Beijing Rains On The Affordable Public Housing Parade

Highways in the foreground, high rises in the background view of Beijing, China
Beijing photo by Ray B. is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Beijing China, 3rd most populous city in the world, suffers from an affordable housing crisis like a great many other major world cities.

For the past few decades, governments and businesses alike have made forceful claims that private enterprise can manipulate the free housing market to better house the world, from the richest (guaranteed!) to the poorest (okay, maybe not so much.)

Better? Better than who or what? Why, better than government, of course. In America, looking back at social housing with rose-coloured free enterprise glasses, there is nothing to see but a grey landscape of government-created public and social housing failure.

Alas, for all civilization’s plaintive declarations for adequate shelter to house the many, private enterprise has a greater lover.

Shareholders bind private enterprise with arms of steel, from which it seems even the most humanity-minded cannot escape. Private enterprise, whatever the value of its skill set, has proven itself capable of, or prepared to, deliver a trickle of affordable housing, and then only with government subsidy.

The United Kingdom, along with many other European nations, has had a more positive experience, real or perceived, with government construction of social housing. These days, more and more local governments in the United Kingtom have reached their limit of frustration with public private partnerships. Some are actively looking back toward a more productive era of government-managed planning, house-building and maintenance.

Public enterprise, it might seem, is better than private enterprise after all.1

Ah, but wait a minute! Here comes Beijing, China, with cold water to throw on that wishful belief. We are talking about a country where government holds all the conceiving, planning and executing cards. If there is any proof that public enterprise can do it better, we can surely find it in Beijing’s own growing affordable housing crisis.

And indeed, major attempts to address the crisis have been made. With what results? Read more in Finance&Commerce: Beijing Built Thousands Of Cheap Apartments No One Wants

It seems that great conceptualization, planning and construction are skills that belong exclusively to neither private, nor public, enterprise.


  1. Here’s one story we covered recently that presents some interesting examples: Is Government, Not Free Enterprise, The Engine Of Innovation?