How you know when your anti-corruption campaign is working

The Latin American Herald Tribune posted an interesting piece the other day with the awesome headline “Anti-Corruption Campaign Reduces Interest in Civil Service in China.”

I guess that’s one way to gauge how well the anti-corruption campaign is working, although there are clearly other factors at work.  There were 22,000 government jobs available this year and 1.4 million people enrolled to take an exam to try to get one of those jobs.  This is down from 2013 numbers, which were also lower than 2012 figures by 130,000 test takers. Despite the decrease in test takers, I would say that the demand for civil service work is still pretty competitive!

President Xi has worked to make high posts less attractive, by reducing benefits such as “unnecessary banquets, gifts, first-class flights and other perks.”

While the official media is using the decrease to highlight the efficacy of the anti-corruption campaign, there are some other factors which should be noted.  For instance, to qualify for some of the jobs, test takers must now have 2 years of experience at a post higher than the provincial level.  Also, the article notes that “Over the past few years the duties of civil servants and senior officials have toughened to such an extent that some have died of exhaustion or committed suicide due to stress.”  Wow, that’s not what you usually think of when you think of the civil service.  That has to discourage potential job seekers!

In the pink

Like Mr. McGuire to Benjamin, Adam Minter has “just one word” for China, and that word is insulation?

But in all seriousness, it’s a very good word, both for China and even us.

Most American homes are leaky and under insulated and according to Adam, Chinese domiciles are even worse:

What do the 95 percent of Chinese buildings that are energy inefficient look like? Much like the apartments I rented in Shanghai over the last decade: uninsulated concrete boxes with single-pane windows and blustery drafts (that no amount of weather-proofing ever seemed to plug completely). When temperatures dipped (sometimes below freezing), the walls went ice-cold and stayed that way until spring, even if I ran my space heaters and heat-blowing air conditioner non-stop, for days at a time (as I sometimes did).

While American homes are better than this, Adam reports that in 2009 China devoted 29% of its energy use to building, while the US fraction in 2008 was 41%.

People, insulation is cheaper than electricity all over the world.

Chinese factory workers and the toys they produce




I just came across the work of Michael Wolf, who has an exhibition called Chinese Factory Workers & the Toys They Make.  I’d love to see it in person, but you can click here to see some of the great photos.  Above is the room displaying the toys and photos that he took touring Chinese factories.  Below are some of my favorites:





h/t Karl Offen



You got a receipt for that?

When Robin and I lived in Mexico, it took us a while to figure out how things worked. The first time we bought some stuff at an office supply store, the sales person asked us if we wanted a receipt. Being American, I said Hell yes I want a receipt! This caused general laughter in the line and a sigh from the clerk who started on an elaborate piece of paperwork.

It turned out you automatically got a normal sales receipt, but if for some reason you actually wanted to pay the VAT, you had to request an official receipt, which then you’d turn in to your organization for reimbursement. We never made that mistake again.

Looking back, I’m not sure if the clerk was just worried that I was a weird stickler, or was offering to sell me a higher bill for a contribution. I was reminded of this common tax avoidance in Mexico by the excellent article in Sunday’s NY Times about the fake receipt market in China.

The inventive Chinese people use these fake receipts creatively. To embezzle from their companies, to avoid taxes, to create slush funds for bribes and kickbacks, you name it.

It’s easy to roll our eyes at China and Mexico and their “corrupt” practices, but similar stuff happens in the USA.

Consider this recent story of academic officials at UCLA who, when UC changed their travel policy to “only coach” without a medical reason, quickly procured doctor’s notes certifying a medical need to fly first class.

Silly me, the only fake doctor’s notes I’ve worried about in academics are from students who missed exams.

When life gives you lemons (Chinese government style)…

In Chengdu, China, the municipal government was facing the prospect of large protests on Saturday, May 4th. The date represents an anniversary of a student movement in the early 20th century as well as the 5th anniversary of protests against an oil refinery 25 miles away.

The government was worried about any tainting of the city’s reputation in the lead-up to the Fortune Global Forum that will be held in Chengdu in June. Apparently, they weren’t too worried about how their reaction would affect the city’s reputation. In an Orwellian, truth-is-stranger-than-fiction, type of turn, NPR reports that the government decided to:

1. Change the calendar so the weekend was no longer the weekend.  Students were ordered back to school, and government employees to work, on Saturday.  Meanwhile, the weekend was temporarily moved to Monday.

2. Declare a “virtual combat exercise” on Saturday.  At the same time the protests where supposed to go down (and at the same location), at least 5 different security forces were out patrolling, including paramilitary police in trucks and anti-riot police in full gear.

3. Make the woman who forwarded the text message about the protests issue a formal apology on TV.

4. Place 10 dissidents under house arrest or make them “go on holiday” (that sounds ominous and not at all holiday-like).

5. Threaten to fire any government employee that attends the protest.

I have to give Chengdu’s government an A for effort and creativity for effectively shutting down the protest, but I question whether this model is going to continue to generate growth.  China has an aging work force, huge environmental problems, and its economic growth is predicated on extremely high levels of investment.  How much longer can China keep posting high growth rates based mostly on factor accumulation instead of innovation?  In my opinion, China’s inability to allow freedom of expression will eventually stifle growth and ironically bring about the government’s demise as well.