Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
costs (Tullos et al. 2013). Applying the logic of the market, it is not hard to understand why
resettlement accounts for such a small share of the budget. To hydropower companies or
to central-government authorities tasked with devising and carrying out compensation pro-
grams, investing in resettlement is like throwing money away. The expected return on such
aninvestment isminimal ornonexistent. Itisnowonder,then,thatdisplaced peoplearound
the world tend to be viewed as “people in the way” (Oliver-Smith 2010), whose expedient
and discreet removal is a necessary, if regrettable, step in the process of building dams.
A vast chasm separates the powerful decision makers within the hydropower sector and
the Yunnan villagers whom their decisions affect. This chasm is geographical—with de-
cision makers occupying glass-and-steel high-rises in Beijing and resettled Yunnan villa-
gers living in newly built “migrant villages”—but it also stems from these two groups' re-
lative positions in the political economy. In effect, such distance allows decision makers
to exclude displaced people from the calculus of costs and benefits. Dr. Li's experience
with displacement in Yunnan and elsewhere had convinced him that such “distancing”
was endemic to the resettlement process because it allowed those with political and eco-
nomic power to sidestep the moral economy, in effect avoiding a real evaluation of the
human costs of their decisions. He reflected, “Displacement is possible only because the
hydropower-development companies aren't forced to look at the results of their actions.
should have to be shut in a room with the villagers that they have displaced. They should
have to look those villagers in the eye.”
Of course, such distancing is not unique to the dam-building enterprise, nor is it unique
to China. Large organizations—governments, corporations, and international financial in-
stitutions alike—tend to insulate themselves from the results of their actions by virtue
of their elite status. When people are in the way of progress, such people are dealt with
through technocratic, economic, or legalistic methods that are often disguised as simply the
“workings out of the market” (Oliver-Smith 2010:3). The emphasis on market-driven de-
velopment in the electricity sector is crucial because market solutions are praised with a
kind of utopian idealism in contemporary China. But it would be a mistake to ignore the
a blending of the most problematic aspects of both systems: a capitalist market character-
ized by constant expansion and an externalization of costs onto people who lack political
power, coupled with an authoritarian state that can remove many of the obstacles that stand
in its way. As the anthropologist Li Zhang has noted in the context of urban-redevelopment
projects that displace people while generating profits for development companies and local
governments alike, “What further complicates the Chinese situation is the attempt to com-
bine economic liberalization, neoliberal thinking, and socialist authoritarian rule at once.…
In the national race for wealth and status, a new kind of self-managing, self-directing sub-
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