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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RoW: Links for 26th June, 2019

Articles from the Far East in today’s edition:

 

  1. “Thus is revealed a deeper lesson still: Freedom is not merely the ability to buy and sell goods at minimum regulation and a low tax rate, variables that are readily picked up by economic freedom indices. Freedom is also about the narratives people live by and the kind of future they imagine for themselves. Both of these are greatly affected by the legitimacy and durability of their political institutions.”
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    There’s lessons to be learned for all nations from what is going on in Hong Kong today, and Tyler Cowen ably lays out a map. In short, political institutions really matter – and that is a truly important lesson for anybody who wishes to learn economics.
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  2. “There were three such commitments: “to establish new U.S.–DPRK relations,” “to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” and “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The North also pledged to unearth the remains of Americans missing in action, which could help put the Korean War to rest—and not just for those most intimately affected.”
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    From about two weeks ago, but worth reading to get a sense of where North Korea and America are today, relative to where they thought they would be.
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  3. “At 12:42 a.m. on the quiet, moonlit night of March 8, 2014, a Boeing 777-200ER operated by Malaysia Airlines took off from Kuala Lumpur and turned toward Beijing, climbing to its assigned cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. The designator for Malaysia Airlines is MH. The flight number was 370. ”
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    This came out about a week ago, and if you are at all on social media, you’ve probably read it already, but on the off chance that you haven’t: a haunting coda to the sorry saga that is MH370.
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  4. “Beijing’s increasing heavy-handedness is more a symptom of fear than strength. It is borne in part from anxiety about the global trend of power diffusing from governments to non-state actors, a development that runs against the Communist Party’s desire to keep a tight grip on society. It also arises out of the Communist Party’s deep-seated concern that its legitimacy will come under scrutiny, particularly as economic growth continues to decelerate. Beijing’s endemic challenges in enforcing discipline within the Communist Party, particularly as it relates to corruption, also arouses anxieties. So, too, does latent admiration within Chinese society for values that America has sought to advance, even as popular views of the United States government come under fresh scrutiny.”
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    An interesting take on how to view Chinese culture, American culture, and how they evolve in response to each other, and each other’s forms of government.
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  5. “I was given time to try and log in again the next day after my penalty had been served.When I did I had to push “agree and unblock” under the stated reason of “spread malicious rumours”.
    So this rumour-monger clicked on “agree”.
    Then came a stage I was not prepared for. “Faceprint is required for security purposes,” it said.
    I was instructed to hold my phone up – to “face front camera straight on” – looking directly at the image of a human head. Then told to “Read numbers aloud in Mandarin Chinese”.”
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    The surveillance state in China, it’s capabilities, and it’s potential threats. All on China’s most popular app.

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?

Links for 26th March, 2019

  1. “The rising cost of textbooks, then, is a sign of one of the greatest paradoxes of higher education: As everything from tuition to housing to books gets more expensive, the people who are tasked with making sure students receive a good education are being forced to do more work for less money. The result is a world where students and professors alike struggle to get by.”
    Full of interesting snippets, this article helps you understand how expensive education can be abroad. Not just the cost of tuition though, which is large enough as it is – but the cost of textbooks. Just buying your textbooks for the academic year can set you back by around INR 40,000/-.
  2. “What is the traditional lecture? It is a model of learning in which a teacher possesses the knowledge on a given topic and disseminates it to students. This model dates to the beginning of education, when it was the only way of sharing information. In fact, you occasionally still see the person presenting the lecture called a reader, because way back before the internet and even the printing press, a teacher would literally read from a book so students could copy it all down.”
    Classroom lectures are unbelievably boring. There exist a million alternatives that can do a better job, and this article lays out some of them. But at the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century, the idea that we can teach the same way we did throughout the twentieth is just wrong.
  3. “Whichever way one looks at it, the very public unravelling of the enterprise is reminiscent of the past, the saga of Air India and Kingfisher Airlines. There is no denying poor governance –particularly in a business with high cash flows. Equally, the sequels illustrate how vegetating policy and misplaced notions of what constitutes strategic interest left the sector episodically chasing its tail. Consider this: Passenger traffic rose from 68.4 million in 2009-09 to 103.7 million in 2013-14, and to 183.9 million in 2017-18. Clearly there is no dearth of demand and of growth in traffic. Yet three airlines have crashed into the red in the period.Can India afford three Mayday calls in less than a decade in a critical sector?”
    A breezy read about an extremely serious topic. The excerpt above is a sobering read: passenger traffic in India has about tripled over the last ten years. The last ten years have also seen three airlines go under. Something, somewhere, is really and truly wrong.
  4. “Incuriosity is not merely ignorance. Ignorance is a universal trait, people just differ in what they are ignorant about. But Americans are unique in not caring to learn from other countries even when those countries do things better. American liberals spent the second Bush administration talking about how health care worked better in most other developed countries, but displayed no interest in how they could implement universal health care so that the US could have what everyone else had, even when some of these countries, namely France and Israel, had only enacted reforms recently and had a population of mostly privately-insured workers. In contrast, they reinvented the wheel domestically, coming up with the basic details of Obamacare relying on the work on domestic thinktanks alone. The same indifference to global best practices occurs in education, housing policy, and other matters even among wonks who believe the US to be behind.”
    Word for the day: incuriosity. A state of the world in not only do you not know, but do not wish to know. But that apart, the entire post – although a little long – is worth reading to learn more about the specifics of what ails subway construction in the USA.
  5. “Structurally, it is impossible because Kim Jong-un has a very detailed network of surveilling the leaders around him. If you are of high rank, then all the high-ranking officials have to live in the same apartment. They can’t choose where to live. They have to live collectively. You are not allowed to have private time with your friends around you, so the control system of North Korean society is really unimaginable.”
    An interview with a North Korean defector who now lives in South Korea about Kim Jong Un. It is difficult for any of us to understand the extraordinary life of ordinary South Koreans

Links for 6th February, 2019

  1. “Drawing about 250 cubic kilometres (sic) per year – more than a fourth of the global total – India is the world’s largest user of groundwater. More than 60 percent of India’s irrigated agriculture and 85 percent of drinking water supplies are dependent on groundwater, according to World Bank estimates”
    The Madras Courier writes on India’s impending – some would dispute the use of that word – water crisis. We simply don’t take it seriously enough, and if you want a good application of the importance of property rights, the power of pricing, and the difficulty of formulating effective policy from the top down, this is a good read.
  2. “…as Lardy suggests, in the absence of an extraordinary course reversal in government policies, as the role of the state impinges on private dynamism, growth in China will likely slow substantially over the medium term. Even with a major policy shift that provides greater scope for (domestic and foreign) private activity, a substantial pickup in growth would surprise us more than a continued decline.”
    The excellent Money and Banking blog reports on the bearish case for China in the medium to long term, on the basis of a close examination of it’s macroeconomic performance and policies of the past thirty years or so. One thing to try and understand about China is whether there is a recession underway or not in China (almost certainly, in my opinion). The second thing to try and figure out is why. That’s what this is about.
  3. “Russia sold twice as much weaponry to African countries in 2017 as it did in 2012, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Between 2013 and 2017, Russia supplied 39 per cent of Africa’s imported arms — compared with 17 per cent from China and 11 per cent from the US. ”
    In retrospect, hardly surprising – although I must admit I didn’t know much about this. Also, reading this article gave me my word for the day: Francafrique. It’s a term worth Googling.
  4. “Anyone considering starting a marketplace business should be aware of the types of marketplaces and the potential network effects that they could benefit from. Those who are already in the thick of building a marketplace or market network should create products and features that enhance and accelerate those network effects that can propel their success forward.”
    Any microeconomics student in India today knows about competing for market share. How many, I wonder, know about competing to build the market itself? This rather long article focuses on building out your thinking about building a market – and the nuances involved in thinking along these lines.
  5. “If all the past US intelligence estimates could be declassified, I suspect readers would find a wealth of accurate predictions, particularly with regard to technical developments in the WMD programs, but far fewer when it came to prognosticating what the North Korean leadership would do. That’s the point of pursuing face-to-face diplomacy with Pyongyang, to get a clearer picture of what is possible and what isn’t as well as to learn more about what makes the North Koreans tick.”
    Or put another way, predicting production is easy. Predicting personalities – not so much. A good read to understand the problems of trying to figure out what North Korea is up to – and teasing out the predictability (or lack thereof) of the human aspect.