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China & the Lewis Turning Point

According to the Financial Times, China’s boom has peaked and opportunities are drying up. This short video is well made and includes interesting interviews with Chinese factory workers who’re heading home or contemplating such a move and with a Vietnamese worker who went to China. I had no idea that Chinese factories were bringing in illegal workers from Vietnam.

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To Marry an English Lord

marrylord

If you like Downton Abbey, you really should read Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace’s  To Marry an English Lord. I got the audio book from the library. The narrator had the perfect voice, elegant and slightly aristocratic.

To Marry an English Lord presents all sorts of facts and vignettes about the American heiresses, and there were dozens if not hundreds, who crossed the ocean to marry well. The focus is on New York socialites, whose fathers had fortunes, but couldn’t break into the elite circle of the Kickerbockers. Kickerbockers were the descendants of the first New York settlers from Holland, these people wore knickerbockers, i.e. pants that stopped at the knees. No amount of money could get you into their social circle so those with new money headed for England where they were welcomed not just for their money (though that was key) but also because American girls were so open, confident and free. British girls were sheltered and shy. They were chaperoned everywhere, but the American parents gave their girls a lot more freedom. And they had much larger clothing allowances. A British girl would make do with 3 new gowns a season, but the American would get 18 or so spending about $500.000 in todays money (plus a 50% tariff). The British men noticed, in droves apparently.

The book covers every aspect of the women’s lives from dress, parents, education, hobbies and such to marriage, infidelity and socializing. I found it quite interesting that these girls had the best of all worlds because as was typical in the U.S. at the time they were encouraged to be spirited and confident as debutantes and unlike the women who married in America after they wed they could follow the custom of getting involved in politics or writing, which was normal in England.

The book is a solid and entertaining social history that makes me think a real life Cora had more meaningful work to do, more extravagant parties to give, more friendships and probably more infidelity than we see on Downton Abbey. (Mind you I’m happy Cora did not hop into bed with Bricker, the bounder.) The authors’ style is full of wit and energy.

While I enjoyed being able to listen as I drove, I think I’ll get the actual book, because I can envision wanting to fact check the history and that’s hard to do with a CD.

Why Are Some Countries Poor?

By The School of Life

What do you think? Why are some countries poor?

Must Read: Krugman on Poverty & Inequality

In I got a good tip from The Atlantic Wire’s email today’s on a good piece in The N.Y. Times:

The fact that “American capitalism as currently constituted is undermining the foundations of middle-class society” shouldn’t be up for argument, Krugman writes. “But it is, of course. Partly this reflects Upton Sinclair’s famous dictum: It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it,” Krugman argues. “I’ve noted before that conservatives seem fixated on the notion that poverty is basically the result of character problems among the poor. This may once have had a grain of truth to it, but for the past three decades and more the main obstacle facing the poor has been the lack of jobs paying decent wages. But the myth of the undeserving poor persists, and so does a counterpart myth, that of the deserving rich,” he writes. Americans are wealthy because they made the right choices, the story goes. “But the main thing about this myth is that it misidentifies the winners from growing inequality. White-collar professionals, even if married to each other, are only doing O.K.” It’s the top 0.1 percent that are growing in wealth. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent tweets, “Nice takedown of David Brooks’ latest on inequality from @NYTimeskrugman (without ever mentioning Brooks’ name).”

The full editorial is here.

Local Currency

I didn’t know that during the Depression some localities created their own currency. Now the practice is re-emerging. Champaign-Urbana, Illinois has started Smile Bucks, like the Berkshares currency described in the video.

I would use these if they were offered in my town.

China’s Economy – Prosperity and Poverty walk hand in hand (letting the Gini (sic) out of the bottle)

China’s Economy – Prosperity and Poverty walk hand in hand (letting the Gini (sic) out of the bottle). Well, worth reading.

 

Here in Jinan it seems very middle class, but then while it’s not as bad as out west, we do have our beggars and some people are struggling. I wouldn’t trade places with the construction workers who’re here.

Wrong Analogy

budget

budget (Photo credit: 401K)

Often people compare a government‘s budget to a family budget. It’s sort of an easy, automatic thought. “If  I have to live within my means, the government should.”

Yet if you think it through that is just poor thinking. Your family has no or little defense spending. Maybe you’ve got an alarm service, but you don’t need to wage war. If you want to, you can donate to a charity, here or abroad, but if you don’t what are the repercussions? Zip. Don’t compare your kids’ piano lessons or science fair project expenses to the NEA or scientific research.  How many employees does the average family have? The government has a lot more budget items. Period. End of story.

Your number and type of dependents differs immensely. The average family has something like 2.2 children. Not millions and you choose that number pretty much. The government can’t choose how many poor people there will be in the same way.

Our government does pay its bills, just like most families pay their’s. Actually, it’s probably a lot better at doing so.

Also, so many people conveniently forget that credit card debt isn’t the only debt a family has. Factor in the mortgage and car payments and most families, respectable, hard-working, All-Americans have a lot of debt. And they get a break on their taxes for some of that debt. Who subsidizes the government for getting in debt as a form of behavior reinforcement?

So can we just stop using this poor analogy? Probably not. It’s quite ingrained and handy for those who don’t like to think anew.

Here are some articles that address this very issue:

Poorly Made in China

Peter Midland studied Chinese language and history in college before moving to China. After a few years there he returned to the US to get his MBA at Wharton. While many of his peers went into finance, Midland took the path not taken and headed for Guangzhou to consult for US companies keen to find a manufacturer in China.Poorly Made in China chronicles Midland’s experiences helping US companies navigate these uncertain, often turbulent waters. It’s an engaging must-read for business people and consumers. It’ll make you think differently about China and Chinese goods.

I learned so much from this book that begins with an unforgettable anecdote. Midland is outside with a Chinese client and the industrial stench is unbearable. Reflexively, he exclaims in Chinese, “It stinks.” Calmly, the Chinese man exhales from his cigarette and slowly responds. “I don’t get you foreigners. To me this smells like money.”

Well, right, but the N.Y. Times reported that as many as 700,000 Chinese each year die prematurely due to pollution. So it also smells like death.

I learned new terms like quality fade, quality erosion and quality manipulation, that are all rather self-explanatory, but scary that it’s actually a business tactic in China. Dealings with a shampoo and body wash importer reveal how this works. The first order or so that Midland’s client made were fine. All according to spec. Then, gradually, things changed. The shampoo’s ingredients were modified little by little till eventually, there was a problem because the shampoo would freeze when it got a bit cold.

As time went on the molds for the plastic bottles got thinner and thinner, till when squeezed they broke releasing the shampoo all over. The cardboard for the shipment got cheaper and cheaper till it would break in transit. With the shoddy bottles this could lead to a major mess. Retailers like Walgreen’s and CVS sure wouldn’t tolerate much of these hassles so the importer is sure to lose orders. Yet the factory management couldn’t see that the poor quality might effect their own business.

Once Midland went to tour a factory and everything seemed nice. Clean environment, busy bee workers. A few were rather clumsy like they were very new to the job. When Midland asked a few questions he was whisked out. Then they had him waiting. When he got bored he got up and walked around. Through the window he saw that the factory was completely empty. He’d asked about breaks and this wasn’t a break time. When the woman in charge saw him looking out the window, she freaked. It turned out that this was a big charade and that many new factories have showplace factories for the foreign clients. Some old ones do this too and the foreigners never see the real factory.

Every chapter is engaging and revealing. You’ll laugh, cry and think twice about buying so much from China. Interestingly, Midland points out how China is not learning to value quality as Japan and Korea did when they were at this stage of development. Something to ponder.

After working for a US community college in Guangzhou, I could see so many parallels. Chilling parallels.

N.B. As my colleagues and I settle into China, note that two of us have broken toilets. We’re in newly renovated apartments and the plumbing just isn’t up to par. Today I had an agreement with my colleague that I could use her bathroom if need be. I’m happy to report that a plumber came today, but this is an example of the low quality of manufactured goods. It’s not just the items that are imported. It’s pervasive.

Ebert on the One Percenters

I really enjoyed Roger Ebert’s blog post on the One Percenters. It captures the Gilded Age 2.0.

Disclaimer

Dear Fellows, The State Department has requested that any Fellows who maintain their own blog or website please post the following disclaimer on your site: "This website is not an official U.S. Department of State website. The views and information presented are the English Language Fellows' own and do not represent the English Language Fellow Program or the U.S. Department of State." We appreciate your cooperation. Site Meter
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