Germany: What Next? (And a fascinating read as a bonus)

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning more about Germany as a consequence of writing these articles. Alas, I am all too aware that the learning has been very superficial indeed, but that will hopefully only serve to whet my appetite further. I’ll attempt to summarize my key learnings in a post scheduled for later this week, and in March, we’ll learn more about France.

Onwards then, to the topic of today’s essay: where does Germany go from here?

For many years, Germany’s economic strength has been based on prudent
monetary policy, a highly skilled workforce and a renowned manufacturing
sector that has successfully built up export markets across the world. Germany
has enjoyed political stability and exhibited a contained approach towards
foreign policy, where Germany regularly played by the rules set by others in the
liberal international order.
However, these pillars of Germany’s strength and stability may not be the right
tools to manage the upcoming disruptive changes.

That is from the executive summary of a report titled “Is Germany ready for the future? The case for action in a climate changed world“. The report speaks about how increasing digitilization, rising social inequality (globally), the disruption to the rules based trading order that worked so well for Germany, rising nationalism (again, globally) and low/non-existent aggregate demand will challenge Germany’s current model. The infographic below gives their (the authors) recommendations to deal with these challenges. Also, the word for the day where I am concerned: mittelstand.

Figure 1 from the same report linked to above

“Germany isn’t exactly in a state of disrepair. It doesn’t feel as though it is, even though potholed streets aren’t a rarity, trains often don’t run on time and cellular reception is spotty outside cities. Nor, however, does it feel future-proofed enough, even after a decade and a half of Merkel’s generally successful rule. The WEF touts unshakable financial stability (the country got 100 points out of 100 for it in the competitiveness ranking) as one of Germany’s biggest advantages, but that stability has been achieved, in part, by shifting problems to the local level. “

That is from a short, but excellent, persuasive and full of surprises column in Bloomberg by Leonid Bershidsky. The report that he cites is, alas, in German, but his takeaways make for thought provoking reading. And speaking of surprises, from the same article:

The World Economic Forum ranks Germany as the world’s seventh-most-competitive economy this year, down from third in 2018. According to WEF, its greatest weakness is in information and communication technology adoption, where it’s ranked 36th in the world; only one German out of 100 has a fiber optic broadband subscription, compared with one out of 32 in South Korea.

In an embarrassing episode on Monday, a state TV broadcast about a special government session on improving mobile coverage was broken off because of a bad connection.

I traveled through parts of Germany last month, and while Internet speeds in both Airbnb’s that I stayed in were slower than in France, they were certainly good enough, and with no loss in connectivity. I’ll note that for about four hours in a town called Gottingen, I lost connectivity on my phone.

Does this report on population trends in Germany by the year 2050 hold a cultural clue that might help us think more about the excerpt above? Pure conjecture on my part, of course, but worth thinking about, perhaps.

As a result, there will be a clear shift in the age structure of working-age people.
At present, 50% of working-age people belong to the medium-age group, which includes people of 30 to 49 years, nearly 20% belong to the young age group of 20 to
29 years and 30% to the older age group of 50 to 64 years. In 2020, the medium-age
group will account for as little as 42%, the older one, however, will remain almost
unchanged at about 40%; the situation will be similar in 2050 (medium group: 43%,
older group: nearly 40%). The percentage of the 20 to under 30-year-olds will not
change very strongly. As a result, older people will clearly prevail among working-age population.

I’d never heard of Strategic Perspective 2040 until I started searching for phrases linked to the future of Germany. But the fact that it was written, leaked, and the responses to it – they’re all equally fascinating.

The assumption behind the UK’s repeated promise of security cooperation with Europe after Brexit is that the core democracies – Germany, France, Italy and Spain – will remain committed to Nato, democracy and the rule of law. And that a reformed and revitalised Europe will deliver enough jobs and growth to sap the energy of the nationalist and xenophobic right. But it would also be wise for politicians to begin admitting that these things are no longer certain. If we want order, we have to create it – through engagement, multilateralism, by accommodating what we can of the demands of rising powers and through the promotion of resilient democratic institutions. If we fail to achieve order, we must deal with disorder when the US is no longer a reliable ally, nor even a stable democracy.

And now for the bonus. I have read quite a few articles/PDF’s/essays about Germany, and given last week’s essay, about the Berlin Wall. None was as gripping as this one. It is titled “The Story of Tunnel 29“, and it is an absolute must read.

My thanks to Gandhar Joshi, a student of the BSc programme at Gokhale Institute, for sharing it with me.

One on inflation, and four on Germany’s reunification

As a student of economics, I think I’ve read one article too many on Germany’s inflation. In fact, one of the many joys of writing this blog has been discovering how bad inflation was in other parts of the world: the version of economic history that I have studied has underplayed this.

(Name four countries that experienced hyperinflation: Germany! Zimbabwe! Venezuela! Uhhhhhh…..)

But that being said, learning more about Germany this month wouldn’t be complete without at least one article about it’s hyperinflation. And the reason I enjoyed the one I excerpt from below is because while it is full of interesting anecdotes about the period of hyperinflation, it also speaks about how it all ended – and with what consequences. And a fun fact which you may have not known earlier: the root of the word credit means to believe. That’s modern finance, in a nutshell.

Obviously, though the currency was worthless, Germany was still a rich country — with mines, farms, factories, forests. The backing for the Rentenmark was mortgages on the land and bonds on the factories, but that backing was a fiction; the factories and land couldn’t be turned into cash or used abroad. Nine zeros were struck from the currency; that is, one Rentenmark was equal to one billion old Marks. The Germans wanted desperately to believe in the Rentenmark, and so they did. “I remember,” said one Frau Barten of East Prussia, “the feeling of having just one Rentenmark to spend. I bought a small tin bread bin. Just to buy something that had a price tag for one Mark was so exciting.”

All money is a matter of belief. Credit derives from Latin, credere, “to believe.” Belief was there, the factories functioned, the farmers delivered their produce. The Central Bank kept the belief alive when it would not let even the government borrow further.

The political “give” that was needed to get the political, economic, cultural and civilizational “take”, in an interesting article from DW. The set of links at the bottom of this article are also worth a read. (Note that I have added the WIkipedia link to the 2 Plus 4 Agreement, it is not there in the original).

The 2 plus 4 Agreement, also called the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, recognized all European borders established after World War II, resolving this outstanding dispute once and for all. Bonn and Berlin’s signatures to the treaty meant that a newly reunited Germany would recognize national borders as they stood, not as they once were. Coupled with the reduction in military concentrations, the acceptance of current borders was a significant step toward an enduring peace in Europe at large.

An unusually short excerpt by my own standards, but this is the last sentence in the Wikipedia article about German reunification. It deserves to be read in the full, the entire article, especially if you were under the impression that reunification in Germany was relatively quick, painless and that there was much happiness all round.

The absorption of eastern Germany, and the methods by which it had been accomplished, had exacted a high price throughout all of Germany.

But there is an argument to be made that it was worth it, because one way of thinking about it is this: West Germany purchased access to culture by sharing economic prosperity, while East Germany purchased access to economic propserity by sharing culture. Costs matter, but maybe, just maybe, culture trumps economics?

“On average, people in the East are less successful, less productive and not as wealthy. Materially speaking, they’re less happy,” Seemann said. “But that’s exactly why cultural diversity in the eastern states plays a more important role than in the West. People in eastern Germany are aware that there are things which are more important than making money and paying taxes. They see the arts as a creative process of ‘togetherness.’ We need to strengthen this consciousness, because that’s the only way to ensure culture and society continues to thrive — regardless of where we stand economically in the years to come.”

Note that there are links at the bottom of this article about whether lessons from German reunification can apply to Korea. Alas, the article says no. I am an Indian, so double the alas for me, please.

And finally, a reminder that these things take time! This article is about the reunification of not Germany, but of the German language. Note that the East Germans had to adapt, and not the other way around. Maybe, just maybe, economics trumps culture?

The former East and West Germany have grown closer together in many areas over the past 26 years. At the same time, some differences are still marked precisely by the former border between East and West, such as economic strength, family structure and wealth. Furthermore, stereotypes about Wessis and Ossis have still not been consigned to history. According to a study carried out by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, it will take another generation before German unity is firmly anchored in people’s minds. It has, however, long been reflected in the way they speak.

Germany after World War II

What was Germany like after World War II? How different were the two parts of Germany, and why? How different was the growth trajectory in each part, and what consequences did it have for their current state? These are the questions that we try and answer in today’s post.

Still, not all participating nations benefitted equally. Nations such as Italy, who had fought with the Axis powers alongside Nazi Germany, and those who remained neutral (e.g., Switzerland) received less assistance per capita than those countries who fought with the United States and the other Allied powers.

The notable exception was West Germany: Though all of Germany was damaged significantly toward the end of World War II, a viable and revitalized West Germany was seen as essential to economic stability in the region, and as a not-so-subtle rebuke of the communist government and economic system on the other side of the “Iron Curtain” in East Germany.

A very short, and simple introduction to the Marshall plan from history.com. Key takeaways for me? It might be useful to think of the Marshall plan as first a political tool and second an economic plan (or at least a combination of the two), that political alignments (past and present) had a role to play in allocations, and the CIA seems to have been a surprisingly (although perhaps not, if you think about) large beneficiary of the plan!

As we have indicated, that Germany was a Marshall Plan recipient in the first place
did not make the other participating countries very happy, but taking economic revenge was simply not a viable alternative. In fact, Germany had already received a large amount of U.S. aid before the Marshall Plan was even conceived: starting almost immediately after the end of the war, the Allied-occupied part of the country received U.S. goods through the GARIOA program (Government and Relief in Occupied Areas), and the value of these goods amounted to around $1.7 billion.
So the Marshall Plan aid to Germany, which amounted to about $1.4 billion in the
first four years, was not that dramatic in itself. Britain, France and Italy all received a larger slice of the cake (see listing below for the distribution of help to the ERP countries). And yet Germany put the aid to better use than any other country, and today, 50 years later, still continues to benefit directly from the ERP counterpart fund, known after 1953 as the ERP Special Fund.

Put it this way: because of the lessons learned from the First World War,the Marshall Plan can be seen as the response to the Economic Consequences of the Peace. This article was also worth a read for me because it spoke about the origins (sort of) of the KfW, the 1972 visit of Chancellor Brandt, and a useful counterfactual towards the end of the essay.

What if I wanted to teach myself what post-war German society was like through the medium of movies? The only one I have seen is The Reader.

But here’s an IMDB list that is as much of a bookmark for me as recommendations for you! I have not seen almost all of them.

“There is no example of merging two states with such vastly different political systems that has worked so smoothly. But this reunification was, and continues to be, far more difficult to achieve than was thought during the exuberance of the reunification celebrations.

“Even if the two parts were only separated for 41 years – that’s less than two generations – the citizens of east and west were socialised in such a different way that in retrospect the idea that integration would be swift was utopian.”

Klingholz estimates that it will take at least another generation before the two parts have truly grown back together. One major piece of evidence for that, he says, is that “many Wessis have never even been to the east,” while most Ossis have been to the west.

Written on the 25th anniversary of reunification, this article from the Guardian cites how long it takes for cultural reunification, and how little time (or generations) it takes for a hitherto united nation to grow apart. For obvious reasons, a depressing read. The report cited in the article is in German – if anybody knows of a English version, please let me know!

In 1936, industrial labour productivity was already 9 per cent lower in the East than in the West, largely due to a transfer of less productive industries to the East German region, and more productive sectors to the West. By 1950, this gap had reached 35 per cent and East Germany had lower labour productivity in every industrial sector. In fact, Sleifer estimates that 36 per cent of the East–West productivity gap between 1936 and 2002 had occurred before 1950. The main causes for this decline can be attributed to the war, reparations to the Soviet Union, and the loss of access for East German industries to their West German suppliers.

That is from a book review, the subject of which has now been added to the ever expanding list!

 

 

Four articles about the creation of Germany, and one about its reunification

I had the pleasure of being in Germany for about a week in January, and it is a country that I would love to visit again. For a variety of reasons, it must be said, not the least of which is that Germany’s reputation when it comes to beer is entirely deserved. What’s more, every single German I met told me that January was probably the worst time of the year to visit if beer was the main thing on the agenda, which only makes my argument stronger.

As a side note: every single German with him I spoke about beer also said that Oktoberfest is by now vastly overrated. I would have expected that in any case, but it was a useful reaffirmation.

In February, we will learn more about Germany, but I plan to not write about the two world wars at all. Not, of course, because they are not worth writing about, but because I would expect most people reading this to know about them in any case.

Instead, I propose to link to articles about the following topics: the founding of Germany, the reconstruction of Germany after the end of the IInd World War, Germany’s (almost horrified) fascination with inflation today, and conclude with a rather longish article about my impressions of Germany from my visit there, and what I hope to learn more about as a consequence. If you feel very strongly about any topic that should be included in addition to these, please let me know!

Germany, as perhaps most of you reading this already know, became Germany the nation – in the sense that we understand it today – only in 1871. Whether this was in response to rising feelings of nationalism in other parts of Europe, or because of Otto Van Bismarck, or a combination of the two will forever be  a matter of surmise.

In the Gründerzeit period following the unification of Germany, Bismarck’s foreign policy as Chancellor of Germany under Emperor William I secured Germany’s position as a great nation by forging alliances, isolating France by diplomatic means, and avoiding war. Under Wilhelm II, Germany, like other European powers, took an imperialistic course, leading to friction with neighbouring countries. Most alliances in which Germany had previously been involved were not renewed. This resulted in the creation of a dual alliance with the multinational realm of Austria-Hungary, promoting at least benevolent neutrality if not outright military support. Subsequently, the Triple Alliance of 1882 included Italy, completing a Central European geographic alliance that illustrated German, Austrian and Italian fears of incursions against them by France and/or Russia. Similarly, Britain, France and Russia also concluded alliances that would protect them against Habsburg interference with Russian interests in the Balkans or German interference against France.

This is what Germany looked like at the outset:

At its birth Germany occupied an area of 208,825 square miles (540,854 square km) and had a population of more than 41 million, which was to grow to 67 million by 1914. The religious makeup was 63 percent Protestant, 36 percent Roman Catholic, and 1 percent Jewish. The nation was ethnically homogeneous apart from a modest-sized Polish minority and smaller Danish, French, and Sorbian populations. Approximately 67 percent lived in villages and the remainder in towns and cities. Literacy was close to universal because of compulsory education laws dating to the 1820s and ’30s.

And there was a reason this mattered. Germany was about to change in a whole different variety of ways.

The person most responsible for this was, of course, Otto Van Bismarck. The entire Wikipedia article makes for fascinating reading, not just the excerpt below.

Imperial and provincial government bureaucracies attempted to Germanise the state’s national minorities situated near the borders of the empire: the Danes in the North, the Francophones in the West and Poles in the East. As minister president of Prussia and as imperial chancellor, Bismarck “sorted people into their linguistic [and religious] ‘tribes'”; he pursued a policy of hostility in particular toward the Poles, which was an expedient rooted in Prussian history. “He never had a Pole among his peasants” working the Bismarckian estates; it was the educated Polish bourgeoisie and revolutionaries he denounced from personal experience, and “because of them he disliked intellectuals in politics.”Bismarck’s antagonism is revealed in a private letter to his sister in 1861: “Hammer the Poles until they despair of living […] I have all the sympathy in the world for their situation, but if we want to exist we have no choice but to wipe them out: wolves are only what God made them, but we shoot them all the same when we can get at them.” Later that year, the public Bismarck modified his belligerence and wrote to Prussia’s foreign minister: “Every success of the Polish national movement is a defeat for Prussia, we cannot carry on the fight against this element according to the rules of civil justice, but only in accordance with the rules of war.”With Polish nationalism the ever-present menace, Bismarck preferred expulsion rather than Germanisation

One of the best books that I read about the history of Europe in this period is a book called The War That Ended Peace, by Margaret Macmillan. Read the book, but begin with this review:

After Hitler’s war, though, English-speaking historians were more likely to see a pattern of German aggression stretching back before 1914, and in 1961 the Hamburg historian Fritz Fischer made the controversial case (bitterly opposed by most German historians) that Germany had mounted a pre-emptive strike. The “Fischer thesis” became the orthodoxy for a while, but has been plausibly challenged in recent years by historians who have pointed the finger almost everywhere except at Berlin. The current consensus seems to be that there is no consensus. There is, finally, the question of the decisions made by a score or so of men (and they were all men) in half a dozen capitals.

As noted above, we now fast forward to the year 1990 (or thereabouts). There is much more to German reunification than the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The East German government started to falter in May 1989, when the removal of Hungary’s border fence with Austria opened a hole in the Iron Curtain. It caused an exodus of thousands of East Germans fleeing to West Germany and Austria via Hungary. The Peaceful Revolution, a series of protests by East Germans, led to the GDR’s first free elections on 18 March 1990, and to the negotiations between the GDR and FRG that culminated in a Unification Treaty.[1] Other negotiations between the GDR and FRG and the four occupying powers produced the so-called “Two Plus Four Treaty” (Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany) granting full sovereignty to a unified German state, whose two parts were previously bound by a number of limitations stemming from their post-World War II status as occupied regions.

Next Wednesday, I’ll link to five articles about the reconstruction of post-war Germany and associated topics.

RoW: Poland and her geopolitics

Back in the day, Poland and her geopolitics would have been shaped by two nations, Russia (or the then USSR) and Germany. Now, one is domestically stronger, and no longer a threat, whereas with the other, it is quite the opposite. Five articles that tell us a little bit more about Poland and her neighbors today.

  1. “Countries in the north, particularly Poland, have chosen two paths to limit the Russian threat. One is forging defense ties with countries in the region that share similar fears, while closely working with the U.S. This contributes to the Intermarium, the containment line against Russia from the Baltics to the Black Sea. But Poland knows that the West is in no position to fight against Russian influence further east and that NATO and the U.S. are unlikely to react to a potential Russo-Ukrainian escalation. This is why Poland’s second path to limit the Russian threat is to try to keep Kiev closer to Warsaw and the West, challenging Russia’s role in the former Soviet periphery.”
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    Ukraine and Russia’s designs on Ukraine are key to understanding Poland’s geopolitical concerns today.
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  2. “Both Poland and Russia had accused each other for their historical revisionism. Russia has repeatedly accused Poland for not honoring Soviet soldiers fallen in World War II for Poland, notably in 2017, in which Poland was thought on “attempting to impose its own version of history” after Moscow was not allowed to join an international effort to renovate a World War II museum in Poland and destroyed monument honoring Soviet soldiers fallen in the war. Meanwhile, Poland also accuses Russia for its unlimited historical distortion, notably back to 2014 when Putin signed a bill using any comparison of Nazi to Soviet crimes as a punishment, as the Poles were also treated brutally by the Soviets; although Russia’s historical revisionism might have influenced Poland’s Andrzej Duda over its Nazi war crime laws and Poland also has concerned that Russia’s political and historical revisionism might put Poland at risk.”
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    The entire Wikipedia article is worth reading, but this section was reminiscent of so much in so many other places.
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  3. Is Poland an Easern European nation? Well, it depends. If you mean geographically, no. If you mean it form a historical perspective, not so much. If you ask from a geopolitical perspective, hell no. Why then would most people guess yes?
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    “We see that the current geographical theories place Poland outside Eastern Europe. How come than that Poland is still often considered an Eastern European country? Of course, because of history. The cold war has created a division that influenced generations of Europeans and has an impact to this day. Historically, all countries that have been under the influence of the former Soviet Union were considered an eastern bloc (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Moldova, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia). This cold war legacy influences the perception of Western Europeans and despite big historical shifts (most of the countries from the former eastern bloc joined the European Union in early 2000’s) associations between these countries and the former Soviet Union are still being made.”
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  4. Speaking of the other large neighbour, Germany – how’s things these days? Uh, not great. Energy, the Holocaust, independence of the judiciary in Poland – or lack thereof, and immigration are points that mean that the two large neighbors don’t always see eye to eye.
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    “”In 2013, 70 percent of Germans described their country’s relationship with Poland as “good.” Now that number is down to 31 percent. Why did it happen, and what are the current problems?”
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  5. “The question of permanently stationing U.S. troops in Poland, for which Warsaw is prepared to pay $2 billion annually, is still unresolved. Some military officials have said they prefer retaining elements of the rotational scheme that is currently used to manage between 4,000 and 5,000 U.S. service members working in the country, many at the Powidz air base.”
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    My biggest learning form this article? Fort Trump is a thing.

RoW: Links for 20th November, 2019

Three links from the gift that keeps on giving, Marginal Revolution

 

  1. “A portrait of Yuri Gagarin, the first person in space, adorns the wall of the Kosmonavtlar Station. Gagarin, and other early cosmonauts, were some of the USSR’s most important heroes, symbolising Soviet power and supremacy during the Space Race and widely depicted in Russian propaganda. Around him, the walls are lined with surreal portraits of famous cosmonauts floating through space amid a futuristic design of blues and blacks – similar to the colours astronauts would see as they left Earth’s atmosphere.”
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    Read, as always, but more importantly, savor the photographs.
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  2. That all conquering Nazi war machine wasn’t all that impressive, apparently.
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    “Below, I hope to share some astonishing statistics that show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the modern concept of Nazi military might is a myth.”
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  3. Who all have said sorry to China?
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    “Without further ado, here is the list of companies that have apologized to China. The companies are listed in reverse chronological order of their apologies, with the most recent first. For each company, we note what Chinese social media (and sometimes the government) took offense at, and when the company apologized, with a link to their apology.”
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  4. “The North already has an arsenal estimated at 40 nuclear weapons; it has already carried out six nuclear tests; its fissile material production facilities at Yongbyon and elsewhere are, as far as we know, all operating and producing more and more bomb fuel.”
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    Gulp, as they say. North Korea, a very pessimistic take indeed.
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  5. “Yet over the past decade it has been clear that the pendulum is swinging back to Singapore. Hong Kong’s property prices have continued to spiral—doubling in real terms from 2010 to 2018—making it difficult today for the young to even get on the ladder. Meanwhile locals have felt even more disenfranchised by Beijing’s increasing control over the city, itself symptomatic of the centralisation of power under China’s leader Xi Jinping, who assumed office in 2012. ”
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    “HK v Singapore? There is only one winner.

RoW: Links for 13th November, 2019

  1. From a while ago – Peter Baker on Trump’s pullout of troops:
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    “”The Taliban have wanted the United States to pull troops out of Afghanistan, Turkey has wanted the Americans out of northern Syria and North Korea has wanted them to at least stop military exercises with South Korea.

    President Trump has now to some extent at least obliged all three — but without getting much of anything in return. The self-styled dealmaker has given up the leverage of the United States’ military presence in multiple places around the world without negotiating concessions from those cheering for American forces to leave.”
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  2. “As a tribute to the bunnies who lived between the wall, in 1999 artist Karla Sachse installed 120 rabbit silhouettes near the area they once roamed so freely. Unfortunately, in the decades since, quite a few of the brass bunnies are now buried beneath new layers of asphalt. It’s unknown how many still exist, though you can spot some along Chausseestraße.”
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    On the bunnies of the Berlin wall.
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  3. “Young people, many of whom had seen their schooling opportunities delayed for more than a decade, hastily dusted off their textbooks and began studying to prepare for the college entrance exams. That year, 5.7 million entered their names for the exams, and 273,000 were enrolled. Because the number of applicants far exceeded the expected figure, for a time the authorities could not procure enough paper to print the exam papers. The problem was not resolved until the central authorities made the urgent decision to ship in all the paper previously allocated for the printing of the fifth volume of the Selected Works of Mao Zedong.”
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    Andrew Batson on the class of ’77. I cannot improve upon the title of his post, by the way.
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  4. “The upgrade of the China–Sri Lanka relationship to a “strategic cooperative partnership” in 2013 demonstrated the geopolitical consequences of China’s generous support to Sri Lanka. By 2015 Chinese companies had completed infrastructure projects there worth $ 10 billion. In 2016, China overtook India to become Sri Lanka’s biggest trading partner with its $ 4.43 billion trade pipping the $ 4.37 billion of India.”
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    About the upcoming elections in Sri Lanka, and the associated geopolitical factors.
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  5. “But there were signs of trouble from the start. In 2014, a mountainside glass walkway cracked under the weight of too many hikers. In 2015, a glass bridge fractured and had to be closed after a visitor dropped a thermos on it. A year later, the Zhangjiajie Bridge, a 1,400-foot span that hangs 1,000 feet over a gorge, had to be closed after it was mobbed by visitors far in excess of its designed capacity, a mere 13 days after opening. The next year, it was pummeled by falling rocks.”
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    On China’s bubble in building, uh, bridges made of glass.

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.

Etc: Links for 14th June, 2019

  1. “But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.”
    Ezekiel J. Emmanuel on how long he wants to live. Worth reading to ponder questions of mortality and what it means to each of us. Also worth reading up on: memento mori.
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  2. “Indeed, the German hyperinflation was not even the worst of the twentieth century; its Hungarian equivalent, dating to 1945-46, was so much more severe that prices in Budapest began to double every 15 hours. (At the peak of this crisis, the Hungarian government was forced to announce the latest inflation rate via radio each morning, so workers could negotiate a new pay scale with their bosses, and issue the largest denomination banknote ever to be legal tender: the 100 quintillion (1020) pengo note. When the debased currency was finally withdrawn, the total value of all the cash then in circulation in the country was reckoned at 1/10th of a cent. [Bomberger & Makinen pp.801-24; Judt p.87])”
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    I wasn’t aware of what the topic of this essay is about – which is not contained in the excerpt above. Somewhat shamefully, I wasn’t even aware of the Hungarian episode quoted above! Read more, sir, read more!
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  3. “Consider the first time a right-handed player tries to dribble with the left hand. It’s awkward, clumsy. Initially, the nerves that fire off signals to complete that task are controlled in the front cortex of the brain. Over time, with countless repetitions, those nerve firings become more insulated. The myelin sheath builds up. Eventually, less effort is required to use that left hand, and the brain processes it as second nature.The same is possible with pressure, according to neurologists. With repetition, stress can be transformed into fortitude.”
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    Put yourself in pressure situations, and repeatedly. That’s the only way, this article says, to handle pressure. Lovely read!
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  4. “The project in Colombia, a partnership with the nonprofit Conservation International, involves protecting mangrove forests, which can store 10 times as much carbon as terrestrial forests. In its first two years, the program is expected to reduce carbon emissions by 17,000 metric tons, roughly equal to the next decade of emissions from the lidar-equipped survey vehicles that update Apple Maps. “This is rare for Apple to say, but we are telling other companies to copy us on this,” Jackson says.”
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    I have only glanced through this article, and haven’t come close to reading all the entires (a true rabbit hole), but there’s lots of small interesting snippets here about creativity. Not so much, based on what I’ve seen of the “how to be creative”, but rather descriptions of folks who are creative.
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  5. “The (c)rapture I felt was likely a case of “poophoria,” explains Anish Sheth, the gastroenterologist and coauthor of toilet-side staple What’s Your Poo Telling You? “Some have compared it to a religious experience, others an orgasm,” he says. The exact science is unknown, but Sheth thinks the sensation may result from “a slightly prolonged buildup, an overdistension of the rectum, and immediate collapse by passing a sizable stool, which fires the vagus nerve and releases endorphins.” Lights-out pooping, Sheth adds, may “help with a proper rate of exit.””
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    Truly etc., this. The Wired magazine on, well, pooping in the dark.

Links for 19th March, 2019

  1. “Why do two people need a scrap of paper except to reassure them there’s concrete proof of their relationship?”
    … is a question worth asking in many respects, not just relationships. But some articles don’t really need to be subjected to analysis. A truly beautiful read, by Priya Ramani.
  2. “The episode is symptomatic of a fundamental European problem: unlike in China, macroeconomic policy, industrial policy and foreign and security policy are run independently of each other. The Huawei 5G bid shows that the EU is not well prepared to deal with a connection between security and industrial policy. Nor have the Europeans paid much attention to the impact of their fiscal rules — not least on defence and security policies. China, by contrast, has an integrated approach to economic and foreign policy.”
    Wolfgang Manchau on China and Germany, and who will have the upper hand going forward. Also an interesting way to think about what works better – top down approaches, or decentralized decision making. I usually find myself in favor of decentralization, but this article made me think about that a bit.
  3. “Second, growth in India has been unequalising because the top 10 per cent have benefitted disproportionally more from it than the bottom 90. In addition, growth has been unequalising across regions and ethnicities. In these circumstances, arguments for direct transfers are in vogue to compensate for this failure, not to address it.”
    Rathin Roy in an excellent article explains why we spend far too little on far too many things (and when I say we, I mean the government). Two things: this, theory suggests, is inevitable. Two, the column doesn’t mention – probably because of lack of space – the political compulsions that make this all but inevitable. But it is a great read!
  4. “Economists and commentators who have written on UBI for India have made the case for doing away with many subsidies and exemptions. The problem is that doing so may not be politically feasible. How does any politician sell the taking away of food subsidies to the masses of the country? Or how does any politician justify the introduction of tax on agricultural income or the introduction of estate duty or doing away of subsidies on urea and other fertilizers?”
    And while on that topic, Vivek Kaul in ThinkPragati reviews a book about Universal Basic Income by Guy Standing. I have not read the book, but the quote above jumped out at me. In my opinion, the problem with implementing UBI in India is not an economic one, but a political one.
  5. “Olive trees follow a pattern known as alternate bearing, with bad years routinely followed by good. This year, the EU expects Europe’s overall olive basket to be saved by a surge from its biggest producer, Spain.A trend there towards super intensive plantations may partly mitigate climate change impacts, according to Valentini – but at a cost to traditional farming and biodiversity. Fast-growing, high-density olive plantations might be more drought-resistant but water resources could also be limited by these plantations, he said”
    Will future generations understand the phrase “like taking coals to Newcastle”? Italy – and I cannot believe I am typing this out – will import olives this year. Whatever will the next Mario Puzo do?