RoW: Links for 3rd July, 2019

 

Five articles to help you understand China today a little bit better (well, one is on North Korea, axshually)

  1. “There is truth in this linguistic yarn; Chinese does deserve its reputation for heartbreaking difficulty. Those who undertake to study the language for any other reason than the sheer joy of it will always be frustrated by the abysmal ratio of effort to effect. Those who are actually attracted to the language precisely because of its daunting complexity and difficulty will never be disappointed. Whatever the reason they started, every single person who has undertaken to study Chinese sooner or later asks themselves “Why in the world am I doing this?” Those who can still remember their original goals will wisely abandon the attempt then and there, since nothing could be worth all that tedious struggle. Those who merely say “I’ve come this far — I can’t stop now” will have some chance of succeeding, since they have the kind of mindless doggedness and lack of sensible overall perspective that it takes.”
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    A long, but fun read on how and why Chinese (both kinds) is so difficult to learn – and do think about what this might tell us about China.
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  2. “But that is the wrong way to approach the challenge. In the near term (1-4 years), the US certainly could inflict a lot of damage on China through tariffs, bans on technology purchases, and other trade-war policies. But it would also inflict a lot of damage on itself; and in the end, the Chinese would suffer less. Whereas the Chinese government can buy up Chinese-made products that previously would have been sold to the US, thereby preventing mass unemployment and social turmoil, the US government could scarcely do the same for American workers displaced by the loss of the Chinese market.”
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    Brad DeLong argues against the anti-China line that almost everyone in America seems to toe to these days (Biden almost excepted)
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  3. “Total food production figures, however, are not the end of the story. The important question is who gets access to food, rather than just how much is harvested. Theoretically, North Korea could produce 10 million tons of food, but if all of it ends up in Pyongyang, there would still be massive shortages in the countryside. Here is where markets matter. The WFP assessments are based on the assumption that most food consumed in North Korea is still handed out by the government through the public distribution system (PDS); they do not take account of the role of markets in the food distribution system.”
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    38North on how bad the food situation is in North Korea. Markets matter!
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  4. “This is a useful reminder that decentralization is not an immutable feature of the Chinese system, or something that happened automatically just because China is a very large country. Clearly Gu saw that in the 1970s the Chinese system was too centralized to be efficient, and that it needed to be more decentralized. (Jae-Ho Chung’s book Centrifugal Empire: Central-Local Relations in China also argues that the Maoist emphasis on local autonomy in the 1970s was largely rhetorical, with most localities compelled to follow the same political campaigns and economic priorities.)”
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    For a variety of reasons, decentralization really matters – here’s how China learnt this lesson.
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  5. “At the heart of China’s Going Out policy is a media offensive launched in March 2018, an initiative coordinated by the broadcast group Voice of China and carefully monitored by Communist Party censors. In addition, the state-run news agency Xinhua was expanded and now claims to be the largest news wire in the world.”
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    A fascinating read on how China is reshaping the media narrative in Africa.
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Links for 15th May, 2019

  1. “Our science is past its childhood, but has not reached its manhood yet. On the one hand, our patience is still being tried by the phraseology of “schools ” and “-isms,” and there is still plenty of scope and shelter for the products of bad workmanship passing themselves off as new departures; but, on the other hand, the really living part of our science shows hopeful signs of, if I may say so, that convergence of effort, which is the necessary and sufficient condition of serious achievement. Those economists who really count do not differ so much as most people believe; they start from much the same premises; problems present themselves to them in much the same light; they attack them with much the same tools; and, although some of them have a way of laying more stress on points of difference than of points of agreement, their results mostly point towards common goals. This is not only true of fundamentals of fact and machinery, but also of what is going on within the precincts of every one of our time-honoured problems.”
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    Professor DeLong treats us to an extended excerpt from Joseph Schumpeter on business cycles, and while the extract isn’t light reading for anybody, I found the “isms” quoted above to be of interest.
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  2. “Oh, for sure. I’ve had three or four people tell me they called him on it on the first hole. He kicks the ball so much that caddies call him Pelé [a reference to the famous Brazilian soccer player]. He throws it out of bunkers, he retakes shots, he throws other people’s balls into the water.But every time people call him on it, he has the same answer, which is, “Oh, the guys I play with, you’ve got to do this just to keep it fair.” It’s the Lance Armstrong defense: Everybody’s doing it, so I have to do it just to keep up, otherwise I’m getting cheated. It’s the default rationalization of a cheater.

    But in reality, the National Golf Foundation says 90 percent of people don’t cheat when they play. But this guy cheats like a mafia accountant.”
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    Guess the sport, the person being spoken about, and most important, the reason for including this article in today’s set (hint:it’s not the obvious answer). I’ll write down the answer after the fifth link today.
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  3. “This assessment of BRI should not be taken to mean we can be complacent about other things that China does, some of which are most likely part of a conscious strategy. It’s just that we need to assess trends on their merits and not be led purely by conspiracy theories and our availability biases or preconceived notions.”
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    Urbanomics shares a useful set of links to do with BRI, China and how there may well be a simpler set of explanations than a grand over-arching theory that is mostly about a conspiracy.
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  4. “I think that what will take people by surprise will be:the failure of monetary policy to be adequately stimulative in the next downturn while

    there is so much polarity and conflict both within countries and between countries.

    I think that these things will be surprising to people because they’ve never happened before in their lifetimes though they’ve happened many times before in history. I suggest that you study the cause-effect relationships in the 1930s to see the mechanics that led to the outcomes of that period.”
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    Ray Dalio does an AMA, and all of the answers are worth reading (the one on time, for example, while being a bit obvious, is still an excellent one)
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  5. “When it had its premiere in 2011, “Now on My Way to Meet You” was a tear-jerking reunion program featuring families separated by the Korean War, but before the show had a chance to reunite anyone, it underwent a transformation. The way the producers tell it, in their scramble to recruit separated families, they kept running into a new generation of defectors. So they made the rather canny decision to reorient their show around appealing young women, whom they took to calling “defector beauties.” The show’s on-location backdrops of humble homes and noodle restaurants gave way to a glitzy game-show-type set, and estranged septuagenarians were replaced with girlish defectors. Pretty soon, the only thing left of the original program was its name and the desire for reunion.”
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    Since I chanced upon this via MR, I’ll use the phrase “interesting throughout” – and for a variety of reasons!

    What does that article teach us about how to judge ourselves?