Making large things visible to the human eye

Category Archives: East_Asia

A terrifyingly hostile place to be born a girl

When I wrote “How can hundreds of millions…“, many readers, of course, quickly linked in their minds that gender imbalance to the many horrific tales one hears emerging from China’s one-child policy. If 119 boys are born for every 100 girls – as usually reported for China – then that works out to 840 girls to 1000 boys. Given China’s population of 1.3 billion, this means 24 million Chinese men of marrying age without spouses by 2020.

It is instructive if grim to note this gender bias is seen as well in the very differently-governed India where the 0-6 age group now has 914 girls to 1000 boys (down from 927/1000 in 2001), confirming how the country has become “a terrifyingly hostile place to be conceived or born a girl“, pointed out to me by Vinayak @kayaniv.

How can hundreds of millions of something – anything – be scarce?

I sat next to Jim Rogers on a panel once (so you don’t think I’m just making this up), and he told me that right up there with all the other unstoppable so-unbelievably-massive-you-don’t-think-it’s-possible changes sweeping the world is how China’s gender imbalance will soon make young Chinese women among the world’s rarest commodities. Yes, all hundreds of millions of young Chinese women will be relatively scarce.

[Today I read about quality on top of the quantity effect. To be clear, this is a parody of Amy Chua – so this part in brackets at least is in jest).]

Hand in hand with this increase in the market’s shadow price – economic power – will be a steep escalation in the real power of women, both personal and political. This is not to deny the harrowing experiences documented in Leslie Chang’s Factory Girls but there is, at the same time, no question that there has been a dramatic upgrading of the position of women throughout Asian society, and therefore of women worldwide.

No legislation was involved. No protest movement occupied a city square. All this occurred simply through the power of economic growth, the balance between demand and supply, and the force of market equilibration. If you don’t yet see this, just come take a look at the confidence, poise, and ambition of the tens of thousands of young Mainland Chinese women studying in secondary schools, junior colleges, and universities in Singapore, elsewhere in Southeast Asia, or in the West. Come take a look at LSE, for that matter.

Perhaps once again China’s headlong rush for economic growth and the staggering power of markets adjusting to demand and supply in the hundreds of millions will quietly, brilliantly do what the rest of the world has found so difficult. China lifted over 600 million people out of extreme poverty over the last quarter of a century, when no one else was looking – and therefore when no one was giving China foreign aid or telling it how to run its schools.

This time, for elevating yet another disadvantaged community will China, once again, quietly using just growth and markets achieve more than all other efforts micro-managing around the edges of global poverty?

PS Many readers, of course, quickly link in their mind this gender imbalance to the many horrific tales one hears emerging from China’s one-child policy. If 119 boys are born for every 100 girls – as usually reported for China – then that works out to 840 girls to 1000 boys. Given China’s population of 1.3 billion, this means 24 million Chinese men of marrying age without spouses by 2020.

It is instructive if grim to note this gender bias is seen as well in the very differently-governed India where the 0-6 age group now has 914 girls to 1000 boys (down from 927/1000 in 2001), confirming how the country has become “a terrifyingly hostile place to be conceived or born a girl“, pointed out to me by Vinayak @kayaniv.

Not what is good for the West but for the world

The editor decided to lead with “As the economic center of gravity shifts East, the question should not be what is good for the West, but what is good for the world as a whole.”

That’s what I should have written up front in The Shifting Global Balance of Power.

The global economy’s shift. Follow-ups all over

In January 2011 Martin Wolf wrote an introduction to my article The global economy’s shifting centre of gravity in Global Policy but decided not to follow it up himself.

Recently, the article has seen some coverage in the international media.

I’m not lazy, not really. But if I divert all these writeups into just this blog, reader comments are lost as they remain on the original website. And those comments are, well, some of the most interesting things I get to read regularly.

So WSJ’s Chris Shea The pull of economic gravity 2011.03.19, CNN’s Global Public Square 2011.04.07, NYT’s Catherine Rampell 2011.03.24, FT’s Alphaville 2011.03.23, and even FT’s John Gapper 2011.03.24, who calls me “Mr Shah” (Damn you, Autocorrect), are best left in their native domains. There are items to aid teaching (econlife 2011.03.27), posts in languages I don’t completely understand (Javier Andres’s East Wind, West Wind 2011.04.14), versions souped-up into colorful alternate projections (Anders Sandberg’s 2011.04.15), interpretations from different parts of the world and therefore providing, literally, different perspectives (2.6 billion 2011.03.25), and, not least, reactions from friends like Bill Easterly, as in his Should the West get hysterical?2011.03.23.

Of the many different comments, I found particularly memorable:

By the way, it’s intriguing to find people saying that what you write are things they already know, and when you ask them how they know it, they say, Everyone has been saying these things for a while now. In my experience, just as many people say the opposite. Either way, whatever you find with hard work on real data, you can’t win.

I’m not complaining. Just saying.

The global economy’s shifting centre of gravity

Define the global economy’s centre of gravity to be the average location of economic activity across geographies on Earth. If you go grab incomes and geographical location data across nearly 700 identifiable places on the planet (World Development Indicators Online, Asian Development Bank, Google Earth, Brinkhoff; Grether and Mathys) you will see that in 1980 the global economy’s centre of gravity was mid-Atlantic. You will also see that by 2008, from the continuing rise of China and the rest of East Asia, that centre of gravity has drifted to a location east of Helsinki and Bucharest. Extrapolating growth in almost 700 locations across Earth, gives you the world’s economic centre of gravity shifting by 2050 to literally between India and China. Observed from Earth’s surface, that economic centre of gravity will move from its 1980 location 9300 km or 1.5 times the radius of the planet.

A graphic illustration of this is given in the Figure. The dots in black are 1980-2007; those dots reduced and in red are for 2010-2049 in an extrapolation. The center of gravity calculations are performed in 3-dimensional space and then projected onto the normal cylinder tangent to the planet at the equator.
My paper with the same name as this post describes more fully the ideas here.
(Thanks to Google Earth for help with this. To transform a 3-dimensional sphere into an unfolded 2-dimensional flat plane, the mapping is not a Hilbert space projection. For one, the tangent normal cylinder is only locally linear; it is therefore not a linear space. I calculated the dynamics using R; I generated the sequence of world maps in python; and I then used gimp and ImageMagick batch-processing to produce the final animation.)

One quick look at the world’s shifting economic centre of gravity

With constant twitter and Facebook updates, I find myself putting off blogging anything altogether. Many items that might have appeared here have gone there instead. But then this entry doesn’t really go in 140 characters.

At Hay Festival last weekend I appeared together with Howard Davies on a panel discussing the global economic crisis. For that and for some work (teaching, writing) that I’m doing on the global economy, I prepared this animation:

(A somewhat fuller-sized animation appears on my econ.lse site… but then we are talking about the world, so, despite the best efforts of Google Earth, anything on a computer screen will always be a little too small and representational.)

Obviously, a few more things need still to be thought through on this but for now the flat-world map animates the shift in the world’s economic centre of gravity (building on calculations by Jean-Marie Grether and Nicole Mathys). The rise of China and India since the early 1980s has shifted the world’s economic center of gravity 1800 km – 1/3 of the planet’s radius – deeper into the Earth’s crust, away from the US, and towards the East. The transition accelerated in 1991 and 2001, each time the US was in recession.

It might seem peculiar that the world’s economic centre of gravity is so far north – is there some massive production going on near the North Pole that the world’s military haven’t told us about? No, that feature comes instead from how the 2-dimensional flat map has to represent something going on in a 3-dimensional spherical Earth. Suppose, for illustration, that Earth has two roughly equal centres of production at the same latitude just north of the equator but on the same great circle. Their centre of gravity is at that same latitude but deep within the Earth. Then, when you project a straight line from the Earth’s centre to that centre of gravity and keep going until you burst out of Earth’s surface, you come out quite far north – certainly further north than those two production centres were to begin. So, as long as most of Earth’s production occurs in the Northern Hemisphere and aren’t all closely located to each other so that only one side dominates, projection onto a 2-dimensional flatmap always shows the centre of gravity on the Earth’s surface appearing quite far north.

Although it’s not, strictly speaking, an error, I do think some re-definition of concepts would be useful. That’s something I’m trying to fix now.

PS I’ve already referred to my paper on post-1990s East Asian economic growth elsewhere on this blog but, yes, that article contains more detail on the effects described in the animation.

Martial arts on the mean streets of East Asia

In his book Angry White Pyjamas Robert Twigger, the prize-winning poet and author, and martial artist, describes how in the 1930s Gozo Shioda would prowl the streets of Kabuki-cho Tokyo, looking to fight street gangs and test his martial arts skills.

Decades after, Gozo Shioda went on to establish the Yoshinkan style of aikido.  In the eyes of some, Shioda and his teacher Morihei Ueshiba were at one point Japan’s greatest martial artists.

Ueshiba used to tell his students “On no account go looking for fights.”  Shioda, like many other good martial arts students, completely ignored his teacher on this.  

Instead, out of the situations in which Shioda constantly found himself, he formulated his own rules, like “In a fight against many, always make the first blow count against the strongest man.”

Shioda felt that you only really understand what aikido is when you have to use it in life-or-death situations.  His own aikido-enlightenment moment came when, cornered by four gang members, he used aikido techniques to break the arm of one of his attackers and the leg of another, and incapacitated a third by a single punch to the solar plexus.  According to Shioda’s autobiography he appreciated only then how aikido wasn’t something you just practiced in a safe environment.

I have friends who train in aikido but I myself do taekwon-do, the birthplace of which is Korea.  So, that balmy July evening in Seoul when my taekwon-do training partner James and I came out of his dojang, we reminded one another of what Ueshiba and Shioda would have said, had they been walking Seoul’s crowded streets alongside us.  James, who has started training seriously in hapki-do as well, pointed out to me how in modern Korean language you say taekwon-do players but hapki-do fighters.

Every street corner in Seoul has over a dozen schools of taekwon-do and hapki-do.  Every shaded doorway has darkened stairwells leading up to a brightly-lit dojang.  Martial arts training is everywhere.

The other thing found everywhere in Seoul is free WiFi.  When you land in most airports in the world, service providers try to sell you a pay-as-you-go SIM card so you can use your cellphone without incurring high roaming charges.  At Incheon and Gimpo, they try to get you to rent a Skype handset instead.  Why call over cellular networks when you can just log in to the Internet on a cellphone handset, and transmit via VOIP for zero marginal cost?

I think that is truly cool.  It just makes so much sense.

South Korea’s 15-year-olds score highest in the world at problem-solving skills, way ahead of the US, the UK, France, or Germany, in the OECD’s 2006 Program for International Student Assessment Surveys.  Fifteen-year-olds in Hong Kong and Japan score well up there too, right alongside South Korea, and again far, far above the US, the UK, France, and Germany.  The same pattern emerges again for science skills and mathematics skills.

South Korea is a country brimming with clever people, knowledge, and technology, of the most exciting, intelligent, and useful kind.  The same holds for Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore.  [Singapore will only start to participate in PISA surveys from 2009, and so its formidable student strength in mathematics, science, and problem-solving—apparent to anyone who teaches undergraduate students at any good international university— will only appear in the next OECD round.]

When economists estimate TFP (total factor productivity) to be low for countries such as these, whatever it is that we’re measuring more and more accurately as TFP, it simply can’t be technology—at least, not the way technology is commonly understood.  So what is it that we have ended up estimating better and better?

Oh, back in Seoul, James and I felt that before anything else happened that hot July evening we needed sustenance.  So, taekwon-do player and hapki-do fighter together, we went and had really good Tak Galbi for dinner.  I described to James how in February 2005, after giving a talk on the global economy to Rusal executives in Moscow, I was jumped by 3 men while I was wandering about Red Square in the early evening.  I had then nowhere near Shioda’s presence of mind.  The month after that, I broke my nose fighting in a tournament. But I didn’t consider I had yet had a Shioda moment, and I was just as glad not.

So, after dinner, as all good martial arts students eventually must, I followed Gozo Shioda’s example and I broke the law.  I bought a Kung Fu Panda DVD off a street vendor.  All the while, however, I was thinking about the relative sizes of deadweight loss and ex ante incentives in this picture of monopoly pricing under intellectual property rights.

When I got to Kuala Lumpur in late July, I discovered that Sri Hartamas too has dozens of martial arts schools.  So, August there, I trained with several seriously dangerous-looking hapki-do practitioners at Grandmaster Lim’s dojang in Mt Kiara.  (Thanks to my taekwon-do teacher at LSE Kian-lun Wong for making introductions.  Kian-lun and our LSE taekwon-do club are affiliated with Grandmaster Lim’s Korean Martial Arts organization in Malaysia.)

In this same time I presented papers in Singapore and Seoul; made speeches to LSE alumni in Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore; gave lectures at Bank Negara Malaysia and Khazanah Nasional in Kuala Lumpur; and discussed economics and government policy in Ministerial offices and with numerous panellists on radio and TV throughout Southeast Asia (including the first ever webcam telecast for RTM on 29 August 2008).  I am grateful to Governor Zeti at Bank Negara Malaysia, Chairman Zarinah at Securities Commission Malaysia, Minister Shahrir Samad, Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid, Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar, Malaysia’s Finance Minister Nor Mohamed Yakcop, Singapore’s Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Takatoshi Ito, Bart Thia, Khuong-minh Vu, Dato’ Azman Yahya, Dato’ Dr R. Thillainathan, Carmen Chua, and many others who gave generously of their time to talk to me about the economics of the region wherever I went.

Papers I’ve written recently relevant to the preceding discussion include:

Post-1990s East Asian Economic Growth (October 2008)

Knowledge:  The driver of economic growth (June 2008)

while lectures and presentations include:

Khazanah Megatrends Forum (October 2008, KL: “Shifting sands:  The real side longer term“)

Bank Negara Malaysia lecture (August 2008, KL: “Global growth and inflation“)

LSE Tokyo alumni lecture (July 2008, Tokyo: “Post-1990s East Asian economic growth“) [Photos]

LSE Malaysian alumni lecture (May 2008, KL: “The rise and fall of subsidies“) [Ng Wei-Li’s photos]

LSE Asia Forum in Singapore (April 2008, Singapore: “Knowledge: The driver of economic growth”) [video]

[The aikido photograph is of my friend Attila Emam, who is third-dan blackbelt in aikido (and LSE-trained economist now at Securities Commission Malaysia), executing a throw.  The taekwon-do photograph, from September 2007, shows me sparring my instructor Mr Read, who is fifth-dan blackbelt in taekwon-do:  I am executing a jump spinning back kick while he is preparing to deliver a hook kick at my head.  The photograph is a still that I extracted from a video of us sparring.  The 2008 May photograph is of a meeting with Finance Minister Nor Mohamed Yakcop in his Putrajaya office.  The 2008 July photograph is from the LSE Tokyo alumni event at the Roppongi Hills Club.  The 2008 August photograph was taken after my lecture at Bank Negara Malaysia.  I obviously wear Vivienne Westwood way too often.]


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