This short video gives a wonderful presentation of declining fertility rates over the past fifty years and explains what falling fertility rates mean for the world. Go to the website here: The Baby Bust
This short video gives a wonderful presentation of declining fertility rates over the past fifty years and explains what falling fertility rates mean for the world. Go to the website here: The Baby Bust
Forbes: What A Wonderful World! Get Raped In Dubai And You'll Serve 16 Months In Prison Eamonn Fingleton
Globalization continues to integrate the world into a more deeply interconnected economic system but at the same time it is providing platforms for previously silenced and marginalized voices to be heard. It allows us to become better acquainted with each other’s cultures but it does not guarantee that familiarity will breed acceptance.
(BTW, the Norwegian woman mentioned in the story has been “pardoned” as is free to leave Dubai.)
… Why would the victim of a terrible crime receive a jail sentence? Asia is not America, let alone Norway. For me, as someone who has spent 27 years watching the world from a vantage point in East Asia, the episode illustrates in microcosm an obvious and profoundly troubling fact: globalism is a one-word oxymoron. It has never made sense and probably never will. Cultures are different and, in their attitude to truth and human rights, the many brands of Asian culture are particularly remote from Western expectations.
Certainly, all American wishful thinking to the contrary, the world is NOT converging to American values. Yes, of course, more and more consumers around the world are drinking Coca-Cola KO +0.29% and eating Big Macs. But this is a superficial observation that says nothing about any values worth the name. …
… The larger point here is that Eastern and Western cultures are in many ways incompatible. Rudyard Kipling made the point more than a century ago: “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”
My bet is that, on appeal, Marte Deborah Dalelv will be shown some leniency. But for globalism, the Asians will never cut much slack. This applies in spades to the naïve American view that globalization and Americanization are somehow the same thing (thank you George H. W. Bush, William Jefferson Clinton, and, of course, Thomas L. Friedman). Asians are incandescent with rage at such casual cultural imperialsm but, being Asians, rarely give any explicit indication of their anger. They expect people to read between the lines….
1. The United States had its financial bubble. Europe is having one too. Is China next? If it is, it could reshape the global economy and radically reshape Chinese government. Here is an interesting piece about China's real estate bubble.
2. Robert Tracinski thinks we are in midst of a Third Industrial Revolution.
... I like the idea of a breaking the Industrial Revolution into stages, but I would define them in more fundamental terms. The first Industrial Revolution was the harnessing of large-scale man-made power, which began with the steam engine. The internal combustion engine, electric power, and other sources of energy are just further refinements of this basic idea. The second Industrial Revolution would be the development of interchangeable parts and the assembly line, which made possible inexpensive mass production with relatively unskilled labor. The Third Industrial Revolution would not be computers, the Internet, or mobile phones, because up to now these have not been industrial tools; they have been used for moving information, not for making things. Instead, the rise of computers and the Internet is just a warm-up for the real Third Industrial Revolution, which is the full integration of information technology with industrial production.
The effect of the Third Industrial Revolution will be to collapse the distance between the design of a product and its physical manufacture, in much the same way that the Internet has eliminated the distance between the origination of a new idea and its communication to an audience. ...
3. Tyler Cowen has some thoughts about the impact our technological revolution as well Are we living in the early 19th century?
... Eventually all of the creative ferment of the industrial revolution pays off in a big “whoosh,” but it takes many decades, depending on where you draw the starting line of course. A look at the early 19th century is sobering, or should be, for anyone doing fiscal budgeting today. But it is also optimistic in terms of the larger picture facing humanity over the longer run.
4. You may have seen a deeply flawed viral video about wealth inequality this past week. I working on my own response but here is economist Mark Perry's response. In response to the viral ‘Wealth Inequality in America’ video
5. What are the contours of income inequality in the United States? This 40 minute video by Emmanuel Saez offers some important insights.
6. Futurist Ray Kurzweil is a little too sensationalist for my taste but this vid offers interesting food for thought about nanotechnology and the future sports. We will even be able to have meaningful sports competition?
7. Atlantic takes up at a frequently perpetuated myth. 'Women Own 1% of World Property': A Feminist Myth That Won't Die
The recovered wealth - most of it from higher stock prices - has been flowing mainly to richer Americans. By contrast, middle class wealth is mostly in the form of home equity, which has risen much less.
10. When looking at decisions in your own context, Seth Godin explains why Macro trends don't matter so much
Whether or not you think science is wonderful, the stereotype of all scientists being atheists is unrealistic. There is, however, a special dance.
12. I consider this good news. Old Earth, Young Minds: Evangelical Homeschoolers Embrace Evolution
More Christian parents are asking for mainstream science in their children's curricula.
13. Remember to keep Syria and Egypt in your prayers. Nearly 1 in 20 Syrians are now refugees
Mar 09, 2013 in Asia, China, Current Affairs, Economic Development, Economics, Religion, Science, Sports and Entertainment, Technology, Technology (Biotech & Health), Technology (Digital, Telecom, & Web), Technology (Energy), Technology (Food & Water), Technology (Manufacturing & Construction)), Technology (Transportation & Distribution), Weatlh and Income Distribution | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
China Daily: Higher costs forcing firms to relocate
Jobs going to other countries in China's 'great industry transfer'
Rising wages and shrinking export demand are forcing manufacturers to relocate to neighboring Southeast Asian nations and many that remain are seriously considering moving, a foreign trade official from the Ministry of Commerce said.
The official, who declined to be named, said that "nearly one-third of Chinese manufacturers of textiles, garments, shoes and hats" are now working "under growing pressure" and have moved all, or part, of their production outside China in what he called the great industry transfer.
Favored destinations are usually members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, especially Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.
And in all likelihood, "the trend will continue" with more traditional labor-intensive manufacturers transferring production, he told China Daily. ...
... China's labor costs have surged recently by 15 to 20 percent annually, squeezing margins and driving some companies to bankruptcy.
According to the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, from January to June the minimum wage was raised, on average, by 20 percent in 16 provinces.
The minimum wage in Shenzhen now stands at 1,500 yuan ($238) per month, setting the highest standard for the whole Chinese mainland.
Many developing countries in Southeast Asia have lower labor costs.
The monthly wage for manufacturing jobs in Vietnam was, on average, 600 yuan in 2011, equivalent to the level of 10 years ago in Dongguan, an industrial town in South China's Pearl River Delta....
...But lower costs in other countries could soon change, some said.
"The advantage (of labor and production costs) in Southeast Asian countries will only last for a few years," said Chen Jian, a general manager of a garment company headquartered in Foshan, on the Pearl River Delta.
"The trend is just like what happened some 10 years ago when many manufacturing industries in Hong Kong and Taiwan moved to the Pearl River Delta to chase cheap labor. But now you can see how much our labor costs have gone up."
Technorati Tags: Association of Southeast Asian Nations, china, export, import, in-sourcing, indonesia, jobs, labor-intensive, malaysia, manufacturing, minimum wage, outsourcing, rising wages, vietnam, wages
Christian Science Monitor: Russia reveals shiny state secret: It's awash in diamonds
Russia has just declassified news that will shake world gem markets to their core: the discovery of a vast new diamond field containing "trillions of carats," enough to supply global markets for another 3,000 years.
The Soviets discovered the bonanza back in the 1970s beneath a 35-million-year-old, 62-mile diameter asteroid crater in eastern Siberia known as Popigai Astroblem.
They decided to keep it secret, and not to exploit it, apparently because the USSR's huge diamond operations at Mirny, in Yakutia, were already producing immense profits in what was then a tightly controlled world market.
The Soviets were also producing a range of artificial diamonds for industry, into which they had invested heavily.
The veil of secrecy was finally lifted over the weekend, and Moscow permitted scientists from the nearby Novosibirsk Institute of Geology and Mineralogy to talk about it with Russian journalists.
According to the official news agency, ITAR-Tass, the diamonds at Popigai are "twice as hard" as the usual gemstones, making them ideal for industrial and scientific uses.
The institute's director, Nikolai Pokhilenko, told the agency that news of what's in the new field could be enough to "overturn" global diamond markets. ...
New York Times: What Cameras Inside Foxconn Found
... More tellingly, the broadcast showed 3,000 young Chinese workers lining up at the gates for Foxconn’s Monday morning recruiting session.
Now, these workers know about the 2010 Foxconn suicides. They know that the starting salary is $2 an hour (plus benefits, and no payroll taxes). They know they’ll have 12-hour shifts, with two hourlong breaks. They know that workers sleep in a tiny dorm (six or eight to a room) for $17 a month.
And yet here they are, lining up to work! Apparently, even those conditions, so abhorrent to us, are actually better than these workers’ alternatives: backbreaking rural farm work that doesn’t prepare them to move up the work force food chain.
Many observers are shocked at the child labor reported at Foxconn. Not only do these Chinese factories employ a lot of young people — the legal working age is 16 — but from what we saw on the ABC broadcast, all of these employees are young.
That’s also what a former Apple executive told me this week: that Foxconn is not a career. You don’t see 30- and 40-year-old heads of households on the assembly lines. The young Chinese see it as “something like a first summer job,” he told me — a way to make some bucks for a few months before heading home, or to get some work experience before moving up.
The second enlightening twist, for me, was a note sent to me from a young man, born in China and now attending an American university.
My aunt worked several years in what Americans call “sweat shops.” It was hard work. Long hours, “small” wage, “poor” working conditions. Do you know what my aunt did before she worked in one of these factories? She was a prostitute.
Circumstances of birth are unfortunately random, and she was born in a very rural region. Most jobs were agricultural and family owned, and most of the jobs were held by men. Women and young girls, because of lack of educational and economic opportunities, had to find other “employment.”
The idea of working in a “sweat shop” compared to that old lifestyle is an improvement, in my opinion. I know that my aunt would rather be “exploited” by an evil capitalist boss for a couple of dollars than have her body be exploited by several men for pennies.
That is why I am upset by many Americans’ thinking. We do not have the same opportunities as the West. Our governmental infrastructure is different. The country is different.
Yes, factory is hard labor. Could it be better? Yes, but only when you compare such to American jobs.
If Americans truly care about Asian welfare, they would know that shutting down “sweat shops” would force many of us to return to rural regions and return to truly despicable “jobs.” And I fear that forcing factories to pay higher wages would mean they hire FEWER workers, not more.
Anyway, now my aunt has been living in New York for one year after saving up money for a plane ticket and visa, and she is wonderfully happy to have escaped Asia and reunited with our family. None of this would be possible if it wasn’t for that “sweat shop.” ...
... In other words, the lessons of this controversy have more to do with China than with Apple. This is only marginally a technology story — I imagine we could find low-wage, tiring jobs at every factory in China, making everything that China makes. Every toy, every houseware, every garment. You could do a year’s worth of exposés.
Still, we should be happy that in this corner of the Chinese landscape, things are getting better. On ABC’s show, a Fair Labor Association inspector, Ines Kaempfer, called the last month a “Nike moment” for Apple. In the 1990s, Nike’s sweatshops weren’t the worst in the business, but they’re the ones that got the negative publicity. In response, it cleaned up its act, and thereby lifted the bar for the entire industry.
Clearly, the recent spotlight on conditions at Foxconn has performed a similar service for the electronics industry. Better wages are good. More careful monitoring is good. Transparency — like letting TV cameras into your assembly lines — is good.
The Economist: Arab spring cleaning
Why trade reform matters in the Middle East
... The Middle East has strikingly few private companies, less than one-third of the number per person in eastern Europe. Everywhere the state dominates the economy. In Egypt the public sector accounts for 40% of value-added outside agriculture—an unusually large share for a middle-income country. Such private firms as do exist tend to be large and closely connected to the state. The average Middle Eastern company is ten years older than in East Asia or eastern Europe because new entrants are kept out by pervasive red tape. The authors reckon it costs roughly 20 times the average annual income to start a firm in Syria and Yemen (assuming anyone would want to), just over twice the average globally. In a few Arab countries, like Tunisia, some notorious personifications of crony capitalism have fallen foul of political change but the practice has by no means ended. ...
... Obstacles to regional trade are legion. Costly “trade logistics”—non-tariff barriers, red tape and poor infrastructure—add 15% to the value of Egyptian clothes and 10% to the total value of all goods shipped in the region. It costs companies an average of 95 man-days a year just to deal with trade bureaucracies. It takes longer and is more expensive to ship goods between two Middle Eastern ports than to send them from the Middle East to America. Such market fragmentation, the authors argue, is the consequence of the region’s centralised, state-led economic policies.
More trade would have familiar benefits: larger markets should enable firms to reap greater economies of scale, increase returns to investment and adopt more new technology. Just as important in the Middle Eastern context, more open trade would begin the process of dismantling over-centralised states and create a constituency for further economic change.
Of course, trade liberalisation is no substitute for privatisation, financial reform and other domestic measures. But it has a political advantage over those reforms. Because the steps required are relatively small ones (reductions in red tape, for instance) they should provoke less resistance from insiders; and because regional trade can be presented as a pan-Arab goal, it does not have the same taint of “Westernisation” that discredited earlier reform efforts. Regional trade would be only a start. But the main thing is to start somewhere.
I've been reading Paul Collier's The Plundered Planet: Why We Must - And How We Can - Manage Nature for Global Prosperity. He is writing about natural resource extraction in emerging nations and the impact that has on local economies. I thought this excerpt was especially helpful:
We have now reached the heart of what is distinctive about the role of government in societies that are rich in nonrenewable natural, assets. The exploitation of the natural asset is intrinsically unsustainable. At some stage the oil well is going to run dry, the vein copper ore will be exhausted, and the revenue stream will cease.
That word "unsustainable" sends shivers down the spine every environmentalist. But just because the exploitation of a natural asset is unsustainable does not mean that it should be avoided. The only sustainable rate of use of a nonrenewable natural asset zero. But were we never to use any nonrenewable assets they might as well not be there in the first place: the baby has disappeared with the bathwater. So, literal sustainability sets the bar absurdly high. Here economics is helpful in imagining a more meaningful conception: sustainability does not imply preservation. The world has sustained overall economic growth, albeit with hiccups, for two centuries yet virtually no Single economic activity has been sustained. Growth has not been a matter of everything getting bigger. Rather, it has been like running across ice flows: if you stand still you fall in and drown; if you keep going - even if each individual step is unsustainable - you survive. In the nineteenth century the British government was worried that it was going to run out of tall trees for the masts of ships. What happened, of course, is that at a certain point ships no longer needed trees.
The decision to deplete a nonrenewable natural asset is therefore not intrinsically an economic sin. The ethics of depletion depend upon how the money generated gets used. I have suggested that it is ethically incumbent on us to respect the rights of future generations. We may not be the curators of natural assets, but we are the custodians of their value. We are not obliged to turn the earth into a gigantic museum, with nature neatly preserved in its display case. Nonetheless, we have a responsibility not to plunder natural resources because we do not own them in the way that we own created assets. We can fulfill our ethical obligations by bequeathing to the future other kinds of assets of an equivalent value. This boils down to whether to consume the revenues or save them. We have a responsibility to save.
This represents the golden rule for the ethical use of revenue from nonrenewable natural assets. It implies that the use of this revenue should be quite unlike that of normal tax revenue. Normally, tax revenue can be presumed to rise as the economy grows: it is sustainable and thus can be spent on consumption. A good test of whether the government of a resource-rich country is being ethically responsible is whether it has a higher savings rate of its revenues from natural-asset depletion than from other tax revenues. As it depletes the natural asset is it accumulating man-made assets in its place?
Do you have a higher savings rate of unsustainable income than income you expect to continue? Perhaps you have not consciously thought about it; you just have an overall savings rate out of your total income. It might equally be difficult for a government to identify which part of its overall savings is attached to which part of its income. However, we might reasonably expect that those governments whose revenues are largely generated by the depletion of natural assets should have higher savings rates than those whose revenues are fully sustainable. For example, Africa, where so much revenue comes from resource extraction, should tend to have a higher savings rate than "Developing Asia," where revenues are linked to industry. In fact, the opposite is the case. Africa's savings rate averages around 20 percent of national income, whereas that of Developing Asia has been approximately double. (98-99)
Here is just one example of the positive impact a large "evil" multi-national corporation has on economic development among the poor. There are many other stories similar to these that are rarely seen in the press.
... Seventy percent of the world's cocoa grows in West Africa, and most of that in one country, Ivory Coast. Since 1999, Ivory Coast has been through a bloody succession of military coups, rigged elections, and civil wars. "We were concerned about running into a ceiling on production there," says Harold Poelma, managing director of Cargill Cocoa. So Cargill began looking for other options. The solution that it came up with perfectly illustrates the company's global reach and long view.
Cocoa trees look like something Dr. Seuss would draw, with clusters of hard-shelled pods, as big and colorful as Halloween gourds, sprouting directly from the trunk and limbs. They don't grow just anyplace. They need shade, warmth, and humidity, as well as deep, rich soil -- conditions generally found within a band 20 degrees north and south of the equator. That band passes through Vietnam.
Cargill was one of the first U.S. multinationals to return to Vietnam when President Bill Clinton normalized relations with the government in Hanoi in 1995. Today it is the country's largest domestic producer of livestock feed and a central player in Vietnam's fast-moving shift from a state-controlled agricultural economy to one where small farmers are encouraged to work private plots for private gain. The effect of that shift has been transformative. Not long ago, Vietnam was importing a million tons of rice a year. Last year it became the world's second leading rice exporter. "Same people, same land," Vietnam's director of crop production, Dr. Nguyen Tri Ngoc, told me in his Hanoi office, speaking through a translator. "Before, farmers were not really farmers. They were workers in the fields, and they worked under the supervision of the government." And the difference now? "Free markets!" he says in English.
In 2004, Cargill launched a public-private partnership with one of its biggest customers, chocolate giant Mars, and the governments of Vietnam and the Netherlands. The aim: to create something that had never before existed in Vietnam, a cocoa-export economy.
First, Cargill had to convince a front line of growers to switch to cocoa from well-established crops like coffee, black pepper, and cashews. Two years before the first harvest (it takes at least that long for cocoa seedlings to produce fruit), before there was anything to buy, Cargill opened two fully staffed cocoa buying stations on major roads, in Ben Tre and Dak Lak provinces. It made an early commitment to transparency, posting on the Cargill website and offering by text message both the daily international price on the London market and what Cargill is paying locally; growers can lock their price for three weeks, the time it takes to ferment and dry the beans after harvest. Cargill also built a network of more than 100 demonstration farms, where curious growers can learn from their neighbors. And in February 2011 the company took delivery of the first Vietnamese cocoa beans to carry UTZ certification -- an independent sustainability program through which growers can earn an extra $100 per ton.
This year Vietnamese farmers will produce about 2,500 metric tons of cocoa, 70% of which will go to Cargill. That's a tiny sliver of the 3.4 million-ton global market, but the growth trend is impressive: 40,000 acres under cultivation in 2010, compared with 1,200 in 2003, and already 32,000 active growers in 12 provinces. Poelma sees the potential for 100,000 tons by 2020. Instead of shipping all of that to Cargill's North Sea Canal processing plant in Wormer, the Netherlands -- a voyage that takes 24 days -- Cargill hopes to have a Cargill factory in Vietnam by then, processing cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder for export to growing markets in China and India.
None of that happens without the eager participation of thousands of small growers. One I met last summer was Trinh Van Thanh, a smooth-cheeked 43-year-old with a wife, three daughters, and roughly four acres of land in Baria-Vungtau province, a two-hour drive southeast from Ho Chi Minh City. Five years ago Thanh was growing pepper and coffee and raising pigs, and he was struggling. His pepper trees were afflicted by blight. The yield from his mature coffee trees was declining year by year. He says he was $5,000 in debt.
Thanh planted his first cocoa saplings, as Vietnamese farmers often do, in the shade of his coffee trees. He enrolled in an agricultural extension program in Ho Chi Minh City, where he learned how to build a specialized slow-drip irrigation system based on technology invented on an Israeli kibbutz. When the first crop came in, Thanh made the ambitious choice to ferment and dry the cocoa beans himself. Ultimately, he built more fermentation boxes and drying tables than he needed for his own crop, which meant he could perform those value-adding services for other growers. Soon he wasn't just farming, he was running a collection station. Next he planted a cocoa-tree nursery. Then he launched an irrigation consulting business. (The man gets the concept of a virtuous cycle.) Thanh still sells all his beans to Cargill but maybe not for long. What he really wants to learn how to do next, he told me, is make and sell chocolate.
Thanh's success so far almost defies belief. He says his mini cocoa conglomerate will gross more than $850,000 this year. And if his daughter, who's about to graduate from high school, wants to go to college in America -- and he hopes that she will -- he can easily afford it.
Later in Hanoi, I tell Ngoc all about my visit to Baria-Vungtau province. When does a farmer like Thanh, I ask him, become too much of a capitalist for the Socialist Republic of Vietnam? Ngoc beams. "No limit!" he says. Again in English. ...
National Geographic has a fascinating interactive map at their website that gives some valuable socio-economic perspective. The World of Seven Billion
From the Economist
(Reuters) - Rice farmers could boost their yields by 50 percent with a new method that uses less water Oxfam America said on Wednesday as climate change and drought threaten the staple crop.
Growing rice -- considered the major calorie source for about half the world's population -- is water-intensive, accounting for as much as one-third of the planet's annual freshwater use, said Oxfam, a development group.
Rice farmers normally rely on flooding their fields to keep seeds covered in water throughout the growing season.
But the new method, known as the System of Rice Intensification, or SRI, involves planting seedlings farther apart, keeping fields moist instead of flooding them, transplanting seedlings to fields earlier and weeding manually, Oxfam said in a report.
Farmers using SRI in parts of Africa, Southeast Asia and India have been able to produce as much as 50 percent more rice with less water, and often with less labor, said the report, written with U.S.-based nonprofit Africare and the Worldwide Fund for Nature. ...
Does culture affect long-run growth? This column argues that countries with a more individualist culture have enjoyed higher long-run growth than countries with a more collectivist culture. Individualist culture attaches social status rewards to personal achievements and thus provides not only monetary incentives for innovation but also social status rewards. ...
Two interesting graphs:
Christian Science Monitor: Rape's vast toll in Iraq war remains largely ignored
Kansas City Star: As costs climb in China, manufacturers look elsewhere
Christian Science Monitor: Why Georgia is not start of 'Cold War II'
Wired: Estonia, Google Help 'Cyberlocked' Georgia
Welcome to 21st Century warfare.
The Economist: The bare necessities
Where people spend most on food and fuel
THE soaring cost of food and fuel is a concern for the governments of rich and poor countries alike. Many households in Africa and Asia shell-out more on food and fuel as a share of total spending and so are disproportionately hit by rising prices. But in some poor countries fuel subsidies help to ease the pain.
One thing to note is that China and India (with about a third of the world population) are in the yellow group not the 40% or higher. Most of Southeast Asia and Latin America are less than 40% as well. This was not the case just twenty years ago. In many of these regions 60-75% would have been common. Thus, as bad as the problem is (and it is bad) it would be far worse had worldwide economic growth not happened.
Related: Why everything costs more
Yahoo! News: Bush administration lifts North Korea sanctions
WASHINGTON - President Bush said Thursday he will lift key trade sanctions against North Korea and remove it from the U.S. terrorism blacklist, a remarkable turnaround in policy toward the communist regime he once branded as part of an "axis of evil."
The announcement came after North Korea handed over a long-awaited accounting of its nuclear work to Chinese officials on Thursday, fulfilling a key step in the denuclearization process.
Bush called the declaration a positive step along a long road to get the nation to give up its nuclear weapons. Yet, he remained wary of the regime, which has lied about its nuclear work before. And North Korea's declaration, received six months late, falls short of what the administration once sought, leaving it open to criticism from those who want the U.S. to take an even tougher stance against the regime.
"We will trust you only to the extent you fulfill your promises," Bush said in the Rose Garden. "I'm pleased with the progress. I'm under no illusions. This is the first step. This isn't the end of the process. It is the beginning of the process." ...
The stage was set, the lights went down and in a suburban Japanese primary school everyone prepared to enjoy a performance of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The only snag was that the entire cast was playing the part of Snow White.
For the audience of menacing mothers and feisty fathers, though, the sight of 25 Snow Whites, no dwarfs and no wicked witch was a triumph: a clear victory for Japan's emerging new class of “Monster Parents”.
For they had taken on the system and won. After a relentless campaign of bullying, hectoring and nuisance phone calls, the monster parents had cowed the teachers into submission, forcing the school to admit to the injustice of selecting just one girl to play the title role.
Across Japan teachers are reporting an astonishing change in the character of parents, who, after decades of respectful silence, have become a super-aggressive army of complainers. ...
Christian Science Monitor: Roots of Asia's rice crisis
Tight supplies reflect population boom and neglect of farming.
BOHOL, Philippines - Gantallan Plorensio's farm is a paradox at the heart of Asia's growing rice crisis. The fields that get enough water have never been more productive, contributing to a 5 percent annual increase in rice production over the past two years.
"We have a lot of rice fields, but no irrigation," he says. "They're just sitting there."
As a regional rice crisis looms, threatening political instability and social unrest, the idle fields in Mr. Plorensio's village underscore a failure of policy and foresight repeated across the region: For decades, governments have been encouraging a boom in services and skyscrapers, but not the capacity to grow more rice. Financing in agriculture has stagnated, and fewer farmers are expected to produce more rice for exploding populations.
That neglect is one of the central causes of what some analysts call the "perfect storm" – including rising global oil prices, drought in Australia, and inclement weather – behind the rice crisis.
"It's a failure to recognize the importance of agriculture," says Duncan Macintosh, a spokesman for the International Rice Research Institute, based in Laguna, about 40 miles from Manila, the capital of the Philippines. "Agriculture is becoming a very unfashionable industry." ...
New York Times: Taiwan’s Solution to Traffic Accidents
About a year ago in Taiwan, they started installing countdown timers at traffic lights at a number of intersections. Some counted down the amount of time remaining ’till a green light turned yellow and then red, while others counted down the amount of time remaining before a red light turned green. ...
...It’s a fact that a certain number of accidents are caused both by people who jump the gun on the red light, and those who try to make it through the intersection after the light has already turned red. Ostensibly, the reason for the timers was to give people more precise information about exactly how much time they had remaining before the light changed, in the hope of reducing accidents.
The results are quite interesting. A research institute within Taiwan’s Ministry of Transportation released a report showing that at 187 intersections which had the timers installed, those that counted down the remaining time on green lights saw a doubling in the number of reported accidents, with a 33 percent increase in the number of injuries, while those that counted down until a red light turned green saw a halving in both the number of reported accidents and injuries. Intersection that had both red and green light timers saw a 19 percent increase in reported accidents and a 23 percent increase in injuries.
The Economist: The world's silver lining
(Note: To my Emergent friends in particular, specifically those who are enamored with Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change and the popular video clip by the radical left Tides Foundation called The Story of Stuff. Here are the consequences of our modern economy (or as McLaren refers to it, "The Suicide Machine"). I plan to do a an extensive review of McLaren's neo-Malthusian treatise toward the end of February. This will have to do for now.)
In a week of financial uncertainty we look behind the headlines to a world that is unexpectedly prosperous and peaceful.
In China 25 years ago, over 600m people—two-thirds of the population—were living in extreme poverty (on $1 a day or less). Now, the number on $1 a day is below 180m. In the world as a whole, a stunning 135m people escaped dire poverty between 1999 and 2004. This is more than the population of Japan or Russia—and more people, more quickly than at any other time in history.
...in South Asia, for instance, the number of those without clean water has been nearly halved since 1990.
In 2007 Unicef, the United Nations child-welfare body, said that for the first time in modern history fewer than 10m children were dying each year before the age of five. That is still an awful lot but it represents a fall of a quarter since 1990. Life expectancy has increased a bit in low- and middle-income countries. The long march to literacy is nearing an end: three-quarters of people aged 15-25 were literate in 1975; now the rate is nearly nine-tenths.
Globalisation, it seems, leads to a shift in the direction of “replacement fertility”: the rate at which the size of a population eventually stabilises. This is a remarkable development. In closed agrarian societies, families need a lot of children as insurance against disaster. But in countries that have opened themselves up, families can rely on other sorts of protection, such as urban jobs or trade.
Last year the global economy entered its fifth year of over 4% annual growth—the longest period of such strong expansion since the early 1970s. Despite financial turmoil and soaring oil and commodity prices, world growth barely dipped in 2007 and trade grew at 9%, even though trade talks fell apart. Unlike previous expansions, inflation remained more or less under control.
Moreover, growth was spread around fairly evenly....Growth in East Asia was 10%, in South Asia over 8%, in eastern Europe almost 7% and in Africa, thanks to the commodity boom, over 6%. This was unprecedented. In earlier booms, fast growth seemed to have been the preserve of a few miracle countries, such as the Asian tigers. No longer. Almost half of humanity, spread over more than 40 nations, lives in countries growing at 7% a year or more, a rate that doubles the size of an economy in a decade. This is twice the number of fast growers that existed in the years between 1980 and 2000.
A more plausible culprit for rising inequality seems to be technological progress (see chart below). This is associated with inequality in poor countries because in emerging markets the people best able to take advantage of new technology are those who already have an education and who are usually among the richest in society. The more technological progress, therefore, the better the well-off do.
But to limit technology to reduce inequality would be a cure worse than the disease. Technology in its broadest sense—the flow of new ideas—is the only way of getting growth rates up to 5-10% a year, the rate which enables poor countries to catch up with the West. ...
...since the mid-1990s, the incomes of the poorest fifth have risen everywhere except, marginally, in Latin America, where they have been affected by the after-shocks of debt crises. In Asia, the real incomes of the poorest fifth rose 4% a year; in Africa, by 2% a year, faster than the rise for other income groups.
In 1990 those on $1 a day accounted for more than a quarter of the population of developing countries. By 2015, on current rates, the proportion of very poor people should have shrunk to 10%. Moreover, these monetary measures probably understate the real gains from things such as lower child mortality, safer water, literacy and other social achievements. A rich man appreciates his extra cash but this does not compare with what a poor family gains from seeing an infant survive childhood or learn to write.
The number of conflicts (both international and civil) fell from over 50 at the start of the 1990s to just over 30 in 2005 (definitions are obviously fluid; these are the ones used by scholars at the universities of Uppsala and British Columbia for a project called the “Human Security Report”). On their definitions, the number of international wars peaked during the 1970s and has been falling slowly since. The number of civil wars continued to rise until about 1990 and then fell precipitately. In total, the death toll in battle fell from over 200,000 a year in the mid-1980s to below 20,000 in the mid-2000s.
International Herald Tribune: Chinese goods transform life in Southeast Asia
LONG LAO GAO, Laos: The pineapple that grows here on the steep hills above the Mekong River is especially sweet, the red and orange chilies unusually spicy, and the spring onions and watercress retain the freshness of the mountain dew.
For years, getting this prized produce to market meant carrying a giant basket on a back-breaking, daylong trek down narrow mountain trails that cut through the jungle.
That is now changing, thanks in large part to China.
Villagers ride their cheap Chinese motorcycles, which sell for as little as $440, down a badly rutted dirt road to the markets of Luang Prabang, the charming city of Buddhist temples along the Mekong that draws flocks of foreign tourists. The trip takes just one and half hours.
"No one had a motorcycle before," said Khamphao Janphasid, 43, a teacher in the local school whose extended family now has three of them. "The only motorcycles that used to be available were Japanese and poor people couldn't afford them."
Cheap Chinese products are flooding China's southern neighbors and consumers in Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia are laying out the welcome mat.
The products are transforming the lives of some of the poorest people in Asia, whose worldly possessions only a few years ago typically consisted of not much more than a set or two of clothes, cooking utensils and a thatch-roofed house built by hand.
The concerns in the West about the safety of Chinese toys and pet food are largely moot for the people living in the remote villages here, although some residents complain about quality. As the first introduction to global capitalism, Chinese products are met with deep appreciation.
"Life is better because prices are cheaper," Khamphao said. ...
The Economist: A landslide in South Korea
Does a new era beckon?
AS VOTING ended in South Korea’s presidential election, exit polls indicated what most in the country had anyway expected: the opposition Grand National Party’s Lee Myung-bak was to be the country’s president. Mr Lee won a thumping endorsement, securing close to 50% of the vote in a 12-man presidential field. Mr Lee’s victory brightens the conservative GNP's prospects of also winning control of the legislature in elections next April.
So ends a decade of liberal rule by Kim Dae-jung and his successor Roh Moo-hyun. South Koreans are disillusioned with Mr Roh, who talked about improving their lot but failed to deliver robust economic growth. His divisive rhetoric angered many. “A president has to bring the country together,” Hyundai's chairman and a legislator, Chung Mong-joon, suggested. “Roh Moo-hyun divided the country.” ...
Dani Rodrik's Weblog: Sweatshops, Sweatshops Everywhere
Rodrik is reacting to an article in the New York Times about Con Edison discovering their manhole covers are being made in a sweatshop in India.
An embarrassed Con Edison says that it is now rewriting its international contracts to include safety requirements.
Fine, but what if these requirements now raise the cost sufficiently for the utility to want to switch its supplies to another source? And what if these West Bengali workers now find themselves out of a job, or earning less in even worse working environments? Would we have we done them any favors by becoming outraged at their condition?
This is one of the trickiest issues in international trade, and one for which there is no straightforward answer that I can think of.
Libertarians and fair-traders, which make an odd couple, do have a solution: they would say let consumers have information about the full hedonics--all the characteristics of a good, including the manner in which they are manufactured--and then let markets take care of it. So if Con Edison believes its customers value the welfare of West Bengali workers, it ought to be willing to pay for the extra costs its suppliers incur for running safe factories. No regulation is required; just better information.
But if you believe information and markets can address this problem, you must also believe that consumers have a good idea about the costs of improving workplace conditions and can solve complicated general-equilibrium models each time they decide how much to pay for toys from China or towels from Pakistan. For what is at issue is not just "do you care for workers over there?" but also "do you understand the full general-equilibrium consequences of what would happen to the workers concerned?" Market intermediaries can help, but we need to ask in turn who will keep them straight and honest.
Bingo! A great case study in discerning economic justice.
Linda Valentine, Executive Director of the GAC, is doing a blog on her jounrey in Asia.
Going on a mission trip, meeting people face to face who live in circumstances so very different than our own can be transforming. I know, because it has happened to me.
And it’s about to happen to me again.
I am about to set out on an Asian journey with my trusted friend and PC(USA) colleague, Insik Kim, to experience firsthand the vibrant congregations and the vital witness of our brothers and sisters in Thailand, China, and Korea. It will be a time of tremendous learning, in which I know my knowledge and my faith will be greatly increased.
I invite you to share in my journey with me by visiting my new blog for this trip. It’s true. I have launched a blog. Upon the encouragement of many of my colleagues across the PC(USA), I have gladly taken on the challenge of this new medium in order that you might travel virtually with me. I look forward to receiving your comments and feedback. ...
Yeah Linda! We have talked about blogging more than once so I guess I'm one of those many colleagues. I'm looking forward to the coming posts.
The Economist: Asia's skills shortage: Capturing talent
Despite its booming economies and huge numbers of people, Asia is suffering a big shortage of skills. And it is about to get worse.
IT SEEMS odd. In the world's most populous region the biggest problem facing employers is a shortage of people. Asia has more than half the planet's inhabitants and is home to many of the world's fastest-growing economies. But some businesses are being forced to reconsider just how quickly they will be able to grow, because they cannot find enough people with the skills they need.
In a recent survey, 600 chief executives of multinational companies with businesses across Asia said a shortage of qualified staff ranked as their biggest concern in China (see chart 1) and South-East Asia. It was their second-biggest headache in Japan (after cultural differences) and the fourth-biggest in India (after problems with infrastructure, bureaucracy and wage inflation). Across almost every industry and sector it was the same.
Old Asia-hands may find it easy to understand why there is such concern. The region's rapid economic growth has fished out the pool of available talent, they would say. But there is also a failure of education. Recent growth in many parts of Asia has been so great that it has rapidly transformed the type of skills needed by businesses. Schools and universities have been unable to keep up. ...
The Economist: China's great game in Asia
Why are there so few takers outside China for its self-proclaimed doctrine of “peaceful rise”?
LIKE the emergence of Germany in the 19th century and of America in the 20th, China's rapid rise to superpower status generates as much fear as admiration. The fears are most acute in its own neighbourhood. Yet from an historical perspective, one of the more remarkable developments of recent years may be China's submission to the tiny threads of international constraint, especially in its own region. It belongs to the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation Forum, whose members span the Pacific. The East Asia Summit and the regional forum of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) tie it closer to its Asian neighbours. The Shanghai Co-operation Organisation links it with Russia and Central Asia.
More than this, it has shown active good-neighbourliness. A generation ago, China disputed most of its borders. Almost all have been settled, with the notable exceptions of those with Japan at sea and India in the Himalayas. Even in the case of the huge claims China and India have on each other's territory, China has acquiesced in seemingly never-ending talks allowing relations to improve in other areas. It no longer routinely provokes its southern neighbours by flexing naval muscles around the sand-and-coral specks in the South China Sea where six countries' claims overlap. It has begun to “consult”, after a fashion, the lower riparian states affected when it dams its rivers, such as the Mekong and the Salween. ...
OTTAWA -- More than U.S. troops are surging in Iraq. As the international edition of Newsweek magazine reported at year-end, the Iraqi economy is expanding at a rapid rate: "Civil war or not," writer Silvia Spring says, "Iraq has an economy and -- mother of all surprises -- it's doing remarkably well." Amid anarchy and savage violence, Iraq's construction industry is booming.
Retail and wholesale trade sectors are thriving. Real estate prices are soaring -- up by several hundred per cent in the past couple of years. Iraqi oil production (at two million barrels a day) approaches Venezuelan production (2.4 million barrels a day) and could easily double in the next few years. On average, Iraqis earn 100 per cent more, in real terms, than they did under Saddam Hussein.
Public opinion surveys indicate that Iraqis are now, in economic expectations, at least, expansively optimistic.
Newsweek describes Iraq's economic revival as a product of "vibrancy at the grassroots." Three years ago, Iraq had 8,000 registered companies. Last year it had 34,000. Two years ago, Iraqis owned 1.4 million cellphones. Last year, they owned 7.1 million. (Iraqna, the country's leading mobile phone company, reported revenue of $333-million [U.S.] in 2005, $520-million in 2006.) Baghdad now has five times as many cars as it had before the war.
Global Insight, the economic research company, puts Iraq's GDP growth for 2005 at 17 per cent and for 2006 at 13 per cent. "The U.S. wanted to create the conditions in which small-scale enterprise could blossom," the magazine quotes Jan Randolph, head of sovereign risk at Global Insight's office in London. "In a sense, they've succeeded." ...
Just more evidence of what an unmitigated disaster Iraq is. :)
The Economist: Second thoughts about the Promised Land
Jews all around the world are gradually ceasing to regard Israel as a focal point. As a result, many are re-examining what it means to be Jewish.
Right from its foundation, the existence of Israel created new questions for world Jewry. If Israel's purpose was to accommodate a nation that could never be safe or fully itself in any other place, was it still possible for self-conscious Jews to flourish in “exile”? Some felt Jews had only two options: assimilate in the countries where they lived, or identify very closely with the new state, if not migrate there.
Another dilemma arose from the idiosyncrasies of religious life in the new state. Many Israelis are secular—but religious authority in the country is in the hands of the Orthodox. Where does that leave Jews outside Israel who practise more liberal forms of the faith? And the biggest dilemma is this: however proud world Jewry felt of Israel during its early struggle to survive, how should a conscientious Jew react to Israel's new image as military giant and flawed oppressor? Faced with these puzzles, Jews all over the world are finding new ways to assert their identity and a new relationship with Israel.
But Jews too young to have watched Israel rout three Arab armies in six days in 1967 are less likely to see it as heroic, morally superior, in need of help, or even relevant. “Israel in the Age of Eminem”, a report written in 2003 for the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, a Jewish charity, concluded that “There is a distance and detachment between young American Jews and their Israeli cousins that does not exist among young American Arabs and has not existed in the American Jewish community until now.” In Mr Cohen's survey, only 57% of American Jews said that “caring about Israel is a very important part of my being Jewish”, down from 73% in a similar survey in 1989.
The trouble, says Mr Bennett, is that the mainstream American Jewish institutions were born to make the case for Israel and to fight anti-Semitism. Young Jews today, however, are searching for identity, spirituality, meaning and roots. Unlike their grandparents, they are not concentrated among other Jews but spread out across society. They do not meet people in synagogues or other Jewish forums, but form their own networks. “Jewish” is just one part of their multi-faceted American identity, and Israel does not seem that relevant.
Then there is the growth of synagogues that welcome gay and transsexual Jews; of Jewish cultural centres; and of museums that celebrate Jewish history instead of mourning the Holocaust. New York has produced avant-garde projects such as Reboot, a forum for creative young Jews that in turn has spawned a magazine, a record label and a publishing house. As all these new ways of “doing Jewish” reanimate young Americans' sense of belonging, the far-off country where they could in theory go may start to matter even less.
In fact, a Jewish cultural revival is going on not just in Russia and Germany, but all across Europe. Tony Lerman of the Jewish Policy Research Institute in London cites steep rises in the numbers of Jewish museums, Jewish day schools and academic Jewish studies courses; more people are studying Yiddish, a dying language not long ago; Jewish film, music and cultural festivals are flourishing everywhere, even in Poland, a cradle of anti-Semitism.
Partly this reflects a fad for exotica among non-Jews. Still, it suggests that many Jews are reacting to anti-Semitism and fears of assimilation not by moving to Israel, but by rediscovering what it means to be Jewish outside it. Mr Shneer and Ms Aviv make the intriguing prophecy that in ten years, American Jewish foundations “will spend as much money sending young Jews to Vilnius to study Yiddish or Prague to study Jewish art or architecture as they do sending young Jews to Israel.”
From TCS Daily: Democrats Are Heroes... and Villains
The Democrats are being lauded in Europe and much of the Americas as the heroes of the hour, rescuing the USA from those mad neocons. But in most of Asia the perception is quite different -- of the Democrat majority as a threat, an enemy of trade, and a busybody across a broader range of issues than the Republican human rights campaigners with their predictable religious focus.
In China especially, where the mid-term election itself attracted little media interest, its outcome is now starting to arouse loudly expressed concern about the future relationship of the two great powers.
Wang Yiwei, associate professor at the American Studies Centre at Fudan University, Shanghai, said Rep. Pelosi is "quite prejudiced against China, so we may expect more noise on human rights and the trade deficit." Jin Canrong, vice dean of Renmin University's International Relations faculty in Beijing, commented on her "great bias against China." A number of newspapers editorialized on the same theme.
China is becoming more sophisticated about letting such commentators pre-emptively off the leash, hoping to head off potential conflict while it remains mainly a matter of rhetorical flourishes amplified in the electoral arena.
Maintaining smooth relations with Washington is at the core of Beijing's foreign policy. But if Congress keeps kicking China, Beijing will not hesitate to launch a contest for influence in the region at a time which least suits a distracted USA.
This an interesting animated map showing 5,000 years Middle East Empires in 90 seconds. My mother-in-law sent me the link. I saw this linked at another site last month but there were link problems. Hopefully, my embed here will work okay in your browser. (From Maps of War)
From Asia News: Nobel Peace Prize goes to Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus. Those of you who have followed my blog for anytime are aware of my interest in micro-finance. My link to Kiva in the right column of blog is just one organization involved in micro-finance. This article is about the founder of the micro-finance movement and his Nobel Prize recognition.
Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Bangladesh's Muhammad Yunus, 66, the inventor of micro-credit and founder of Grameen Bank (Villages’ Bank in Bangla), has been awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. PIME missionaries operating for years in the country explain that the choice of Yunus is doubly significant. On the one hand, there are the positive financial and economic aspects to his ‘invention’; on the other, there are the moral and human components closely linked to Yunus himself, “a man of upstanding character, source of hope for all those who are honest”. But they warn to beware “of not idealising” everything.
Micro-credit is based on small loans without collateral given to the poor to help them finance their small-scale activities. Founded in 1983, the Grameen Bank now has more than a thousand branches with 12,500 employees. It has 2.1 million clients in 37,000 villages; 94 per cent are women.
From the Economist: Always with them (Poverty in Indonesia)
WHEN two scavengers died last week under a landslide at Jakarta's main rubbish dump, the extensive television coverage that resulted provided a too-rare glimpse into the plight of some of Indonesia's poorest people. And their ranks are swelling. After declining for six years the number of poor people has increased sharply. Some 39m, 18% of the population of 220m, are now officially poor, according to data just released by the government's statistics bureau, 4m more than in 2005.
Admirable though it is, this policy does not tackle the root cause of Indonesia's rising poverty. A report on the subject being prepared by the World Bank argues that artificially high rice prices are much more to blame than the effects of the fuel-price increase. This is because most poor people spend a quarter of their earnings on rice, which has risen in price by more than a third in the past year. Keeping domestic rice prices higher than international prices by severely limiting imports makes little sense, the World Bank argues. It claims that 75% of the poor earn their living from agriculture but that at least 75% of the poor are net rice consumers.
From Bloomberg.com: Iraq Is Bound to Fail, Based on Squiggly Index: Amity Shlaes
It is obvious that Iraq will never make it. Afghanistan may do a little better.
The reason lies not with Donald Rumsfeld's policies, whatever you feel about the Defense secretary. Nor does the answer have to do with religious fundamentalism. The problem with Iraq is, it is insufficiently squiggly.
That is the conclusion of a recent paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a non-partisan research group in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The paper's approach is not the traditional political or diplomatic one. Rather, it is based on maps and geometry -- angles and lines.
Authors Alberto Alesina and Janina Matuszeski of Harvard University and William Easterly at New York University divided countries into two categories: natural and artificial. A natural state is one defined by ethnicity and geographic features such as mountain ranges. Mountains reinforce ethnic communities -- if only by isolating them. Natural national borders would tend to be bumpy.
The map of an artificial state by contrast looks like it was drawn with a ruler, which it often was. Its straight borders sometimes partition ethnic communities, placing them in two countries. Other times, they place tribes that are hostile to one another in the same nation.
Most nations have borders that are a combination of lines and bumps, so the authors developed a mathematical measure to quantify the extent of border bumpiness, which they called squiggliness. Since borders on oceans are extremely squiggly, the authors controlled for that and studied only the squiggliness of national borders with other nations. Their thesis is that it is better to be natural than artificial, and that squiggliness is good for growth and stability.
Democracy in the Arab World: Not yet, thanks is an interesting article the Economist about the prospects of democracy in the Middle East and in Africa.
Similar signs of a return to realpolitik have been noted with relief by Arab governments. Concerns over Iran's nuclear plans have restrained Western criticism of democracy-shy but pro-Western neighbours like Azerbaijan and the countries of Central Asia. America restored ties with Libya, rewarding its government for scrapping weapons programmes while for the most part overlooking its appalling treatment of its own people. Even Syria, forced out of Lebanon and diplomatically isolated, has escaped severe punishment for defying a long list of Western demands.
The more I watch and learn, the more I am inclined to agree with the theory that prosperity leads to democracy and not democracy to prosperity. When people have become stakeholders in society they will begin to demand democratic reforms. When democracy is imposed and few people are stakeholders, they will simply vote for the least objectionable thug or the most charismatic candidates. True reform never happens.
Voters opt for change in S. Korea is an article in the Christian Science Monitor about politics is South Korea.
The perception of a central government unable to deal with economic problems and weak in the face of North Korean demands lies at the crux of a reaction that guaranteed conservative victories in two-thirds of the races for provincial governorships and mayors of major cities.
For Korea, the reversion to conservatism portends the downfall of a decade of liberal leadership in the next presidential election in December 2007. While the ruling party's efforts at reconciliation with North Korea were not the paramount issue, the sense of forever making concessions to the North was a factor in the voting - and could be among the policies that change if the liberals are ousted next year.
Defying predictions, Bangladesh's garment factories thrive is a Christian Science Monitor Article of about the effects of globalization on the Bangladesh's garment industry.
If the global economics gurus had got it right, Sokina Begum would have been one of over 2 million garments workers in Bangladesh to become the casualties of globalization.
When Bangladesh lost its quota to export garments to the US under new international trade rules in January 2005, thousands of garments factories here were widely expected to buckle under fierce competition from cheaper Chinese exports. The UN predicted in a 2004 report that over a million women workers might be laid off from these factories.
"I attended many meetings where we were told we will lose our jobs because the treaty that helps Bangladesh to sell its goods abroad will be cancelled," says Ms. Begum.
But tallies of export figures for the first year since quotas were lifted tell a brighter story. Garments exports from Bangladesh grew by half a billion dollars last year, with most of the increased sales in the US market. The mass layoffs have not materialized.