Archive for month: January, 2019

Parallel Worlds, This Time is Different in China, and India’s Demographics

Never trust the mob. Neither physical or social. We re-learned that lesson through Audra Williams who corrects the record on Sinead O’Connor tearing up a photo of Pope John Paul II at the end of a performance on Saturday Night Live in 1992. If you are like us, you remember it being a general anti-Catholic statement. As it turns out, and widely ignored at the time and since, O’Connor was actually attacking the Catholic Church’s child abuse problems. In 1992. Long before others spoke up. After her SNL performance, O’Connor was widely condemned. Two weeks after SNL, at a Bob Dylan tribute concert at Madison Square Garden when she took the stage she was booed loudly, mercilessly and unrelentingly. Kris Kristofferson was instructed by the showrunners to get her off the stage. Instead he put an arm around her and whispered into her ear, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” She replied, “I’m not down,” proceeded to do a screaming reprise of her SNL performance and then walked off the stage where Kristofferson was waiting with a hug. Now one might think this was not courageous, that she didn’t mind being booed. But no, she breaks from Kristofferson’s hug to vomit, and he then hugs her again. The moment was so fraught she became sick, but she did not shrink, she rose to the moment. Today we all pretend we’re brave, metaphorically screaming with the mob on social media about whatever it is we are outraged about at that moment. Sinead O’Connor is the real deal. She exhibited courage when it cost her…we all owe her an apology, But we’re not apologizing for explaining the parallel worlds we live in, how this time is different with China and India’s changing demographics. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, nothing compares to our world.

Sinead O Connor – WAR – SNL

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Sinead O´connor – Abucheada En El Madison Square Garden

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Kris Kristofferson & Sinead o Connor – Help me make it through the night

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Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

Parallel Worlds

INTN’s aim is to help us all understand our world better which leads us down some unfamiliar paths (via Marginal Revolution), including this week to a teenage makeup vlogger from upstate New York making a sensation at a mall in the U.K.  It is more evidence that there is more than one world we are covering (clearly we need to hire more staff), one of which is online sensations such as James Charles, the makeup vlogger. We’ll let the Guardian take it from here: “Birmingham was brought to a standstill on Saturday, with motorists abandoning cars and the city gridlocked for hours after thousands of teenagers flooded the city centre to see a 19-year-old YouTuber make a 30-second public appearance at a cosmetics store.” It turns out Mr. Charles has “more than 10 million followers on both Instagram and Youtube for his makeup videos.” The Guardian very smartly notes, “The incident shows how event organisers can be unprepared for sudden influxes of people attracted by YouTubers, who can have far bigger followings than TV and film stars and yet have a substantially lower profile in traditional media outlets.” This is another short-coming in today’s media landscape. We are living in different worlds and they do not often intersect. And, of course, there’s the question of how Brexit will affect teenage makeup vloggers?

Celebrity Makeup Artist Does My Makeup ft. MakeupByMario

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This Time is Different

Years ago, when it was still a semi-respectable institution, I worked for a U.S. Representative who served on the Foreign Affairs Committee. At that time, Japan was the bogeyman of anti-trade policy wonks. One day I was talking with a very smart trade subcommittee staffer who asserted that Japan would take over the world. I didn’t buy that but I did say I could see China doing that someday. Jump ahead many years (too many to count) and Eric Sayers tweets a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) slide that illustrates how China is a very different country from others the U.S. has tangled with over the decades. It is, of course, much more populous, but it also has a much larger economy. China’s economy is 60 percent as large as America’s. In 1989, at its relative economic peak, Japan’s was 39% of America’s. The Soviet Union was only about 40% of America’s at its peak. The CSBA chart below is a bit needlessly provocative comparing China to Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and the Soviet Union but is interesting for comparison’s sake. China’s economy is slowing down and may even go into recession but unless their economy suffers a decade-long depression, China is a much more formidable geopolitical competitor than America has ever faced before.

India’s Changing Demographics

Yep, China is big, but so too is India.  In fact, current trajectories would have India more populous than China in the next ten years. And its demographics are younger than China’s. But India’s demographic destiny is coming too. In fact, according to Ourworldindata, “The number of children in India peaked more than a decade ago and is now falling.” Right now, only India and Africa have growing working-age populations. By mid-century India’s workforce will also be shrinking. Of course, maybe the robots will have taken over by then. Or, the world will be adjusting to a very different set of economic circumstances due to very different demographics.

More Underrated Ethiopia News, Good News on Electricity, Complicated China Coal News

As a life-long Seattle Mariners fan, we greeted the announcement of Edgar Martinez’s long-overdue election to the Hall of Fame this week with unbridled Niehausean enthusiasm. We also viewed it as an illustration of the challenges with all human institutions. Edgar was demonstrably a more valuable player than Mariano Rivera, a New York Yankee who was also elected to the Hall this week. Edgar’s Wins Above Replacement (bWAR), a Sabermetrics measurement of a player’s total contribution to his team, is twenty percent higher than Rivera’s, just one statistical example of many we could provide. But, Edgar took ten years to make the Hall of Fame because he was considered a “specialist” since 70 percent of his career was spent as a designated hitter. Mariano Rivera, on the other hand, was elected in his first year (unanimously?!!!) of eligibility even though he too was a specialist, a closer, someone who only pitched one inning per game. This is only baseball (only baseball?!!!) but it is illustrative of a larger truth—humans are not very good at making judgments, of determining value, at devising institutions that don’t make mistakes. And yet when debating issues and policies, we are all very confident in our positions. Nonetheless, we confidently present news of underrated Ethiopia, good news on electricity and complicated news on China and coal. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, going to bat for important information and data.

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

Don’t Have to Act Like a Refugee

You may remember we’ve been plugging Ethiopia as the world’s most underrated country for both its strong economy and political reforms. This week comes news on the refugee front with Ethiopia passing a law “giving refugees the right to work and live outside of camps.” You see, Ethiopia, like many developing countries, is home to a large number of displaced people fleeing wars and other catastrophes, in this case from South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea. In fact, Ethiopia is home to the second-largest number of refugees in Africa, behind only Uganda. Many of these refugees have been in camps in Ethiopia for years and not allowed to work. Now they can, as VOA News reports, “the law allows refugees to move out of the camps, attend regular schools and to travel and work across the country. Refugees can formally register births, marriages and deaths, and will have access to financial services such as bank accounts.” BTW, most refugees are not in the U.S. or Europe, rather most are hosted by developing countries. So, Ethiopia with a GDP per capita of $706 is more committed to refugees than the EU ($32,233 GDP per capita and the U.S. ($57,638 per capita). It’s a mixed up, muddled world we live in.

I Have Seen the Light

Our age demands that we only talk about catastrophes and doomsday’s imminence. But there continues to be good news out there too, including the fact that for the first time less than 1 billion people are without electricity. Our WorldinData reports that “the total number without electricity fell below one billion for the first time in decades; very likely the first time in our history of electricity production.” In fact, currently over 87 percent of the world has electricity, the highest percentage ever, and much higher than in 1990 when only 71 percent of the world had electricity. Of course, the cynics will say this means we’re making climate change worse. Only someone with continuous access to electricity would ever say such a thing.

KEG vs. IEEFA, A Bad Rap Battle

Even though this may cause the Karma Electricity Gods (a great name for a band) to turn off our power, we note that the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (a horrible name for a band) reports that “China is the lender of last resort for coal plants.” Yes, China has been making strides in renewable energy at home as we have reported on in the past but the IEEFA confirms that “China has committed or proposed about $36 billion in financing for 102 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity in 23 countries.” For those counting at home, “that represents more than a quarter of all coal-fired capacity under development outside of China. As you see in the map below, Bangladesh has the most proposed coal plants financed by China followed by Vietnam, South Africa, Pakistan and Indonesia. This will provide more electricity to populations that need it but with a cost to the environment. All decisions are colored gray with trade-offs—in this case also gray from pollution.

Clones vs. CRISPRs, Falsified Japanese Data and Distressing China Data

Life is not circular but perhaps it’s a Mobius strip. Take our relationship with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, for example.*  As a young child, we very much admired him, reading a children’s biography of him when he played for the Milwaukee Bucks. But then when he forced his way to the Los Angeles Lakers (Lebron did not start such shenanigans–and btw Kareem is too often given short shrift for GOAT status), our distaste for all things Los Angeles sports related impelled us to turn on him. His style of play and his ability to get away with offensvie fouls also drove us to distraction. But then in recent years as we read his incisive essays, watched his thoughtful interviews and generally admired his intellectual pursuits, we have again become a huge admirer. His most recent essay on the new controversial movie, The Green Book, informed us and gave us a new way to look at a variety of issues. And, now that he is writing for the reboot of one of our favorite TV shows, Veronica Mars, we will defend him to the death. We wonder how Kareem’s journey would have trekked had he not been 7′ 4″ tall with a unique ability to place a ball in a basket via a sky hook. We guess it would have been just as fruitful if perhaps not as much in the spotlight. And similarly we wonder about cloned vs. CRISPR horses in Argentina, Japan’s faulty economic data and China’s distressing economic data. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, looking for international data and information in all the right places.

*Ignoring the fact that Kareem doesn’t even know we are in a relationship, the cad.

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

Can the Clones Beat the CRISPRs?

As much as we think we may understand the world, nary a day goes by that we don’t learn something startling. For example, we were completely unaware that cloned horses compete in polo and that these Xeroxed horses are winning matches. According to a 2016 article in Science Magazine, “Last Saturday, at a prestigious match in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Palermo, polo player Adolfo Cambiaso rode six different horses to help his team win…What is noteworthy is that all six horses were clones of the same mare—they’re named Cuartetera 01 through 06…”And according to Next Big Future, Kheiron Biotech, who cloned those horses, is using “CRISPR gene editing to create super horses.” The CRISPR-generated horses will be born later this year. The use of such advanced biotechnology is further along than is commonly realized (by me, at least) with all the benefits and challenges that presents. No comment from He Jiankui.

A horse of a different color…every horse is the same

Japan’s Falsified Economic Data

We’re accustomed to Chinese government economic data being unreliable but were unaware that Japan may have similar problems, at least when it comes to wage data. According to the Japan Times, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare for the last 15 years has been publishing data that undercounted wage levels. This led to the government’s failure “to pay over ¥50 billion in benefits to nearly 20 million people.” According to the article, “Under existing rules, the ministry must review all business establishments in the country with 500 or more employees. But in Tokyo it had collected data from only a third of the roughly 1,400 such establishments, leading the data to show nationwide wages that were lower than they actually were.” This mistake, of course, has not gone over well, with Prime Minister Abe’s popularity taking a hit and 80% of Japanese saying they’ve lost trust in the government’s economic data. Lack of trust. It’s the theme of the two thousand teens.

China SOEs vs Private Sector

In our continuing “what is really happening in China’s economy” series, we offer a few data points. According to Andrew Browne at Bloomberg, “…while China’s per capita GDP, measured in terms of purchasing-power, is similar to Brazil’s, its consumption per capita is comparable only to Nigeria’s. If Chinese consumed like Brazilians, their spending would double.” Elsewhere it is pointed out that state owned enterprises receive 50 percent of all credit even though they only account for just 20 percent of GDP. Private companies (although even many of these are tied to the government in some way) also account for 80 percent of employment. But, the economy is slowing down as we pointed out last week. Another sign: China’s imports from Korea dropped 18 percent. China is going to try to bolster its economy. In fact, this week they are offering incentives to companies that limit layoffs. But we are curious to see if they concentrate their efforts on helping SOEs, and if so, how effective that is, both short and long term.

Tony Soprano Mystery of China, Christopher Moltisanti Sadness of Europe and Meadow is Being Watched

All good things come to an end. But so too bad things, and even things that are neither good nor bad. It is the way of our world, perhaps all worlds if string theory is correct. Most days here in the world headquarters of INTN we drive on something called the Viaduct, a double story highway traveling along Seattle’s waterfront, offering spectacular views of Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains. Tomorrow the viaduct closes forever to be replaced by a tunnel. There are good reasons to do so but it is also true that it ends the democratization of spectacular views in Seattle. While stuck in traffic we see Hyundais, Mercedes, semi’s, garbage trucks, old pickups and every other type of vehicle reflecting every demographic with every driver and passenger stealing at least a glance at the beauty. On the non-water side, one can peer into offices, apartments and parking garages, which if not as beautiful, are sometimes more intriguing. Progress is good but like Seattle’s weather all changes are colored gray, bringing both benefits and losses. And so too is life and the world as we examine China’s Tony Soprano mystery, Europe’s Christopher Moltisanti sadness and the surveillance of China’s Meadow and Anthony Soprano. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, riding down the open highway of international information and data with no tunnel vision.

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

The Tony Soprano Mystery of China

Like the continuing question of whether Tony Soprano died or not (the answer contained in this link), there are many mysteries in our world. But we find it strange that people continue to question whether China’s economy is slowing no matter the official GDP figure. It has and is. But I think what people are really asking is if the era of high GDP growth is over in China. The answer is also yes. GDP growth comes from increased productivity and/or an increase in the working age population. China’s working age population is at best flat and some experts believe it is actually falling. Caixin Global reports that a paper released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) “said that China’s working age population, defined as the number of people aged between 16 and 64, declined by 1.6 million in 2013, marking the beginning of a serious structural change to the population: a shrinking workforce.” China’s official productivity statistics still show strong growth of just over 6 percent though this is lower from earlier in the decade. As the great urban migration slows and its economy matures, China’s productivity increases are likely to continue to slow. Oh, and if you examine China compared to other Asian tigers, the end of rapid GDP growth is right on time as the chart below shows. But for China extreme bulls, don’t stop believing.

The Christopher Moltisanti Sadness of Europe

With so much attention on China these days, it’s easy to forget the European Union, the Christopher Moltisanti of world economies. The EU’s economy, after a few years of relative stability, is also facing problems. Germany, the largest and in the past strongest part of Europe’s economy, is slipping into recession, experiencing its second straight quarter of negative GDP growth. France’s economy is not so tasty at the moment and its politics worse with Macron’s approval numbers below 25 percent. Meanwhile, Italy appears to be on the brink of recession with negative growth in the third quarter and continued high unemployment. Who would have guessed that in the midst of a Ross and Rachel like relationship with the EU, that the U.K.’s economy might be the strongest of the lot. Perhaps most worrisome is that the EU is being out innovated by, well, just about everyone. Korea now registers more patents than Germany. In fact, one U.S. company—IBM—registers more patents than all of Germany. And China is catching up to the EU quickly. It’s not surprising that populism has found such fertile European ground for its gnarly, knotted roots.

Meadow and Anthony Soprano are Being Watched

Two weeks ago we wrote about Chinese government policies that could retard future innovation. The Chinese government laughs at our concerns by using technology to more closely monitor its students. According to the Telegraph, “Schools in southern China are forcing children to wear uniforms embedded with computer chips that track their movement and trigger an alarm if they skip class.” The chips are sewn into the school jackets of the students. So take off the jackets you might suggest. Try again since “facial-recognition scanners at school gates match the chips with the correct student, meaning that any who try to swap jackets in order to bunk off will be caught.” Apparently the chips also somehow monitor if the students fall asleep. All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall.

What is Going on in China’s Economy, Foxconn in India and World Pollution

As we entered 2019, we read about police called to a house where neighbors heard a baby screaming and a man yelling “Why Don’t You Die?” only for the police to find the arachnophobic man trying to kill a spider. And so we recalled our time battling a praying mantis. We had arrived back in Washington, D.C., where we then lived, after midnight, and let ourselves into the second floor apartment of the townhouse. We went to our bedroom to get some shut eye. But before we turned off the light we saw an extremely large praying mantis on the window sill making eyes at us. We slashed down at the large insect with a broom but only managed to knock it under the radiator. This would not stand. We needed proof of the beast’s death. So on our hands and knees we peered under the radiator but saw nothing. We looked from above down into the radiator. Still nothing. We tried hitting the radiator with our broom, hoping to flush it out. We strode the bedroom, broom in hand, searching for the treacherous mantodea. Until the phone rang. It was the tenant in the downstairs apartment, a formidable RICO lawyer for the Department of Justice, who fought organized crime. She wondered why we were making so much noise at one in the morning. We sensed this resilient esquire may not understand our epic battle with the praying mantis so we merely apologized and promised to keep quiet. We hung up, stared at the radiator, and slipped into our bed with one eye on a good night’s sleep and the other on the lookout. 2019 is sure to be full of many miscommunications but today we communicate clearly about China’s economy, big news in India and how we might utilize air pollution. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, welcoming a new year of international data, information and trends.

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

What is Going on with China’s Economy?

It is one of the four most important questions of 2019 (welcome new year, may your time on this planet be fruitful, fun and wise). Even as the Chinese economy continues to officially grow at 6.5 percent there is speculation that it is actually doing much worse. A variety of China watchers and economists opened up the hood of the apparently reliable China Volvo, examined its carburetor of underlying data and began to worry the engine block may be cracked. The China bear Christopher Balding points out in Bloomberg that consumption tax revenue has declined each of the last two months, 62 percent and 71 percent year over year. He also notes possible trouble coming down the pike, “With new loans outpacing new deposits by 13 percent in 2018, how the government recapitalizes a strained banking sector will be a major theme in the coming year.” Meanwhile, manufacturing is weakening with the manufacturing purchasing manager’s index (PMI), a gauge of factory work, dropping below 50, a sign of contraction. However, the non-manufacturing PMI rose to 53.8 so maybe this is all part of the long talked about transition from a manufacturing to service economy. Ah, but there are allegedly 69 million empty apartments in China. So, what’s happening in China? We don’t know but perhaps 2019 will reveal more than her retired cousin 2018.

Foxconn Begins Assembly in India

Speaking of China, although the trade war between China and the U.S. is not having large aggregate effects on the countries’ economies, we are seeing supply chains change which portend long-term effects to the world’s economy. One apparent such change are the reports that Foxconn, the large Taiwanese electronics manufacturing firm with huge assets in China, will start assembling iPhones for Apple in India later this year. [Ed note: this was written before Apple announced “subdued sales”–our correspondent may have more to say about that next week]. Apparently the new plant, which will be located in Tamil Nadu, will concentrate on high-end iPhone models. Whether these will be additional phones or Foxconn is moving some assembly from China is not clear. But if true, it’s another tangible sign of the world’s supply chain evolving in response to new geopolitical (and economic) realities.

World Air Pollution

Progress on the emission of climate changing pollutants has stagnated over the last year. And given the protestors in France, Americans voting down carbon taxes and other such recently expressed sentiments around the world, there does not seem to be much appetite for curbing the emissions. But perhaps if we frame the problem as air pollution there will be more progress. After all, air pollution is a visible and huge problem around the world. The World Health Organization reports, “nine out of ten people worldwide breathe polluted air.” Where is air pollution the worst? Yes, China has bad air pollution but it’s even worse in India, Pakistan and Egypt as you see in the map below. This air pollution has visible effects and, unlike climate change, impels people to complain and protest. Maybe the world uses this problem as the trojan horse to solve climate change emissions. We will all breathe easier if so.