Archive for year: 2019

India’s Popularity, Korea is Old and the India-Pakistan Dance Off

At 6:30 pm our cat, Willow, expects to be fed and our other cat, Putter, expects to be taken outside for his afternoon jaunt. During his time patrolling the yard, Putter will purr, rub against our leg and give us a gaze of love, contentment and gratefulness. At 7:37 pm Pacific Daylight time on October 17, 2001, the Seattle Mariners last played in the playoffs, losing in heartbreaking fashion to the New York Yankees. As of 11 am today, the Seattle Mariners, in a self-professed “step back” year, are 7 and 1 and in first place in the American League. We arrived yesterday at the doctor’s office at precisely 10:15 am, per their request 15 minutes before our 10:30 am appointment. One and a half hours later, at 11:45 am, we still had not seen the doctor, despite informing them we were to give a speech at 12:30 pm at a location forty minutes away. When exiting the medical office’s parking garage, we were told we had to pay for parking because we had been there for longer than one and a half hours despite the fact it was the doctor, who we never did see, who kept us waiting. We were very late to the speech. As you can tell from this series of seemingly unconnected events, Putter is, of course, much better than the U.S. healthcare system, but perhaps much more distressingly, so too are the Seattle Mariners baseball team who, as we have noted, have caused little but torture to their fans the last 18 years.  So even as we nominate Putter for Surgeon General and the Mariners as our insurance carrier we diagnose India’s popularity, put a stethoscope to Korea’s aging heart, and wonder at the natural medicine of the India-Pakistan dance off. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, diagnosing all the world’s ailments.

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

Is India a Cricket Player or a Nerd?

The world is not exactly like an American high school but there are certainly in-crowds and even mean girls. Pew Global recently conducted a survey testing India’s popularity. Pew polled six Asia-Pacific countries on whether they have a favorable or unfavorable view of India. As you see below, all view India more favorably than not, with Americans being least likely to hold a favorable view, which probably says more about America today than India. South Koreans look on India most favorably. We very much wish Pew had been able to conduct their survey in China. In addition to surveying Asia-Pacific countries, Pew also asked people from 26 countries “whether India is playing a larger role in the world today.”Indians themselves think so as you see in the second chart below. The French are most likely to think India is playing a larger role, Argentenians least likely. If India continues to grow faster economically than China, as it has in recent years, it will indeed play a larger role in the global campus. Upcoming elections in India are as important as any in the world this year. So I guess student government is more important than I thought.

Korea is Old

South Korea is an amazing success story. Fifty years ago its economy was the same size as many African countries. Today it is the 12th largest in the world and transitioned from an authoritarian government to a democratic one. But as Mick Jagger surely realizes as he prepares for heart valve surgery and as he crooned fifty years ago, “What a drag it is getting old.” Because Korea, like many other developed countries, and especially Japan, is a rapidly aging country due to a fertility rate that has plunged below one birth per woman. In fact, under current trends, Korea’s population will start shrinking in less than 10 years, in 2028. They will then join Japan as a country whose population is getting smaller. Already people over the age of 65 make up 14 percent of Korea’s population. The shrinking of the developed world (with China soon to be added to that list) is the third-most important trend of our world, one that will offer many challenges for economic growth and innovation.

Good God, It’s a Dance Off!

We are perhaps late to the great India-Pakistan Wagah Border Dance Off, but we worry you too did not know about this fantastic ritual. So we end the week, thanks to our favorite Twitter thread of 2019, presenting to you a ceremony that takes place each afternoon at the Wagah border between India and Pakistan, in the north of both countries. As the border prepares to close for the day, the Pakistani and Indian sides scream and shout…and then engage in a John Cleese-like march off, often to pop songs of the day. We feel that every border, every point of conflict, should be settled in this way. In fact, the next time we encounter conflict in our life, we intend to scream and lift our legs high in the air, whether to Cardi B, Marshmello or Ariana Grande, we’re not sure.

वाघा बॉर्डर पर ऐसे भिड़े भारत-पाकिस्तान|Beating the retreat @ Wagah Border on Republic Day

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Monty Python Ministry Of Silly Walks

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China’s 737, Pakistan and China, and Ethiopia and China

If you are like us (and we, of course, refer to the royal “you”—come to think of it, all of our readers are royalty to us) you are probably in a perpetual state of surprise. We had not anticipated, for example, that in one week both Donald Trump and Jussie Smollet would be completely exonerated (What? It’s more complicated?). Information, both surprising and banal, rushes at us from all digital directions like a perpetual passing wind machine. Making sense of it all is increasingly difficult. But through the odorous communications thicket there is no doubt that our world has changed and will offer more surprises in our future. And one of the most important changes, as we have continued to try to show in this space, is China’s new role in the world— more influential, ambitious and forward, with all the opportunities, challenges, trade-offs and forthcoming surprises that entails. And so this week we offer three stories of China and our changing world, from aerospace ambitions to efforts in Pakistan to complications in their interactions with the world’s most underrated country. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, not necessarily exonerating the world, but certainly reveling in its marvelous complications and ironies.

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

China’s 737

For obvious reasons, this seems like a good time to check on China’s progress in building airplanes to compete with Boeing and Airbus. The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac) is working on a C919 to compete with Boeing’s 737 and Airbus’s A320. To compete with the duopoly of Airbus and Boeing, Comac will need to get certification of the C919 from both the U.S. Federal Aviation Agency and the European Aviation Safety Agency. It typically takes at least five years to do so for a new plane. Given Comac is just beginning the process, in the very short-term, Boeing and Airbus do not face much competition. But a decade from now, perhaps things will be very different. China presumably will use its own large internal aviation market to goose the market progress of the C919. And, from there, start to export to the rest of the world. The 2030s may see a very different aviation market than today’s. Maybe. Creating safe, commercially viable airplanes is difficult, as we have witnessed in recent weeks. Other countries have crashed and burned, to use a horribly bad metaphor, trying to do so. Whether China will be different is the multi-billion dollar question.

Out: India & Pakistan, In: China and Pakistan (oh, and India)

It was not enough to worry about India and Pakistan skirmishes, now comes word that China has deployed troops in Pakistan’s Sindh region to protect a variety of coal mine projects. It turns out that Pakistanis living in that area are none too thrilled with these projects and with Chinese workers in their area. As we’ve noted before, as China increasingly projects itself around the world, they will find the same complications other world powers have. The news of this troop deployment comes from Indian intelligence sources reported by Indian TV. India is suspicious of China’s activities in this region and with China and Pakistan’s growing “interdependence.”  All of these reports from Indian media note the Chinese troop deployments are a mere “90 kilometers from the India-Pakistan border,” meaning it would take China less time to get to India’s border than for us to drive to a Mariners baseball game during rush hour. For the sake of world peace, we are deploying Seattle transportation planners to Pakistan immediately.

World’s Most Underrated Country Meets World’s Largest

What happens when our hand-picked world’s most underrated country meets the emerging global power of China? It is, of course, complicated. Like many countries in Africa, Ethiopia has received infrastructure loans from China, and is now renegotiating a multibillion dollar Chinese loan that built a railway linking Addis Ababa with a port in Djibouti (you may remember our focus on China and Djibouti many months ago. As in The Wire, all the pieces matter). Ethiopia’s Ambassador to China says in a South China Morning Post article, “We are negotiating with China as to how to manage the debt, to make it sustainable and try to reduce some distress that comes from debt.” If Ethiopia continues to reform and make economic progress, this may not be a problematic loan in the future–for either China or Ethiopia.

What About Tomorrow, Electric Car Check-Up and Don’t be Down on Downunder

On the first day of spring the mind wanders: to a study in Sweden that finds centrists have the best bull%$#& detector. Those with extreme views have more difficulty detecting BS than those in the middle of the spectrum, or as the study puts it, the results point “to the existence of bull&%$# receptivity among both right- and left-wingers.” Our favorite aspect of the study is it uses the word “bull$%#& and unlike us, does not censor it.  We love that the word strides among arcane academic language such as, “The results are supportive of theoretical accounts that posit ideological asymmetries in cognitive orientation.” Now that’s some bull%&$# academic language designed to obscure rather than clarify. But our mind also wanders to the upcoming release of Amazing Grace, documenting Aretha Franklin’s extraordinary 1972 gospel concert in a Los Angeles church, a moment full of extreme wonders. And our mind even wanders to the last days of that baseball extremist, the great great Ichiro. And so we know it is no bull&%$# that there is a place for moderation and extremism in this wacky world of ours, and so too for a tale of China’s economic future, the state of electric cars and just how racist Australia is (or isn’t). It’s this week’s International Need to Know, slapping infield singles of information and data about our world Ichiro-style.

AMAZING GRACE – Official Trailer – Aretha Franklin Concert Film

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

Okay, But What About Tomorrow?

The world is concerned about China’s economy like Lakers fans over the apparent decline of Lebron James. Everyday we read another article, tweet, pronouncement about how its economy has slowed down or is having troubles. And they’re all true and we have covered many of them ourselves, often before others even noticed. But the assumption built into some of these assessments is that China’s economy is doomed for evermore, like a Poe raven. That we don’t believe. As we noted a few months ago, for demographic and other reasons, we guess that the days of double-digit and high single digit growth are over. But that does not mean China is going back to the dark ages or will be an inconsequential economy going forward. Just the opposite. China is too large and its economy is too developed not to be important going forward. Even if they experience a lost decade(s) ala Japan, they will still be important just as Japan has been post-1989 (even more important and influential than Japan given China’s size). And, if they are going through a recession currently, it will not last forever, and they will recover, just as all economies do. Not enough people are thinking about China post this recession, if indeed they are in one, and what that means for doing business there and their role in the world.

Countries Share of World GDP

Electric Slide Check-Up

It’s time for our 5000 mile check up on how electric vehicles are doing in our climate change-challenged world. They have not taken off as rapidly as hoped but there is still a big increase according to Visual Capitalist. Norway leads the way with 49 percent of their car sales of the electric variety due to a variety of incentive policies. Iceland comes in second with 19.1 percent and then there’s a big drop off down to the single digits. Another way to look at progress in the world is the number of charging stations in a country. Here China leads with more than 300,000 installed charging stations, followed by the U.S and Germany. Of course, none of this will matter unless the electricy generated to power those cars is renewable. So even as we fall behind in electric car sales projections, we also need to continue to concentrate on how the power is generated. This will be important for industrial CO2 emissions as well which are likely to be an even greater problem than transportation moving forward.

Don’t be Quite So Down on Downunder

In the wake of the terrorist attack on a mosque in New Zealand by a self-professed white nationalist, perhaps it is a good time to review perceptions of immigrants around the world. Last year, Pew Global surveyed 18 countries and found that 11 of them had majorities of people saying immigrants “make our country stronger.” The other eight have majorities who believe immigrants “are a burden on our country.” The hard eight are topped by Hungary, Greece and Italy, all countries experiencing challenging economies or political changes. Canada had the largest majority feeling favorably about immigrants with 68 percent, followed by Australia at 64 percent. Interestingly we read lots of angry denunciations of Australians after the massacre in New Zealand, with angry Twitter and other social media mobs calling Australians a bunch of racists. Undoubtably there are racism problems downunder but Pew’s survey indicates it is not as widespread as the mob claims.

Revisiting China & India, Brexit’s Demographic Challenge and Women & Business

Like Donna Summer we were on the radio. Okay, not like Donna Summer in any way, but we were on the radio, whoa, oh, oh, oh. Paul Casey asked us to be on his show “Voices of Experience” on KKNW-1150 AM where we talked about this very newsletter you are reading right now, as well as about a variety of important international issues. While we love WWOZ New Orleans, KEXP Seattle and KUOW, we now are, of course, enamored with KKNW and Paul Casey’s Voices of Experience. His questions were sharp and interesting as is his show. You can hear our contribution here around the 20 minute mark. So even as we practice, Bradley Cooper-style, lowering our voice to a deep resonant radio timbre, we broadcast to you a reassessment of India and China’s economies, how Northern Ireland’s demographics affect Brexit, and women in business around the world. It’s this week’s international need to know, wishing we had college age children so we could try to out-bribe Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.

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

Revisiting China and India

You probably saw last week that a Brookings Institution study determined that China was inflating its GDP growth rate by an average of 1.7 percent each year from 2008 to 2016 (China’s government economists  also work closely with Tom Brady). That’s not a huge surprise, most people believe that China has been overstating its economic growth, but it’s interesting to see someone try to put a number to it. If Brooking’s numbers are accurate, this has ramifications for understanding China, including its comparison to India’s economy. As you see in the chart below, using the new GDP numbers for China, on average India’s economy grew faster than China’s from 2008 to 2016. In fact, in six of the eight years India’s economy had higher growth rates. People often ask me how an authoritarian government can be more successful economically than a democratic one. Well, for the last decade, India’s democracy has outperformed China’s increasingly repressive government in GDP growth rates. Of course, China’s economy outperformed India’s before that and demographics play a huge role in economic development and growth, but nonetheless, the story has become more complicated with Brooking’s calculations.

Brexit’s Demographic Challenge

Time is on my side, sang Irma Thomas before the Rolling Stones ripped her off, but many might want to change the lyrics as the March 29th Brexit deadline looms. But whose side are demographics on? We ask because concern over Northern Ireland has been a major angle of Brexit angst, and those demographics continue to change. As you see in our table below, in 1991, about 38 percent of Northern Ireland was Roman Catholic. In 2011, 44 percent were Roman Catholic and under current trends 51 percent will be Roman Catholic by 2021. Meanwhile, the percentage of Protestants has decreased during that same time period, making the calculus of Northern Ireland, the U.K. the EU, Ireland (predominantly Catholic) just that much more complicated. Of course, the number of religious people of any persuasion continues to drop in Northern Ireland as it does throughout all Europe. At any rate, demographics, tribal tendencies and good old political belief inertia will be a fascinating factor in Brexit politics.

Women and Business

We’re a week late in presenting gender equality data in time for International Women’s Day (Ed note: If only you had women on staff. INTN: If only we had staff). Nonetheless we persevere by presenting this week the World Bank’s Women, Business and Law Index which attempts to measure laws and regulations’ effects on women’s ability to work in different regions of the world. The good news is the Index has found improvement in every region of the world for women over the last decade. “Ten years ago, the global average score was 70.06. Since then 131 economies made 274 legal changes towards gender equality. This led to a 4.65 point increase in the average global score, to 74.71 today.” Six countries achieved perfect scores of 100 in the Index: Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden. There is far more work to do, especially, according to the Index, in the Middle East and North Africa, but trends are pointed in the right direction.

Secure Your Biolabs, Japan Gives in to Reality and This Video Changes Everything

Recently we sat in a local coffee shop, one unaffiliated with any present or potential presidential candidates, sipping rooibos tea while tapping away on our Microsoft Surface (not yet a sponsor, but should be) when we began eavesdropping on the two women at the table adjacent to ours. It is perhaps a bad habit and yet when we heard them discussing black holes and how they were monitoring one in particular, perhaps you will forgive our prying ears. It struck us how fortunate we were to be living in a place where such talented people–astrophysicists in this case–are there to be eavesdropped on. In fact, for quite some time we stopped our writing and listened to the equivalent of real life Internet–the good part of the web where one can learn and absorb all sorts of interesting information, not the Social Media Mobs, gossip corners and transgressive trolls of so much of the online experience. The two women were excited about their work, their findings and potential for huge discoveries down the road. They asked each other questions and plotted their next moves. And then we looked out the window, saw a man carrying a kitten and a woman walking a puppy on the sidewalk, and forgot all about black holes. But we remember to bring you scary news of biolabs, Japan’s relenting to reality and China’s video of the week. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, the weekly newsletter with such gravitational pull that no important world information or data escapes its grasp.

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

Secure Your Biolabs, Please

We’ve always had an inkling that if the world came to an end it would be Madison, Wisconsin’s fault. And now the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists backs us up with a report stating that “The most secure bio-labs routinely make errors that could cause a global pandemic and are about to re-start experiments on pathogens engineered to make them mammalian-airborne-transmissible.” One of these labs is in Madison, Wisconsin. But actually most such labs are located in Asia and the Bulletin (the same folks who monitor the Doomsday Clock) makes some alarming points about the inability of even the most secure labs to avoid that most human of activities–mistakes. According to the report, “Human error is the main cause of potential exposures of lab workers to pathogens. Statistical data from two sources show that human error was the cause of, according to my research, 67 percent and 79.3 percent of incidents leading to potential exposures in BSL3 labs…”  The analysis also asserts there is a 20 percent probability of a release of dangerous pathogens. When the odds are far better of a pathogen release then a Lebron James’ team making the playoffs, we’ve got a problem.

Japan Gives in to Reality

On one of our periodic trips to Japan ten years ago, some Japanese officials told us that the country’s aging, soon to be shrinking, population, was no problem. They were addressing it with automation and robots. They did not see the need to increase immigration. We are just as much a tech geek as the next person but we were skeptical. And now Japan, that most insular of countries when it comes to immigration, is singing a new karaoke tune and allowing in more immigrants. In December, the Abe government approved increasing five-year residency permits to 345,000 low skilled workers. And, as Bloomberg reports, “Although the terms are still vague, some who pass language and technical exams will be allowed to extend their visas indefinitely and bring their families.” This is new but necessary territory for Japan. Under its current demographic trends, the working age population will shrink nearly a quarter by the 2040s.  Increased immigration will change Japan, and likely make it less unique (there are always trade-offs in this world) but ultimately will improve it like immigration has every other country.

This Video Changes Everything

The stakes are enormous in the continuing battle with Huawei as has been reported elsewhere. The U.S. and other countries continue to ban Huawei’s 5G technology. Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s case continues to wind through the Canadian court system while two Canadians are held by China incommunicado. But, China has hit on a sure-fire way to defuse the situation: a video of children singing the praises of Huawei. With lyrics like these, I’m sure you too will be convinced:

Which is the most beautiful phone in the world? Everyone says Huawei!
Teacher tells me to love my country, and to love our domestic brand Huawei!
Huawei is good, Huawei is beautiful, Huawei wins glory for our country!

I’ve just dropped my iPhone in the garbage and am headed out to buy a Huawei phone! (actually, their new folding phone does seem cool).

Uh Oh, The Young and the Restless, and the Old and the Healthy

As part of our knee rehab, we are required to lie in a continuous passive motion (CPM) machine which slowly bends and straightens our knee. We do this many, many hours each day. It appears to be helping although it is no substitute for the strengthening exercises we also do multiple times each day  To pass the time on Wednesday morning in the CPM machine, we tuned into Michael Cohen’s appearance before Congress. There representatives passively made statements and asked questions according to their place in the political register. While the TV lights burned brightly on the scene, the members’ statements and questions illuminated nothing, as the Continuous Political Machine passively moved their lips and minds. We wonder whether Members of Congress need to step out of their CPMs and do some actual exercises. And while we wonder, prone in our CPM machine, we strengthen our mind on India and Pakistan’s underreported military engagements, do another rep on world demographics and ice ourselves with which is the most healthy country. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, like Bradley Cooper, performing a duet with our Lady Gaga world.

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

Uh Oh

While we were all obsessing over an actor making up a crime and whether Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga are an item, one nuclear power attacked another with conventional weapons. Yes, earlier this week India “launched an airstrike” in PakistanI territory. This was ostensibly in retaliation for a suicide bombing in Kashmir a few weeks ago. India asserted it destroyed a terrorist camp in Pakistan that was planning additional strikes in Kashmir. Pakistan claims India’s planes were intercepted and “released their payloads early without any casualties.” Pakistan’s foreign minister called India’s action a “grave aggression” and said it reserves the right to a “suitable response and self defense.” It now claims it has, shooting down one of India’s planes over Pakistani territory. We get the allure of Michael Cohen’s testimony, and the focus on the U.S. and North Korea, but it is remarkable nonetheless how little coverage or comment there have been on these incidents. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming. Have a nice day.

The Young and the Restless

Long time readers know we are somewhat obsessed with demographics, but in a good Stephen Curry practicing three pointers way, not in an Alfred Hitchcock Vertigo disturbing manner. So imagine our data joy when we stumbled upon a map in Visual Capitalist of the median age of every continent’s population. Europe (really part of Eurasia—read Bruno Marceis’ thought provoking book, the Dawn of Eurasia) is the oldest with a median age of 42. Africa is crazily young, with a median age of only 18. That’s where economic growth, and perhaps trouble, given all the young men, is likely to be found over the next few decades. In fact, the top five youngest countries in the world are all to be found in Africa. Three of the oldest countries in the world are in Europe with Germany, Italy and Greece the 3rd, 5th and 6th oldest countries in the world. Contrast this to 1950 when Europe’s median age was just below 30 and in Asia it was in the low 20s. Look at today’s data and you can get a pretty good picture of our world’s future.

The Old and the Healthy

Bloomberg released their annual Healthiest Country Index this week and lists Spain as the healthiest country in the world (clearly not referring to their economy). The index “grades nations based on variables including life expectancy while imposing penalties on risks such as tobacco use and obesity. It also takes into consideration environmental factors including access to clean water and sanitation.” Spain has the third-longest life expectancy, behind only Japan and Switzerland who are both ranked in the top five in the Index. Clearly we should be eating more nuts, fish and olive oil per the Mediterranean Diet. We note that Singapore is ranked eighth, whose health care system, for reasons we don’t understand, continues to be ignored as a model by those wanting to reform the U.S. system.

The Most Popular App, the Key to Solving Climate Change, and Who is Most Connected

You may remember a few weeks ago when we wrote about DJ Marshmello playing a live set in the online video game Fortnite to 10 million people. It turns out this was not uncontroversial in the electronic dance music (EDM) world. Our expert on EDM is the nice young man who staffs the front desk of the physical therapy place we go to for our knee rehab (which is going well thus far, thanks be to the joint gods). Over the last year he has kept us informed on a variety of EDM shows he attends. He informed us that other DJs were criticizing Marshmello for “selling out” by performing in Fortnite. Our young EDM expert, to his credit, thought this was silly. If, as we have asserted in this space, 75 percent of the world’s problems are due to people having the wrong definition of winning, it is also true that 17 percent of the world’s problems are due to people (83 percent of whom are young men) trying to be cool. We can remember in our youth similar arguments to the Marshmello one today about bands and artists and who was cool and who was not. Nearly 91 percent of those arguments, in hindsight, were hogwash, to use an uncool term. Such a mindset infuses the current story about Ryan Adam’s treatment of women and how Mandy Moore is perceived. So we coolly tell you about the most popular app in the world, don our leather jacket as we determine what climate change’s fate hinges on, and lower our sunglasses to name the most connected country in the world. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, the Fonzie of international information and data e-newsletters.

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

The Most Popular App in the World

Tired of Yelp? Haven’t used Ocarina or your fitness app in years? Well it’s time to get with the masses and download the most popular app on the Apple platform—Xuexi Qiangguo, which teaches “Xi Jinping Thought” to its users. According to the South China Morning Post, “Xuexi Qiangguo requires users to sign up with their mobile numbers and real names. Study points are earned by users who log on the app, read articles, make comments every day and participate in multiple-choice tests about the party’s policies.” The article notes Communist Party member are “required to use the app every day and accumulate their scores,” which might be a way to get your kids to finally put down their smart phones during family dinners. So download the app now. It’s free…unlike the country.

World’s Climate Change Fate Hinges on the World

The current U.S. Administration’s negligence on climate change is disheartening. But, Noah Smith reminds us that no matter what the U.S. does, the real climate game revolves around the rest of the world as you see in Smith’s graph below. U.S. CO2 emission have been relatively flat since 1981. The rest of the world, on the other coal-darkened hand, has more than doubled its CO2 emissions since 1980. A small portion of this increase is due to the U.S. importing more of its goods but most of it is not. The much discussed Green New Deal is only worthwhile for as much as it can also help the rest of the world decrease its carbon emissions by creating new technologies and implementing effective, replicable policies. Here’s a thought provoking Twitter thread on where our real challenges lie in addressing climate change. Hint: agriculture and industry will be a bigger challenge than transportation and electricity.

How Globalized is the World?

Globalization, or at least the immigration part of globalization, has caused angst and shot-in-foot moves in both Europe and the U.S. But just how much is the world “globalized?” According to DHL’s Global Connectedness Index, the world has become more connected but is still not particularly globalized. The report issued earlier this week states the “Global Connectedness Index rose to a record high in 2017. For the first time since 2007, trade, capital, information, and people flows all intensified significantly.” But still, only “20% of economic output around the world is exported, roughly 7% of phone call minutes (including calls over the internet) are international, and only 3% of people live outside the countries where they were born.“ The Netherlands, which has been a major trading country for centuries, is the most connected country in the world, followed by Singapore. There is much to digest in the index. Start dining.


Billy Beane Trade Data, Parallel Worlds II, and Who Jails the Most Journalists

As we type, we gaze at a snow-draped lawn (which means there may be typos in this, we should really be looking at the computer screen). Weather is the great humbler of humans. Whether Napoleon in Russia, the winds destroying the Spanish Armada or our flight from San Diego earlier this week much delayed due to the Seattle snow. In the airport bar we listened to people’s plans stymied by the mathematical chaos that are meteorological conditions. After midnight we made it home and flashlight in hand trudged carefully towards the hobby house in our backyard where we could not remember if we had plugged in the pipe heater (a few years back a pipe burst with all the accompanying expense and chaos). We stopped in our tracks when we came across large animal pawprints in the snow. They seemed too large for a dog or even a raccoon, although if it was the latter it must have been some ancient monster raccoon thought only to exist in myth. We searched around the yard, followed the footprints to the back fence, then satisfied we were safe, opened the hobby house to find we had indeed plugged in the pipe heater earlier in the winter. Which is all to say life brings many unexpected moments, including that a year ago we would not have anticipated our fourth knee surgery in 13 months this coming Monday. So though we would have loved to, there will be no International Need to Know next Thursday on Valentine’s Day.* But, we do provide you a sweetheart of services trade data, a Marshmello treat of Parallel Worlds and a sour candy of jailed journalists. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, a snow flurry of important international data and information.

*We hope to be back February 21st.

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

Services are Billy Beane of Trade

We often compare international trade data to pre-Sabermetrics baseball statistics, simple to understand, but crude, misleading and prone to error. Even the current data we have is generally presented incompletely. When you see trade data in the news it is often only referring to “merchandise” trade, items you can touch and feel like cars, computers and caviar. It usually does not include services trade such as education, software and engineering services. But services trade is growing while merchandise trade wanes like an aging right-handed pitcher. According to VisualCapitalist, services trade in 2017 grew 60 percent faster than merchandise trade. From 2007 to 2017, telecom and IT services exports increased the fastest. In fact, McKinsey and Company calculates that services trade may already be larger than merchandise trade, now totaling $13.4 trillion. The Billy Beanes of China understand this and it helps explain a variety of China’s policies. Get with the trade Moneyball, folks.

Parallel Worlds II: The Wrath of Marshmello

Following up on last week’s revelation of the parallel world of fashion vloggers, this week we discover how live music is gravitating to online video games. According to, last weekend DJ Marshmello (his super group S’mores is awesome) played a live set to 10 million people in the video game, Fortnite. Tencent, the Chinese IT powerhouse based in Shenzhen, owns 40 percent of the company that makes Fortnite, which has over 200 million users. That’s as many as Spotify and thus a good entrée into the live music business. MusicBusiness Worldwide reports, “DJ star Marshmello played an exclusive in-game concert in Fornite at 2pm ET. Fortnite players could watch the virtual show for free, so long as they made sure their avatar was available at the concert’s location (Pleasant Park).” Virtual concert attendees’ avatars could dance at the concert. We were at a concert last weekend in a Parallel World—Trombone Shorty. We tried to dance as adeptly as an Avatar. We probably failed. But, again we are all living in parallel worlds that rarely collide (not even on the dance floor).

Who Jails the Most Journalists?

The world has become a more dangerous place for journalists in recent years with more reporters being killed and imprisoned. But as Ian Bremmer recently pointed out, a mere five countries are responsible for jailing 70 percent of the world’s journalists. Your cowardly five are in order Turkey, China, Egypt, Eritrea and Saudi Arabia. So we could solve a large part of the problem if those five countries would grow up. If we look at where journalists are being killed the most it’s no surprise that it’s predominantly in war zones with that ever ending battle in Afghanistan leading the way with 13 journalists killed in 2018, followed by Syria (9), India (5), the U.S. (4) and Mexico (4).

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.