal review — is it paying prevalining union wages, was it bid with proper female and minority headed construction company set asides — did it have community input, consistency with planning targets and so on. I doubt it was the oh, 10 years or so that takes in the US.

To be clear, I am not saying all that is useless. China has awful pollution,  and our reviews accomplish something.  China doesn’t bother with the niceties of private property ownership, eminent domain proceedings, and legal challenges when they want to build a railway. These don’t just triple or more the cost of projects, send vast sums of money to well-connected companies and lawyers and lobbyists, and delay projects for decades. But they also have that effect.

It’s also interesting as a pin factory visit.  With that many people on a job, I would have thought they would be getting in each other’s way. This video seems to deny the Q theory of investment! Some are standing, but a remarkable number are working hard. Of course, the video is edited.

When I watch US infrastructure projects, I see a lot of people standing around or “supervising” the one poor sob who is actually doing the work. That ratio seems a lot lower here.

There are a lot of machines.  The days of China substituting lots and lots of labor for capital are gone. The Chinese have taken Milton Friedman’s advice. (On a visit to a dam, Friedman noticed people using shovels. He asked why they didn’t use bulldozers. The answer was to give more people employment. Friedman responded, why then don’t you make them use spoons?) This is not a new observation, but the video is a good reminder from afar.

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