It struck me, looking at the requirements to sign up for an Air China co-branded credit card, just how important miles, points, and travel are to the advancement of civilization.
It’s hard to imagine a more important question in public policy, and in the history of human society, than economic growth. It makes most other questions possible.
We can talk about eradicating poverty only once we have resources with which to address such problems. Indeed, we can’t even conceive of ‘poverty’ until at least some have risen out of it. Without economic growth what we think of as poverty is just ‘the human condition’.
And what we now think of as poverty would once have been incredible riches — indoor plumbing, satellite TV (many of the slums in Mumbai even have satellite tv), there’s even a government program to hand out cell phones.
And we can understand the institutional conditions which allow for growth through travel. How easy is it to rent a car? How easy is it to get a credit card? How do those conditions vary across different countries?
The very idea of a rental car is an amazing thing. You sign a piece of paper (or, in the case of rental car memberships, you may have once signed a piece of paper or filled out an online form). After identifying yourself, you have a set of keys and you take away a $20,000 or $30,000 car on the promise that you will bring it back.
Trust is a key component that allows us to move from personal exchange among people we know directly, to impersonal exchange among people we’ll never even meet — growing the scale of exchange, and opportunities to specialization by comparative advantage and achievement of real economic scale.
The ability to rent a car easily says a lot about the conditions of the society you’re renting in.
Meanwhile, the ability to get a credit card, and have a bank make payments on your behalf on the promise you’ll pay later, plays a similar role.
Despite rapid industrialization in China, this may not yet be China’s decade… at least judging by what one must go through to get a credit card (although the increasing ubiquity of credit cards in China is a clear step in the right direction).
Just look at what it takes to get a Bank of China-Air China PhoenixMiles Credit Card.
Here’s what you have to provide:
- You have to prove your identity. With documents. Such as providing a copy of your residency card, passport, or Residence Permit for Foreigners.
- You have to prove you’re a permanent resident of China, Hong Kong, or Macau. With documents. Such as a water, electricity or gas payment voucher for the past three billing periods; a “Residence certificate issued by the community office”; credit card statements for the latest two months (you can get a credit card if you already have a credit card!) or individual income tax payment certificates for the latest three months.
- You have to prove your income — not just state it. It’s like an American Express financial review, only in advance.
You can provide payroll stubs for three months. The stubs must show a corporate or government department seal. You can show bank deposit documentation or proof of purchase of treasury or corporate bonds but those must show buyer’s name, account number and account balance).
In lieu of proof of income you can show elite status cards — Bank of China will accept an Air China platinum, gold or silver membership card, a China Southern Sky Pearl gold or silver membership card, or an Eastern Miles Club gold or silver membership cards. You must be a current elite frequent flyer.
You don’t even scan and upload these things — you go to the counter of a Bank of China branch or mail documents in to Beijing.
Small differences in economic growth matter a lot for human well-being. When the rest of the world can go online for an app-o-rama, the world could rapidly become a much better place.
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