Pharaohs, popes and politicians like(d) mega-projects. Peter Hall has documented Great PlanningDisasters. Bent Flyvjberg and his colleagues have that shown such failures are endemic.
Nevertheless, China’s economic accomplishments over the last 30 years, including all those bullet trains, have garnered fans for this-time-is-different central planning.
Today’s New York Times Magazine includes “The Trillion-Dollar Nowhere”. It’s about China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The project “will link China’s coastal factories and rising consumer class with Central, Southeast and South Asia, with the Gulf States and the Middle East; with Africa; and with Russia and all of Europe, all by way of lattice and land and sea routes whose collective ambition boggles the mind.”
The article does a good job evoking some on-the-ground realities. These include nationalisms, politics, ethnic antagonisms and suspicions, historical grievances, etc. The original Silk Road(s) were no picnic – and was eventually by-passed in favor of improved sea transport. It is only now being revisited, about 2,000 years later, because of modern Chinese planning hubris.
What do we know? Grandiose projects attract a natural Bottleggers-and-Baptists constituency. Politicians and planners overreach. One-off projects are naturally difficult and risky. Rational ignorance-plus-politics is easy prey for sunk-cost fallacy thinking.
Almost everyone laughs or scoffs at the California BulletTrain but who cares? It will go forward.
I was wrong. Gov Newsom stopped this turkey in its tracks (oops). Nixon-goes-to-China moment?