TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 10

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Food touches everything in our lives. Yet we have no national food policy. That must change.

By Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Ricardo Salvador and Olivier De Schutter in the Washington Post

2. Electronic Medical Records should focus more on patient care and less on meeting the needs of insurance companies and billing departments.

By Scott Hensley at National Public Radio

3. Anonymous social media often hosts vicious harassment targeting women and minorities. A new plan to monitor threats online is working for a solution.

By Barbara Herman in International Business Times

4. “You can’t wear a Band-Aid for long, particularly when the wound keeps bleeding.” Two years after Hurricane Sandy, New York is far from stormproof.

By Lilah Raptopoulos in the Guardian

5. China and the U.S. should take aim at a new “grand bargain” to head off tensions and mistrust in their relationship.

By Wei Zongyou in the Diplomat

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

The Soda Industry’s Promises Mean Nothing

Production Inside A Coca-Cola Amatil Ltd. Plant
Empty Coca-Cola Classic cans move along a conveyor to be filled and sealed at a Coca-Cola Amatil Ltd. production facility in Melbourne, Australia, on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. Bloomberg—Getty Images

Marion Nestle is professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University.

Agreeing to decrease soda consumption by 20 percent is easy to do when demand is already falling rapidly

The recent pledge by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group to reduce calories that Americans consumd from their products by 20 percent by 2025 elicited torrents of praise from the Global Clinton Initiative, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the national press.

The real news: soda companies are at last admitting their role in obesity.

Nevertheless, the announcement caused many of us in the public health advocacy community to roll our eyes. Once again, soda companies are making promises that are likely to be fulfilled anyway, whether the companies take any action or not.

Americans have gotten the word. Sodas in anything but small amounts are not good for health.

Although Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association have funded studies that invariably find sodas innocent of health effects, the vast preponderance of research sponsored by the government or foundations clearly demonstrates otherwise.

Think of sodas as candy in liquid form. They contain astonishing amounts of sugars. A 12-ounce soda contains 10 (!) teaspoons of sugar and provides about 150 calories.

It should surprise no one that adults and children who habitually consume sugary drinks are far more likely to take in fewer nutrients, to weigh more, and to exhibit metabolic abnormalities compared to those who abstain or drink only small amounts.

And, contrary to expectation, diet sodas don’t seem to help. A widely publicized recent study suggests that artificially sweetened drinks affect intestinal bacteria in ways, as yet undetermined, that lead to metabolic abnormalities–glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. This research is largely animal-based, preliminary, and requires confirmation. But one thing about diet drinks is clear: they do not do much good in preventing obesity.

People who drink diet sodas tend to be more obese than those who do not. The use of artificial sweeteners in the United States has gone up precisely in parallel with the rise in prevalence of obesity. Is this a cause or an effect? We don’t know yet.

While scientists are trying to sort all this out, large segments of the public have gotten the message: stay away from sodas of any kind.

Since the late 1990s, U.S. per capita consumption of soft drinks has dropped by about 20 percent. If current trends continue, the soda industry should have no trouble meeting its promise of another 20 percent reduction by 2025.

Americans want healthier drinks and are switching to bottled water, sports drinks, and vitamin-fortified drinks—although not nearly at replacement levels. The soda industry has to find ways to sell more products. It also has to find ways to head off regulation. Hence: the promises.

To deal with sales shortfalls, the leading soft-drink brands, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have expanded their marketing overseas. They have committed to invest billions to make and promote their products in Latin America as well as in the hugely populated countries of Asia and Africa where soda consumption is still very low.

From a public health standpoint, people everywhere would be healthier—perhaps a lot healthier—drinking less soda.

In California, the cities of San Francisco and Berkeley have placed soda tax initiatives on the November ballot. The American Beverage Association, the trade association for Coke, Pepsi, and the like, is funding anti-tax campaigns that involve not only television advertising and home mailings, but also creation of ostensibly grassroots (“astroturf”) community organizations, petition campaigns, and, when all else fails, lawsuits to make sure the initiative fails. These efforts are carbon copies of the tactics used to defeat New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s portion size cap proposal.

If the soda industry really wants to help prevent obesity, it needs to change its current practices. It should stop fighting tax and size initiatives, stop opposing warning labels on sugary drinks, stop lobbying against restrictions on sodas in schools, stop using sports and music celebrities to sell products to children, stop targeting marketing to African-American and Hispanic young people, and stop funding research studies designed to give sodas a clean bill of health.

And it should stop complaining, as PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi did last week, that nobody is giving the industry credit for all the good it is doing.

If the government really were serious about obesity prevention, it could ban vending machines from schools, set limits on the size of soft drinks sold at school events, define the amount of sugars allowable in foods and beverages, and, most of all, stop soda marketing aimed at children of any age.

Because neither the soda industry nor the government is likely to do any of this, public health advocates still have plenty of work to do.

Marion Nestle is professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. She is currently working on a book titled Soda! From Food Advocacy to Public Health.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 17

1. Islamic State’s sexual violence is a war crime and U.S. leaders should call it out, seek ways to track it, and hold the terrorists to account. Instead, policymakers are ignoring it.

By Aki Peritz and Tara Maller in Foreign Policy

2. When the rich get richer, states get poorer. Income inequality is eating away at state tax revenue.

By Gabriel J. Petek at Standard and Poor’s Ratings Service

3. Does big philanthropy have too much power over policy?

By Gara LaMarche in Democracy

4. An innovative program is connecting high-performing low-income students with scholarship dollars and guiding them through the daunting financial aid process.

By David Leonhardt in the Upshot

5. Can a major redesign transform Union Station into the commercial and cultural heart of Washington?

By Steven Pearlstein in the Washington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME policy

5 Ways California Can Imprison Fewer People

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Frank van den Bergh—Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Lessons from Texas, Illinois, Washington state and more

In 2009, overcrowding in California’s prisons had gotten so bad—140,000 inmates crammed into prisons built to house just 80,000—that federal judges ruled it violated prisoners’ civil rights. Under order to reduce the state’s prison population, Governor Brown introduced realignment in 2011, a plan to send nonviolent inmates to county jails and probation departments rather than prison.

This year, a federal court gave California two more years to reduce the inmate population of its 33 prisons to 112,100. Along with shifting responsibilities to the county, the state is looking at other measures to move people out of prison, including good-behavior credits to shorten sentences and quicker parole for people deemed suitable for release.

And this fall, Californians will vote on Proposition 47, which proposes to reduce felonies for crimes like petty theft to misdemeanors and thereby keep greater numbers of low-risk, nonviolent offenders out of prison.

What has worked in other places to address prison overcrowding without compromising public safety? How can we address recidivism and the fact that 60 percent of former prisoners commit a new crime within three years of release?

In advance of the Zócalo/California Endowment event “Why Are There So Many People in Prison?”, we asked criminal justice experts the following question: What state has lessons to teach California about reducing its prison population?

1) Texas and its investment in health solutions

I have to hand it to the Lone Star State; they do indeed do everything big. That includes reductions in its incarceration rates and costs, as well as in its crime rates, providing lessons for other states—including California.

In California we like to think we’re first in everything, but Texas began addressing over-incarceration in 2003. They passed laws that strengthened and encouraged alternatives to incarceration for certain nonviolent offenses, and increased the use of assessment tools to identify who received which forms of accountability based on their individual risks and needs.

As a result, not only did incarceration rates go down, but so too did serious and violent crime: a 12.8 percent drop since 2003. These successes allowed lawmakers to close a prison and scrap plans to build 17,000 more prison beds (saving taxpayers $2 billion).

One key lesson to learn from Texas’ success is their investment in health solutions for the health problems that many incarcerated people share: substance abuse disorders and mental illness. The state allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to residential and non-residential treatment options for people convicted of nonviolent offenses, and on enhancing in-prison treatment programs.

This included expanding drug courts to deal specifically with drug offenses—and the accountability steps needed to end cycles of addiction and crime. By 2009, the recidivism rate for people who participated in the Texas Specialized Drug Court was nearly eight times lower than defendants who had not.

Substance abuse disorders and mental illness are pervasive in California jails and prisons, which is part of the reason for our stubbornly high recidivism rate of 60 percent. The good news is that we are making strides, including increasing investments in community-based health approaches.

If we do that, California will not just have lessons to share but also healthier, safer communities.

Lenore Anderson is Executive Director of Californians for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit working to reducing over-incarceration with common sense solutions that improve public safety and reduce taxpayer costs.

2) 45 other states where parole board decisions are not reviewed by the governor

To help achieve sustained reductions in incarceration, California should end the practice of allowing governors to review parole board decisions. In doing so, it would join 45 states that allow parole boards to independently determine when a prisoner is ready for community supervision.

One in four California prisoners are “lifers” sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. The national rate is only 7 percent. California gained this dubious distinction because of its sentencing and parole policies, not its crime rates.

In 1988, Proposition 89 authorized the governor to reverse parole decisions in cases involving murder, and to require additional review for non-murder convictions. Parole rates plummeted as governors overturned most of the parole board’s release grants, thus warehousing hundreds of prisoners who had been deemed low-risk and ready for community supervision.

Under Governor Brown, there has been a sharp change. The parole board has found lifers eligible for parole in 15 percent of its hearings—a low figure that nonetheless exceeds the 4 percent average from the previous three decades. And Gov. Brown has approved over 80 percent of these decisions.

But why should the governor reverse even 20 percent of a governor-appointed board’s decisions? And why should the state allow any future governor to revert to virtually ending parole for lifers?

These prisoners have often committed serious violent crimes. But decades-long sentences are excessive and expensive. A Stanford University study found that former lifers with murder convictions had a “minuscule” recidivism rate—less than 1 percent. That’s much lower than the nearly 50 percent re-imprisonment rate of all California prisoners. Yet it’s achieved at the cost of $47,000 per prisoner annually. Those funds should be redirected to prevent the violence that leads to calls for severe punishment.

Twenty years ago, Texas amended its constitution to end gubernatorial parole review. It’s well past time for California to depoliticize parole.

Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Ph.D., is a research analyst at The Sentencing Project, a national non-profit organization engaged in research and advocacy on criminal justice issues. Her recent publications include “Fewer Prisoners, Less Crime: A Tale of Three States” and “Race and Punishment: Racial Perceptions of Crime and Support for Punitive Policies.”

3) The state of Washington and its focus on rehabilitation

California’s experiment in Public Safety Realignment is being credited with closing the revolving door that keeps low-level offenders cycling through the state prison system by housing them instead in county jails and providing counties funding and flexibility to provide for these inmates. Currently the state’s 58 counties are doing their own experiments to determine how much of the realignment resources should be devoted to rehabilitative programs. But reducing California’s prison population over the long term will require the state to provide rehabilitative services like education that reduce recidivism and help to turn individuals’ lives around once they return to communities.

California can learn a great deal from the state of Washington, which has implemented a series of reforms focused on rehabilitation—on diverting offenders to treatment and other options and making serving time in prison the last option. The logic for this is clear: Analyses by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy show that cognitive-behavioral programs for adult offenders in prison and community settings can be expected to reduce recidivism rates by 6.3 percent, on average.

RAND’s recent national study on correctional education shows that adult offenders who participated in prison education programs reduced their risk of recidivating by 43 percent and that every $1 invested in these programs resulted in about $4–$5 in savings in re-incarceration costs. Beyond the stark economic benefits is the broader incentive that such rehabilitation is good for society as a whole. As a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences indicated, mass incarceration is associated with negative social and economic outcomes, which make it very difficult for ex-offenders to turn their lives around when they return, disproportionately, to disadvantaged communities.

California took a bold step in implementing the Public Safety Realignment Act. Now it should move beyond realignment to focus on rehabilitation.

Lois M. Davis is a senior policy researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

4) California’s own efforts at “success-oriented funding”

As California officials search for solutions to the state’s overcrowded prison system, they should consider using funding to shape a better system.

A “Success-Oriented Funding” model is a simple, yet effective approach: Lay out clear priorities for what taxpayer dollars should accomplish, then tie funding directly to achievement of those priorities. The concept is simple: Fund what works to reduce crime and incarceration, and dump what doesn’t.

Some states and cities—like Illinois and New York City—have already implemented Success-Oriented Funding programs, but California need not look outside its own borders for a model to reduce unnecessary incarceration.

Passed into law in 2009, the California Community Corrections Performance Incentive Act encourages probation offices to keep violators in the program rather than sending them back to prison by awarding counties up to 45 percent of what the state saves in prison costs. In its first year, California probation officers reduced the number of felony offenders sent back to prison by 23 percent, which saved the state nearly $180 million; of those savings, the counties received $88 million. This program promotes alternatives to incarceration that do not appear to significantly increase crime, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

The state should implement Success-Oriented Funding to criminal justice budgets across the board. For example, the legislature could provide additional funding—found within prison cost savings—to prosecutors’ offices that recommend alternatives to incarceration or to law enforcement agencies that issue citations in lieu of arrests. This could move California toward a smaller prison population and a more effective, socially beneficial, and efficient criminal justice system.

Nicole Fortier is Counsel in the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and co-author of a policy proposal to reform funding streams to reduce incarceration levels across the country.

5) Mississippi and its focus on alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders

A growing number of states are recognizing that our “lock ‘em up” approach to criminal justice is breaking the bank—and the spirit of communities.

From New York to Kentucky to Georgia, states are saving resources and safely reducing the number of people behind bars. One of the latest is Mississippi, which has the nation’s second highest incarceration rate—and a history of racial injustice. This year, Mississippi passed comprehensive reform that focuses on alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders and strengthens interventions to reduce recidivism.

This moment shows us that it is possible to push forth brave initiatives and policies that preserve resources while keeping our communities safe. Here are three steps we can take to ensure that public safety is a true civil and human right for all of us.

We can shift our “incarceration only” approach; instead of building more jails and prisons designed to warehouse, we can invest in evidence-based alternatives that can reduce crime and racial injustice in our system.

We can make reentry a priority, not an afterthought. Every day in California, people who have served their time are sent back to communities with little more than $50 and a bus pass. Without the opportunities they need to get their lives back on track, nearly 65 percent end up behind bars in just three years. We can stop recidivism by eliminating barriers to reentry and investing in rehabilitation and critical support needed to help formerly incarcerated people live meaningful, productive lives—and to keep them out of prison in the first place.

We can also build a broad-based coalition to collectively champion change. This is an issue that has deep implications across many sectors, including education, health, and the economy. From businesses and law enforcement leaders to advocates for families and communities, we need all voices calling for an end to business as usual.

Cages can’t create safe and healthy communities. Criminal justice reform is one of the leading civil rights issues of our time, and we must turn around the legacy of failed policies that are costing us not just dollars but also precious human potential.

Lateefah Simon is the Program Director for the Rosenberg Foundation and a long-time advocate for criminal justice reform.

This story originally appeared on Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

Princeton Approves Revisions to Sexual Misconduct and Assault Policy

The changes will bring the institution into full compliance with Title IX

Princeton University faculty members approved recommended revisions to the university’s policies for addressing sexual misconduct and assault on Monday, the university announced.

The changes will bring the institution into full compliance with Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination at schools that receive federal funding. Princeton is one of 76 institutions being investigated for possible violations of Title IX, which also has requirements about how educational institutions handle sexual assault claims.

One of the changes Princeton faculty approved shifts the burden of proof from the “clear and persuasive” standard, which mandates that three-quarters of evidence must indicate guilt, to the “preponderance of evidence” standard, which is less rigid. The Department of Education recommended the “preponderance” standard in a 2011 guide to how colleges could comply with Title IX.

Other changes include allowing rights to appeal a case afforded equally to both the alleged offender and the victim; allowing both sides to appoint advisers outside of the university; and the removal of students from adjudication panels, the Daily Princetonian reports.

Princeton’s Faculty Advisory Committee on Policy first recommended the revisions, which were drafted over the summer, earlier this month. The changes will be brought to the Council of the Princeton University Community for incorporation into Princeton’s rules on Sept 29.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 21

1. Perspective matters: To tell the stories of Ferguson, America needs black journalists.

By Sonali Kohli in Quartz

2. After James Foley, America’s policy against paying ransom to kidnappers deserves a public debate.

By David Rohde at Reuters

3. To keep American democracy alive, citizens need to use their voice and their votes.

By Robert Reich in Guernica

4. Climate change will make the coffee of the future bitter and pricey.

By Jessica Leber in FastCo.Exist

5. Business school students have much to learn from the “Market Basket” family-corporate feud.

By Judith Samuelson in Huffington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Travel

‘Historic’ Inn Charges $500 Per Negative Online Review

Painted sign indicatiing an hotel
Picavet/Getty Images

Since your dumb wedding guests probably don't understand how great this New York hotel actually is

A hotel in Hudson, N.Y. that advertises itself as a great option for weddings and gatherings has some hidden fine print: if you or your guests post a negative review of your stay online, you’ll be charged $500.

The PR tactic totally backfired, since the Union Street Guest House’s punitive online review policy has now been written up in the New York Post and Business Insider. And the wording of the policy is hilariously stuffy:

Please know that despite the fact that wedding couples love Hudson and our Inn, your friends and families may not. This is due to the fact that your guests may not understand what we offer – therefore we expect you to explain that to them. USGH & Hudson are historic. The buildings here are old (but restored). Our bathrooms and kitchens are designed to look old in an artistic “vintage” way. Our furniture is mostly hip, period furniture that you would see in many design magazines. (although comfortable and functional – obviously all beds are brand new.) If your guests are looking for a Marriott type hotel they may not like it here.

In other words, your idiot guests probably won’t appreciate how nice this hotel is, since they are Marriott-loving philistines who don’t understand “hip, period furniture” and “vintage” design. Therefore:

If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event. If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500 fine for each negative review.

Consider it a fine for having friends without a sophisticated understanding of modern antiques.

The hotel said it would refund the fine if the review was deleted, but guests/trolls are already flooding the Union Street Guest House’s Yelp page to rage against the policy. The Union Street Guest House could not be immediately reached for comment.

TIME policy

Unlocking Your Cellphone Is About to Be Legal Again

Internet Addiction
Artur Debat—Moment Editorial/Getty Images

A 2012 Copyright Office decision effectively outlawed the practice, which allows consumers to switch carriers without buying a new device, without carriers' approval

President Barack Obama is set to sign into law a bill that will make it easier for you to switch mobile carriers without buying a new phone.

The bill, dubbed the “Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act,” makes it legal for Americans to unlock their cellphones without carriers’ permission. Unlocking a phone frees it for use with a wireless carrier other than the one on which it was initially sold. For example, if you bought your cellphone from AT&T, unlocking it could make it usable on T-Mobile.

“The bill Congress passed today is another step toward giving ordinary Americans more flexibility and choice, so that they can find a cell phone carrier that meets their needs and their budget,” said Obama in a Friday statement. “I commend Chairmen Leahy and Goodlatte, and Ranking Members Grassley and Conyers for their leadership on this important consumer issue and look forward to signing this bill into law.”

Congress’ final bill was first passed by the Senate earlier this month. After deliberation over some controversial language, the House agreed to pass the Senate’s version of the bill on Friday.

The unlocking bill came about after a 2012 decision by the U.S. Copyright Office effectively outlawed unlocking without carriers’ permission. That move sparked outrage among consumer watchdog groups, who argued the move reduced consumer choice. More than 114,000 people also signed an online White House petition against the move.

“It took 19 months of activism and advocacy, but we’re finally very close to consumers regaining the right to unlock the phones they’ve legally bought,” said Sina Khanifar, who wrote the original White House petition on the issue, in a Friday statement. “I’m looking forward to seeing this bill finally become law – it’s been a long road against powerful, entrenched interests – but it’s great to see citizen advocacy work.”

TIME Asia

China’s Economy Continues to Defy Gravity. That May Not Be a Good Thing

A container truck drives past the container area at the Yangshan Deep Water Port,  part of the newly announced Shanghai Free Trade Zone, south of Shanghai
A container truck drives past the container area at the Yangshan Deep Water Port, part of the Shanghai Free-Trade Zone, on Sept. 26, 2013 Carlos Barria—Reuters

China announced better-than-expected growth over the second quarter. Despite optimistic official figures, there's plenty to worry about in the world's second largest economy

China announced its GDP figures for the second quarter on Wednesday and — surprise, surprise — they were better than expected. Growth clocked in at 7.5% — which just so happens to be the government’s official target. The statistics will likely give a boost to sentiment globally. Investors have been worried that a slowing China would hit the entire world economy. More buoyant Chinese growth will probably calm those jitters.

Yet China is also something of a puzzle. Somehow the economy continues to power through all sorts of issues that should be slowing it down. The all-important property sector, which accounts for some 16% of its GDP, is undergoing a major downturn. For most of the year, the government has tried to control dangerous levels of debt in the economy and clamp down on “shadow banking,” which encompasses alternative financial networks and lending practices. Tighter credit should translate into slower growth. Beijing is also supposedly on a mission to streamline bloated industries like steel by eliminating excess capacity, which, though healthy for the future prospects of the economy, should also act as a drag on short-term growth. So should President Xi Jinping’s ongoing anticorruption campaign, which in theory should be disrupting policymaking and creating uncertainty.

So how is China defying gravity once again? There is always the perennial suspicion that the numbers are inflated. Capital Economics looks at statistics that aren’t as easily manipulated as GDP, such as freight shipments and electricity output, to gauge the economy’s performance, and figures GDP has probably been expanding more like 6% in recent quarters. But economists are crediting the latest growth rate to government stimulus, carefully targeted at infrastructure and public housing, both investments the economy still needs.

This is a smart move. The Chinese government has ample ability to keep growth humming while it attempts to implement more substantial reforms. However, the reliance on stimulus also raises doubts about what might be ahead. Some economists see growth “bottoming out” and a revival continuing through the rest of the year. Others believe continued headwinds, especially the struggles of the property sector, are too strong for the government to counter — without even greater largesse. That might be on its way. New loans made in June were the highest in five years, according to research from Barclays, which suggests that the government is loosening up credit once again.

That begs the most important question facing China’s economy right now: Will Beijing sacrifice reform for growth? So far, China’s leaders have controlled their usual urge to pump up growth rates, an indication they realize the dangers lurking in the economy. Since the 2008 financial crisis, debt in China has risen to dizzying heights. A recent report from Standard & Poor’s calculated that China’s corporate sector has more debt outstanding than any other in the world. Combined with tremendous excess capacity, a risky increase in shadow banking and signs of a property bubble, the Chinese economy is rampant with problems that threaten its future. Some economists believe Beijing needs to address these ills and resist efforts to use credit and other stimulus to rev up growth — or else face a possible financial crisis.

Yet the reforms necessary to fix these problems are coming very slowly. Beijing has pledged to undertake a bold slate of measures — to liberalize interest rates and other prices, improve the performance of bloated state-owned enterprises, open protected markets to competition, strengthen the financial sector and allow private enterprise greater sway in the economy. All of these steps, if implemented, would make the Chinese economy healthier and more advanced. But so far, only the most minor of experiments have started, such as the approval of a handful of small private banks and the opening of a free-trade zone in Shanghai to tinker with more open capital flows. Even more, once the greater reforms fall into place (if they ever do), it could take years before they have an impact on the economy.

There are two ways of looking at what’s going on. One is that China’s policymakers are wisely going slow on potentially painful reforms while the economy works out some of its messiest problems in an environment of relatively stable growth. The other, less optimistic, view is that the problems rotting away at the Chinese economy are so complex and entrenched that policymakers are prioritizing continuing growth over tough reforms. In that scenario, China’s broken-down growth model will be kept alive with debt and government spending, while the fundamental change necessary to take China to the next level stalls.

I continue to be afraid of the latter. And with China the world’s second largest economy, we all should be too.

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