What if D.R. Horton had an army?

Here in the United States, we make some pretty aggressive infrastructure expenditures (I won’t call them investments, as that suggests there is some desired ROI for the investor) that road contractors, lobbyists, and politicians argue we will need in the future.

One extreme example: at this very moment, we are widening little two lane roads into six lane highways in hundreds of towns with declining populations. I’m in one such little town right now. It has lost 5% of its population in the last ten years, and everywhere I go, I’m driving through road construction sites (obviously, there’s no walking option – I just drove 0.6 miles to the Food Lion to pick up some strawberries). Unless you are profiting from this expenditure, I can’t imagine any rational argument in support of it.

All the crazy market interventions we do here in the United States (from the mortgage interest tax deduction to our highway construction) accelerate exurban development and debt accumulation. But we’re playing in the minor leagues. The Chinese really know how to do it.

Their government is developing hundreds of cities in order to urbanize the nation.

The damage (both health and environmental) resulting from the waste associated with that pace of industrialization is devastating. China just closed a city of 11 million because it’s smog index climbed over 1,000. The WHO considers 300 hazardous, and “recommends” under 20. For comparison, Atlanta’s smog index is presently at 13. NYC, with a population of  8 million, has a smog index of 41. And all the pollution they’re seeing today is just the tip of the iceberg.

This morning, I was wondering how that sort of thing might happen. I suspect that if there was only a single real estate holding company in the entire United States, if it had an army, and if it subcontracted its development to fee developers who controlled our politicians, this is exactly what would be happening.

Imagine if D. R. Horton, the largest homebuilder in America, had an army and could force people to buy its homes. That’s what’s happening in China.

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