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March 5, 2014

Angus Maddison Saw that Life Improved During the "Capitalist Epoch"



HockeyStickGraph2014-03-02.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A13) Angus Maddison, the late and eminent economist for the OECD, produced a famous chart in 1995, depicted nearby. For the longest time--basically from after the Garden of Eden until the 19th century--economic benefit for the average person in the West or Japan was flat as toast. The Mona Lisa aside, there was a reason someone back then said life was nasty, brutish and short. Then suddenly, new wealth spread broadly.

Maddison describes 1820 till 1950 as the "capitalist epoch." He means that admiringly. The tools of capitalism unlocked the knowledge created until then. What came to be called "economic growth" gave more people jobs that lifted them and their families from the muck of joblessness and poverty. Maddison also noted that much of the world did not participate in the capitalist epoch. No wonder they revolt now.

This history is worth restating because the importance of strong economic growth, and the unavoidable necessity of a U.S. that leads that growth, may be disappearing down the memory hole of public policy, on the left and even among some on the right. Both share the grim view that the U.S. economy is flatlining, and the grim fight is over how to divide what's left.



For the full commentary, see:

Henninger, DANIEL. "WONDER LAND; The Growth Revolutions Erupt; Ukrainians want what we've got: The benefits of real economic growth." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Feb. 27, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 26, 2014.)


One of Maddison's last important books was:

Maddison, Angus. Contours of the World Economy, 1-2030 AD: Essays in Macro-Economic History. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.






February 27, 2014

Fired Dissident Xia Yeliang Warns that Chinese Universities Do Not Value Academic Freedom



XiaYeliangFiredPekingEconomist2014-02-21.jpg "Xia Yeliang in New Jersey. Professor Xia, whose firing by Peking University provoked an outcry, is joining the Cato Institute." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A10) A Chinese dissident, dismissed from his job as an economics professor at Peking University after clashes with his government over liberalization, will become a visiting fellow at the Cato Institute on Monday, he said.

In an interview on Friday, the dissident, Xia Yeliang, warned that American universities should be careful about partnerships with Chinese universities. "They use the reputations of Western universities to cover their own scandals," he said.

"Perhaps Western universities do not realize that Chinese universities do not have the basic value of academic freedom, and try to use Western universities to cover their bad side," Professor Xia added.



For the full story, see:

TAMAR LEWIN. "Chinese Dissident Lands at Institute With a Caution to Colleges." The New York Times (Mon., FEB. 10, 2014): A10.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 9, 2014, and has the title "Chinese Dissident Lands at Cato Institute With a Caution to Colleges.")






February 20, 2014

The Young, with Managerial Experience, Are Most Likely to Become Entrepreneurs



(p. A13) In a current study analyzing the most recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey, my colleagues James Liang, Jackie Wang and I found that there is a strong correlation between youth and entrepreneurship. The GEM survey is an annual assessment of the "entrepreneurial activity, aspirations and attitudes" of thousands of individuals across 65 countries.

In our study of GEM data, which will be issued early next year, we found that young societies tend to generate more new businesses than older societies. Young people are more energetic and have many innovative ideas. But starting a successful business requires more than ideas. Business acumen is essential to the entrepreneur. Previous positions of responsibility in companies provide the skills needed to successfully start businesses, and young workers often do not hold those positions in aging societies, where managerial slots are clogged with older workers.

In earlier work (published in the Journal of Labor Economics, 2005), I found that Stanford MBAs who became entrepreneurs typically worked for others for five to 10 years before starting their own businesses. The GEM data reveal that in the U.S. the entrepreneurship rate peaks for individuals in their late 20s and stays high throughout the 30s. Those in their early 20s have new business ownership rates that are only two-thirds of peak rates. Those in their 50s start businesses at about half the rate of 30-year-olds.

Silicon Valley provides a case in point. Especially during the dot-com era, the Valley was filled with young people who had senior positions in startups. Some of the firms succeeded, but even those that failed provided their managers with valuable business lessons.

My co-author on the GEM study, James Liang, is an example. After spending his early years as a manager at the young and rapidly growing Oracle, he moved back to China to start Ctrip, one of the country's largest Internet travel sites.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD P. LAZEAR. "The Young, the Restless and Economic Growth; Countries with a younger population have far higher rates of entrepreneurship." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 23, 2013): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 22, 2013.)


The Lazear paper mentioned above, is:

Lazear, Edward P. "Entrepreneurship." Journal of Labor Economics 23, no. 4 (October 2005): 649-80.






January 14, 2014

China's Cultural Revolution Shows Need for Rule of Law



ChenRegretsCulturalRevolution2013-12-07.jpg ""I was too scared. I couldn't stop it. I was afraid of being called a counterrevolutionary, of having to wear a dunce's hat." CHEN XIAOLU" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) BEIJING -- ON the surface, at least, there is not much about Chen Xiaolu to suggest a lifetime of regret.

The son of one of Communist China's founding generals, he enjoyed privilege at an early age and then a career as a business consultant that took him around the world. Now 67, he relaxes on golf courses in Scotland and southern France and eschews the dark suits and high-maintenance black hair of most affluent Chinese men for casual shirts and a gray buzz cut.

But beneath the genial exterior is a memory that has haunted him for nearly 50 years. There he was, back in high school, a fresh-faced member of the volleyball team and a student leader in Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, ordering teachers to line up in the auditorium, dunce caps on their bowed heads. He stood there, excited and proud, as thousands of students howled abuse at the teachers.

Then, suddenly, a posse stormed the stage and beat them until they crumpled to the floor, blood oozing from their heads. He did not object. He simply fled. "I was too scared," he recalled recently in one of several interviews at a restaurant near Tiananmen Square, not far from his alma mater, No. 8 Middle School, which catered to the children of the Mao elite. "I couldn't stop it. I was afraid of being called a counterrevolutionary, of having to wear a dunce's hat."

A ripple of confessions about the Cultural Revolution from former Red Guards, most of them retired men of modest backgrounds, has surfaced in the last few months. But it was Mr. Chen's decision to step forward in August with a public apology that has drawn the most attention, raising hopes that a nation so determined to define its future might finally be moving to confront the horrors of its past.

He did so, he said, not only for personal redemption but also for profound reasons to do with China's political development that must include the rule of law.


. . .


Mr. Chen's remorse stands out because of his stature, then and now. He is quite candid that as the son of Chen Yi, a founder of Communist China and its longtime foreign minister, he was handed the mantle of immense authority during the decisive, early days of the Cultural Revolution.


. . .


THE Cultural Revolution remains largely hidden from view in China as successive governments have discouraged discussion of the turmoil and terror that Mao orchestrated to perpetuate his rule but that almost brought the country to its knees.


. . .


A particularly delicate subject for the party has been the number of people killed.

In Beijing alone, about 1,800 people died during August and September 1966, the height of the frenzy, when Mao first deployed students as Red Guards to turn against the party, according to the historians Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals. Estimates range from 1.5 million to three million dead across China from 1966 to 1976.


. . .


In a speech in early 1967, Chen Yi dared to criticize the Cultural Revolution. Mao sidelined him, and the man who had greeted every foreign leader to the new China was subjected to a humiliating self-criticism session and ordered to stay at home.



For the full story, see:

JANE PERLEZ. "THE SATURDAY PROFILE; A Leader in Mao's Cultural Revolution Faces His Past." The New York Times (Sat., December 7, 2013): A5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date December 6, 2013.)


ChenWithZhouEnlaiInEarly1970s2013-12-07.jpg









"Mr. Xiaolu [sic], center, with Zhou Enlai, right, in the early 1970s at a funeral." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







November 30, 2013

Google Surprised at Success of Chinese Cyberattack



(p. 268) Though the underlying issue of Google's China pullout was censorship, it was ironic that a cyberattack had triggered the retreat. Google had believed that its computer science skills and savvy made it a leader in protecting its corporate information. With its blend of Montessori naiveté and hubris that had served it so well in other areas, the company felt it could do security better. Until the China incursion, it appeared to be succeeding.


Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)






November 20, 2013

Companies Do Less R&D in Countries that Steal Intellectual Property




The conclusions of Gupta and Wang, quoted below, are consistent with research done many years ago by economist Edwin Mansfield.


(p. A15) China's indigenous innovation program, launched in 2006, has alarmed the world's technology giants more than any other policy measure since the start of economic reforms in 1978. A recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce even went so far as to call this program "a blueprint for technology theft on a scale the world has not seen before."


. . .


A comparison with India is illustrative. India has no equivalent to indigenous innovation rules. The government also is content to allow companies to set up R&D facilities without any rules about sharing technology with local partners or the like.

These policy differences appear to have a significant influence on corporate behavior. Consider the top 10 U.S.-based technology giants that received the most patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) between 2006 and 2010: IBM, Microsoft, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Micron, GE, Cisco, Texas Instruments, Broadcom and Honeywell.

Half of these companies appear not to be doing any significant R&D work in China. Between 2006 and 2010, the U.S. PTO did not award a single patent to any China-based units of five out of the 10 companies. In contrast, only one of the 10 did not receive a patent for an innovation developed in India.



For the full commentary, see:

Anil K. Gupta and Haiyan Wang. "How Beijing Is Stifling Chinese Innovation." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., September 1, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "Beijing Is Stifling Chinese Innovation.")


Mansfield's relevant paper is:

Mansfield, Edwin. "Unauthorized Use of Intellectual Property: Effects on Investment, Technology Transfer, and Innovation." In Global Dimensions of Intellectual Property Rights in Science and Technology, edited by M. E. Mogee M. B. Wallerstein, and R. A. Schoen. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1993, pp. 107-45.


Mansfield's research on this issue is discussed on pp. 1611-1612 of:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. "Edwin Mansfield's Contributions to the Economics of Technology." Research Policy 32, no. 9 (Oct. 2003): 1607-17.






October 26, 2013

Under Humble Austerity Policy China Builds $11.4 Million Giant Brass Puffer Fish



PufferFishStatueYangshong2013-10-22.jpg "A puffer fish statue in Yangzhong has raised ire in view of a government pledge to end spending on vanity projects." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. 6) HONG KONG -- Chinese Communist Party leaders' vows of a new era of humble austerity in government may have met their most exotic adversary yet: an $11 million, 2,300-ton, 295-foot-long puffer fish.

The brass-clad statue, which shimmers golden in the sunlight and switches into a garish light show at night, was built by the city of Yangzhong, in Jiangsu Province in eastern China, . . .


. . .


Chinese news outlets said the brass and steel for the fish cost about $1.7 million, raising questions about where the rest of the money went. Construction of the fish tower began on a previously isolated and undeveloped river island in March, four months after Mr. Xi was appointed party leader.


. . .


. . . China is speckled with outlandish works of official art that vie with even a giant, glow-in-the-dark puffer fish for attention and outrage.

Critics berated a county in Guizhou Province for building "the world's biggest teapot," a 243-foot-high teapot-shaped tower, complete with spout, that was part of a $13 million project.

In Henan Province, in central China, a government-backed charity has been accused of corruption in spending about $19.6 million on a vast, unsightly sculpture of Song Qingling, the widow of Sun Yat-sen, a revered founder of modern China. Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, is also home to a sculpture of two pigs in a frolicking embrace. From certain angles, the pigs might appear to be mating.



For the full story, see:

CHRIS BUCKLEY. "As China Vows Austerity, Giant Brass Fish Devours $11 Million." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., October 13, 2013): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 12, 2013.)



SongQinglingSculpture2013-10-23.jpg









"A sculpture of Song Qingling, the widow of Sun Yat-sen, a founder of modern China." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







August 25, 2013

Dubai Has Strong Ruling Clan, But Weak Institutions



DubaiBK2013-08-12.jpg
















Source of book image: http://www.christopherdavidson.net/sitebuilder/images/DVOS_cover-210x300.jpg



(p. 4) For Mr. Davidson, Dubai's greatest weakness lies in its autocratic governing system. Politics in the emirate, as in most of the Middle East, pivots not on institutions but on clans -- a ruling dynasty and its favorites who own and run Dubai in opaque fashion.

True enough, but most of the Middle East is authoritarian, yet Dubai's enlightened despotism and welcoming social environment have stood out for fostering economic advance. Like China, albeit on a tiny scale, Dubai is engaged in an experiment of economic liberalization without political democracy.

Mr. Davidson further contends that unstable neighbors threaten Dubai's success, but here he may have matters reversed. When Egypt and Iran stifle their entrepreneurs, many of them find a wide berth in Dubai. When Saudi Arabia imposes cultural restrictions on its population, Dubai offers a place to drink and let loose. When India and Pakistan have trouble creating jobs for their large populations, Dubai absorbs labor migrants. When Iraq or Lebanon descends into war, Dubai profits from rebuilding them.

In short, until a vast arc of countries from East Africa to Southeast Asia changes substantially, Dubai will remain poised to benefit by providing a relatively open, secure, low-tax, business-friendly alternative.



For the full review, see:

STEPHEN KOTKIN. "OFF THE SHELF; The Glittering Emirate, Revisited." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., December 7, 2008): 4.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 6, 2008, and the title "OFF THE SHELF; Dubai, the Glittering Emirate, Revisited.")


The book under review, is:

Davidson, Christopher M. Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.






August 15, 2013

Global Warming Allows Russians to Build Liquefied Natural Gas Plant in Arctic



NovatekArcticLiquefiedNaturalGasPlant2013-08-04.jpg "A rendering of Novatek's proposed $20 billion liquefied natural gas plant on Russia's Arctic coast, scheduled to be done by 2016." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) YURKHAROVSKOYE GAS FIELD, Russia -- The polar ice cap is melting, and if executives at the Russian energy company Novatek feel guilty about profiting from that, they do not let it be known in public.

From this windswept shore on the Arctic Ocean, where Novatek owns enormous natural gas deposits, a stretch of thousands of miles of ice-free water leads to China. The company intends to ship the gas directly there.


. . .


Novatek, in partnership with the French energy company Total and the China National Petroleum Corporation, is building a $20 billion liquefied natural gas plant on the central Arctic coast of Russia. It is one of the first major energy projects to take advantage of the summer thawing of the Arctic caused by global warming.

The plant, called Yamal LNG, would send gas to Asia along the sea lanes known as the Northeast Passage, which opened for regular international shipping only four years ago.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW E. KRAMER. "Polar Thaw Opens Shortcut for Russian Natural Gas." The New York Times (Thurs., July 25, 2013): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date July 24, 2013, and has the title "Polar Thaw Opens Shortcut for Russian Natural Gas.")






July 28, 2013

Children of Chinese Entrepreneurs Want to Work for Government



XieChaoboJoblessEngineeringStudent2013-07-23.jpg













"Engineering student Xie Chaobo has yet to land a job." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




(p. A1) BEIJING--Xie Chaobo figures he has the credentials to land a job at one of China's big state-owned firms. He is a graduate student at Tsinghua University, one of China's best. His field of study is environmental engineering, one of China's priorities. And he is experimenting with new techniques for identifying water pollutants, which should make him a valuable catch.

But he has applied to 30 companies so far and scored just four interviews, none of which has led to a job.

Although Mr. Xie's parents are entrepreneurs who have built companies that make glasses, shoes and now water pumps, he has no interest in working at a private startup. Chinese students "have been told since we were children to focus on stability instead of risk," the 24-year-old engineering student says.

Over the past decade, the number of new graduates from Chinese universities has increased sixfold to more than six million a year, creating an epic glut that is depressing wages, (p. A10) leaving many recent college graduates without jobs and making students fearful about their future. Two-thirds of Chinese graduates say they want to work either in the government or big state-owned firms, which are seen as recession-proof, rather than at the private companies that have powered China's remarkable economic climb, surveys indicate. Few college students today, according to the surveys, are ready to leave the safe shores of government work and "jump into the sea," as the Chinese expression goes, to join startups or go into business for themselves, although many of their parents did just that in the 1990s.



For the full story, see:

MIKE RAMSEY and VALERIE BAUERLEIN. "Tesla Clashes With Car Dealers; Electric-Vehicle Maker Wants to Sell Directly to Consumers; Critics Say Plan Violates Franchise Laws." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 18, 2013): B1-B2.



ChineseStudentAfterGraduationPlans2013-07-23.jpgSource of table: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






July 15, 2013

Chinese Peasants Applied Precautionary Principle to Scythe Technology



(p. 249) In a letter Orville Wright wrote to his inventor friend Henry Ford, Wright recounts a story he heard from a missionary stationed in China. Wright told Ford the story for the same reason I tell it here: as a cautionary tale about speculative risks. The missionary wanted to improve the laborious way the Chinese peasants in his province harvested grain. The local farmers clipped the stalks with some kind of small hand shear. So the missionary had a scythe shipped in from America and demonstrated its superior productivity to an enthralled crowd. "The next morning, however, a delegation came to see the missionary. The scythe must be destroyed at once. What, they said, if it should fall into the hands of thieves; a whole field could be cut and carried away in a single night." And so the scythe was banished, progress stopped, because nonusers could imagine a possible--but wholly improbable--way it could significantly harm their society.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






June 28, 2013

Discrete Caution Is Not Always Prudent in Corrupt China



TheLittleRedGuardBK2013-06-22.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.








(p. A13) When economic reform and the seductive breeze of political liberalization come to China in the 1980s, the author's cautious father tells his children that if they want to succeed they should be discreet. He urges his son, who is at Shanghai's Fudan University, not to waste his time on useless foreign books. When the son first reads Shakespeare, he thinks that the expression "to be or not to be" is taken from Confucius. His father tells him that asking for too much freedom can land you in jail. "If you are not careful the government could crush you like a bug." Not long after this warning, the student democracy movement was smashed apart at Tiananmen Square, though Mr. Huang's father did not live to see it.

In the end, it is the father who suffers as his world collapses. Toward the end of his life he was told by the Party that he was to be rewarded for devising a money-saving program at his state factory with promotion and a better wage. Instead the promotion went to the girlfriend of the local Party secretary, and the firm's bosses split his wage rise among themselves. Embittered and exhausted, he died of a heart attack in 1988, ahead of his mother.



For the full review, see:

MICHAEL FATHERS. "BOOKSHELF; Coming of Age In Mao's China; Death cannot be controlled by the party, but disposing of a body can. So the author's father built a coffin in secret at his mother's request.." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., April 30, 2012): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 29, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Huang, Wenguang. The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir. New York: Riverhead Books, 2012..






May 13, 2013

Chinese Couples Divorce to Avoid Government Regulations and Taxes



ShanghaiRealEstateMob2013-05-04.jpg "A police officer attempted to stop residents from rushing into a real estate trading center in Shanghai after new restrictions were announced." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A4) SHANGHAI -- When the Chinese government announced new curbs on property prices this month, homeowners bombarded social networking sites with complaints. They formed long lines at property bureaus to register to sell their homes before the restrictions went into effect.

And some couples went even further: they filed for divorce.

Divorce filings shot up here and in other big cities across China this past week after rumors spread that one way to avoid the new 20 percent tax on profits from housing sales was to separate from a spouse, at least on paper.

The surge in divorce filings is the latest indication of how volatile an issue real estate has become in China in the past decade and how resistant people are to additional taxes.


. . .


On Friday, at a marriage registration center in the Pudong district, a 33-year-old woman named Frances Tao arrived with her husband. She acknowledged that they were filing for divorce, not to avoid the 20 percent capital gains tax on second homes, but to get around another restriction, which requires home buyers to put down a much higher deposit on a second home than on a primary residence.

Ms. Tao said that by divorcing, one of them would be able to purchase a first home and put down less money and get a better interest rate.

"We don't have other choices," Ms. Tao said. "But the government and developers continue to make a lot of money."



For the full story, see:

DAVID BARBOZA. "In China, Checklist for a Home Seller: First, Get a Divorce." The New York Times (Sat., March 9, 2012): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 8, 2012.)






March 30, 2013

Chinese Communists Starved 45 Million in Mao's Famine



TheGreatFamineInChinaBK2013-03-09.jpg














Source of book image: http://reviews.libraryjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/xun.jpg




(p. C5) It is difficult to look dispassionately at some 45 million dead. It was not war that produced this shocking number, nor natural disaster. It was a man. It was politics and one man's vanity. The cause was famine and violence across rural China, a result of Mao Zedong's unchecked drive to turn his country rapidly into a communist utopia and a leading industrial nation.


. . .


(p. C6) . . . important pieces of evidence are being covered up . . . : Some originals transcribed in Zhou Xun's chastening documentary history, "The Great Famine in China, 1958-1962" ( . . . ) have since been reclassified by the Beijing authorities and vanished once more into closed files.

In 2010, Frank Dikötter produced "Mao's Great Famine," an authoritative account of the catastrophe, written with a bravura seldom seen in Western writing on modern China. Impassioned and outraged, Mr. Dikötter detailed the destruction, the suffering and the cruelty or hubris of China's leaders. Sorting through forgotten and hidden documents with great intellectual honesty, Mr. Dikötter ended his journey pointing his finger directly at Mao, who notoriously said, as he called for higher grain deliveries from the countryside at the height of the famine: "It is better to let half the people die so that the other half can eat their fill."


. . .


As a teenager in 1959, Mr. Yang watched his father die of starvation. Years later, while working in a senior editorial post at Xinhua, China's state-controlled news agency, he began his own search for the truth behind the famine. The author spent 20 years tracking down survivors across China and using his authority as a respected Communist cadre to access provincial archives. It was, in part, expiation for his shame in not questioning his father's death.


. . .


There is no memorial anywhere in China to the victims of the famine, no public monument, no remembrance day. Graves are not marked and mass burial grounds have disappeared into the landscape. The famine's very existence has been denied. The Communist Party will only admit to "food shortages" and "some difficulties" during the Great Leap Forward. They claim that these setbacks were a result of natural disasters.

Mr. Yang set about writing his book as a tombstone for his father and for every victim who had died from starvation. He was also erecting a tombstone for the system that brought about the Great Famine. First published in Hong Kong in 2008, Mr. Yang's work is banned in China. The reason is clear: The book challenges the very foundation of the Communist Party's authority.



For the full review, see:

MICHAEL FATHERS. "BOOKSHELF; A Most Secret Tragedy; The Great Leap Forward aimed to make China an industrial giant--instead it killed 45 million." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., October 27, 2012): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 26, 2012.)



Books under review:

Yang, Jisheng. Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.

Zhou, Xun, ed. The Great Famine in China, 1958-1962: A Documentary History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012.


The Dikötter book mentioned, is:

Dikötter, Frank. Mao's Great Famine. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010.






March 6, 2013

Entrepreneur Ping Fu Learned the Resilience of Bamboo



BendNotBreakBK2013-01-13.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.








(p. A11) The history of American business is full of immigrant success stories--of men and women who flee poverty and oppression in their home countries, arrive on our shores with only pennies in their pockets, and go on to build companies that generate wealth, create jobs, and provide innovative products and services.

Count among them Ping Fu, the Chinese-born chief executive of the high-tech company Geomagic, which provides 3D-imaging for such modern-day miracles as customized prosthetic limbs. If your child wears orthodontic braces, chances are that they were designed for his teeth with the help of Geomagic technology. Ms. Fu founded the company in 1997, 13 years after arriving in San Francisco with $80 in her purse and three English phrases in her vocabulary: "hello," "thank you" and "help."


. . .


In the U.S., Ms. Fu worked as a maid, a waitress and a baby sitter while learning English and studying computer science. She eventually landed at Bell Labs in Illinois before striking out on her own. "I was a reluctant and unlikely entrepreneur," she writes. In China, "I had been hardwired to think that money was evil, and traumatized as a child because of my family's success." Encouraged by her Shanghai Papa to follow in the family's entrepreneurial tradition, she and her then-husband launched Geomagic. In her book, she traces the challenges she faced in building a company--obtaining funding, winning customers, managing a growing staff of professionals.

Ms. Fu's life story raises a core question about the development of the human psyche: Why is it that, confronted with the kind of horrors that Ms. Fu experienced as a child, some survivors succeed in later life while others fail, overcome by the trials they endured?

Ms. Fu credits the tranquil, happy childhood she experienced for the first eight years of her life. She also points to the Taoist teachings of her Shanghai Papa, who taught her to admire the flexible nature of the bamboo trees that grew in the family garden. Bamboo, he told her, "suggests resilience, meaning that we have the ability to bounce back from even the most difficult times."



For the full review, see:

MELANIE KIRKPATRICK. "BOOKSHELF; The Art Of Resilience; Ping Fu endured gang-rape and political prison in China before arriving on our shores and founding her own high-tech firm." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., January 9, 2013): D7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date January 8, 2013.)



The book under review is:

Fu, Ping. Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds. New York: Portfolio, 2012.






February 26, 2013

Yang Documents How Mao Starved the Proletariat



TombstoneBK2013-01-11.jpg
















Source of book image: http://img1.imagesbn.com/p/9780374277932_p0_v1_s260x420.JPG




(p. C12) Yang Jisheng's "Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962" exemplifies E.H. Carr's famous dictum: "Study the historian before you study the facts." Mr. Yang is not the first historian to exhume the darkest crime of the political party that still rules China but the first Chinese journalist and longtime Party member to do so. He uses the Party's own historical records and the perpetrators' own words to craft his devastatingly detailed indictment.


For the full review essay, see:

Sylvia Nasar (author of passage quoted above, one of 50 contributors to whole article). "Twelve Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends to tell us what books they enjoyed in 2012--from Judd Apatow's big plans to Bruce Wagner's addictions. See pages C10 and C11 for the Journal's own Top Ten lists." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): passim (Nasar's contribution is on p. C12).

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Yang, Jisheng. Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.







February 19, 2013

Steve Jobs Advised Obama to Reduce Regulations of Business and Union Power in Education



(p. 544) The meeting . . . lasted forty-five minutes, and Jobs did not hold back. "You're headed for a one-term presidency," Jobs told Obama at the outset. To prevent that, he said, the administration needed to be a lot more business-friendly. He described how easy it was to build a factory in China, and said that it was almost impossible to do so these days in America, largely because of regulations and unnecessary costs.

Jobs also attacked America's education system, saying that it was hopelessly antiquated and crippled by union work rules. Until the teachers' unions were broken, there was almost no hope for education reform. Teachers should be treated as professionals, he said, not as industrial assembly-line workers. Principals should be able to hire and fire them based on how good they were. Schools should be staying open until at least 6 p.m. and be in session eleven months of the year. It was absurd, he added, that American classrooms were still based on teachers standing at a board and using textbooks. All books, learning materials, and assessments should be digital and interactive, tailored to each student and providing feedback in real time.



Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






December 6, 2012

"We Don't Need No Thought Control"



HongKongProtestrsPinkFloydPoster2012-12-01.jpg "In Hong Kong, protesters march against Beijing's introduction of 'Chinese patriotism classes' in schools." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A11) Consider the . . . scene in Hong Kong, where tens of thousands of parents, teachers and students protested an effort by Beijing to re-educate the inhabitants of the former British colony, which reverted to the mainland in 1997.

Hong Kong people objected to a government-funded booklet titled, "The China Model," which was supposed to educate them in the patriotic ways of the mainland. It celebrates China's one-party Communist regime as "progressive, selfless and united" while criticizing the U.S. political system as having "created social turbulence."

There is no reference to the Cultural Revolution or Tiananmen Square--history also suppressed on the mainland, where the Web is largely censored. The booklet even encourages Hong Kong people to learn how to "speak cautiously," a highly unlikely development to those of us who have lived in Hong Kong with its often pungently plain-spoken citizens.

The chairman of the pro-Beijing China Civic Education Promotion Association in Hong Kong, Jiang Yudui, tried to defend the booklet by saying, "If there are problems with the brain, then it needs to be washed, just like dialysis for kidney patients."

This led the Hong Kong education secretary to back away, assuring that, "Brainwashing is against Hong Kong's core values and that's unacceptable to us." Meanwhile, Hong Kong's sophisticated protesters carried banners that included lyrics from British rock group Pink Floyd, "We don't need no thought control."



For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "INFORMATION AGE; Brainwashing in the Digital Era." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., August 6, 2012): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated August 5, 2012.)






October 29, 2012

China's State-Owned Enterprises Lose Money and Slow Growth



NoAncientWisdomNoFollowersBK2012-10-12.jpg














Source of book image: http://s.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-UU147_mcgreg_DV_20121001022644.jpg





In the passages quoted below "SOE" means "state-owned enterprise."



(p. B1) If the U.S. needs another wake-up call, it will get one this week with the publication of a bracing account of the danger that China's state capitalism poses to global business--and to China itself. James McGregor's new book, "No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: The Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism," dissects the complex policies and state structures that produced China's novel system. And it describes the limited recourse the U.S. and other nations have. (Full disclosure: Mr. McGregor is a friend and former colleague at the Journal.)

"The Communist Party of China has two unwavering objectives: Make China rich and powerful and guarantee the Party's political monopoly," Mr. McGregor writes. "At the center of this are behemoth state-owned enterprises that dominate all key sectors and have been instrumental to the country's current success.

"As China's global reach expands, this one-of-a-kind system is challenging the rules and organizations that govern global trade as well as the business plans and strategies of multinationals around the globe. At the same time, the limits of authoritarian capital-(p.B2)ism are increasingly evident at home, where corruption is endemic, the SOEs are consuming the fruits of reform, and the economic engine is running out of gas."

Born in the 1950s when 10,000 Soviet advisers helped China organize central planning, the state-owned enterprises quickly became bloated extensions of the Party's patronage and power.


. . .


The enterprises themselves, meanwhile, crowded out private competition. SOEs account for about 96% of China's telecom industry, 92% of power and 74% of autos. The combined profit of China Petroleum & Chemical and China Mobile in 2009 alone was greater than all the profit of China's 500 largest private firms, Mr. McGregor writes.

An independent Chinese study, he adds, says that if you subtract government subsidies from the biggest SOEs they actually lose money.

Mr. McGregor believes pressures are building within China for change--the result of SOEs that don't innovate enough, slowing growth, an angry private sector, and a pending leadership change, among other factors. Even some top leaders say reform is needed.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN BUSSEY. "THE BUSINESS; Tackling the Many Dangers of China's State Capitalism." The New York Times (Fri., September 28, 2012): B1 & B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date September 27, 2012.)


Book under discussion:

McGregor, James. No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: The Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism. Westport, CT: Prospecta Press, 2012.






September 11, 2012

"Oldest" Pottery Now 2,000 Years Older



PotteryAncientKitchen2012-09-02.jpg "Pottery made by mobile foragers dates back 20,000 years." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



The evidence quoted below is somewhat esoteric, but it bears on an important issue: how long ago did our ancestors become our equals in terms of biological and intellectual abilities? (The longer that period, the longer is the handle in McCloskey's "Great Fact.")



(p. D3) Fragments of ancient pottery found in southern China turn out to date back 20,000 years, making them the world's oldest known pottery -- 2,000 to 3,000 years older than examples found in East Asia and elsewhere.


. . .


The crockery, found in Xianrendong Cave in Jiangxi Province, belonged to a group of mobile foragers, Dr. Bar-Yosef said. They were a hunting and gathering community; plant cultivation and agriculture probably did not arrive until about 10,000 years later.



For the full review, see:

SINDYA N. BHANOO. "OBSERVATORY; Remnants of an Ancient Kitchen Are Found in China." The New York Times (Sun., July 3, 2012): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 28, 2012.)


The full reference for the book under review, is:

Wu, Xiaohong, Chi Zhang, Paul Goldberg, David Cohen, Yan Pan, Trina Arpin, and Ofer Bar-Yosef. "Report; Early Pottery at 20,000 Years Ago in Xianrendong Cave, China." Science 336, no. 6089 (June 29, 2012): 1696-700.






August 17, 2012

"If Apple Is a Fruit on a Tree, Its Branches Are the Freedom to Think and Create"



(p. B3) Millions of Chinese flooded the popular micro blogging site Sina Weibo to tweet their condolences on the death of Steve Jobs over the past two days. They also raised the question: Why isn't there a Steve Jobs in China?


. . .


One of the most popular postings on Mr. Jobs' legacy came from scholar Wu Jiaxiang. "If Apple is a fruit on a tree, its branches are the freedom to think and create, and its root is constitutional democracy," he wrote. "An authoritarian nation may be able to build huge projects collectively but will never be able to produce science and technology giants." On that, Wang Ran, founder of a boutique investment bank China eCapital Corp., added, "And its trunk is a society whose legal system acknowledges the value of intellectual property."



For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. "China Frets: Innovators Stymied Here." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., October 8, 2011): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





June 28, 2012

Feds Subsidize First Solar's Losing Technology



(p. B2) First Solar's solar-panel business, which is focused on large solar installations that feed electricity to power companies, is dependent on government subsidies awarded to such developments.


. . .


But some worry that First Solar isn't well positioned for industry trends. The global solar-power market is moving toward rooftop solar-power systems, rather than the large-scale utility power plants where First Solar's products are most effective, said Jesse Pichel, an analyst at Jefferies Group Inc.

"This was a market leader, but its technology is being usurped or surpassed by the Chinese," said Mr. Pichel. "Their product is not competitive in the most economic and sustainable solar market, which is rooftop."



For the full story, see:

CASSANDRA SWEET And RUSSELL GOLD. "First Solar Cuts 2,000 Jobs; Panel Maker Laying Off 30% of Workers, Slashing Production Amid Supply Glut." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., April 18, 2012): B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: online version of the story is dated April 17, 2012.)






March 11, 2012

"Innovation and Invention Don't Grow Out of the Government's Orders"



ZhouYouguangTrendyOldGuy2012-03-07.jpg""You can have democracy no matter what level of development. Just look at the Arab Spring."- Zhou Youguang" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) BEIJING. EVEN at 106 years old, Zhou Youguang is the kind of creative thinker that Chinese leaders regularly command the government to cultivate in their bid to raise their nation from the world's factory floor.

So it is curious that he embodies a contradiction at the heart of their premise: the notion that free thinkers are to be venerated unless and until they challenge the legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party.

Mr. Zhou is the inventor of Pinyin, the Romanized spelling system that linked China's ancient written language to the modern age and helped China all but stamp out illiteracy. He was one of the leaders of the Chinese translation of the Encyclopaedia Britannica in the 1980s. He has written about 40 books, the most recent published last year.


. . .


His blog entries range from the modernization of Confucianism to Silk Road history and China's new middle class. Computer screens hurt his eyes, but he devours foreign newspapers and magazines. A well-known Chinese artist nicknamed him "Trendy Old Guy."


. . .


THE decade-long Cultural Revolution that began in 1966 wiped out Mr. Zhou's lingering belief in communism. He was publicly humiliated and sent to toil for two years in the wilderness.


. . .


About Mao, he said in an interview: "I deny he did any good." About the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre: "I am sure one day justice will be done." About popular support for the Communist Party: "The people have no freedom to express themselves, so we cannot know."

As for fostering creativity in the Communist system, Mr. Zhou had this to say, in a 2010 book of essays: "Inventions are flowers that grow out of the soil of freedom. Innovation and invention don't grow out of the government's orders."

No sooner had the first batch of copies been printed than the book was banned in China.



For the full story, see:

SHARON LaFRANIERE. "THE SATURDAY PROFILE; A Chinese Voice of Dissent That Took Its Time." The New York Times (Sat., March 3, 2012): A5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date March 2, 2012.)






February 26, 2012

In China the Rich and Creative Prepare to Vote with Their Feet



ShiKangBeijingMillionaire2012-02-22.jpg "Shi Kang, a millionaire writer living in Beijing, started thinking about emigrating after a long road trip last year around the U.S." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) BEIJING--This time last year, Shi Kang considered himself a happy man.

Writing 15 novels had made him a millionaire. He owned a luxury apartment and a new silver Mercedes. He was so content with his carefree life in Beijing that he never even traveled overseas.

Today, a year later, Mr. Shi is considering emigrating to the U.S.--one of a growing number of rich Chinese either contemplating leaving their homeland or already arranging to do it.


. . .


(p. A12) A survey published in November found that 60% of about 960,000 Chinese people with assets over 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) were either thinking about emigrating or taking steps to do so. The U.S. was the top destination, followed by Canada, Singapore and Europe, according to the survey by the state-run Bank of China and Hurun Report, which analyzes trends among China's wealthy.


. . .


Mr. Su was no dissident, though. Like many of his generation, he turned his attention to getting rich. Today, at 46, Mr. Su runs his own aerospace technology company and estimates his own net worth, including the various properties he owns, at around 80 million yuan, or close to $13 million.

His main reason for leaving, he says, is the business environment. "The government has too much power," he says. "Regulations here mean that businessmen have to do a lot of illegal things. That gives people a real sense of insecurity." He said four of his distributors have also applied for investment immigration to Canada.


. . .


"The problem is that government power is too great," Mr. Su says. "When the economy is going up, they think that everything they are doing is right." If they don't change, he worries, "another revolution will come soon."


. . .


The current migrant wave is different in that they are escaping neither poverty nor political unrest--and many say they are leaving for good. The Hurun survey showed that the average respondent had 60 million yuan in assets and was 42, old enough to remember the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, but young enough to have learned how to prosper in a market economy.

Deng Jie fits the profile. Twenty-seven years ago, in the fledgling years of China's market reforms, he began his career in a state-run ceramics factory in Beijing, sharing a cramped dormitory with colleagues and earning 50 yuan a month (about $13 in those days).

Today, at 48, he runs his own chemical pigments business and lives with his wife and daughter in one of the three luxury apartments he owns. In dollar terms, he is a millionaire several times over. His properties alone have appreciated by 800% in a decade.

Yet the hope he felt for his country in the 1980s, he says, has "been doused with bucket after bucket of cold water." He cited a host of concerns, including rampant corruption among the officials he deals with, and new labor regulations that he says have made his work force too costly and demanding.

"I'm representing a lot of other people like me," he says. "We used to want to contribute to the nation. But now we just feel so disappointed. China cannot continue like this. It has to change."



For the full story, see:

JEREMY PAGE. "Plan B for China's Wealthy: Moving to the U.S., Europe." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., FEBRUARY 22, 2012): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)



ChineseEB5visaApplicationGraph.jpg














Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.










February 16, 2012

"Human Progress Is Built on Man's Desire to Correct His Mistakes"



ChinaInTenWordsBK2012-02-04.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.








(p. A17) Yu Hua is one of China's most acclaimed novelists, hugely popular in his own country and the recipient of several international literary prizes. He brings a novelist's sensibility to "China in Ten Words," his first work of nonfiction to be published in English. This short book is part personal memoir about the Cultural Revolution and part meditation on ordinary life in China today. It is also a wake-up call about widespread social discontent that has the potential to explode in an ugly way.


. . .


Mr. Yu argues that corruption infects every aspect of modern Chinese society, including the legal system. Historically, Chinese peasants with grievances could go to the capital and petition the emperor for redress. Today, Mr. Yu writes, millions--yes, millions--of desperate citizens flock to Beijing each year hoping to find an honest official who will dispense justice where the law has failed them at home. What will happen when they discover that their leaders at the national level are just as corrupt as those at the local level?

The violence and deprivations of the Cultural Revolution are by now well known, but Mr. Yu's reminiscences add color and texture to what the world has learned in recent years about that lost decade. The youthful Yu Hua is something of a wise guy and a schemer, pitting himself against bureaucratic inanities. It is sometimes impossible to know whether to laugh or cry.


. . .


As awful as the Cultural Revolution was, in Mr. Yu's telling its horrors sometimes pale next to those of the present day. The chapter on "bamboozle" describes how trickery, fraud and deceit have become a way of life in modern China. "There is a breakdown of social morality and a confusion in the value system of China today," he states. He writes, for example, about householders around the country who are evicted from their homes on the orders of unscrupulous, all-powerful local officials.

Mr. Yu's portrait of contemporary Chinese society is deeply pessimistic. The competition is so intense that, for most people, he says, survival is "like war." He has few hopeful words to offer, other than to quote the ancient philosopher Mencius, who taught that human progress is built on man's desire to correct his mistakes. Meanwhile, he writes, "China's pain is mine."



For the full review, see:

MELANIE KIRKPATRICK. "BOOKSHELF; Cultural Lexicon; People, leader, reading, revolution, disparity, copycat and bamboozle--some words that serve as a springboard for critiques of China." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., December 7, 2011): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under review is:

Yu, Hua. China in Ten Words. New York: Pantheon Books, 2011.






February 13, 2012

Even Krugman Worries that China Faces "Economic Crisis"



China's economy is often touted as an exemplar of the success of government stimulus policies at promoting economic growth. So it is worth noting when a Nobel-Prize-winning international economist and advocate of government stimulus policies worries that in China:


(p. A25) . . . the bubble is bursting -- and there are real reasons to fear financial and economic crisis.


. . .


I've been reluctant to weigh in on the Chinese situation, in part because it's so hard to know what's really happening. All economic statistics are best seen as a peculiarly boring form of science fiction, but China's numbers are more fictional than most. I'd turn to real China experts for guidance, but no two experts seem to be telling the same story.

Still, even the official data are troubling -- and recent news is sufficiently dramatic to ring alarm bells.


. . .


Real estate investment has roughly doubled as a share of G.D.P. since 2000, accounting directly for more than half of the overall rise in investment. And surely much of the rest of the increase was from firms expanding to sell to the burgeoning construction industry.

Do we actually know that real estate was a bubble? It exhibited all the signs: not just rising prices, but also the kind of speculative fever all too familiar from our own experiences just a few years back -- think coastal Florida.


. . .


For what it's worth, statements about economic policy from Chinese officials don't strike me as being especially clear-headed. In particular, the way China has been lashing out at foreigners -- among other things, imposing a punitive tariff on imports of U.S.-made autos that will do nothing to help its economy but will help poison trade relations -- does not sound like a mature government that knows what it's doing.

And anecdotal evidence suggests that while China's government may not be constrained by rule of law, it is constrained by pervasive corruption, which means that what actually happens at the local level may bear little resemblance to what is ordered in Beijing.



For the full commentary, see:

PAUL KRUGMAN. "Will China Break?" The New York Times (Mon., December 19, 2011): A25.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated December 18, 2011.)





January 20, 2012

Gary Becker Says "Economics Trumps Culture"



At the Chicago American Economic Association (AEA) meetings, I attended an 8 AM session on Sun., Jan. 8, 2012 in honor of the 30 anniversary of Gary Becker's Treatise on the Family. At the end of the session, Becker discussed five issues related to the book.

One of these was the question of whether the features of the family are best understood on the basis of economic issues or cultural issues. He mentioned two examples: the Irish family and the Asian family. In the past it had been claimed that the Irish family would have enduring features due to religion and culture, features such as many children and women who stayed at home. Today, Becker noted, the Irish family looks much like other European families. He then paraphrased Singapore's former ruler Lee Kuan Yew as having claimed in the past that the Asian family is superior to the Western family in its cohesiveness and loyalty. Today, Becker noted, Asian families look much more like Western families. Becker concluded that in the short run cultural factors may dominate, but that in the long run economic factors dominate. He said "Economics trumps culture."

Becker's discussion has broader relevance. One of the issues that I am grappling with in my research and teaching is the extent to which success at entrepreneurial innovation depends on cultural differences and the extent to which it depends on differences in constraints and policies.

If policies matter more, then it is easier to see a clear path toward progress, than if murkier cultural issues matter more.





September 24, 2011

Chinese Boom Financed by Government Debt and "Clever Accounting"



EmptyLotForWuhanTower2011-08-08.jpg "An empty lot in Wuhan, China, where developers intend to build a tower taller than the Empire State Building in New York." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) . . . the Wuhan Metro is only one piece of a $120 billion municipal master plan that includes two new airport terminals, a new financial district, a cultural district and a riverfront promenade with an office tower half again as high as the Empire State Building.


. . .


The plans for Wuhan, a provincial capital about 425 miles west of Shanghai, might seem extravagant. But they are not unusual. Dozens of other Chinese cities are racing to complete infrastructure projects just as expensive and ambitious, or more (p. A8) so, as they play their roles in this nation's celebrated economic miracle.

In the last few years, cities' efforts have helped government infrastructure and real estate spending surpass foreign trade as the biggest contributor to China's growth. Subways and skyscrapers, in other words, are replacing exports of furniture and iPhones as the symbols of this nation's prowess.

But there are growing signs that China's long-running economic boom could be undermined by these building binges, which are financed through heavy borrowing by local governments and clever accounting that masks the true size of the debt.

The danger, experts say, is that China's municipal governments could already be sitting on huge mountains of hidden debt -- a lurking liability that threatens to stunt the nation's economic growth for years or even decades to come. Just last week China's national auditor, who reports to the cabinet, warned of the perils of local government borrowing. And on Tuesday the Beijing office of Moody's Investors Service issued a report saying the national auditor might have understated Chinese banks' actual risks from loans to local governments.

Because Chinese growth has been one of the few steady engines in the global economy in recent years, any significant slowdown in this country would have international repercussions.



For the full story, see:

DAVID BARBOZA. "Building Boom in China Stirs Fears of Debt Overload." The New York Times (Thurs., July 7, 2011): C8.

(Note: online version of the article is dated July 6, 2011 and has the title "Building Boom in China Stirs Fears of Debt Overload.")

(Note: ellipses added.)





September 13, 2011

Chinese Emphasis on Rote Learning Produces Passive Researchers



(p. A15) Hardly a week goes by without a headline pronouncing that China is about to overtake the U.S. and other advanced economies in the innovation game. Patent filings are up, China is exporting high-tech goods, the West is doomed. Or so goes the story line. The reality is very different.


. . .


But more than 95% of the Chinese applications were filed domestically with the State Intellectual Property Office--and the vast majority cover "innovations" that make only tiny changes on existing designs. A better measure is to look at innovations that are recognized outside China--at patent filings or grants to China-origin inventions by the world's leading patent offices, the U.S., the EU and Japan. On this score, China is way behind.


. . .


China's educational system is another serious challenge because it emphasizes rote learning rather than creative problem solving. When Microsoft opened its second-largest research lab (after Redmond, Wash.) in Beijing, it realized that while the graduates it hired were brilliant, they were too passive when it came to research inquiry.

The research directors attacked this problem by effectively requiring each new hire to come up with a project he or she wanted to work on. Microsoft's approach is more the exception than the rule among R&D labs in China, which tend to be more top-down.



For the full commentary, see:

ANIL K. GUPTA AND HAIYAN WANG. "Chinese Innovation Is a Paper Tiger; A closer look at China's patent filings and R&D spending reveals a country that has a long way to go." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 28, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)






September 2, 2011

China's "Orwellian Surveillance System"



BeijingWebCafe2011-08-07.jpg "A customer in a Beijing cafe not yet affected by new regulations surfed the Web on Monday." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A4) BEIJING -- New regulations that require bars, restaurants, hotels and bookstores to install costly Web monitoring software are prompting many businesses to cut Internet access and sending a chill through the capital's game-playing, Web-grazing literati who have come to expect free Wi-Fi with their lattes and green tea.

The software, which costs businesses about $3,100, provides public security officials the identities of those logging on to the wireless service of a restaurant, cafe or private school and monitors their Web activity. Those who ignore the regulation and provide unfettered access face a $2,300 fine and the possible revocation of their business license.


. . .


The new measures, it would appear, are designed to eliminate a loophole in "Internet management" as it is called, one that has allowed laptop- and iPad-owning college students and expatriates, as well as the hip and the underemployed, to while away their days at cafes and lounges surfing the Web in relative anonymity. It is this demographic that has been at the forefront of the microblogging juggernaut, one that has revolutionized how Chinese exchange information in ways that occasionally frighten officials.


. . .


One bookstore owner said she had already disconnected the shop's free Wi-Fi, and not for monetary reasons. "I refuse to be part of an Orwellian surveillance system that forces my customers to disclose their identity to a government that wants to monitor how they use the Internet," said the woman, who feared that disclosing her name or that of her shop would bring unwanted attention from the authorities.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW JACOBS. "China Steps Up Web Monitoring, Driving Many Wi-Fi Users Away." The New York Times (Tues., July 26, 2011): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated July 25, 2011.)





August 31, 2011

The Victimless Crime of Selling Rice Wine



IllegalRiceWine2011-08-07.jpg "Illegal rice wine for sale in Chinatown. The wine is popular among immigrants from Fujian Province." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A22) The restaurant looks like so many others in the roiling heart of Chinatown, in Lower Manhattan: a garish sign in Chinese and English, slapdash photos of featured dishes taped to the windows, and extended Chinese families crowding around tables, digging into communal plates of steamed fish, fried tofu and sautéed watercress.

But ask a waitress the right question and she will disappear into the back, returning with shot glasses and something not on the menu: a suspiciously unmarked plastic container containing a reddish liquid.

It is homemade rice wine -- "Chinatown's best," the restaurant owner asserts. It is also illegal.

In the city's Chinese enclaves, there is a booming black market for homemade rice wine, representing one of the more curious outbreaks of bootlegging in the city since Prohibition. The growth reflects a stark change in the longstanding pattern of immigration from China.

In recent years, as immigration from the coastal province of Fujian has surged, the Fujianese population has come to dominate the Chinatowns of Lower Manhattan and Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and has increased rapidly in other Chinese enclaves like the one in Flushing, Queens.

These newcomers have brought with them a robust tradition of making -- and hawking -- homemade rice wine. In these Fujianese neighborhoods, right under the noses of the authorities, restaurateurs brew rice wine in their kitchens and sell it proudly to customers. Vendors openly sell it on street corners, and quart-size containers of it are stacked in plain view in grocery store refrigerators, alongside other delicacies like jellyfish and duck eggs.

The sale of homemade rice wine -- which is typically between 10 and 18 percent alcohol, about the same as wine from grapes -- violates a host of local, state and federal laws that govern the commercial production and sale of alcohol, but the authorities have apparently not cracked down on it.



For the full story, see:

KIRK SEMPLE and JEFFREY E. SINGER. "Illegal Sale of Rice Wine Thrives in Chinese Enclaves." The New York Times (Weds., July 20, 2011): A22-A23.

(Note: the online version of the story is dated July 19, 2011.)






August 23, 2011

"A Colossal Investment Project, Born of the State, Steeped in Corruption"



CandlesChinaHighSpeedTrainCrash2011-08-06.jpg"Online critics have scornfully contrasted the difference between government rhetoric about the promise of high-speed rail and the reality of the troubled network. Local residents mourned victims of the train crash in Wenzhou on July 26." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. C1) China's high-speed rail system is an apt metaphor for the country's hurtling economy over the past decade: a colossal investment project, born of the state, steeped in corruption, built for maximum velocity, and imposed paternalistically on a public that is at once amazed and skeptical. The rail system has married foreign technology with national ambition in a network billed as the biggest and most advanced in the world, in a country whose per capita income ranks below that of Jamaica.


For the full commentary, see:

JASON DEAN And JEREMY PAGE. "Trouble on the China Express; The wreck of a high-speed train has enraged the Chinese public and focused attention on the corruption and corner-cutting behind the country's breakneck economic growth." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., JULY 30, 2011): C1-C2.






August 16, 2011

Chinese Government High-Speed Trains Are Financial "Black Holes"



(p. A11) BEIJING-A high-speed train from Beijing is scheduled to glide into Shanghai's Hongqiao railway station on Thursday after its inaugural run, an event meant to showcase China's technological prowess but one that lately has become part of a national debate about the pitfalls of megainvestment projects.


. . .


Detractors focus on corruption and safety problems that have lately tarnished the project's image. Pricey tickets, they say, underscore China's already huge rich-poor gap--and doom the trains to run half-empty, straining the national budget for years to come.


. . .


"Physically, they are good assets," says Ding Yuan, an accounting professor at China Europe International Business School in Shanghai. "Financially, they are all black holes."

More broadly, the high-speed rail problems underscore the shortcomings of a growth strategy that depends ever more heavily on investment in projects whose economic payoffs are uncertain.


. . .


Railways Minister Liu Zhijun proselytized for high-speed rail, telling leaders from Hubei province in January that they needed to "seize the rare opportunity to accelerate the development of the railway," according to a Railways Ministry report.


. . .


Government spending on rail projects ballooned from 155 billion yuan in 2006 ($24 billion) to a budgeted 745 billion yuan ($115 billion) in 2011, according to state-run Xinhua news agency. The ministry's debt ballooned to about 5% of GDP in the first quarter of 2011 from about 2% in 2007.

The project's flaws became painfully clear in February, when Mr. Liu was fired amid allegations that he embezzled around $30 million. Although government investigators didn't cite criticisms of the railway project, Mr. Liu's successor, Sheng Guangzu, has scaled back plans to focus on projects already under construction, rather than expansion. Railway consultants say work has been suspended on new lines, including Hubei projects the fired minister was pushing.



For the full story, see:

BRIAN SPEGELE and BOB DAVIS. "High-Speed Train Links Beijing, Shanghai; Cornerstone of China's Rail Expansion Illustrates Megaprojects' Speed Bumps." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., JUNE 29, 2011): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)





August 12, 2011

Chinese Local Governments Hold Bad Infrastructure Debt



(p. C14) There is no such thing as a free stimulus.

At first sight, China's response to the financial crisis looked cheap. A fiscal deficit totaling 3.1% of gross domestic product in 2009 and 2.6% in 2010 compares with 12.7% and 10.6% in the U.S. The reality is that it was considerably more expensive than that.

China's response to the crisis came primarily from bank loans rather than central government debt. With many of those loans now threatening to turn bad, the cost may still end up on the government's balance sheet.

The heart of the problem is debt taken on by local government financing vehicles in the course of two years of huge infrastructure investment. These are entities created and backed by local governments to get around legal constraints on their borrowing. No one knows how much debt they have.



For the full story, see:

TOM ORLIK. "Post-Stimulus: Who Pays for China's Bad Loans?" The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., June 23, 2011): C14.





July 7, 2011

Few Good Jobs for China's College Graduates



(p. A13) BEIJING--Young people calling themselves the "ant tribe" and living in Beijing's outskirts have prompted a national discussion about the tough job market for college graduates in China.

The term "ants"--referring to the graduates' industriousness as well as their crowded, modest living conditions--was coined in a book by Lian Si, a professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, who in a 2007-09 survey of 600 Beijing-area college graduates found their average monthly income was the equivalent of $300.

The book touched a nerve in China, inspiring both admiration for the young people's striving and indignation at their living conditions. Earlier this year, several members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body to the government, said they were moved to tears on a visit to the village of Tangjialing when they heard two young men who shared a 50-square-foot room sing a song they composed about their tough lives.


. . .


The "Song of the Ants" is a favorite. Its refrain: "Though we have nothing, we are tough in spirit; though we have nothing, we are still dreaming; though we have nothing, we still have power; though we have nothing, we are not afraid of being deserted."



For the full story, see:

Sue Feng and Ian Johnson. "Job Squeeze in China Sends 'Ants' to Fringes; Millions of College Graduates Stack Up, Seek Cheap Living on Beijing Outskirts." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 4, 2010): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 3, 2010 and has the title "China Job Squeeze Sends 'Ants' to Fringes; Millions of College Graduates Stack Up, Seek Cheap Living on Beijing Outskirts.")






June 25, 2011

Chinese College Graduates Are Underemployed "Ant Tribe" in Big Cities



(p. A1) BEIJING -- Liu Yang, a coal miner's daughter, arrived in the capital this past summer with a freshly printed diploma from Datong University, $140 in her wallet and an air of invincibility.

Her first taste of reality came later the same day, as she lugged her bags through a ramshackle neighborhood, not far from the Olympic Village, where tens of thousands of other young strivers cram four to a room.

Unable to find a bed and unimpressed by the rabbit warren of slapdash buildings, Ms. Liu scowled as the smell of trash wafted up around her. "Beijing isn't like this in the movies," she said.

Often the first from their families to finish even high school, ambitious graduates like Ms. Liu are part of an unprecedented wave of young people all around China who were supposed to move the country's labor-dependent economy toward a white-collar future. In 1998, when Jiang Zemin, then the president, announced plans to bolster higher education, Chinese universities and colleges produced (p. A12) 830,000 graduates a year. Last May, that number was more than six million and rising.

It is a remarkable achievement, yet for a government fixated on stability such figures are also a cause for concern. The economy, despite its robust growth, does not generate enough good professional jobs to absorb the influx of highly educated young adults. And many of them bear the inflated expectations of their parents, who emptied their bank accounts to buy them the good life that a higher education is presumed to guarantee.

"College essentially provided them with nothing," said Zhang Ming, a political scientist and vocal critic of China's education system. "For many young graduates, it's all about survival. If there was ever an economic crisis, they could be a source of instability."


. . .


Chinese sociologists have come up with a new term for educated young people who move in search of work like Ms. Liu: the ant tribe. It is a reference to their immense numbers -- at least 100,000 in Beijing alone -- and to the fact that they often settle into crowded neighborhoods, toiling for wages that would give even low-paid factory workers pause.

"Like ants, they gather in colonies, sometimes underground in basements, and work long and hard," said Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociology professor at Renmin University in Beijing.


. . .


A fellow Datong University graduate, Yuan Lei, threw the first wet blanket over the exuberance of Ms. Liu, Mr. Li and three friends not long after their July arrival in Beijing. Mr. Yuan had arrived several months earlier for an internship but was still jobless.

"If you're not the son of an official or you don't come from money, life is going to be bitter," he told them over bowls of 90-cent noodles, their first meal in the capital.


. . .


In the end, Mr. Li and his friends settled for sales jobs with an instant noodle company. The starting salary, a low $180 a month, turned out to be partly contingent on meeting ambitious sales figures. Wearing purple golf shirts with the words "Lao Yun Pickled Vegetable Beef Noodles," they worked 12-hour days, returning home after dark to a meal of instant noodles.


. . .


Mr. Li worried aloud whether he would be able to marry his high school sweetheart, who had accompanied him here, if he could not earn enough money to buy a home. Such concerns are rampant among young Chinese men, who have been squeezed by skyrocketing real estate prices and a culture that demands that a groom provide an apartment for his bride. "I'm giving myself two years," he said, his voice trailing off.

By November, the pressure had taken its toll on two of the others, including the irrepressible Liu Yang. After quitting the noodle company and finding no other job, she gave up and returned home.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW JACOBS. "China's Army of Graduates Is Struggling." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., December 12, 2010): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated December 11, 2010 and has the title "China's Army of Graduates Struggles for Jobs.")





June 6, 2011

Chinese Government Created Real Estate Bubble in a Dozen Ghost Towns Like Kangbashi Area of Ordos



KangbashiRealEstateBubble2011-06-02.jpg"As China's roaring economy fuels a wild construction boom around the country, critics cite places like Kangbashi as proof of a speculative real estate bubble they warn will eventually burst." Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of caption: online version of the NYT slideshow that accompanied the online article quoted and cited below.


The October 19, 2010 New York Times front page story (quoted below) on the Ordos ghost town in China, was finally picked up by the TV media on May 30 in a nice NBC Today Show report.

It should be clear that the Chinese real estate bubble will burst, just as real estate bubbles eventually burst in places like Japan and the United States. What is not clear is what the effects will be on the Chinese and world economies.


(p. A1) Ordos proper has 1.5 million residents. But the tomorrowland version of Ordos -- built from scratch on a huge plot of empty land 15 miles south of the old city -- is all but deserted.

Broad boulevards are unimpeded by traffic in the new district, called Kangbashi New Area. Office buildings stand vacant. Pedestrians are in short supply. And weeds are beginning to sprout up in luxury villa developments that are devoid of residents.


. . .


(p. A4) As China's roaring economy fuels a wild construction boom around the country, critics cite places like Kangbashi as proof of a speculative real estate bubble they warn will eventually pop -- sending shock waves through the banking system of a country that for the last two years has been the prime engine of global growth.


. . .


Analysts estimate there could be as many as a dozen other Chinese cities just like Ordos, with sprawling ghost town annexes. In the southern city of Kunming, for example, a nearly 40-square-mile area called Chenggong has raised alarms because of similarly deserted roads, high-rises and government offices. And in Tianjin, in the northeast, the city spent lavishly on a huge district festooned with golf courses, hot springs and thousands of villas that are still empty five years after completion.


. . .


In 2004, with Ordos tax coffers bulging with coal money, city officials drew up a bold expansion plan to create Kangbashi, a 30-minute drive south of the old city center on land adjacent to one of the region's few reservoirs. . . .

In the ensuing building spree, home buyers could not get enough of Kangbashi and its residential developments with names like Exquisite Silk Village, Kanghe Elysees and Imperial Academic Gardens.

Some buyers were like Zhang Ting, a 26-year-old entrepreneur who is a rare actual resident of Kangbashi, having moved to Ordos this year on an entrepreneurial impulse.

"I bought two places in Kangbashi, one for my own use and one as an investment," said Mr. Zhang, who paid about $125,000 for his 2,000-square-foot investment apartment. "I bought it because housing prices will definitely go up in such a new town. There is no reason to doubt it. The government has already moved in."

Asked whether he worried about the lack of other residents, Mr. Zhang shrugged off the question.

"I know people say it's an empty city, but I don't find any inconveniences living by myself," said Mr. Zhang, who borrowed to finance his purchases. . . .



For the full story, see:

DAVID BARBOZA. "A City Born of China's Boom, Still Unpeopled." The New York Times (Weds., October 19, 2010): A1 & A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated October 19, 2010 and has the title "Chinese City Has Many Buildings, but Few People.")




KangbashiRealEstateGraph2011-06-02.jpg















Source of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.
























May 31, 2011

China's Speculative Real Estate Bubble




Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy




In a front page article on October 20, 2010, the New York Times reported on how the Chinese government encouraged a real estate investment binge that has resulted in a growing number of empty, speculatively built ghost cities. Now the video media has picked up the story in the well-done story linked to above and cited below.


Williams, Ian, reporter. "The Roads Not Taken: Visiting China's Ghost Cities." Broadcast on the Today Show, Sunday morning, May 30, 2011.






April 17, 2011

Monster Mao



RealMaoBK2011-03-11.jpg















Source of book image: http://www.wellesley.edu/Polisci/wj/chinesepolitics/chang-halliday_files/changUS.jpg



(p. 11) After Mao comes to power, Chang and Halliday show him continuing his thuggery. This is more familiar ground, but still there are revelations. Mao used the Korean War as a chance to slaughter former Nationalist soldiers. And Mao says some remarkable things about the peasants he was supposed to be championing. When they were starving in the 1950's, he instructed: "Educate peasants to eat less, and have more thin gruel. The State should try its hardest . . . to prevent peasants eating too much." In Moscow, he offered to sacrifice the lives of 300 million Chinese, half the population at the time, and in 1958 he blithely declared of the overworked population: "Working like this, with all these projects, half of China may well have to die."

At times, Mao seems nuts. He toyed with getting rid of people's names and replacing them with numbers. And discussing the possible destruction of the earth with nuclear weapons, he mused that "this might be a big thing for the solar system, but it would still be an insignificant matter as far as the universe as a whole is concerned."

Chang and Halliday recount how the Great Leap Forward led to the worst famine in world history in the late 1950's and early 1960's, and how in 1966 Mao clawed his way back to supreme power in the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. Some of the most fascinating material involves Zhou Enlai, the longtime prime minister, who comes across as a complete toady of Mao, even though Mao tormented him by forcing him to make self-criticisms and by seating him in third-rate seats during meetings. In the mid-1970's, Zhou was suffering from cancer and yet Mao refused to allow him to get treatment - wanting Zhou to be the one to die first. "Operations are ruled out for now" for Zhou, Mao declared on May 9, 1974. "Absolutely no room for argument." And so, sure enough, Zhou died in early 1976, and Mao in September that year.

This is an extraordinary portrait of a monster, who the authors say was responsible for more than 70 million deaths.



For the full review, see:

NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF. "The Real Mao." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., October 23, 2005): 22.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Norte: the online version of the review has the title "'Mao': The Real Mao.")


Book reviewed:

Chang, Jung , and Jon Halliday. Mao: The Unknown Story. New York: Knopf, 2005.





February 23, 2011

Chinese Encyclopedia Was Burned to Protect Monopolies Granted by Emperor



(p. 262) As with Tudor England, government monopoly of patronage meant control. Virtually all copies of the seventeenth--century Chinese encyclopedia, the T'ien Kung K'ai-wu or Exploitation of the Works of Nature, which included illustrations of everything from hydraulics to metallurgy, were destroyed because, according to Joseph Needham, much of the material touched on industries that had been granted monopoly status by the Qing emperors: "The absence of political competition did not mean that technological progress could not take place, but it did mean that one decision-(p. 263)maker [i.e. the Emperor] could deal it a mortal blow." It is therefore no surprise that a high percentage of both the inventions and inventors we associate with China from the time of the Han Dynasty to the Qings were government sponsored and employed.

Another liability of a strong central government is that it is, well, strong. Europe's fragmented system of sovereign states made it possible for innovative minds such as Paracelsus, Leibniz. Rousseau, and Voltaire to "shop" for more congenial places whenever they skated too close to heretical or otherwise challenging notions; in China, one had to travel a thousand miles to a place where the empire's writ ran not.



Source:

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.

(Note: italics and bracketed words in original.)





February 2, 2011

Suppliers Hold Back Some Supply When They Expect Prices to Rise in the Future



YuFengChineseCottonFarmer2011-02-01.jpg "Farmer Yu Feng tends his stockpile of roughly 7,700 pounds of cotton that he is storing in his home in Huji, China." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


In my Micro Principles classes I explain some of the variables that shift demand curves and some of the variables that shift supply curves. Supply curves, for instance, can be shifted by a change in the expectations of future prices. So, if suppliers come to expect that prices will go up in the future, that will shift the supply curve today to the left.

When I saw the photo above, I thought it was a wonderful illustration of the point.


(p. B1) Yu Lianmin, a cotton farmer in Huji, China, harvested 6,600 pounds of cotton this year. Despite record cotton prices, he didn't sell any of it.

Instead, mounds of cotton are piled up in two empty rooms of Mr. Yu's home, and the homes of many of the farmers in his small township of Yujia, which is part of the bigger township of Huji in northern Shandong province, 220 miles southeast of Beijing.


. . .


"I think there's still hope for prices to go higher," he said.


. . .


Expectations that prices will rise are driving the apparent stockpiling, . . .




For the full story, see:

CAROLYN CUI. "Chinese Take a Cotton to Hoarding." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 29, 2011): B1 & B11.

(Note: ellipses added.)





January 27, 2011

Stranded Chinese Drivers Curse Government and Buy Noodles from Entrepreneurs



StrandedTrafficChinaEntrepreneurs2011-01-21.jpg"Enterprising residents of Hetaocun sold food to stranded travelers at a markup." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A7) HETAOCUN, China -- Compared with some of the more spectacular recent traffic jams in China, among them a 60-mile snarl last summer that paralyzed a major artery outside Beijing for two weeks, the thousands of travelers who spent the night trapped on a snow-coated highway in southwest Guizhou Province on Monday did not even warrant a mention in the local news media.


. . .


Stranded drivers chain-smoked, stomped their feet against the chill and cursed the government for failing to come to their rescue. As the night wore on, fuel lines froze and cellphone batteries died.

The residents of Hetaocun, however, saw the unmoving necklace of taillights from their mountain village and got entrepreneurial. They roused children from their beds, loaded boxes of instant noodles into baskets and began hawking their staples to a captive clientele. The 500 percent markup did not appear to dent sales.

"It rarely snows here, so this is a good thing," said Yi Zhonggui, 42, as he wove past stalled vehicles with his wife and 4-year-old daughter lugging thermoses of hot water.

As the supply of noodles ran low, residents began gathering up the walnuts that give the village its name. In between cries of "walnuts, walnuts," salesmen like Chen Xianneng obliged the desperate with snippets of news from the front, even if the information was based on hearsay.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW JACOBS. "Hetaocun Journal; As Traffic Backs Up, Villagers See Opportunity." The New York Times (Weds., JANUARY 19, 2011): A7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated January 18, 2011 and has the title "Hetaocun Journal; In China, Traffic Jam Benefits Enterprising Villagers.")





January 11, 2011

The Fragility of China's Red Capitalism



RedCapitalismBK2011-01-04.jpg













Source of book image: http://media.wiley.com/product_data/coverImage300/63/04708258/0470825863.jpg




Red Capitalism is scheduled for release on February 15, 2011. I have not read it, but from early reports it would appear to be a credible account that updates and supports concerns about China's economy expressed by David Smick (The World Is Curved) and others.


The reference is:

Walter, Carl E., and Fraser J. T. Howie. Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China's Extraordinary Rise. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2011.


The Smick book mentioned, is:

Smick, David M. The World Is Curved: Hidden Dangers to the Global Economy. New York: Portfolio Hardcover, 2008.





January 7, 2011

Trade Stats Count iPhone as Chinese Export, Despite Only 3.6% of iPhone Costs from China



iPhoneGlobalTradeGraph2011-01-02.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) . . . two academic researchers estimate that Apple Inc.'s iPhone--one of the best-selling U.S. technology products--actually added $1.9 billion to the U.S. trade deficit with China last year.

How is this possible? The researchers say traditional ways of measuring global trade produce the number but fail to reflect the complexities of global commerce where the design, manufacturing and assembly of products often involve several countries.

"A distorted picture" is the result, they say, one that exaggerates trade imbalances between nations.

Trade statistics in both countries consider the iPhone a Chinese export to the U.S., even though it is entirely designed and owned by a U.S. company, and is made largely of parts produced in several Asian and European countries. China's contribution is the last step--assembling and shipping the phones.

So the entire $178.96 estimated wholesale cost of the shipped phone is credited to China, even though the value of the work performed by the Chinese workers at Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. accounts for just 3.6%, or $6.50, of the total, the researchers calculated in a report published this month.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW BATSON. "Not Really 'Made in China'; The iPhone's Complex Supply Chain Highlights Problems With Trade Statistics." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., December 16, 2010): B1 & B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated DECEMBER 15, 2010nd that were not in the print version.)


The research report breaking down iPhone costs by country is:

Xing, Yuqing, and Neal Detert. "How the Iphone Widens the United States Trade Deficit with the People's Republic of China." ADBI Working Paper Series, no. 257, December 2010.






January 5, 2011

Chinese Communist Oligarchs Unfriend the World



ChinaFacebookLightMap2011-01-02.jpg "The Facebook friendship map, created by Paul Butler." Source of caption and map: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B7) The contrast between Facebook's spreading global network of users and its effective absence from China is starkly illustrated by a map, produced by a Facebook intern and flagged on the Economist's website earlier this month, that has lately become a point of fascination of the Chinese Internet.

Described by its creator Paul Butler as "a social graph of 500 million people," the map represents the worldwide volume of Facebook friendships across geographic locations using lines of varying intensity. Butler's methodology is interesting in its own right, but what appeared to most interest China's netizens was how China appears on the map. Or, rather, how it doesn't.


. . .


Since Facebook is blocked in China, the number Facebook friendship lines flowing in and out of the country is essentially negligible, making China almost impossible to see."



For the full story, see:

Josh Chin. "Facebook Gets Back Into China (Sort of...)." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., December 21, 2010): B7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "Facebook Gets Back Into China (Sort of...)" and includes paragraphs at the end that were not in the print version.)





December 19, 2010

Chinese Centralized Autocracy Prevents Sustained Innovation




Zheng He's voyages of exploration were mentioned in a previous blog entry.



(p. C12) The real problem with contemporary China's version of the Zheng He story is that it omits the ending. In the century after Zheng's death in 1433, emperors cut back on shipbuilding and exploration. When private merchants replaced the old tribute trade, the central authorities banned those ships as well. Building a ship with more than two masts became a crime punishable by death. Going to sea in a multimasted ship, even to trade, was also forbidden. Zheng's logs were hidden or destroyed, lest they encourage future expeditions. To the Confucians who controlled the court, writes Ms. Levathes, "a desire for contact with the outside world meant that China itself needed something from abroad and was therefore not strong and self-sufficient."

Today's globalized China has apparently abandoned that insular ideology. But it still clings to the centralized autocracy that could produce Zheng's voyages in one generation only to destroy the technology and ambition they embodied in the next. It still officially celebrates "harmony" against the unruliness and competition that create sustained innovation. Its past would be more usable if it offered models of diversity and dissent or, at the very least, sanctuary from the all-or-nothing decisions of absolutist rule.



For the full commentary, see:

VIRGINIA POSTREL. "COMMERCE & CULTURE; Recovering China's Past on Kenya's Coast." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., DECEMBER 4, 2010): C12.





November 6, 2010

Chinese Government Fines BYD and Seizes BYD Factory Site



WangMungerBuffettBYD2010-10-23.jpg"BYD Chairman Wang Chuanfu, left, at a celebration last month in Shenzhen city with Berkshire Hathaway's Charles Munger, center, and Warren Buffett." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B3) BEIJING--China's central government ordered BYD Co. to surrender land in a zoning dispute, a decision that is likely to slow the Chinese battery and auto maker's push to expand in the nation's growing auto market.

China's Ministry of Land and Resources also hit BYD with a 2.95 million yuan ($442,000) fine, the ministry said on its website Wednesday. The ministry confiscated 121 acres of land in the central Chinese city of Xian, where BYD executives said the company has been building a car assembly plant. BYD had hoped to start production at the complex as early as next year.

The ministry said zoning for the land was "illegally adjusted" to industrial use from agricultural use but didn't elaborate. The decision comes as some government officials have shown concern about excess capacity in the auto industry.


. . .


Mid American Energy Holdings Co., a unit of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., owns 10% of BYD.



For the full story, see:

NORIHIKO SHIROUZU. "China Deals a Setback to BYD." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., OCTOBER 14, 2010): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "Beijing Halts Construction of BYD Auto Plant.")





October 6, 2010

China's Continued Growth Requires Reliance on Private Enterprise



(p. A21) No country in the modern world has managed persistent economic growth without considerable reliance on private enterprise and decentralized private markets. All centrally planned economies failed to achieve sustained development, including the Soviet Union before its collapse, China before market reforms began in the late 1970s, and Cuba since Castro's revolution in the late 1950s.

China's private sector has led its dominance in textiles, electronics, and other consumer and producer goods. It's followed the model of the "Asian Tigers"--Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan--and relied heavily on exports produced with cheap labor. In the process, China has accumulated enormous reserves, as Taiwan, Japan and other rapidly growing Asian economies did in past decades.

Poorer countries like China need not get everything "right" to grow rapidly through exports to richer countries. They need only have some strong sectors that use world markets to fuel overall growth. Japan's rapid growth from the 1960s-1980s was led by a highly efficient manufacturing sector. Yet at the same time Japan also had a large and inefficient service sector, and an agricultural sector that was riddled with subsidies and inefficient incentives.

Similarly, China's economy still has a glut of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) with excessive employment and low productivity. Their importance has fallen over time, but Chinese economists estimate that they still control about half of nonagricultural GDP. One crucial example is the state-controlled financial sector that makes cheap loans to other large, inefficient and unprofitable state enterprises. China's economy also suffers from extensive price controls, restrictions on migration, and many other structural barriers to efficient growth.



For the full commentary, see:

GARY S. BECKER. "China's Next Leap Forward; The jump from middle-income to rich status is much harder to achieve than the ascent from poverty. But there are plenty of reasons to believe China's growth prospects remain strong." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., SEPTEMBER 29, 2010): A21.






July 8, 2010

Low End Tech Upstart Moves Up-Market to Compete with Incumbents



MediaTekRevenueGraph2010-05-20.gif













Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



The MediaTek example briefly mentioned below, seems a promising fit with Christensen's theory of disruptive innovators.


(p. B7) TAIPEI--A little-known Taiwanese chip-design company is making waves in the cellphone business, grabbing market share from larger U.S. rivals and helping drive down phone prices for consumers.


. . .


While MediaTek isn't known for cutting-edge innovation, it has been able to apply the nimble, cost-cutting approach of Taiwan's contract manufacturers to the business of designing semiconductors, in which engineers use advanced software to lay out the microscopic circuits that make gadgets like cellphones function.

"MediaTek has brought down the cost significantly," says Jessica Chang, an analyst at Credit Suisse Group AG, who says mobile-phone makers are increasingly drawn to MediaTek's products because of their functionality and low cost.



For the full story, see

TING-I TSAI. "Taiwan Chip Firm Shakes Up Cellphone Business." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., APRIL 19, 2010): B7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


On Christensen's theories, see:

Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor. The Innovator's Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.





June 28, 2010

China Exports to U.S. Are Smaller than Trade Stats Imply



ImportedContentInExportsGraph2010-05-20.gif












Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.





(p. A2) The WTO says world trade fell 12.2% in 2009. On Friday, the organization predicted that trade would bounce back sharply this year, rising 9.5%.

But these figures don't tell the whole truth about trade.

According to some economists, trade in finished products--the things consumers actually buy, such as cars, computers and iPods--declined by much less than 12.2% last year. That is because as much as two-thirds of the value of goods that go into trade statistics represent intermediate parts, which are imported from other countries and used to make finished products that then get re-exported. Economists call this the "valued-added effect." If the value of imported parts were stripped out, however, global trade would have declined by between 4% and around 8% last year, economists say.

By ignoring the multinational composition of goods, conventional trade data also make trade imbalances between some trading partners seem larger than they really are.

China imports a huge quantity of parts from places like Japan and South Korea, but when those components are assembled into finished goods and shipped to the U.S., all the pieces count as Chinese exports, inflating the U.S. trade imbalance with its most polarizing trade partner.

A study by the Sloan Foundation in 2007, for example, found that only $4 of an iPod that costs $150 to produce is made in China, even though the final assembly and export occurs in China. The remaining $146 represents parts imported to China. If only the value added by manufacturers in China were counted, the real U.S.-China trade deficit would be as much as 30% lower than last year's gap of at $226.8 billion, according to a number of economists.

At the same time, the U.S. trade deficit with Japan would have been 25% higher than the $44.8 billion reported last year, because many goods that China and others export to the U.S. contain parts purchased in Japan.



For the full story, see:

JOHN W. MILLER. "THE NUMBERS GUY; Some Say Trade Numbers Don't Deliver the Goods ." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 27, 2010): A2.





March 28, 2010

Entrepreneur Pleases Dwarfs; Critics Are Appalled



DwarfAngels2010-03-16.JPG"Yang Jinlu, 18, left, and Zhang Yinghua, 37." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A10) KUNMING, China -- Chen Mingjing's entrepreneurial instincts vaulted him from a peasant upbringing to undreamed-of wealth, acquired in ventures ranging from making electric meters to investing in real estate. But when he was 44, the allure of making money for money's sake began to wane. He wanted to run a business that accomplished some good.

And so last September, Mr. Chen did what any socially aware entrepreneur might do: He opened a theme park of dwarfs, charging tourists about $9 a head to watch dozens of dwarfs in pink tutus perform a slapstick version of "Swan Lake" along with other skits.

Mr. Chen has big plans for his Kingdom of the Little People. Imagine a $115 million universe in miniature, set amid 13,000 acres of rolling hills and peaceful lakes in southern China's Yunnan Province, with tiny dogs, tiny fruit trees, a 230-foot-high performance hall that looks like the stump of a prehistoric tree and standard-size guest cabins.

Also, a black BMW modified to resemble a flying saucer, from which dwarfs will spill forth to begin their performances.

"It will be like a fairy tale," Mr. Chen said. "Everything here I have designed myself."


. . .


Critics say displaying dwarfs is at best misguided and at worst immoral, a throwback to times when freak shows pandered to people's morbid curiosity.

"Are they just going there to look at curious objects?" asked Yu Haibo, who leads a volunteer organization for the disabled in Jilin Province in the northeast.

"I think it is horrible," said Gary Arnold, the spokesman for Little People of America Inc., a dwarfism support group based in California. "What is the difference between it and a zoo?" Even the term "dwarf" is offensive to some; his organization prefers "person of short stature."


. . .


But there is another view, and Mr. Chen and some of his short-statured workers present it forcefully. One hundred permanently employed dwarfs, they contend, is better than 100 dwarfs scrounging for odd jobs. They insist that the audiences who see the dwarfs sing, dance and perform comic routines leave impressed by their skills and courage.

Many performers said they enjoyed being part of a community where everyone shares the same challenges, like the height of a sink. "Before, when we were at home, we didn't know anyone our size. When we hang out together with normal-size people, we can not really do the same things," said Wu Zhihong, 20. "So I really felt lonely sometimes."


. . .


Supporters and critics agree on one point: the fact that the park is awash in job applications shows the disturbing dearth of opportunities for the disabled in China. Cao Yu, Mr. Chen's assistant, says she receives three or four job inquiries a week.

"Under the current social situation in China, they really will not be able to find a better employment situation," she said.


. . .


Mr. Chen said his employees had gained self-respect and self-sufficiency. "It doesn't really matter to me what other people say," he said. "The question is whether meeting me has changed their lives."



For the full story, see:

SHARON LaFRANIERE. "Kunming Journal; A Miniature World Magnifies Dwarf Life." The New York Times (Thurs., March 4, 2010): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated March 3, 2010.)



DwarfsRelax2010-03-16.JPG "Workers relaxed in the dormitories." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






March 20, 2010

Brin Plays Google's "Ethical Trump Card"



BrinSergey2010-03-16.jpg "Co-founder Sergey Brin has been active in Google's dealings with China." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A8) As a boy growing up in the Soviet Union, Sergey Brin witnessed the consequences of censorship. Now the Google Inc. co-founder is drawing on that experience in shaping the company's showdown with the Chinese government.

Mr. Brin has long been Google's moral compass on China-related issues, say people familiar with the matter. He expressed the greatest concern among decision makers, they say, about the compromises Google made when it launched its Chinese-language search engine, Google.cn, in 2006. He is now the guiding force behind Google's decision to stop filtering search results in China, say people familiar with the decision.


. . .


The move is the clearest manifestation yet of a tension that has always existed at Google.

The Internet company, on one hand, is analytical: It built its core search business on algorithms that determine the relevance of Web sites and has tried to apply quantitative analysis to traditionally subjective parts of a business, such as hiring decisions. On the other hand, Mr. Brin and co-founder Larry Page have passionately touted Google's ability to spread democracy through access to information, and adopted the unofficial and now-famous motto, "Don't Be Evil."

"At its best, Google is data-driven with an ethical trump card," said Larry Brilliant, who headed up the company's philanthropic efforts until 2009. Always it was the founders, Messrs. Brin and Page, who could play that card, he added.



For the full story, see:

BEN WORTHEN. "Soviet-Born Brin Has Shaped Google's Stand." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 13, 2010): A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article had the date MARCH 12, 2010 and has the slightly longer title "Soviet-Born Brin Has Shaped Google's Stand on China.")





February 21, 2010

Chinese Subsidies Create Unprofitable Overcapacity and Risk of Crisis



(p. 5) . . . subsidies, . . . , have spurred excess capacity and created a dangerous political dynamic in which these investments have to be propped up at all cost.

China has been building factories and production capacity in virtually every sector of its economy, but it's not clear that the latest round of investments will be profitable anytime soon. Automobiles, steel, semiconductors, cement, aluminum and real estate all show signs of too much capacity. In Shanghai, the central business district appears to have high vacancy rates, yet building continues.


. . .


Over all, there is a lack of transparency. China's statistics on its gross domestic product are based more on recorded production activity than on what is actually sold. Chinese fiscal and credit policies are geared toward jobs and political stability, and thus the authorities shy away from revealing which projects are most troubled or should be canceled.

Put all of this together and there is a very real possibility of trouble.



For the full commentary, see:

TYLER COWEN. "Economic View; Dangers of an Overheated China." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., November 29, 2009 ): 5.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 28, 2009.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)





February 20, 2010

"How Am I Going to Live without Google?"



GoogleChinaFlowers2010-01-25.jpg "A woman examined bouquets and messages left by Google users on Wednesday outside the Internet search company's headquarters in Beijing." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article cited way below (after the citation to the quoted article, which is a different article).


David Smick in The World as Curved, has suggested that restrictions on the internet in China, limit entrepreneurship, and ultimately economic growth.


(p. 5) BEIJING -- At the elite Tsinghua University here, some students were joking Friday that they had better download all the Internet information they wanted now in case Google left the country.

But to many of the young, well-educated Chinese who are Google's loyal users here, the company's threat to leave is in fact no laughing matter. Interviews in Beijing's downtown and university district indicated that many viewed the possible loss of Google's maps, translation service, sketching software, access to scholarly papers and search function with real distress.

"How am I going to live without Google?" asked Wang Yuanyuan, a 29-year-old businessman, as he left a convenience store in Beijing's business district.


. . .


Li An, a Tsinghua University senior, said she used to download episodes of "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy" from sites run by BT China that are now closed. "I love American television series," she said with frustration during a pause from studying Japanese at a university fast-food restaurant on Friday.

The loss of Google would hit her much harder, she said, because she relies on Google Scholar to download academic papers for her classes in polymer science. "For me, this is terrible," Ms. Li said.

Some students contend that even after Google pulls out, Internet space will continue to shrink. Until now, Google has shielded Baidu by manning the front line in the censorship battle, said a 20-year-old computer science major at Tsinghua.

"Without Google, Baidu will be very easy to manipulate," he said. "I don't want to see this trend."

A 21-year old civil engineering student predicted a strong reaction against the government. "If Google really leaves, people will feel the government has gone too far," he insisted over lunch in the university cafe.

But asked whether that reaction would influence the government to soften its policies, he concentrated on his French fries. "I really don't know," he said.




For the full story, see:

SHARON LaFRANIERE. "Google Users in China, Mostly Young and Educated, Fear Losing Important Tool." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., January 17, 2010): 5.

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "China at Odds With Future in Internet Fight" and is dated January 16, 2010.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The source of the photo at the top is the online version of:

KEITH BRADSHER and DAVID BARBOZA. "Google Is Not Alone in Discontent, But Its Threat Stands Out." The New York Times (Thurs., January 13, 2010): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the article has the slightly different title "Google Is Not Alone in Discontent, But Its Threat to Leave Stands Out" and is dated January 14, 2010.)


The reference to the Smick book is:

Smick, David M. The World Is Curved: Hidden Dangers to the Global Economy. New York: Portfolio Hardcover, 2008.





February 6, 2010

Chinese Economic Crisis Predicted by Investor Who Predicted Enron Collapse




ChanosJamesHedgeFund2010-01-23.jpg "James Chanos made his hedge fund fortune predicting problems at companies and shorting their stock." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Chanos' views discussed below are plausible and worth taking seriously. Earlier and overlapping worries about the sustainability of China's boom were expressed in a credible and scary book by David Smick called The World is Curved.

In addition to some of the concerns expressed by Chanos, Smick also emphasizes that China's restrictions on the internet will dampen the ability of its entrepreneurs to succeed. That view seems prescient given China's growing attempts to censor the internet and to hack Google.


(p. B1) SHANGHAI -- James S. Chanos built one of the largest fortunes on Wall Street by foreseeing the collapse of Enron and other highflying companies whose stories were too good to be true.

Now Mr. Chanos, a wealthy hedge fund investor, is working to bust the myth of the biggest conglomerate of all: China Inc.

As most of the world bets on China to help lift the global economy out of recession, Mr. Chanos is warning that China's hyperstimulated economy is headed for a crash, rather than the sustained boom that most economists predict. Its surging real estate sector, buoyed by a flood of speculative capital, looks like "Dubai times 1,000 -- or worse," he frets. He even suspects that Beijing is cooking its books, faking, among other things, its eye-popping growth rates of more than 8 percent.

"Bubbles are best identified by credit excesses, not valuation excesses," he said in a recent appearance on CNBC. "And there's no bigger credit excess than in China." He is planning a speech later this month at the University of Oxford to drive home his point.


. . .


(p. B4) . . . he is tagging along with the bears, who see mounting evidence that China's stimulus package and aggressive bank lending are creating artificial demand, raising the risk of a wave of nonperforming loans.

"In China, he seems to see the excesses, to the third and fourth power, that he's been tilting against all these decades," said Jim Grant, a longtime friend and the editor of Grant's Interest Rate Observer, who is also bearish on China. "He homes in on the excesses of the markets and profits from them. That's been his stock and trade."

Mr. Chanos declined to be interviewed, citing his continuing research on China. But he has already been spreading the view that the China miracle is blinding investors to the risk that the country is producing far too much.

"The Chinese," he warned in an interview in November with Politico.com, "are in danger of producing huge quantities of goods and products that they will be unable to sell."




For the full story, see:

DAVID BARBOZA. "Shorting China: the Man Who Predicted Enron's Fall Sees a Bigger Collapse Ahead." The New York Times (Fri., January 8, 2010): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "Contrarian Investor Sees Economic Crash in China" and is dated January 7, 2010.)

(Note: ellipses added.)


The reference to the Smick book is:

Smick, David M. The World Is Curved: Hidden Dangers to the Global Economy. New York: Portfolio Hardcover, 2008.


ChanosJamesPoster2010-01-23.jpg











"Now Mr. Chanos is betting against China, and is promoting his view that the China miracle has blinded investors to the risks in that economy." Source of caption and poster: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






December 8, 2009

"Market Wu" Annoys Maoists and Corrupt Bureaucrats



WuJinnglian2009-10-24.jpg "Wu Jinglian helped to create China's market economy, and now he is defending it against conservative hardliners in the Communist Party." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) AT 79, Wu Jinglian is considered China's most famous economist.

In the 1980s and '90s, he was an adviser to China's leaders, including Deng Xiaoping. He helped push through some of this country's earliest market reforms, paving the way for China's spectacular rise and earning him the nickname "Market Wu."

Last year, China's state-controlled media slapped him with a new moniker: spy.

Mr. Wu has not been interrogated, charged or imprisoned. But the fact that a state newspaper, The People's Daily, among others, was allowed to publish Internet rumors alleging that he had been detained on suspicions of being a spy for the United States hints that he is annoying some very important people in the government.

He denied the allegations, and soon after they were published, China's cabinet denied that an investigation was under way.

But in a country that often jails critics, Mr. Wu seems to be testing the limits of what Beijing deems permissible. While many economists argue that China's growth model is flawed, rarely does a prominent Chinese figure, in the government or out, speak with such candor about flaws he sees in China's leadership.

Mr. Wu -- who still holds a research post at an institute affiliated with the State Council, China's cabinet -- has white hair and an amiable face, and he appears frail. But his assessments are often harsh. In books, speeches, interviews and television appearances, he warns that conservative hardliners in the Communist Party have gained influence in the government and are trying to dismantle the market reforms he helped formulate.

He complains that business tycoons and corrupt officials have hijacked the economy and manipulated it for their own ends, a system he calls crony capitalism. He has even called on Beijing to establish a British-style democracy, arguing that political reform is inevitable.

Provocative statements have made him a kind of dissident economist here, and revealed the sharp debates behind the scenes, at the highest levels of the Communist Party, about the direction of China's half-market, half-socialist economy.

In many ways, it is a continuation of the debate that has been raging for three decades: What role should the government play in China's hybrid economy?

Mr. Wu says the spy rumors were "dirty tricks" employed by his critics to discredit him.

"I have two enemies," he said in a recent interview. "The crony capitalists and the Maoists. They will use any means to attack me."


. . .


(p. 7) In interviews, Mr. Wu says he feels compelled to speak out because conservatives and "old-style Maoists" have been gaining influence in the government since 2004. These groups, he said, are pressing for a return to central planning and placing blame for corruption and social inequality on the very market reforms he championed.

At the same time, Mr. Wu says, corrupt bureaucrats are pushing for the state to take a larger economic role so they can cash in on their positions through payoffs and bribes, as well as by steering business to allies.

"I'm not optimistic about the future," Mr. Wu said. "The Maoists want to go back to central planning and the cronies want to get richer."



For the full story, see:

DAVID BARBOZA. "China's Mr. Wu Keeps Talking." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., September 26, 2009): 1 & 7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


WuChinaTimeline2009-10-24.jpgSource of timeline graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





November 30, 2009

Obama Tire Tariff Hurts Poor



TiresChinese2009-10-29.jpg "A man walks past a tire store in Beijing on Sunday. A new U.S. tariff on Chinese tires could lead to shortages in the lower-cost-tire market segment as retailers scramble to find alternative sources in other countries." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A3) Consumers who buy low-price Chinese tires -- the bulk of the tires China exports to the U.S. -- will be hit hardest by the new tariff, as shortages in this market segment cause retailers to scramble to find alternative sources in other countries.

The tariffs, which apply to all Chinese tires, will cut off much of the flow of the more than 46 million Chinese tires that came to the U.S. last year, nearly 17% of all tires sold in the country.

The low end of the market will feel the impact of the tariff most, as U.S. manufacturers, who joined the Chinese in opposing the tariffs, have said it isn't profitable to produce inexpensive tires in domestic plants.

"I think within the next 60 days you'll see some pretty significant price increases," said Jim Mayfield, president of Del-Nat Tire Corp. of Memphis, Tenn., a large importer and distributor of Chinese tires. He estimates prices for "entry-level" tires could increase 20% to 30%.



For the full story, see:

TIMOTHY AEPPEL. "Tariff on Tires to Cost Consumers; Higher Prices Expected at Market's Low End, Where China Focuses Its Exports." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., SEPTEMBER 14, 2009): A3.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Tues., Sept. 15.)





November 22, 2009

World Trade Barriers Are Increasing



ProtectionistMeasuresBarGraph2009-10-28.gifThe small dark blue squares indicate the "number of nations that have imposed protectionist measures on each country" and the light blue squares indicate the "number of measures imposed on each category of goods." Source of quotations in caption and of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) BRUSSELS -- This weekend's U.S.-China trade skirmish is just the tip of a coming protectionist iceberg, according to a report released Monday by Global Trade Alert, a team of trade analysts backed by independent think tanks, the World Bank and the U.K. government.

A report by the World Trade Organization, backed by its 153 members and also released Monday, found "slippage" in promises to abstain from protectionism, but drew less dramatic conclusions.

Governments have planned 130 protectionist measures that have yet to be implemented, according to the GTA's research. These include state aid funds, higher tariffs, immigration restrictions and export subsidies.


. . .


According to the GTA report, the number of discriminatory trade laws outnumbers liberalizing trade laws by six to one. Governments are applying protectionist measures at the rate of 60 per quarter. More than 90% of goods traded in the world have been affected by some sort of protectionist measure.



For the full story, see:

JOHN W. MILLER. "Protectionist Measures Expected to Rise, Report Warns." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., SEPTEMBER 15, 2009): A5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





July 3, 2009

Berkshire BYD Technology Bet Based on Munger's View of BYD Manager



MungerCharlie2009-06-19.jpg











"BOOK VALUE: Berkshire Hathaway's Charles Munger reads businesses well -- and, as a bibliophile, he goes through several books a week." Source of caricature and caption: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



At a Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting a few years ago, I remember hearing Warren Buffett say that he stays away from technology stocks because he does not know how to judge which technologies are likely to succeed in the long-run. So I was a bit puzzled by the news that Berkshire Hathaway was investing in BYD, a Chinese company producing an electric car.

The passages quoted below may partially solve the puzzle: the investment in BYD was pushed by Charlie Munger and David Sokol, and was based more on a judgment about the quality of BYD's management, than the prospects for BYD's technology.


(p. C1) Mr. Munger's views have pushed Berkshire into some surprising directions. Several years ago, Mr. Munger learned of an obscure Chinese maker of batteries and automobiles called BYD Inc., which hopes to create a cheap, functional electric car.

A Chinese tech company is nothing like the shoe and underwear makers Berkshire had been buying. But Mr. Munger was enthusiastic, less about the technology than about Wang Chuanfu, who runs BYD. Mr. Wang, Mr. Munger says, is "likely to be one of the most important business people who ever lived."

Mr. Buffett was skeptical at first. But Mr. Munger persisted. David Sokol, chairman of Berkshire utility MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., paid a visit to BYD's factory in China and agreed with Mr. Munger's assessment. Last year, MidAmerican paid $230 million for a 10% stake in BYD.

"BYD was Charlie's idea," Mr. Buffett said. "When he encounters genius and sees it operating in a practical way, he gets blown away."




For the full story, see:

SCOTT PATTERSON. "Here's the Story on Berkshire's Munger." Wall Street Journal (Fri., MAY 1, 2009): C1 & C3.






June 24, 2009

"Clear Relationship in Rice Farming Between Effort and Reward"



(p. 236) What redeemed the life of a rice farmer, however, was the nature of that work. It was a lot like the garment work done by the Jewish immigrants to New York. It was meaningful. First of all, there is a clear relationship in rice farming between effort and reward. The harder you work a rice field, the more it yields. Second, it's complex work. The rice farmer isn't simply planting in the spring and harvesting in the fall. He or she effectively runs a small business, juggling a family workforce, hedging uncertainty through seed selection, building and managing a sophisticated irrigation system, and coordinating the complicated process of harvesting the first crop while simultaneously preparing the second crop.

And, most of all, it's autonomous. The peasants of Europe worked essentially as low-paid slaves of an aristocratic landlord, with little control over their own destinies. But China and Japan never developed that kind of oppressive feudal system, because feudalism simply can't work in a rice economy. Growing rice is too complicated and intricate for a system that requires farmers to be coerced and bullied into going out into the fields each morning. By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, landlords in central and Southern China had an almost completely hands-off relationship with their tenants: they would collect a fixed rent and let farmers go about their business.

"The thing about wet-rice farming is, not only do you (p. 237) need phenomenal amounts of labor, but it's very exacting," says the historian Kenneth Pomerantz. "You have to care. It really matters that the field is perfectly leveled before you flood it. Getting it close to level but not quite right makes a big difference in terms of your yield. It really matters that the water is in the fields for just the right amount of time. There's a big difference between lining up the seedlings at exactly the right distance and doing it sloppily. It's not like you put the corn in the ground in mid-March and as long as rain comes by the end of the month, you're okay. You're controlling all the inputs in a very direct way. And when you have something that requires that much care, the overlord has to have a system that gives the actual laborer some set of incentives, where if the harvest comes out well, the farmer gets a bigger share. That's why you get fixed rents, where the landlord says, I get twenty bushels, regardless of the harvest, and if it's really good, you get the extra. It's a crop that doesn't do very well with something like slavery or wage labor. It would just be too easy to leave the gate that controls the irrigation water open a few seconds too long and there goes your field."




Source:

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.

(Note: italics in original.)





June 9, 2009

Taiwan Government's Industrial Policy Ruins Economy



ExportsPlungeEastAsia2009-05-31.jpg Source of graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A8) Taiwan, where for years the government encouraged information technology companies with tax breaks, cheap land, loans and more, is probably the most endangered of the small Asian economies. The result of that government largess is an economy extremely dependent on a single industrial sector that has been devastated by plunging worldwide sales of electronics. "Half of the industries just got a bad cold, they probably can recover quickly -- the other 50 percent, they've got, not cancer, but close," said Preston W. Chen, a chemicals tycoon who is also the chairman of Taiwan's Chinese National Federation of Industries.


For the full article, see:

KEITH BRADSHER. "Memo From Singapore - East Asia's Small Edens of Trade Wilt as Need for Exports Dries Up." The New York Times (Thurs., March 5, 2009): A8.





June 5, 2009

China's Grass-Mud Horse Has "Made Government Censors Look Ridiculous"



GrassMudHorseA2009-05-31.jpg"Songs about a mythical alpaca-like creature have taken hold online in China." Source of screen capture and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) BEIJING -- Since its first unheralded appearance in January on a Chinese Web page, the grass-mud horse has become nothing less than a phenomenon.

A YouTube children's song about the beast has drawn nearly 1.4 million viewers. A grass-mud horse cartoon has logged a quarter million more views. A nature documentary on its habits attracted 180,000 more. Stores are selling grass-mud horse dolls. Chinese intellectuals are writing treatises on the grass-mud horse's social importance. The story of the grass-mud horse's struggle against the evil river crab has spread far and wide across the Chinese online community.

Not bad for a mythical creature whose name, in Chinese, sounds very much like an especially vile obscenity. Which is precisely the point.

The grass-mud horse is an example of something that, in China's authoritarian system, passes as subversive behavior. Conceived as an impish protest against censorship, the foul-named little horse has not merely made government censors look ridiculous, although it has surely done that.

It has also raised real ques-(p. A12)tions about China's ability to stanch the flow of information over the Internet -- a project on which the Chinese government already has expended untold riches, and written countless software algorithms to weed deviant thought from the world's largest cyber-community.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL WINES. "Mythical Beast (a Dirty Pun) Tweaks China's Web Censors." The New York Times (Thurs., March 12, 2009): A1 & A12.

(Note: the online title of the article is: "A Dirty Pun Tweaks China's Online Censors.")


GrassMudHorseB2009-05-31.jpg"The popularity of the grass-mud horse has raised questions about China's ability to stanch the flow of information." Source of screen capture and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






October 13, 2008

Chinese Prometheus: Executing the Inventor of Airplane


Here is a significant claim from "an elderly Chinese professor" (p. 76) who was talking to Robert Payne in 1943. Payne was "a writer and teacher who befriended Needham in China." The passage is quoted in an entertaining new book by Simon Winchester.

(p. 77) ". . .; we invented an airplane, and quite rightly executed the inventor; . . . "


Source:

Winchester, Simon. The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2008.


Winchester does not document his source for the quote, but it is presumably one of these two books by Payne, that are listed in Winchester's bibliography:

Payne, Robert. Chinese Diaries 1941-1946. New York: Weybright and Talley, 1945.

Payne, Robert. Chungking Diary. London: Weybright and Talley, 1945.




July 27, 2008

Solar Energy Costs Soar in Germany



(p. C1) Thanks to its aggressive push into renewable energies, cloud-wreathed Germany has become an unlikely leader in the race to harness the sun's energy. It has by far the largest market for photovoltaic systems, which convert sunlight into electricity, with roughly half of the world's total installations. And it is the third-largest producer of solar cells and modules, after China and Japan.


Now, though, with so many solar panels on so many rooftops, critics say Germany has too much of a good thing -- even in a time of record oil prices. Conservative lawmakers, in particular, want to pare back generous government incentives that support solar development. They say solar generation is growing so fast that it threatens to overburden consumers with high electricity bills.

. . .

(p. C7) At the heart of the debate is the Renewable Energy Sources Act. It requires power companies to buy all the alternative energy produced by these systems, at a fixed above-market price, for 20 years.

. . .

Christian Democrats, . . . , say the law has been too successful for its own good. Utilities, they note, are allowed to pass along the extra cost of buying renewable energy to customers, and there is no cap on the capacity that can be installed -- as exists in other countries to prevent subsidies from mushrooming.

At the moment, solar energy adds 1.01 euros ($1.69) a month to a typical home electricity bill, a modest surcharge that Germans are willing to pay. That will increase to 2.14 euros a month by 2014, according to the German Solar Energy Association.

But the volume of solar-generated energy is rising much faster than originally predicted, and critics contend that the costs will soar. Mr. Pfeiffer, the legislator, said solar power could end up adding 8 euros ($12.32) to a monthly electricity bill, which would alienate even the most green-minded. With no change in the law, he says, the solar industry will soak up 120 billion euros ($184 billion) in public support by 2015.



For the full story, see:

MARK LANDLER. "Solar Valley Rises in an Overcast Land." The New York Times (Fri., May 16, 2008): C1 & C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)





June 22, 2008

Reducing the Cost of Hotels: Prefab Rooms from China


ChinesePrefabHotelRooms.jpg "The Travelodge chain in Britain is building two hotels from stackable metal containers imported from China. One of the hotels, in Uxbridge in West London, is shown under construction at right and in a rendering at left." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 23) TRAVELODGE, one of the largest budget hotel chains in Britain, is a company in a hurry.

. . .

Once the company finds a location, it turns to a construction partner with equally aggressive plans: Verbus Systems, a London-based company that builds rooms in metal containers in factories near Shenzhen, China, and delivers them ready to be stacked into buildings up to 16 stories tall.

Verbus Systems' commercial director, Paul Rollett, said his company "can build a 300-room hotel anywhere on the planet in 20 weeks."

. . .

When they arrive at Heathrow, the containers will be hoisted into place by crane. The containers, which are as large as 12 by 47 feet, will support one another just as they do when they are crossing the ocean by ship, Mr. Rollett said. No additional structure is necessary.

. . .

DON CARLSON, the editor and publisher of Automated Builder, a trade magazine based in Ventura, Calif., said that in hotels, "modular is definitely the wave of the future." Modular buildings, he said, are stronger, and more soundproof, because stacking units -- each a fully enclosed room -- "gives you double walls, double floors, double everything."

Mr. Rollett agreed, saying that with the steel shipping container approach, "You could have a party in your room, and people in the next room wouldn't hear a thing."

. . .

He is working with his British clients, which, he said, include a Travelodge competitor, Premier Inn, to make the best possible use of the assembly-line method. "We're increasing the degree of modularity," he said, noting that the latest units come with fully fitted bathrooms and "even the paint on the walls."

The only thing they don't have, he said, "is the girl to put a chocolate on your pillow."


For the full article, see:

FRED A. BERNSTEIN. "CHECKING IN; Arriving in London: Hotels Made in China." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., May 11, 2008): 23.

(Note: ellipses added.)




June 10, 2008

Stark Artistic Depiction of Chinese Communism


BloodlineTheBigFamily.jpg "Zhang Xiaogang's "Bloodline: The Big Family No. 3."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) BEIJING -- Sotheby's sold $51.77 million worth of Chinese contemporary art in three auctions in Hong Kong on Wednesday, allaying concerns that the global economic slowdown would depress the prices.

. . .

The star of that auction was a 1995 painting by Zhang Xiaogang, one of China's most prominent artists, which sold for just over $6 million, the highest price ever paid for a painting by a Chinese contemporary artist.

That oil on canvas, "Bloodline: Big Family No. 3," depicts a family of three during the tumultuous Cultural Revolution in China, when children were sometimes led to denounce their parents. Three collectors bid feverishly for the piece, which sold for far above its high estimate, about $3.4 million.


For the full story, see:

DAVID BARBOZA. "Chinese Art Continues To Soar at Sotheby's." The New York Times (Thurs., April 10, 2008): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





June 4, 2008

Which Economic System Protects Us from 'Natural' Disasters?


CommunistPartyBossOnKnees.jpg "Jiang Guohua, the Communist Party boss of Mianzhu, knelt Sunday to ask parents of earthquake victims to abandon their protest." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A10) One man shouted, "Was this a natural disaster or a man-made disaster?" In unison, the parents shouted back: "Man-made!"

For the full story, see:

JAMES T. AREDDY. "Reporter's Notebook; Tears and Anger Flow as Parents Cast Blame in Children's Deaths." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 20, 2008): A10.


(p. A1) DUJIANGYAN, China -- Bereaved parents whose children were crushed to death in their classrooms during the earthquake in Sichuan Province have turned mourning ceremonies into protests in recent days, forcing officials to address growing political repercussions over shoddy construction of public schools.

Parents of the estimated 10,000 children who lost their lives in the quake have grown so enraged about collapsed schools that they have overcome their usual caution about confronting Communist Party officials. Many say they are especially upset that some schools for poor students crumbled into rubble even though government offices and more elite schools not far away survived the May 12 quake largely intact.

On Tuesday, an informal gathering of parents at Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan to commemorate their children gave way to unbridled fury. One of the fathers in attendance, a quarry worker named Liu Lifu, grabbed the microphone and began calling for justice. His 15-year-old daughter, Liu Li, was killed along with her entire class during a biology lesson.

"We demand that the government severely punish the killers who caused the collapse of the school building," he shouted. "Please, everyone sign the petition so we can find out the truth."

The crowd grew more agitated. Some parents said local officials had known for years that the school was unsafe but refused to take action. Others recalled that two hours passed before rescue workers showed up; even then, they stopped working at 10 p.m. on the night of the earthquake and did not resume the search until 9 a.m. the next day.

Although there is no official casualty count, only 13 of the school's 900 students came out alive, parents said. "The people responsible for this should be brought here and have a bullet put in their head," said Luo Guanmin, a farmer who was cradling a photo of his 16-year-old daughter, Luo Dan.

Sharp confrontations between protesters and officials began over the weekend in several towns in northern Sichuan. Hundreds of parents whose children died at the Fuxin No. 2 Primary School in the city of Mianzhu staged an impromptu rally on Saturday. They surrounded an official who tried to assure them that their complaints were being taken seriously, screaming and yelling in her face until she fainted.

The next day, the Communist (p. A10) Party's top official in Mianzhu came out to talk with the parents and to try to stop them from marching to Chengdu, the provincial capital, where they sought to prevail on higher-level authorities to investigate. The local party boss, Jiang Guohua, dropped to his knees and pleaded with them to abandon the protest, but the parents shouted in his face and continued their march.

Later, as the crowd surged into the hundreds, some parents clashed with the police, leaving several bleeding and trembling with emotion.

The protests threaten to undermine the government's attempts to promote its response to the quake as effective and to highlight heroic rescue efforts by the People's Liberation Army, which has dispatched 150,000 soldiers to the region. Censors have blocked detailed reporting of the schools controversy by the state-run media, but a photo of Mr. Jiang kneeling before protesters has become a sensation on some Web forums, bringing national attention to the incident.

. . .

. . . all at once the women doubled over in agony, a chorus of 100 mothers wailing over the loss of sons and daughters who, because of China's population control policy, were their only children. The husbands wept in silence, paralyzed by the storm of emotion.


For the full story, see:

ANDREW JACOBS. "Parents' Grief Turns to Rage at Chinese Officials." The New York Times (Weds., May 28, 2008): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)


ChinaMotherSon.jpg
"A memorial service for hundreds of students of Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan, where a mother held a picture of her son, turned into an angry protest." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




May 3, 2008

Greenspan on Leapfrogging in India


(p. 316) India is fast becoming two entities: a rising kernal of world-class modernity within a historic culture that has been for the most part stagnating for generations.

This kernal of modernity appears to have largely leapfrogged the twentieth-century labor-intensive manuafacturing-for-export model embraced by China and the rest of East Asia.


Source:

Greenspan, Alan. The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World Economic Flexibility. New York: Penguin Press, 2007.




April 6, 2008

Market Prices Send "the Right Signal to the Customer to Save Energy"


In the passage quoted below, the "commission" refers to China's "National Development and Reform Commission."

(p. A6) The commission estimates China's energy efficiency is about 10% below that of developed countries because of obsolete technology. But many experts say Beijing's policy priorities are a bigger obstacle.

Worries about social unrest and inflation led Beijing to put the brakes on pricing overhauls, at tremendous cost to state refiners PetroChina Co. and China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., known as Sinopec.

"Market prices are a very important and key issue because they send out the right signal to the customer to save energy," said Yang Fuqiang, vice president of the Energy Foundation in Beijing.


For the full story, see:

David Winning. "Why Energy Efficiencies Prove Elusive in China." Wall Street Journal (Tues., Nov. 6, 2007): A6.




March 6, 2008

Chinese Wages and Productivity Rise


      "At the Dahon bicycle plant in Shenzhen, China, pay has risen 10 to 15 percent a year, but productivity gains have held down costs."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) SHENZHEN, China, Aug. 28 -- At the Dahon bicycle factory here, Zhang Jingming's fingers move quickly and methodically -- grabbing bicycle seats, wrapping them in cardboard and smoothly attaching them to frames.

Working a 45-hour week, Mr. Zhang makes the equivalent of $263 a month; as recently as February, he was making just $197. Some of his higher pay comes from working more efficiently. "When I first started, I wasn't this fast," he said.

But a good portion reflects a raise Mr. Zhang got: to 1.45 cents for each bicycle seat from 1.32 cents. It is a small difference that signifies major change.

Chinese wages are on the rise. No reliable figures for average wages exist; the government's economic data are notably unreliable. But factory owners and experts who monitor the nation's labor market say that businesses are having a hard time finding able-bodied workers and are having to pay the workers they can find more money.

And higher wages in China are likely to lead to higher prices in the United States -- at the mall, at the grocery, even at the gas pump.

Chinese companies are already passing along some of their higher costs to overseas customers. Prices for goods from China, after years of gradual decline, have risen 1.2 percent since February, according to the Labor Department. July's increase was the biggest yet: 0.4 percent compared with June. Chinese companies and contractors are also passing on the cost of the rising value of their currency, the yuan, up 8.8 percent against the dollar in the last two years.

For decades, many labor economists said that China's vast population would supply a nearly bottomless pool of workers. So many people would be seeking jobs at any given time, this rea-(p. A9)soning went, that wages in this country would be stuck just above subsistence levels. As recently as four years ago, some experts estimated that most of the perhaps 150 million underemployed workers in the countryside would be heading to cities.

Instead, sporadic labor shortages started to appear in 2003 at factories in the Pearl River delta of southeastern China. Now those shortages have spread to factories up and down the Chinese coast, specialists say.

. . .

(p. A9) The hardest variable to judge in China's changing labor market is the pace of productivity growth. Since there are few reliable statistics, the best way to assess productivity is to look at individual factories like the Dahon operation here, which produces bicycles that collapse for easy storage.

David T. Hon, chief executive of the privately held Dahon Group, said that while he had been raising wages 10 to 15 percent a year, the average labor cost for each bicycle had actually edged downward. This is possible, he said, because sales are growing 30 percent a year and increasingly large-scale production has brought savings. The cost of engineering a new bicycle design, or handling the accounting and other back-office operations, is spread over more and more bicycles as production rises.


For the full story, see: 

KEITH BRADSHER.  "Wages Are on the Rise in China As Young Workers Grow Scarce."  The New York Times   (Weds., August 29, 2007):  A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

PriceChineseImportsGraph.jpg     Source of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




February 27, 2008

Big is Not Always Better

 

It is an enduring puzzle why the West has been so much more succesful than China in achieving economic growth over the past several centuries.  The puzzle arises because there is considerable evidence of early Chinese acheivements in technology.

One example would be the exploratory voyages of Zheng He.  The Chinese ships were much, much larger than those of Christopher Columbus.  But as Clayton Christensen has shown in a more modern context, size does not always matter as much as nimbleness and motivation. 

(And another part of the story involves culture and institutions.)

  

 

The most complete account of Christensen's thinking, so far, is his book with Raynor:

Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor.  The Innovator's Solution:  Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth.  Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.

 

(Note:  I am grateful to Prof. Yu-sheng Lin for first informing me of the large difference in size between the ships.  I am also grateful to Prof. Salim Rashid, and Liberty Fund's Mr. Leonidas Zelmanovitz, for my having the opportunity to encounter Prof. Lin.)

 




February 18, 2008

Chinese Price Ceilings on Diesel Fuel Cause Shortages


CoalShnxiProvinceChina.jpg

"Looking for usable coal at a cinder dump in Shanxi Province in China. Inadequate coal in the north limited power production." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


The article quoted below uses the word "tariff" in the sense of "price."


(p. C4) HONG KONG -- The Chinese government issued an "urgent notice" on Wednesday to the country's power generators, coal companies and railways to address an electricity shortage that has led to rationing in more than a third of China's provinces in recent weeks.

The rationing, mostly achieved by telling factories that their power will be shut off for a day or two each week, coincides with the annual frenzy of factory production to meet orders before shutting down for the Chinese New Year holidays, which fall in early February this year.

. . .

Power executives and government statements attributed the electricity shortfall this winter to a confluence of problems. Many of the problems appear to have their roots in the government's imposition of a long list of price controls in recent months in an attempt to tamp down inflation, which reached 6.9 percent at the consumer level in November.

Trucks did not deliver adequate coal stockpiles to power plants before winter snows arrived in northern China, partly because of nationwide diesel shortages. Refiners had cut back on the production of diesel because price controls were forcing them to sell the diesel for slightly less than the cost of the crude oil needed to make it.

. . .

Low electricity tariffs, particularly for residential users, have been another problem.

The central government issued an official "suggestion" to provincial governments last fall that they not allow increases in electricity tariffs charged to customers, as part of national price controls.

Provincial governments have responded by freezing tariffs, and even reducing them in the case of Guangdong Province in southeastern China, the home of much of the country's export-oriented light industry.

The low tariffs have made it uneconomical for oil-fired plants to operate, and many have stopped doing so.

"It makes absolutely no sense for anyone to run a diesel- or oil-fired plant. They're all shut down," said a power company executive in China who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of commenting on regulatory policies.

The executive added that even when ordered by the government to resume operating at a loss, many state-owned oil-fired plants had not done so, scheduling maintenance and repairs instead.


For the full story, see:

KEITH BRADSHER. "Pinched by Price Controls, Power Plants in China Scale Back." The New York Times (Thurs., January 24, 2008): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)





December 21, 2007

"People Giddy on Hope and Thrilled to Be Changing"

 

   "Emily Prager at her lane house in Shanghai."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.   

 

The centers of dynamism are not set in stone.  I once asked the philosopher Alan Donagan why the Scottish enlightenment had occurred where (Edinburgh) and when (in the mid-late 18th century) it did.  With his usual good humor he told me that I was asking a bad question--that my question assumed that enlightenments were determined.  He instead believed that they were chance occurrences resulting from the free-will choices of individuals.

I think that there was something to what he said.  But I also believe that some institutions, and some policies of government, can greatly increase the probability that fruitful dynamism will occur.  For instance, free markets tend to tolerate diversity and experimentation, and to reward initiative. 

In the past, locations of economic dynamism, also were often locations of intellectual dynamism.  I wonder if the connection is still true today, and if not, why not? 

Among past centers of dynamism were Miletus, Athens, Florence, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, and New York City.  Today, centers of economic dynamism include Las Vegas, Dubai and Shanghai.  The article quoted below paints a generally appealing picture of Shanghai.

 

(p. D1)  I decided to move myself and my 12-year-old daughter, Lulu — whom I had adopted as a baby in China — from the old capital of the world to the new: to make a home in Shanghai, a city of the future.

I knew something about Shanghai, having been here on trips several times in the last few years. The city was always so excited it could hardly contain itself. It is a microcosm of the Asian boom, stuffed with people giddy on hope and thrilled to be changing. It recalls the greatness of New York in the early ’70s, except for one thing: Like the rest of China, Shanghai was largely closed to the outside world, and real economic growth, for nearly 50 years after World War II. It is a place where every car on the road is brand new and every pet recently acquired, but the person you just met might trace his family back 70 generations. The modernity and polish that Manhattan learned between 1945 and 1995, Shanghai is cramming for as fast as it can, and it’s fascinating to watch.

. . .

(p. D6)  Pets are new to Chinese people and they don’t know very much about them. Dogs are not neutered and they are walked without leashes. Many people are terrified of dogs, particularly given the country’s serious rabies problem.

Twice when I was walking Skippy, young women caught sight of him and screamed in terror at the top of their lungs. Because having a pet is so new, there is a video showing how to pick up after a dog and wash his paws after his walk, which appears many times a day on a huge video screen on Huaihai, the city’s other main shopping street.

 

For the full story, see: 

EMILY PRAGER. "At Home Abroad; Settling Down in a City in Motion."  The New York Times  (Thurs., July 19, 2007):  D1 & D6. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

   "On the streets of Shanghai, the author's injured foot attracts less attention than her pet dog, still a rare sight in the city."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




November 21, 2007

Hong Kong Dim Sum Lovers Rebuke Government

 

     "Wong Yuen enjoying breakfast at a Hong Kong restaurant. The government, he says, "shouldn't be telling anyone how dim sum should be served.""   Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

Longtime dim sum lovers are indignant.

"The government is putting its thumb on every part of citizens' lives, and it shouldn't be telling anyone how dim sum should be served," said Wong Yuen, a retired mechanic and truck driver who says he has eaten dim sum every morning for the last two decades. "People can make their own decisions. If it's unhealthy, they can eat less. They don't need the government to tell them."

 

For the full story, see: 

KEITH BRADSHER.  "HONG KONG JOURNAL; Dim Sum Under Assault, and Devotees Say 'Hands Off'."  The New York Times  (Thurs., April 28, 2005):  A4.

 




November 16, 2007

"India is Outsourcing Outsourcing"

 

   "Infosys employs workers in Brno, Czech Republic."   Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted, and cited, below.

 

(p. A1)  MYSORE, India — Thousands of Indians report to Infosys Technologies’ campus here to learn the finer points of programming. Lately, though, packs of foreigners have been roaming the manicured lawns, too.

Many of them are recent American college graduates, and some have even turned down job offers from coveted employers like Google. Instead, they accepted a novel assignment from Infosys, the Indian technology giant: fly here for six months of training, then return home to work in the company’s American back offices.

India is outsourcing outsourcing.

One of the constants of the global economy has been companies moving their tasks — and jobs — to India. But rising wages and a stronger currency here, demands for workers who speak languages other than English, and competition from countries looking to emulate India’s success as a back office — including China, Morocco and Mexico — are challenging that model.

Many executives here acknowledge that outsourcing, having rained most heavily on India, will increasingly sprinkle tasks around the globe. Or, as Ashok Vemuri, an Infosys senior vice president, put it, the future of outsourcing is “to take the work from any part of the world and do it in any part of the world.”

. . .

(p. A14)  Such is the new outsourcing: A company in the United States pays an Indian vendor 7,000 miles away to supply it with Mexican engineers working 150 miles south of the United States border.

In Europe, too, companies now hire Infosys to manage back offices in their own backyards. When an American manufacturer, for instance, needed a system to handle bills from multiple vendors supplying its factories in different European countries, it turned to the Indian company. The manufacturer’s different locations scan the invoices and send them to an office of Infosys, where each bill is passed to the right language team. The teams verify the orders and send the payment to the suppliers while logged in to the client’s computer system.

More than a dozen languages are spoken at the Infosys office, which is in Brno, Czech Republic.

 

For the full story, see: 

ANAND GIRIDHARADAS.  "Outsourcing Comes Full Circle As India Starts to Export Jobs."  The New York Times   (Tues., September 25, 2007):  A1 & A14.

(Note:  the somewhat different title of the online version was:  "Outsourcing Works So Well, India Is Sending Jobs Abroad.")

 




November 12, 2007

Strong Global Support for Free Markets

 

FreeMarketsPositiveViewTable.gif   Source of table:  "World Publics Welcome Global Trade -- But Not Immigration." Pew Global Attitudes Project, a project of the PewResearchCenter. Released: 10.04.07 dowloaded from: http://pewglobal.org/reports/display.php?ReportID=258

 

(p. A10) WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 — Buoyed and battered by globalization, people around the world strongly view international trade as a good thing but harbor growing concerns about its side effects: threats to their cultures, damage to the environment and the challenges posed by immigration, a new survey indicates.

In the Pew Global Attitudes Project survey of people in 46 countries and the Palestinian territories, large majorities everywhere said that trade was a good thing. In countries like Argentina, which recently experienced trade-based growth, the attitude toward trade has become more positive.

But support for trade has decreased in recent years in advanced Western countries, including Germany, Britain, France and Italy — and most sharply in the United States. The number of Americans saying trade is good for the country has dropped by 19 percentage points since 2002, to 59 percent.

“G.D.P. growth hasn’t been as dramatic in these places as in Latin America or Eastern Europe,” said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, referring to gross domestic product, the total value of the goods and services produced in a country. “But worldwide, even though some people are rich and some are poor, support for the basic tenet of capitalism is pretty strong.”

 

For the full story, see: 

BRIAN KNOWLTON. "Globalization, According to the World, Is a Good Thing. Sort Of."  The New York Times   (Fri., October 5, 2007):  A10. 

 




June 4, 2007

Chinese Restaurant Entrepreneur: "A Citizen's Legal Property Is Not to Be Encroached Upon"

 

CHONGQING, China, March 23 — For weeks the confrontation drew attention from people all across China, as a simple homeowner stared down the forces of large-scale redevelopment that are sweeping this country, blocking the preparation of a gigantic construction site by an act of sheer will.

Chinese bloggers were the first to spread the news, of a house perched atop a tall, thimble-shaped piece of land like Mont-Saint-Michel in northern France, in the middle of a vast excavation.

Newspapers dived in next, followed by national television. Then, in a way that is common in China whenever an event begins to take on hints of political overtones, the story virtually disappeared from the news media after the government, bloggers here said, decreed that the subject was suddenly out of bounds.

. . .

What drove interest in the Chongqing case was the uncanny ability of the homeowner to hold out for so long. Stories are legion in Chinese cities of the arrest or even beating of people who protest too vigorously against their eviction and relocation. In one often-heard twist, holdouts are summoned to the local police station and return home only to find their house already demolished. How did this owner, a woman no less, manage? Millions wondered.

Part of the answer, which on meeting her takes only a moment to discover, is that Wu Ping is anything but an ordinary woman. With her dramatic lock of hair precisely combed and pinned in the back, a form-flattering bright red coat, high cheekbones and wide, excited eyes, the tall, 49-year-old restaurant entrepreneur knows how to attract attention — a potent weapon in China’s new media age, in which people try to use public opinion and appeals to the national image to influence the authorities. 

. . .  

“I have more faith than others,” she began. “I believe that this is my legal property, and if I cannot protect my own rights, it makes a mockery of the property law just passed. In a democratic and lawful society a person has the legal right to manage one’s own property.”

Tian Yihang, a local college student, spoke glowingly of her in an interview at the monorail station. “This is a peculiar situation,” he said, with a bit of understatement. “I admire the owner for being so persistent in her principles. In China such things shock the common mind.”

. . .  

With the street so choked with onlookers that traffic began to back up, Ms. Wu’s brother, Wu Jian, began waving a newspaper above the crowd, pointing to pictures of Ms. Wu’s husband, a local martial arts champion, who was scheduled to appear in a highly publicized tournament that evening. “He’s going into our building and will plant a flag there,” Mr. Wu announced.

Moments later, as the crowd began to thin, a Chinese flag appeared on the roof with a hand-painted banner that read: “A citizen’s legal property is not to be encroached on.”

Asked how his brother-in-law had managed to get inside the locked site and climb the escarpment on which the house is perched, he said with a wink, “Magic.”  

 

For the full story, see: 

HOWARD W. FRENCH.  "CHONGQING JOURNAL; Homeowner Stares Down Wreckers, at Least for a While."  The New York Times  (Tues., March 27, 2007):  A4.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

ChinaHomeDefenderWuPing.jpg ChinaChonqingMap.jpg   On left, Wu Ping, with her tall brother in the background.  On right, a map showing the location of Chongqing in China.  Source of photo and map:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




May 2, 2007

Futures Markets Would Reduce Chinese Volatility

 

ChinaFinancialMarket.gif   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

Market participants consider futures the next big thing for China's financial-sector development. The exchange currently trades contracts in copper, aluminum, natural rubber and fuel oil -- commodities that China imports in large quantities.

But trading is largely closed to foreigners. Futures on financial products, such as stock indexes and currencies, don't yet exist in China, though they are integral to other market economies.

Reviving Case for Futures

China banned exchange-traded financial derivatives in 1995 in response to a meltdown in its bond-futures market. Within minutes, $10 billion in market value was wiped out, in what remains the country's most damaging market debacle to date. By contrast, last week's drop in stocks has revived the case for financial futures.

Officials now say share prices probably wouldn't have fallen so abruptly on Feb. 27 if index futures existed. That's because shares probably wouldn't have surged as quickly as they did last year -- the Shanghai Composite Index rose 130% -- if investors had had the chance to use stock-index futures to bet against the market on its way up.

Futures contracts are thought to build more of a two-way market, because they give investors the right to buy -- and sell -- based on expectations about how the value of an index, stock, currency or commodity might move within a particular time frame. Without them, the only way for investors to make money is in a rising market, a risky prospect over the long term.

 

For the full story, see:

JAMES T. AREDDY.  "Futures Could Help Cure China's Boom-Bust Cycles."  The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs., March 8, 2007):  A2.

(Note:  the online version had a slightly different title:  "China Tries Longer-Term Response to Stock Volatility.")

 




January 14, 2007

Is Political Freedom a "Normal Good"?

   Shenzhen, China.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

Are starving citizens, or a growing midddle class, more likely to stand up for their rights?  In the ongoing debate, here is a bit of evidence in favor of the middle class. 

(In economics, a "normal good" is one where, ceteris paribus, more is consumed, when income increases.  So in the language of economics, the following article supports the view that political freedom is a normal good.)

 

(p. A1)  When residents here in southern China's richest city learned of plans to build an expressway that would cut through the heart of their congested, middle-class neighborhood, they immediately organized a campaign to fight City Hall.

Over the next two years they managed to halt work on the most destructive segment of the highway and forced design changes to reduce pollution from the roadway. It became a landmark in citizen efforts to win concessions from a government that by tradition brooked no opposition.

And it was no accident that the battle was waged in Shenzhen, a 26-year-old boomtown that was the first city to enjoy the effects of China's breakneck economic expansion and that has served as a model for cities throughout the country. 

. . .

. . .   Possibly the greatest force taking shape here is the quiet expansion of the middle class, thicker on the ground here than perhaps anywhere else in China. This middle class is beginning to chafe under authoritarian rule, and over time, the quiet, well-organized challenges of the newly affluent may have the deepest impact on this country's future.

''Many people laughed at me, because they don't have confidence in the government,'' said Qian Shengzeng, a 62-year-old former rocket scientist who led the movement against the expressway. ''They think the government is hopelessly rotten. However, our view is that maybe there is a remaining sliver of hope, and the government needs to be pushed.''

In newly rich Shenzhen, as in much of China, social change is being driven by economic transformation and, more than anything else, property ownership.

 

For the full story, see: 

HOWARD W. FRENCH.  "In Chinese Boomtown, Middle Class Pushes Back."  The New York Times  (Weds., December 18, 2006):  A1 & A8.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

Shenzhen_map.jpg  Map showing Shenzhen's proximity to Hong Kong.  Source of map:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




November 4, 2006

Hong Kong's Growth Was Due to Cowperthwaite's "Positive Noninterventionism"


In Free to Choose, Milton Friedman compared Hong Kong's free market, with India's state control of the economy.  The dynamism and growth of Hong Kong was a stark contrast to the inertia and stagnation of India.  In the decades since Free to Choose, India has become more free and, alas, Hong Kong less free:   


(p. A14) . . . it was sadly unsurprising to see Hong Kong's current leader, Donald Tsang, last month declare the death of the policy on which the territory's prosperity was built.

The really amazing phenomenon is that, for half a century, his predecessors resisted the temptation to tax and meddle.  Though a colony of socialist Britain, Hong Kong followed a laissez-faire capitalist policy, thanks largely to a British civil servant, John Cowperthwaite.  Assigned to handle Hong Kong's financial affairs in 1945, he rose through the ranks to become the territory's financial secretary from 1961-71.  Cowperthwaite, who died on Jan. 21 this year, was so famously laissez-faire that he refused to collect economic statistics for fear this would only give government officials an excuse for more meddling.  His successor, Sir Philip Haddon-Cave, coined the term "positive noninterventionism" to describe Cowperthwaite's approach.

The results of his policy were remarkable.  At the end of World War II, Hong Kong was a dirt-poor island with a per-capita income about one-quarter that of Britain's.  By 1997, when sovereignty was transferred to China, its per-capita income was roughly equal to that of the departing colonial power, even though Britain had experienced sizable growth over the same period.  That was a striking demonstration of the productivity of freedom, of what people can do when they are left free to pursue their own interests.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

MILTON FRIEDMAN.  "Hong Kong Wrong."  Wall Street Journal  (Fri., October 6, 2006):  A14.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 






October 20, 2006

Laptops Update Read and Friedman's "I, Pencil" Story

  Source of graphic:  scanned from p. B1 of NYT article cited below.

 

Leonard Read in his classic "I, Pencil" told the story of how the various compenents of a mere pencil came from different suppliers the world over.  People who did not know each other, and might not like each other if they met, but who were brought together in productive co-operation through the power of the market.  Milton Friedman frequently presented his own verison of this story.  The cover of my 1980 edition of Free to Choose has a picture of Friedman holding a pencil as if in the middle of this story.  And there is a short video-clip of Friedman telling the story.

A similar story could be told with many other products, and several sources have presented the raw materials in print to tell the story for laptop computers.  (By "raw materials" I mean that they list the diversity of sources of the inputs; but usually without drawing all the lessons that Reed and Friedman drew.)  One source is a chapter in Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat

Two other sources are articles that appeared within a few days of each other in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal

The reference to The New York Times article is:

DAVID BARBOZA.  "An Unknown Giant Flexes Its Muscles; Amid Talk of Deal With I.B.M., Lenovo of China Sheds Some Obscurity."  The New York Times (Sat., December 4, 2004):  B1 & B3.

The reference to The Wall Street Journal article is:

Jason Dean and Pui-Wing Tam.  "The Laptop Trail; The Modern PC Is a Model Of Hyperefficient Production And Geopolitical Sensitivities."   The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs., June 9, 2005):  B1 & B8. 

 

  Source of graphic:  scanned from p. B1 of WSJ article cited above.

 




September 4, 2006

Chinese Learn "a Way of Life" from U.S. TV Shows

  Shanghai friends watch downloaded, subtitled, episode of "Friends."  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

SHANGHAI, Aug. 8 — For the past year and a half, said Ding Chengtai, a recent university graduate, friends have wondered why he seems to have disappeared.

Mr. Ding, 23, an Internet technology expert for a large Chinese bank, chuckled at the thought.  He has kept himself in virtual seclusion during his off hours, consumed with American television programs like “Lost,” “C.S.I.” and “Close to Home.”

He is no ordinary fan, though; none of the shows he watches can be seen on Chinese television.  Instead, he spends night after night creating Chinese subtitles for American sitcoms and dramas for a mushrooming audience of Chinese viewers who download them from the Internet free through services like BitTorrent.

. . .

To a person, the adapters say they are willing to devote long hours to this effort out of a love for American popular culture.  Many, including Mr. Ding, say they learned English by obsessively watching American movies and television programs.

Others say they pick up useful knowledge about everything from changing fashion and mores to medical science.

“It provides cultural background relating to every aspect of our lives:  politics,  history and human culture,” Mr. Ding said.  “These are the things that make American TV special.  When I first started watching ‘Friends,’ I found the show was full of information about American history and showed how America had rapidly developed.  It’s more interesting than textbooks or other ways of learning.”

On an Internet forum about the downloaded television shows, a poster who used the name Plum Blossom put it another way.

“After watching these shows for some time, I felt the attitudes of some of the characters were beginning to influence me,” the poster wrote.  “It’s hard to describe,  but I think I learned a way of life from some of them.  They are good at simplifying complex problems, which I think has something to do with American culture.”

 

For the full story, see: 

HOWARD W. FRENCH.  "Chinese Tech Buffs Slake Thirst for U.S. TV Shows."  The New York Times  (Weds., August 9, 2006):   A6.

 




August 22, 2006

Eleven-Year-Old Crippled for Life by Mao Supporters


  Source of book image:  http://www.holtzbrinckpublishers.com/henryholt/Search/SearchBookDisplayLarge.asp?BookKey=1524294


(p. B29) This improbable journey, from Maoist orthodoxy to the entrepreneurial quasicapitalism officially described as “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” is the main theme of “Chinese Lessons,” but Mr. Pomfret, a reporter for The Washington Post, gives his tale a twist.  He tells it not only through his own experiences as a student and journalist but through the life stories of five university classmates, who suffered through the Cultural Revolution as children, found inspiration and hope in the growing democracy movement and lived to see a China that neither they nor their parents could have imagined.  . . .

All the lives Mr. Pomfret explores are extraordinary, and each sheds its own light on recent Chinese history.  Perhaps the most endearing of his characters is Guan Yongxing, better known as Little Guan, who as an 11-year-old suffered social ostracism after accidentally using a piece of paper with “Long Live Chairman Mao!” on it to wipe herself in the bathroom.

After classmates threw her to the ground, no doctor would treat her dislocated shoulder, leaving her crippled for life.  Her father’s job as a schoolteacher made the Guan family a prime target for abuse, and Little Guan, rather than endure ridicule and torment at school, picked cotton and sprayed fertilizer on the fields, her back constantly burned by chemicals leaking from the tank on her back.  Tough, determined and highly intelligent, she survives and eventually prospers in the new China.

. . .

Zhou Lianchun, called Book Idiot Zhou by a contemptuous Communist Party official, meted out insults and torture as part of a Red Guard brigade.  “I did what I was told and, being 11, I liked it,” he tells Mr. Pomfret.

. . .

More even than sex, students want just a little bit of the good life that seems to be in reach as China’s rulers relax their economic policies.  To get it they master a strange kind of doublethink, pledging allegiance to the party and Communist ideals while scheming to start a business.

Book Idiot Zhou, a history teacher by day, jumps into a business partnership to process urine for the pharmaceutical industry.  “Several days a week, he taught Marxism, Leninism and Maoist thought and railed against the exploitation of the capitalist class,” Mr. Pomfret writes.  “The rest of the time he spent as a budding entrepreneur, employing dozens at rock-bottom wages, working the system to enrich himself, his partners and his family.”

. . .

His classmates have done well.  But their lives, and the China described in “Chinese Lessons,” bear a heavy load of suppressed grief, terrible compromises and boundless cynicism.  At a new drive-in called the Happy Auto Movie Palace, Mr. Pomfret notices something strange about the concrete slabs underneath his feet.  They show the marks of tank treads.  The drive-in owner bought them after the government repaved Tiananmen Square.

This strikes Mr. Pomfret as bizarre, but not the owner.  “It was a good deal,” he says.

 

For the full review, see: 

WILLIAM GRIMES. "Books of The Times; Twisting Along China’s Sharp Curves." The New York Times (Fri., August 4, 2006):  B29.

(Note: ellipses added.) 





August 14, 2006

25% Increase in Oil by 2015

OilPriceGraphic.gif  Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

Despite fears of "running out" of oil, Cambridge Energy Research Associates' new analysis of oil-industry activity points to a considerable growth in the capacity to produce oil in the years ahead.  Based upon our field-by-field examination of current activity and of 360 new projects that are either underway or very likely, we see capacity growing from its current 89 mbd to 110 mbd by 2015, a 25% increase.  A substantial part of this growth reflects the advance of technology, i.e., the rapid growth in "non-traditional" hydrocarbons, such as from very deep offshore waters, Canadian oil sands, and liquids made from natural gas.  (We are not counting in this increase the additional supplement that will come from ethanol and other fuels made from plants.)

There are important qualifications, however.  First, this is physical capacity to produce, not actual flows, which, as we have seen over the last year, can be disrupted by everything from natural disasters to government decision, to conflict and geopolitical discord.  Second, while prices are going up rapidly, so are costs;  and shortages of equipment and people can slow things down.  Third, greater scale and technical complexity can generate delays.  Still, a 25% increase in physical capacity by 2015 is a reasonable expectation, based upon today's evidence, and that would go a long way to meeting the growing demand from China, India and other motorizing countries.

Admittedly, it may be hard to conceive of this kind of increase when oil prices are climbing the wall of worry, when each new disruption reverberates around the world, when Iranian politicians threaten $100 or $250 oil in the event of sanctions, and when so many geopolitical trends seem so adverse.  All this underlines the fact that while the challenges below ground are extensive, the looming uncertainties -- and risks -- remain above ground. 

 

For the full commentary, see:

Daniel Yergin.  "Crisis in the Pipeline."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., August 9, 2006):  A10.   




August 9, 2006

Taking the Red Pill in China

Surfing the Web last fall, a Chinese high-school student who calls himself Zivn noticed something missing.  It was Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that accepts contributions or edits from users, and that he himself had contributed to.

The Chinese government, in October, had added Wikipedia to a list of Web sites and phrases it blocks from Internet users' access.  For Zivn, trying to surf this and many other Web sites, including the BBC's Chinese-language news service, brought just an error message.  But the 17-year-old had had a taste of that wealth of information and wanted more.  "There were so many lies among the facts, and I could not find where the truth is," he writes in an instant-message interview.

Then some friends told him where to find Freegate, a tiny software program that thwarts the Chinese government's vast system to limit what its citizens see.  Freegate -- by connecting computers inside of China to servers in the U.S. -- allows Zivn and others to keep reading and writing to Wikipedia and countless other sites.

Behind Freegate is a North Carolina-based Chinese hacker named Bill Xia.  He calls it his red pill, a reference to the drug in the "Matrix" movies that vaulted unconscious captives of a totalitarian regime into the real world.  Mr. Xia likes to refer to the villainous Agent Smith from the Matrix films, noting that the digital bad guy in sunglasses "guards the Matrix like China's Public Security Bureau guards the Internet."

. . .

(p. A9)  . . . , with each new version of Freegate -- now on its sixth release -- the censors "just keep improving and adding more manpower to monitor what we have been doing," Mr. Xia says.  In turn, he and volunteer programmers keep tweaking Freegate.

At first, the software would automatically change its Internet Protocol address -- a sort of phone number for a Web site -- faster than China could block it.  That worked until September 2002, when China blocked Freegate's domain name, not just its number, in the Internet phone book.

More than three years later, Mr. Xia is still amazed by the bold move, calling it a "hijacking."  Ultimately he prevailed, however, through a solution he won't identify for fear of being shut down for good.

Confident in that solution, Mr. Xia continues to send out his red pill, and users like Zivn continue to take it.  The teen credits his cultural and political perspective to a "generation gap" that has come of having access to more information.  "I am just gradually getting used to the truth about the real world," he writes.

 

For the full story, see: 

Geoffrey A. Fowler.  "Chinese Internet Censors Face 'Hacktivists' in U.S."  The Wall Street Journal  (Monday, February 13, 2006):  A1 & A9.




July 12, 2006

Buffett and Gates Should Strengthen Foundations of Free-Market

If Warren Buffett is as serious about doing good with his wealth, as he was in becoming wealthy, he would ponder the Wall Street Journal's sage editorial page advice:

We can't think of two people less in need of our two cents than Messrs. Buffett and Gates.  But since giving free advice is our business, we'd suggest that they put at least a smidgen of their money back into strengthening the foundations of the free-market system that has allowed them to become so fabulously rich.  There's something to be said for reinvesting in the moral capital of a free society and trying to sustain and export free-enterprise policies.

Capitalism has done very well not just by Mr. Buffett but also by the world's poor, as several hundred million Chinese and Indians might attest.  African nations in particular need property rights and a rule of law as badly as they need vaccines.  On that score we were encouraged by a report this week that the Gateses thanked Mr. Buffett for his gift by presenting him with a book from their personal library:  Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations."

 

For the full editorial, see:

"Mr. Buffett's Gift."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., June 28, 2006):  A14.




July 7, 2006

Chinese Central Planning Turns Lake Into Desert

   Tall grass grows where Qingtu Lake used to be; and the desert encroaches on the grass.  Source of image:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. A1)  An ever-rising tide of sand has claimed grasslands, ponds, lakes and forests, swallowed whole villages and forced tens of thousands of people to flee as it surges south and threatens to leave this ancient Silk Road greenbelt uninhabitable.

Han Chinese women here cover their heads and faces like Muslims to protect against violent sandstorms.  Farmers dig wells down hundreds of feet.  If they find water, it is often brackish, even poisonous.

Chinese leaders have vowed to protect Minqin and surrounding towns in Gansu Province.  The area divides two deserts, the Badain Jaran and the Tengger, and its precarious state threatens to accelerate the spread of barren wasteland to the heart of China.

The national 937 Project, set up to fight the encroaching desert, estimated in April that 1,500 square miles of land, roughly the size of (p. A14) Rhode Island, is buried each year.  Nearly all of north central China, including Beijing, is at risk.

Expanding deserts and a severe drought are also making this a near-record year for dust storms carried east in the jet stream.  Sand squalls have blanketed Beijing and other northern cities, leaving a stubborn yellow haze in the air and coating roads, buildings, cars and lungs.

. . .

Government-led cultivation, deforestation, irrigation and reclamation almost certainly contributed to the desert's advance, which began in the 1950's and the 1960's, and has accelerated.  Critics warn that some lessons of past engineering fiascoes remained unlearned.

During the ill-fated Great Leap Forward in the late 1950's, Mao ordered construction of the giant Hongyashan reservoir near Minqin, which diverted the flow of the Shiyang River and runoff from the Qilian Mountains into an irrigation system.  It briefly made Minqin's farmland fertile enough to grow grain.

But Minqin is a desert oasis that gets almost no rainfall.  The Shiyang and its offshoots had been its ecological lifeline.  With the available water resources monopolized for farming, nearly all other land became a target for the desert.

Today, patches of farmland that cling to irrigation channels are emerald islands in a sea of beige, an agricultural Palm Springs.

Even the irrigated plots risk extinction. Competing reservoirs on upper reaches of the Shiyang reduced its flow so severely by 2004 that the Hongyashan went dry for the first time since its construction in 1959.  It was refilled after Beijing ordered an emergency diversion of water from the Yellow River, which now runs dry through much of the year here in its northern reaches.

Local officials, whose promotions in the government and Communist Party hierarchy depend more on increasing economic output than on improving the environment, have tried desperately to preserve Minqin's farming.

. . .

"This is not a natural disaster — it is man-made," Mr. Chai said.  "And unless people study the lesson of Minqin, it will repeat itself clear across China." 

 

For the full story, see: 

JOSEPH KAHN.  "A Sea of Sand Is Threatening China's Heart."  The New York Times (Thurs., June 8, 2006):  A1 & A14.

 

  Women wear headresses and face masks, not out of modesty, but to protect against the sand.  Source of photo:  online versio of the NYT article cited above.

 

ChinaDesertMaps.gif Close, and distant, maps of the areas effected.  Source of maps:  online version of the NYT article cited above.




June 23, 2006

In China Too, Special Interest Groups Lobby Against Free Markets

RisingForeignInvestmentInChina.gif Source of graphic:  online version of WSJ article cited below.

 

(p. A1)  BEIJING -- When Chinese President Hu Jintao visits the U.S. in mid-April, he is sure to field tough questions about Beijing's trade and economic policies amid a wave of rising protectionism.  But he also is grappling with a similar backlash at home.

Amid one of the longest and fastest growth streaks of any modern economy, China is wrestling with concerns from a rising wealth gap to corruption to environmental damage.  But the latest uproar has turned on foreigners, targeting the many outside investors that have piled into China and prospered -- even while fueling much of the country's growth.

. . .

(p. A8)  In some ways, the 63-year-old Mr. Hu faces a more complex situation than his predecessors, as China becomes more like the U.S., with greater tolerance of dissenting views and organized interest groups.  Resistance to some market-oriented changes is mostly driven by special interests such as disenfranchised farmers, private businessmen and ministries trying to hold on to their powers.  At the national legislature's March meeting, lobbying by interest groups picked up markedly.

 

For the full story, see:

KATHY CHEN.  "Amid Tension With U.S., China Faces Protectionist Surge at Home."  The Wall Street Journal  (Fri., March 31, 2006):   A1 & A8.




June 8, 2006

Doha Tariff Cuts Would Save Global Economy About $100 Billion; France Objects

 

FoodExportsAndTariffs.gif  Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

(p. A1)  The so-called Doha round of talks, which began in 2001, were designed to boost developing nations; among other things, they want lower barriers to their agricultural exports.  France has vowed to veto any deal that doesn't protect its farmers.  A pivotal missed deadline April 30 has led to predictions the talks could die by summer if countries including France don't change their stance.

The standoff shows how cultural and emotional factors can combine with politics to stifle free-trade goals that most economists believe would provide a net benefit to the world.  The tariff cuts envisioned by Doha would not only help developing countries sell their minerals and food products, but would also lower barriers to the industrialized world's exports of goods and services.  The World Bank calculates that Doha would boost the global economy by around $100 billion.

Overall, France itself likely would be a major economic gainer from a global (p. A10) deal.  Though it's the world's second-largest agriculture exporter after the U.S., farming accounts for just 2.5% of the French economy.  World-class manufacturing and service companies, such as car maker Renault SA and insurer AXA SA, are larger engines of the French economy.  France could gain more income than it would lose in opening its agricultural markets to budding farm superpowers like Brazil.

Even in agriculture, France can be a formidable competitor, notably in products such as wine and cheese.  Its brand is well-known the world over.  And its farms are increasingly home to capital-intensive agribusiness companies, not just small family producers.  Most of the $11.5 billion in European Union subsidies that France receives each year goes to the largest, most commercially viable farms.

WTO chief Pascal Lamy, a Frenchman, says he doesn't understand France's position.  "As an efficient farm producer, the strategy should be to reduce subsidies and prices, because others won't be able to compete with you," he said in a recent interview.

. . .

The French rural tradition, however, is changing.  Between 1993 and 2004, the number of arable farms fell by nearly a third.  Wide swaths of neglected land are now home to unsightly scrub, and the farms people see as they drive down France's immaculate highways are often parts of major business enterprises.  Oxfam says as much as 60% of subsidies went to the richest 15% of French farmers in 2004, the latest figures available.

Oxfam believes the EU's tariffs and farm subsidies, which total over €40 billion annually, are harmful to the world's poorest countries.  High customs duties keep products from poor nations out of the wealthy EU market.  At the same time, EU farmers overproduction is dumped cheaply abroad, driving down global prices and harming farmers in the developing world.

 

For the full story, see:

SCOTT MILLER.  "Food Fight; French Resistance To Trade Accord Has Cultural Roots; WTO Talks Promise Benefits But Farmers Retain Hold On the Nation's Stomach; 'Politicians Are Frightened'."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., May 16, 2006):  A1 & A10.

 




March 18, 2006

The Centrally Planned Economy: "Why doesn't Wuhan have heating?"

WuhanHeatless.jpg

Li Qiao tries to stay warm in unheated apartment in Wuhan. Source of image: online version of WSJ article cited below.

(p. B1) WUHAN, China -- As a winter wind howled through this central Chinese city, university lecturer Li Qiao settled down in his two-bedroom apartment for what should have been a cozy evening of reading. Around his apartment were signs of China's new prosperity: a color television, refrigerator, washing machine and air conditioner. The only thing missing: heating.

Even though winter temperatures in Wuhan dip into the 30s with occasional snow, virtually none of the city's homes are heated. "The cold is cutting into my bones," lamented Mr. Li, who was bundled up in a down coat and a quilt, with an electric heater blowing warm air toward him. "Why doesn't Wuhan have heating?"

Mr. Li isn't the only one asking. Heating systems are one of the last areas that remain under China's former centrally planned economy, with government regulators still setting the thermostat for homes, classrooms and offices across the country. Under the policy, which dates back to Mao Zedong in the 1950s, the government provides heat in the northern half of China, and, to save money, it provides no heat in the southern half. As a result, northerners often wilt in steaming apartments, while those in southern provinces shiver through the winter.

With no heat, even residents of modern cities like Shanghai spend much of the winter trying to get warm.

. . .

(p. B2) Mr. Li, the university teacher, and his wife ward off the cold air that seeps into their apartment at the university with an electrical heater, a hot-air fan and a wall unit air-conditioner that also blows out heat. At night, they wriggle into long underwear before piling under two sets of thick quilts. Although he has a three-hour lunch break, Mr. Li seldom goes back to his apartment, opting instead to hole up in his heated office.

His students aren't so lucky. Classrooms aren't heated, so they listen to his lectures swathed in down jackets, caps and gloves. Some students even carry hot-water bottles to keep their hands warm and cushions to place on the icy chairs.


For the full story, see:

Cui Rong. "China's Winter of Discontent; Mao-Era Policy Provides Heat Up North but None in South; Shivering Citizens Are Fed Up." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 14, 2006): B1 & B2.


Source of graphic: online version of WSJ article cited above.




February 15, 2006

"Growing Recognition of Economic Costs" of Koyoto Protocol



Commentary on the Kyoto Protocol:

(p. 3) . . . the current stalemate is not just because of the inadequacies of the protocol. It is also a response to the world's ballooning energy appetite, which, largely because of economic growth in China, has exceeded almost everyone's expectations. And there are still no viable alternatives to fossil fuels, the main source of greenhouse gases.

Then, too, there is a growing recognition of the economic costs incurred by signing on to the Kyoto Protocol.

As Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, a proponent of emissions targets, said in a statement on Nov. 1: ''The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge.''

This is as true, in different ways, in developed nations with high unemployment, like Germany and France, as it is in Russia, which said last week that it may have spot energy shortages this winter.

. . .

The only real answer at the moment is still far out on the horizon: nonpolluting energy sources. But the amount of money being devoted to research and develop such technologies, much less install them, is nowhere near the scale of the problem, many experts on energy technology said.

Enormous investments in basic research have to be made promptly, even with the knowledge that most of the research is likely to fail, if there is to be any chance of creating options for the world's vastly increased energy thirst in a few decades, said Richard G. Richels, an economist at the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit center for energy and environment research.

''The train is not leaving the station, and it needs to leave the station,'' Mr. Richels said. ''If we don't have the technologies available at that time, it's going to be a mess.''



For the full commentary, see:

ANDREW C. REVKIN. "THE WORLD; On Climate Change, a Change of Thinking." The New York Times, Section 4 (Sun., December 4, 2005): 3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





January 30, 2006

Using a T-shirt to Tell the Story of Progress


Source of image: Amazon.com


The protests occurred on ''a cold day in February 1999.'' Ms. Rivoli was watching as students gathered at the gothic centerpiece of Georgetown to demonstrate against the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and other putative villains of international trade. The crowd, Ms. Rivoli noticed with characteristic acuity, had ''a moral certainty, a unity of purpose'' that permitted it to distinguish black from white and good from evil ''with perfect clarity.'' One woman seized the microphone and asked: ''Who made your T-shirt? Was it a child in Vietnam? Or a young girl from India earning 18 cents per hour? Did you know that she lives 12 to a room? That she shares her bed and has only gruel to eat?''

Ms. Rivoli did not know these things, and she wondered how the woman at the microphone knew. But she decided to find out. In the rest of her narrative, the author tells the story of ''her'' T-shirt, which she purchased for $5.99 by the exit of a Walgreen's in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. ''It was white and printed with a flamboyantly colored parrot, with the word 'Florida' scripted beneath.'' A company in Miami had engraved the front, after buying the shirt from a factory in China. The Chinese manufacturer had purchased the cotton used to make the shirt from Texas. Eventually it will end up as part of a large but little-known market for used clothing destined for resale in East African ports.

. . .

By looking across history to the shifting center of textile manufacturing from Manchester, England, to Lowell, Mass., to South Carolina to Japan and, finally, the developing nations of Asia, Ms. Rivoli discovers a universal truth. Without making light of the horrors experienced by workers, she asserts that their jobs were a little better than other available options (usually farm work) and, what's more, that textile factories led to advances in industrialization and, just as dependably, in living standards. It is not too much to say that she uses the T-shirt to tell the story of progress.


For the full commentary on Rivoli's book, see:

ROGER LOWENSTEIN. "OFF THE SHELF; Travels With My Florida Parrot T-Shirt." The New York Times, Section 3 (Sun., August 21, 2005): 7.


The book is:

Pietra Rivoli. The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade. John Wiley & Sons, 2005. ISBN: 0471648493




January 19, 2006

Chinese Version of 'Eminent Domain": Villagers Die Protesting Theft of Their Land

"People here have tried everything you can think of to get the problem solved before this happened," said a resident who gave his name as Chen. "They talked to the village committee, the township and municipal governments. One of them even went to Beijing. But nothing is done - the village officials just simply ignore them."

Mr. Chen described the peak of the protests, on Saturday night, when the deaths occurred. "It was like a war, so real and so brutal," he said. "I did not see who started it, but I saw policemen were beating the villagers and the villagers were fighting back with stones and firecrackers."

Since then, villagers said, many residents are being forced to report each morning to the police, who detain them until late in the evening, when they are allowed to return home until the next morning.

As with so many recent rural protests, Panlong's problems began with land. Many villagers told stories of having been deceived by corrupt local officials who they said had enriched themselves by selling off rights to the villagers' farmland.

"Two years back, one day some villagers were asked to attend a routine meeting," said a 42-year-old farmer who gave his name as Fang. "They went and they paid 10 yuan for participation fees, and they signed in as usual. Later, when we discovered our land was being sold, we asked the village committee to explain what's going on, and they answered that we had signed the contract. Suddenly we remembered that meeting, and everyone understood that we had already been cheated."


For the full story, see:

FRENCH, HOWARD W. "Panlong Journal: Visit to Chinese Anytown Shows a Dark Side of Progress." The New York Times (Thurs., January 19, 2006): A4.




January 3, 2006

Freedom in Pulsating, Vibrant Hong Kong


Source of book image: http://www.holtzbrinckpublishers.com/stmartins/Search/SearchBookDisplayLarge.asp?BookKey=3008997


Here is an excerpt from a review of a posthumously published memoir, by a well-known British author, recounting three years of childhood in the Hong Kong of the early 1950s:

(p. B12) He has written an extraordinarily happy book, filled with hilarious set-pieces and pulsating with Hong Kong's vibrant street life. Unlike monochrome Britain, with its dull diet and pinched economy, Hong Kong offered color, variety and adventure.

. . .

Most of Mr. Booth's encounters were curious rather than dramatic, like the incident of the plink-plonk man, a street musician with a monkey outfitted like a mandarin from the Ming dynasty. One day, as Martin watched, the monkey managed to bite through his leather leash. In a flash, he was up a tree, where, ignoring his master's pleading and cursing, he carefully disrobed and flung his costume to the street below. Then, in one magnificent act of repudiation, he sent a perfectly aimed stream of urine down on the man's upturned face, to the delight of the crowd that had gathered. Where in England could you see that?



WILLIAM GRIMES. "Books of The Times: Hong Kong Is Fantasy Land for a Young Adventurer." The New York Times (Weds., December 21, 2005): B12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


Information on the book reviewed:

Martin Booth. Golden Boy: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood. St. Martin's Press, 2005. (342 pages. $25.95.)






September 27, 2005

Courage and Cunning in the Defense of Freedom

LiAo9-19-05picNYT.jpg
(Li Ao on 9/19/05. Source: NYT online, see below)


BEIJING, Sept. 22 - China's leaders may have felt they had no better friend in Taiwan than Li Ao, a defiant and outspoken politician and author who says that Taiwan should unify with Communist China.

But when China invited Mr. Li to tour the mainland this week, the Communist Party got a taste of its rival's pungent democracy.

During an address at Beijing University on Wednesday evening, broadcast live on a cable television network, Mr. Li chided China's leaders for suppressing free speech, ridiculed the university administration's fear of academic debate and advised students how to fight for freedom against official repression.

"All over the world leaders have machine guns and tanks," Mr. Li told the students and professors in the packed auditorium. "So I'm telling you that in the pursuit of freedom, you have to be smart. You have to use your cunning."

. . .

Though Mr. Li did not criticize President Hu directly, he made pointed references to the lack of freedoms in China and suggested that the "poker-faced" bureaucrats of the Communist Party did not have enough faith in their legitimacy to allow normal intellectual discussion.

With several top university officials sitting by his side, he called the administrators "cowardly" for ferreting out professors at the school who were suspected of opposing Communism.

JOSEPH KAHN. "China's Best Friend in Taiwan Lectures in Beijing About Freedom." New York Times (Fri., September 23, 2005): A7.




September 6, 2005

Taiwan: "Barren Rock in a Typhoon-Laden Sea"



(p. 262) The ideal country in a flat world is the one with no natural resources, because countries with no natural resources tend to dig deep inside themselves. They try to tap the energy, entrepreneurship, creativity, and intelligence of their own people--men and women--rather than drill (p. 263) an oil well. Taiwan is a barren rock in a typhoon-laden sea, with virtually no natural resources--nothing but the energy, ambition, and talent of its own people--and today it has the third-largest financial reserves in the world.


Source:

Friedman, Thomas L. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.

(Note: italics in original.)






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