RoW: Links for 16th October, 2019

Five links about the NBA, China and the United States of America

  1. “Apple removed an app late Wednesday that enabled protesters in Hong Kong to track the police, a day after facing intense criticism from Chinese state media for it, plunging the technology giant deeper into the complicated politics of a country that is fundamental to its business.”
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    The NYT gives us useful background about the topic…
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  2. “But Apple is in a particularly difficult position, due to the company’s success in China: Unlike several other big consumer tech companies, which either do little business in China or none at all, Apple has thrived in China. The country is Apple’s third-biggest market, which generates some $44 billion a year in sales. And Apple’s supply chain, which lets it produce the hundreds of millions of iPhones it sells around the world each year, is deeply embedded in China.”
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    Recode explains the perils of integrating too successfully with China in terms of both backward linkages as well as final sales (that’s a loaded statement, worthy of a deeper analysis!)
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  3. “This morning brings new and exciting news from the land of Apple. It appears that, at least on iOS 13, Apple is sharing some portion of your web browsing history with the Chinese conglomerate Tencent. This is being done as part of Apple’s “Fraudulent Website Warning”, which uses the Google-developed Safe Browsing technology as the back end. This feature appears to be “on” by default in iOS Safari, meaning that millions of users could potentially be affected.”
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    Via John Gruber, over at Daring Fireball (please follow that blog!), a somewhat unsurprising, yet depressing revelation.
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  4. “I am not particularly excited to write this article. My instinct is towards free trade, my affinity for Asia generally and Greater China specifically, my welfare enhanced by staying off China’s radar. And yet, for all that the idea of being a global citizen is an alluring concept and largely my lived experience, I find in situations like this that I am undoubtedly a child of the West. I do believe in the individual, in free speech, and in democracy, no matter how poorly practiced in the United States or elsewhere. And, in situations like this weekend, when values meet money, I worry just how many companies are capable of choosing the former?”
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    Ben Thompson provides useful background and an even more useful overview of the larger picture.
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  5. “Daryl Morey wrote a pro-Hong Kong tweet and had to retract it, and then both the Rockets and the NBA had to eat crow. ESPN — part of the Disney empire I might add — has given only tiny, tiny coverage to the whole episode, even though it is a huge story on non-basketball sites. I’ve been checking the espn/nba site regularly over the last 24 hours, and there is one small link in the upper corner, no featured story at all.”
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    And finally, Tyler Cowen explains how incentives always and everywhere matter.
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RoW: Links for 9th October, 2019

  1. On China’s reforestation programme. Also, if you haven’t already, read Seeing Like a State.
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    “After a half century of blistering economic growth, China is increasingly looking back at the environmental havoc it wreaked and searching for a greener path forward. It has boosted renewable energy, declared a “war on pollution,” and vowed to lower carbon emissions. But if Grain-for-Green is an indication, preserving biodiversity may represent a new challenge in China’s push to go green: protecting and restoring natural spaces with an eye to not just quantity, but quality.”
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  2. A review of No Friend But The Mountains, by JM Coetzee. I have not read the book, and am not sure I want to. Not, I hasten to add, because of the quality of the book or the lack of it, but because of the utter heartlessness the review manages to convey of a nation I am conflicted about.
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    “The UNHCR has been extremely critical of Australia’s offshore policies. In 2017 it concluded that PNG and Nauru were intrinsically unsuitable as resettlement homes, given “the impossibility of local integration.” In other words, Papuans and Nauruans do not want refugees living among them, and refugees do not want to live in PNG or Nauru. New Zealand has offered to take 150 of the inmates, but Australia has vetoed this offer on the grounds that former detainees might make their way from New Zealand to Australia, thereby weakening the deterrent power of Australian policy.”
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  3. A thought-provoking write-up by Danny Quah:
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    “In the new world order Asia’s leadership does not mean Asia has to become alternative architect. Instead, Asia only needs to be articulate and empowered consumer, and allow demand and supply to work in the marketplace. With care, thought, and unity, ASEAN (and indeed all of Asia) can continue to make a success of this new marketplace for world order.”
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  4. “A course at Yale-NUS College on dissent and resistance in Singapore was canceled two weeks before it was scheduled to start, the Singapore-based The Straits Times reported. Yale-NUS president Tan Tai Yong said some of the planned course activities and speakers would “infringe our commitment not to advance partisan political interests in our campus” and potentially expose students to the risk of breaking the law.”
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    Via (where else) MR, dissent on dissent in Singapore.
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  5. “Lok, 31, lives with her parents in North Point, in Hong Kong Island’s Eastern District. It is more than an hour away from the island of Tsing Yi, where 35-year-old Chau lives with his parents. Their three-year-old daughter, Yu, spends Monday to Thursday with Lok and the weekend at Chau’s. They can’t move in together in one of their family homes, Lok says, because the bedroom space is simply too small for two adults and a child.”
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    Not me being lazy, I promise, but this too, from MR… on the space crunch in Hong Kong, but oh so much more.

RoW: Links for 2nd October, 2019

I thoroughly enjoyed reading each of the five links today, both for how informative they were, but also for how thought provoking they were. A rare treat, this selection.

  1. James Fallows, from 1993 (!) on How The World Works.
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  2. Adam Mintner on Asia’s haze problem.
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  3. Tyler Cowen on his recent visit to Karachi.
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  4. Housing and the middle class in China.
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  5. I’m cheating a little, but this qualifies as an essay, right?

RoW: Links for 25th September, 2019

Five articles about East Asia today, all interesting in their own right.

  1. Reading this article reminded me (of all the things in the world!) of the conversation that Aakash has with his dad in Dil Chahta Hai, where Aakash’s dad asks him to find out the vajah. Weird? Yes. Relevant? You be the judge!
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    “Without really knowing what the North is about, it has been hard to be certain about what they really want: relief from the economic pressure of sanctions and the need to circumvent them so that the Kim dynasty can continue in not-so-splendid isolation, or economic and political engagement with the international community and a route to becoming a normal state without hostile relations with the US.”
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  2. Speaking of North Korea
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  3. Part II of a two part series on energy (well, electricity)  in North Korea. Read both, though.
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  4. Hong Kong as a Shakespearean tragedy.
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  5. “There was no criteria except availability in English. Yes, this was more mad than methodical — but we’re proud of the result.”
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    A very useful list indeed: 100 books about China. I have read, I am happy to say, only six out of these. I am also slightly surprised to see that China Airborne didn’t make it to the list. And Taipan, maybe.

RoW: Links for 18th September, 2019

  1. How was London’s tech scene built?
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  2. If you ever get the chance to pick a train journey…. for me, this one, for sure.
    “And so it was no small relief when, there the next morning, was the train at the platform. Its Chinese provenance was confirmed by the ethnicity of the “Captain” ushering people aboard, and by our salmon-colored tickets, the same as those issued by China’s National Railway.An hour later, we were enjoying a rare sensation: swift, ceaseless movement through a sub-Saharan landscape.”
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  3. Or wait, hang on
    “For most of human history, it was impossible to grasp the range of the habitable world in a single day. Beginning in the mid-20th century, one could fly from a cool region to a hot region in one day. But that was an artificial experience—you missed everything in between. That all changed in 2012, when China built a high speed rail line from the north to the south of the country. Now you could board a train at 9am in cold, snowy Beijing, and get off 8 hours later in tropical Guangzhou, at the same latitude as Havana.

    A few years later the line was extended further south to Hong Kong, where you arrive an hour later. For the first time ever, humans can see the gradual change in landscape from the temperate zone to the tropics, all in a single day.”
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  4. “In the picture, he departs from this earth like an arrow.”
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    Especially given the context, the rest of this first paragraph is some of the finest writing I have ever read. That is not an exaggeration.
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  5. “But improving American higher education would be the final plank of the Tyler Cowen industrial policy.”
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    Tyler Cowen on industrial policy in America.

The Worst Economist of the 20th Century

I got pinged a while ago by an old student of mine, Karan Khilwani. He had a fairly interesting question to ask: who, in my opinion, would qualify as the worst economist of the 20th century?

I have, on reflection, a clear pick, whom I’ll get to in a bit.

But here’s my thinking behind my pick: economics is (to me) useless unless it is applied. I haven’t gone for bad economic theory per se, but bad outcomes as a result of some policy being implemented.

What I am trying to say is, economics as practiced is what I have judged, not economics as theorized.

With that caveat, I have a clear winner: Chairman Mao.

From the Wikipedia article on the Great Leap Forward:

“The Great Leap Forward (Chinese: 大跃进; pinyin: Dà Yuèjìn) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was an economic and social campaign by the Communist Party of China (CPC) from 1958 to 1962. The campaign was led by Chairman Mao Zedong and aimed to rapidly transform the country from an agrarian economy into a socialist society through rapid industrialization and collectivization. These policies led to social and economic disaster, but these failures were hidden by widespread exaggeration and deceitful reports. In short order, large internal resources were diverted to use on expensive new industrial operations, which, in turn, failed to produce much, and deprived the agricultural sector of urgently needed resources. A significant result was a drastic decline in food output, which caused millions of deaths in the Great Chinese Famine.”

As an economic experiment, it is hard to argue with the notion that this was pretty catastrophic for pretty much everybody.

From further on in the same article:

“The exact number of famine deaths is difficult to determine, and estimates range from upwards of 30 million, to 55 million people. Because of the uncertainties involved in estimating famine deaths caused by the Great Leap Forward or any famine, it is difficult to compare the severity of different famines. However, if a mid-estimate of 30 million deaths is accepted, the Great Leap Forward was the deadliest famine in the history of China and in the history of the world.”

As a consequence, for me, it is hard to look beyond Chairman Mao for the title of the worst economist of the 20th century.

Which, of course, begs the question: does that make Deng Xiaoping the best economist of the 20th century?

 

Update, via Marginal Revolutions: “One of the best books on the beginnings of the reform era, with a special focus on whether the Soviets could have chosen a Chinese path (no, too many embedded interest groups, so does that mean Mao is underrated?).”

ROW: Links for 31st July, 2019

  1. “There are things government could do if it were bold enough. How about a series of state-specific visas to foreigners, designed to encourage them to settle in Alaska and other underpopulated states? Alaska’s population could well rise to more than a million, and then the benefits of a good state university system would be more obvious, including for cultural assimilation. In fact, how about a plan to boost the population of Alaska to two or three million people? What would it take to get there?”
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    Especially read together with the last paragraph, this article is an excellent example of straight thinking – and one wonders where this might apply in India’s case?
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  2. I’m breaking one of my own rules (but hey, that’s kind of the point of owning this blog), but here’s a short video about a tyre scultpure out of Nigeria.
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  3. “Nonetheless, reading the testaments of people who’d come through a period of great uncertainty in the late 1920s and early 1930s, with the liberal order seemingly spent, it’s hard not to hear faint echoes in our current plight. As they do now, people then craved simple, emotional answers to complex economic and political problems.”
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    Learning more about the lives of ordinary people in the past is something I want to do more of. Germany and Germans when they realized the Russians were coming.
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  4. “The official history of China’s economic reforms is rather more sanitized, but the memoirs of Gu Mu (谷牧), who was vice premier in the 1980s and in charge of foreign trade, do help show how export discipline was applied in the Communist bureaucratic system (see this post for some more interesting tidbits from Gu’s memoir).”
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    If there is one book that I would want a student of modern Asia to read, it would be Joe Studwell’s “How Asia Works”. This article begins by tipping its hat to that book, and speaks about how China instilled a sense of export discipline.
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  5. A very long, mostly depressing article on an intellectual purge in Turkey.