(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘U.S.

“Americans consider the United States an exceptional nation; so do the Chinese people think of their Middle Kingdom”*…

Each of the last five years, Dan Wang, a Canadian-raised, U.S.- (college) educated technology analyst living in Shanghai, has written a year-end letter. This year’s missive recounts a long bicycle trip through China, explains why Cosi Fan Tutte is (he argues) Mozart’s best opera, and shares the best books he read in 2021 (including one of your correspondent’s all-time faves, Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep). But mostly, he ruminates on China and on its relationship with the U.S…

Internet platforms aren’t the only industries under suspicion. Beijing is also falling out of love with finance. It looks unwilling to let the vagaries of the financial markets dictate the pace of technological investment, which in the US has favored the internet over chips. Beijing has regularly denounced the “disorderly expansion of capital,” and sometimes its “barbaric growth.” The attitude of business-school types is to arbitrage everything that can be arbitraged no matter whether it serves social goals. That was directly Chen Yun’s fear that opportunists care only about money. High profits therefore are not the right metric to assess online education, because the industry is preying on anxious parents while immiserating their children.

Beijing’s attitude marks a difference with capitalism as it’s practiced in the US. Over the last two decades, the major American growth stories have been Silicon Valley (consumer internet and software) on one coast and Wall Street (financialization) on the other. For good measure, I’ll throw in a rejection of capitalism as it is practiced in the UK as well. My line last year triggered so many Brits that I’ll use it again: “With its emphasis on manufacturing, (China) cannot be like the UK, which is so successful in the sounding-clever industries—television, journalism, finance, and universities—while seeing a falling share of R&D intensity and a global loss of standing among its largest firms.”

The Chinese leadership looks more longingly at Germany, with its high level of manufacturing backed by industry-leading Mittelstand firms. Thus Beijing prefers that the best talent in the country work in manufacturing sectors rather than consumer internet and finance. Personally, I think it has been a tragedy for the US that so many physics PhDs have gone to work in hedge funds and Silicon Valley. The problem is not that these opportunities pay so well, rather it is because manufacturing has offered dismal career prospects. I see the Chinese leadership as being relatively unconcerned with talent flow into consumer internet and finance; instead it is trying to fashion an economy in which the physics PhD can do physics, the marine biology student can do marine biology, and so on.

An important factor in China’s reform program includes not only a willingness to reshape the strategic landscape—like promoting manufacturing over the internet—but also a discernment of which foreign trends to resist. These include excessive globalization and financialization. Beijing diagnosed the problems with financialization earlier than the US, where the problem is now endemic. The leadership is targeting a high level of manufacturing output, rejecting the notion of comparative advantage. That static model constructed by economists with the aim of seducing undergrads has leaked out of the lecture hall and morphed into a political justification for only watching as American communities of engineering practice dissolved. And Beijing today looks prescient for having kept out the US social media companies that continuously infuriate their home government.

A willingness to assess foreign imports as well as a commitment to the physical world combine to make me suspect that Beijing will not be friendly towards the Metaverse. Already state media has expressed suspicion of the concept. If the Metaverse will exist in China, I expect it will be an extremely lame creation heavily policed by the Propaganda Department. Xi’s speech on common prosperity in October noted that: “The rich and the poor in certain countries have become polarized with the collapse of the middle class. That has led to social disintegration, political polarization, and rampant populism.” The Metaverse, which represents yet another escape of American elites from the physical world, can only exacerbate social differences. It is too much of a fun game—like cryptocurrencies—played by a small segment of the population, while the middle class dwells on more material concerns like paying for energy bills. It might make sense for San Franciscans to retreat even further into a digital phantasm, given how grim it is to go outside there. But Xi will want Chinese to live in the physical world to make babies, make steel, and make semiconductors.

The Chinese state has long placed greater value on resilience over efficiency, which has dragged down its performance on metrics that economists care about, like return on equity. In my view, that is as often an indictment of the economic profession. The US focus on efficiency has revealed the brittleness of its economy, which has neither the manufacturing capability to scale up domestic production of goods nor the logistics capacity to handle greater imports. Decades of American deindustrialization as well as an aversion against idle capacity has eroded domestic manufacturing….

Since the US government is incapable of structural reform, companies now employ algorithm geniuses to help people navigate the healthcare system. This sort of seventh-best solution is typical of a vetocracy. I don’t see that the US government is trying hard to reform institutions; its response is usually to make things more complex (like its healthcare legislation) or throw money at the problem. The proposed bill to increase domestic competitiveness against China, for example, doesn’t substantially fix the science funding agencies that are more concerned with style guides than science; and the infrastructure bill doesn’t seem to address root causes that make American infrastructure the most costly in the world. Congress is sending more money through bad channels. That’s better than nothing, but the government should attempt to make some bureaucratic tune-ups.

The US is ahead of China on the sort of mathematical economics that win Nobel Prizes. But China is ahead of the US on the actual practice of political economy. One study I enjoyed this year noted that the Chinese government sends more jobs through state-owned enterprises to counties with greater labor unrest. I wonder how different the US would look today if the government did more to help workers. The US critique that “China stole the jobs” looks instead like a critique of its own economic system. China’s main activity was to invest in domestic competitiveness, thus becoming attractive to American firms, which relocated operations there. Meanwhile, the federal government did little to help disaffected workers at home. If there was a problem with this arrangement, fault should be on the US government for failing to restrain its firms or retrain its workers…

There’s so much more– including an acute look at (at least some of) the risks that China faces and the weaknesses (many self-inflicted) with which they have to cope: “2021 Letter,” from @danwwang. Eminently worth reading in full.

Patrick Mendis

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As we take stock, we might recall that it was on this date in 1941, in the midst of the China resistance to the Japanese invasion during World War II, that Chiang Kai-shek ordered Mao Tse Tung’s Communist Party New Fourth Army disbanded on January 17, and sent it’s commander Ye Ting to a military tribunal. It was the end of any real cooperation between the Nationalists and Communists.

Mao quickly reorganized the force under a new commander and continued to fight the Japanese– though as guerillas, independent of Chiang Kai-shek’s command. When Japanese surrendered and withdrew, the Nationalists and Communists turned on each other.

A Communist soldier waving the Nationalists’ flag of the Republic of China after a victorious battle against the Japanese, just before the the 1941 break

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“Is it just a coincidence that as the portion of our income spent on food has declined, spending on health care has soared?”*…

 

It seems a country’s spending reflects its national stereotypes, according to household expenditure data compiled by Eurostat: Russians splash 8% of their money on booze and cigarettes—far more than most rich countries—while fun-loving Australians spend a tenth of theirs on recreation, and bookish South Koreans splurge more than most on education. Some of the differences are accounted for by economics. Richer places like America and Australia, where household expenditure is around $30,000 per person, will tend to spend a smaller share of their costs on food than Mexico and Russia, where average spending is around $6,000. And politics plays a part too. Predominantly private healthcare programs like Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP) in America eats up over a fifth of each household’s budget, whereas the European Union, where public healthcare is common, only spends 4% on it. In Russia, government-subsidized housing and heating make living cheaper, and this means money is left over for the finer things in life.

Via The Economist‘s How Countries Spend Their Money (where oner can find a larger version of the chart above)

* “Is it just a coincidence that as the portion of our income spent on food has declined, spending on health care has soared? In 1960 Americans spent 17.5 percent of their income on food and 5.2 percent of national income on health care. Since then, those numbers have flipped: Spending on food has fallen to 9.9 percent, while spending on heath care has climbed to 16 percent [now, almost 21%] of national income. I have to think that by spending a little more on healthier food we could reduce the amount we have to spend on heath care.”
― Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

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As we brood over our budgets, we might recall that it was on this date in 1920 that the biggest incidence of domestic terrorism in U.S. history to that date occurred: the Wall Street bombing.  At noon, a horse-drawn wagon passed by lunchtime crowds on Wall Street and stopped across the street from the headquarters of the J.P. Morgan bank at 23 Wall Street, on the Financial District’s busiest corner.  Inside the wagon, 100 pounds of dynamite with 500 pounds of heavy, cast-iron sash weights exploded in a timer-set detonation, sending the weights tearing through the air.  30 people were killed immediately, and another eight died later of wounds sustained in the blast.  There were 143 seriously injured; the total number of injured was in the hundreds.

Though investigators and historians believe the bombing was carried out by Galleanists (an anarchist group responsible for a series of bombings the previous year), the attack– which was a part of postwar social unrest, labor struggles and anti-capitalist agitation in the U. S.– was never officially solved.

The aftermath of the explosion

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 16, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The world is a perpetual caricature of itself”*…

 

Lilian Lancaster was 15 when she drew a collection of 12 anthropomorphic maps of European countries to amuse her ailing younger brother.  They were published in 1868 as Geographical Fun, with notes and an introduction by “Aleph” (the pseudonym  of William Harvey, a City Press journalist, antiquarian, and family friend).

Take the Grand Tour with Lilian in the Library of Congress’ collection; read her fascinating story (she became an actress, and continued her cartography) at Barron Maps.

* George Santayana

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As we peruse personifications, we might note that, while folks in the U.S. are celebrating the signing, on this date in 1776, of the Declaration of Independence of the U.S. from Great Britain, it is also a day to spare a memorial thought for two of the drafters and signers of that document, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (respectively also, of course, the second and third Presidents of the United States); both died on this date 1826.

Adams and Jefferson

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 4, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Waterloo – Couldn’t escape if I wanted to”*…

 

On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo** this week, The Bodleian Library is featuring it’s Curzon Collection of political prints from the period of the Napoleonic wars– including several British and French cartoons depicting Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo.

Most are available online in the Oxford Digital Library.

* Abba

** Napoleon wasn’t actually in Waterloo when he met his Waterloo. Most of the battle had occurred in Braine-l’Alleud and Plancenoit, just a few miles south of the town (the Lion’s Mound, the most iconic symbol of the battle, is located in Braine-l’Alleud). [source]

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As we retreat to Paris, we might recall that it was on this date in 1782 that Congress adopted the Great Seal of the United States and, effectively, the bald eagle as the national symbol.  Benjamin Franklin, who had been a member of one the four committees charged with developing a design for the seal and had proposed an allegorical theme from Exodus, later wrote to his daughter,

For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

“With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country…

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on…

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 20, 2015 at 1:01 am

Collect all seven!…

The Shadow asked, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?”  Well, as it happens, Thomas Vought and a team of geographers from Kansas State University do, at least in the U.S.  Vought and his team first mapped transgression in the state of Nevada– “The Spatial Distribution of the Seven Deadly Sins Within Nevada”— then expanded their survey (at a county-specific level) nationwide…

Click here to see how one’s home stacks up in the other six dimensions of damnation.

As we reach for our rosaries, we might ruminate on the ways in which standards change:  it was on this date in 1970 that  Ray Davies of the Kinks travelled round-trip New York-London-New York– literally on this date, in 24 hours– to change a single word in his immortal “Lola”  (“Coca Cola” became “cherry cola”) to satisfy a ban on commercial reference by the BBC.  How quaint.

I can’t see a thing in the video
I can’t hear a sound on the radio
In stereo in the Static Age

— “The Static Age,” Green Day, 21st Century Breakdown

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 3, 2009 at 12:01 am

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