We attended the Jeff Tweedy solo acoustic show earlier this week. For those that don’t know Tweedy, he is the founder and leader of Wilco, and before that was in one of the seminal alt-country* bands, Uncle Tupelo. One of my favorite photos of all time comes from The Anthology disc of Uncle Tupelo, a reissue of then mostly out of print albums. It shows the three members of Uncle Tupelo, including Tweedy, sitting on a roof top, bottles of cheap beer in their hands or at their feet, in the full cradle of youth. It is a photo of dreams, hopes and aspirations–perhaps even the creative tension that eventually tore the band apart–catching a moment in time, a moment that only comes at that tender age in humans, projects and countries. It is a photo of youthful innocence. At the Moore Theater, Tweedy–an occasionally irascible and tortured character historically–is much older, grizzled even, heavier and yet it was the most content and happy we’ve ever seen him. He was, as always, a great performer, which made us happy, and we wonder if the guy in the photo with the beer would have aspired to the man he is today? As we aspire for all people, projects and countries to settle into such good and productive places, we cast an eye on the international make-up of the Nobels, Asia’s robotic future and Japan’s rapidly aging society. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, a lover of Red, Red Wine, not a fighter of it.
*Has the term”alt-right” ruined the term “alt-country?
–We’ll be on business in New Orleans next week (no, really, we’re attending a conference…but we do plan on having a po’ boy and catching some music as well). International Need to Know will return on October 18th.
Okay, that’s enough ado…
Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.
Nobel Prizes in International Trade?
Earlier this week the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to two researchers, one from Japan and one from America, who independently did work on how to use the body’s immune system to fight cancer. Given a friend of ours was recently saved by such technology, we are especially heartened by this award. The Nobel also spurred us to ponder about innovation around the world and China-U.S. competition. Historically, the U.S. dominates the list of Nobel Prize winners with 371 going to those working in the United States. But nearly 40 percent of those American Nobel prize winners were immigrants, originally hailing from other countries. The more countries that create ecosystems where good ideas can flourish, the better for the whole world. After all, everyone will benefit from better anti-cancer treatments (with time those treatments will be economically viable all over the globe). Meanwhile, China wants to be less reliant on U.S. technology and the U.S. wants to be less reliant on China for manufacturing and assembly. We assert the world is more successful when its great economic and innovation bakery is franchised throughout the world, not when we all retreat to our own kitchens aiming to serve only our own dining tables. This, we realize, is an unpopular thought as much of the world turns against globalization. Perhaps soon the world will turn in a more productive spin.
Asia’s Future is Robotic
Asia’s rise has been one of the world’s most important events of the last 40 years and is reshaping our world. One illustration of Asia’s leading role is the number of robots it deploys. Nearly 65 percent of the world’s industrial robots are deployed in Asia. That’s a function of Asia’s prowess in manufacturing and assembly but also its openness to new technology. Within Asia, China is home to half the industrial robots. By robot density (number of robots per 10,000 workers), Korea, Singapore and Japan are three of the top four in the world. But as the IMF points out, Asia “is also the region with the highest robot production—Japan and Korea are the world’s top two producers, with market shares of 52 and 12 percent, respectively.” When we wrote a few weeks ago about which countries fear automation the most, Asian countries were among the least scared (with the exception of Japan which fears loss of jobs—but see story below). Maybe they are short sighted or maybe there is an ingrained optimism among nations on the rise.
The Incredibly, Remarkably Old Japan
Even given our obsession with demographics and the well-known fact that Japan has the grayest of demographics, we were still taken aback to learn that now 20 percent of Japanese are 70-years-old or older. That’s an extraordinary number of really old people. According to the Nikkei Asian Review, “The 70-and-over segment of the population grew to an estimated 26.18 million, or 20.7%. That marks an increase of 1 million from last year, driven by baby boomers born from 1947 to 1949.” And when we consider Japanese 65 and older, it goes up to 28 percent of the population. Remarkably, those 65 and older make up over 12 percent of the Japanese workforce. Maybe those old Japanese are worried about losing their jobs to robots. In fact, engadget reports that a Japanese company has developed a robot that installs drywall (please send them to our house immediately—we have a drywall project to complete). Japan is in the vanguard on how to cope with an aging population. Other countries may match Japan’s graying demographics someday. How they manage those demographics will be a big test.