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Sunday, July 15, 2018 - 20:15 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Where None Dare To Venture

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Thursday, July 05, 2018 - 21:15 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Quick Ins And Outs

Spain are out. I finally remembered why I had never fancied their all-conquering 2008-2012 vintage, when it became clear that they were never actually going to run at Russia, even in extra time when the hosts were basically dead on their feet. Smashing the previous pass record by nearly 10% is one thing, but why not just have a go at it? Then again, had Mr. Shakira not sneakily raised his hand back up defending a cross, they could well have coasted all the way...

For all the talk about the brackets being unbalanced, there don't seem any clear favourites to me - yes, Mbappé was outstanding for France, but they also conceded three against Argentina, and Uruguay are looking deceptively clinical; as one fella put it, they're "...very pragmatic, defensively strong, lethal on the counter, technically excellent, and (with) a very healthy dose of cynicism". Suárez might not be a good ethical role model, but as an all-round forward, I can't see many others that a defender would rather not face.

With Ronaldo and Messi possibly having made their World Cup bows (if not without their supporters bringing their rivalry offline), Neymar would probably be one of the few fitting that description. Again, however, while this Brazil team doesn't have obvious weaknesses, they just lack that extra pizzaz, and Neymar continuing with his best impression of a seizure patient has made it very hard to root for them...

The true stars of the Round of Sixteen were perhaps Japan, who took an entirely-deserved two goal lead against Belgium, with only forty minutes left to play. It was only then that the Belgians remembered that they were like a head taller than their opponents (as foreshadowed by the Japanese coach), and began to play to their strengths by bombarding the box. Given that their official Twitter account tagged WWE wrestler Shinsuke Nakamura rather than former United star Shinji Kagawa, one might rightly suspect that they hadn't done their homework. In any event, Japan's poor psychic octopus has committed sashimi for the dishonourable failure.

Which brings us to our new champions - England. Almost the antithesis of Spain in their largely-uncalculated and direct style, they were entertaining in an unassuming way, but no less dangerous for it. With technical, possession-based sides, one could try to pack the defence before they set up their patterns and reverse flicks and whatnot. But what when England just pumps it at Kane or Vardy, with three or four others converging in the general area?

Perhaps they might not know exactly what they want to do, but this means that the opponents can't know either. They might not have many true household names, unlike the days of yore, but they have exhibited excellent team spirit and understanding, and just as importantly, are no longer automatic losers at penalties. Maybe, just maybe...

In: Level 40

Achieved today at 4:50 p.m., with a Great Throw on a Weedle making the 20 million XP threshold, right on time for a planned level cap increase. Granted, the truly hardcore players have hit that multiple times, but it's still been a very satisfying two-year long journey.

Out: oBike

Right on the tail of Uber's exit, another transport provider is headed for the exit, with bike-sharing firm oBike blaming parking legislation for making its business model non-viable. Users were more concerned about their S$49 deposit, which now seems unlikely to be refunded. Oh, and remember oBikeCoin, presented as an example of a dubious application of blockchains? No? Well, a disgruntled cryptobro has done some digging, which has since been picked up by mothership. On the other hand, this might also be understood as another example of how entrepreneurship isn't all it's cracked up to be, when all one's work can be killed by a single governmental directive.

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Saturday, June 30, 2018 - 20:45 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Group Stage Over

Thanks to my upgraded living arrangements and general circumstances, I've been able to watch more games of this World Cup than any previous one (which also necessitated some catching up on sleep). As surprises went, from our pre-tournament expectations:

  • Croatia topped Group D, with Nigeria out (and Argentina barely scraping through against them); had thought it to be tight between Croatia and Nigeria, but Croatia outperformed as Messiteam underwent a near-collapse.

  • World Cup winner's curse aside, did anyone seriously think Germany would wind up last in Group F? Mexico were the beneficiaries.

  • Japan did much better, and Poland much worse, than expected in Group H.

The other five groups went exactly as called, which however is probably not much of an accomplishment, given that they largely followed conventional wisdom on team strength. Of course, experienced punters should know not to trust FIFA's official rankings too much, hosts being discounted (Russia 70th) for not having to play competitive qualifiers aside - case in point, our pick Spain now co-favourites with Brazil at about 4/1, despite being ranked 10th behind Belgium (3rd, 7/1), group rivals Portugal (4th, 25/1) Argentina (5th, 14/1), Switzerland (6th, 40/1) and France (7th, 8/1), among others. As in other departments of real life, there is often a large disjunction between what people say and how they act, when their own money/skin is on the line...

Some quick observations, before the group summaries:

Paying The Penalty

It didn't take long to sense that the bar for penalties had perhaps been lowered, once Ronaldo's going to ground in the fourth minute against Spain was rewarded with one. Indeed, the 24 penalties awarded is about twice as much as that from the past five World Cups. However, the total number of goals (122) is about bang average, which somewhat discounts the narrative about (kinda inconsistently-applied) VAR forcing defenders to loosen up. That said, VAR and goalline tech has eliminated the most egregious injustices.

Gap Narrowing?

While Saudi Arabia's opening match whipping by Russia led me to suppose (prematurely, as it turned out) that standards in Asia remained dreadful, my impression is now that a draw - even against the biggest sides - is not entirely out of reach of almost all participants, especially if they have the discipline to play for one. Consider the eight games (16.7%) that ended with a winning margin of three goals or more:

  • Russia 5-0 Saudi Arabia (they got better)
  • Uruguay 3-0 Russia
  • Argentina 0-3 Croatia
  • Mexico 0-3 Sweden
  • Belgium 3-0 Panama
  • Belgium 5-2 Tunisia
  • England 6-1 Panama
  • Poland 0-3 Columbia

High-ranking victims like Argentina, Mexico and Poland aside, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia managed to finish with wins, and every team managed to score at least twice besides. But perhaps more than that was the sense of unpredictability and inconsistency - taking Group A alone, the Sauds went from terrible against Russia to serviceable in a 0-1 loss to Uruguay, who went on to teach Russia a 3-0 lesson. Brazil needed two in extra time to beat mighty Costa Rica, and appear to be favourites on the back of a good but hardly convincingly-dominant win over Serbia. Argentina, so dire in their first two - and much of their third - matches, will probably be among the top four if they beat France tonight.

The takeaway here is that there don't seem to be any gimmes in the last sixteen. Yes, there's talk of the top half of the bracket being much harder than the bottom UEFA+Colombia half, but frankly, if you pit the average performance of {Portugal/Argentina/Brazil/Mexico} against {Denmark/Sweden/Switzerland/Colombia}, that second set are unlikely to be inferior. We'll see. Note punters' implied odds never quite exceeding 20% for any single team, which Goldman Sachs appears to have finally modelled responsibly (recall their start-of-tournament winning probability of nearly 50% for Brazil in 2014, which inevitably leads one to question their expertise in economic modelling too)

Group A - The Gimmes

"Feels like both teams have 30% possession."

- Russia owning yet not owning it

For all the Mo Salah hype, Russia lined up a knockout stage appearance as well as they could have here. As noted, Saudi Arabia and Egypt weren't total walkovers, but one had to fancy the (possibly roided-up) hosts against them. For his part, the Egyptian star was considering quitting the international stage after a political kerfuffle on Chechnya, which fortunately seems to have come to nothing.

Uruguay advance with the distinction of nine points and being the only team to maintain a clean sheet throughout, a testament to their Godín-led defence, and Suárez has decent bite (sorry) in attack as well. To be entirely honest, on available evidence, I can see them disposing of Portugal Ronaldoteam. As for Russia, they tanked in their first real test, but what really matters is which Spain shows up against them (more later)

Group B - An Iberian Affair

"We deserved to go through, man."

- A Morocco supporter (he's not wrong)

Spain through, Portugal through, no surprises there. Iran and Morocco however gave them a real run for their money, both of them earning a draw and a narrow one-goal loss against the two giants - and they could very well have won. The 3-3 instant classic aside, who can forget Mehdi Taremi nearly eliminating Portugal in the 94th minute, which could well have led to Ronaldo murdering his own squad (that too after he one-upped Messi, by having his penalty saved by a formerly-homeless chap)? Or Spain having to rely on Aspas in extra time, though that wasn't as critical?

While Spain have been the best team on the attack thus far for my money, having refined their tiki-taka to fit their available personnel, their weakness is also glaringly obvious - in forcing their opponents back so consistently, they necessarily leave acres of space behind them with their high press, which in turn is vulnerable to a single speedy attacker with Pique not exactly known for pace (and, dare I say, Ramos also dropping off) - see the cock-up for the Boutaib goal. This wouldn't have been so bad had De Gea been as superhuman as he had been with United, but he's probably not even above average among all goalkeepers thus far in this competition (see his fluffing the very-stoppable Ronaldo shot)

These vulnerabilies are at least obvious to the extent that Hierro cannot help but address them, with De Gea a natural candidate to be "rested". On the flip side, the De Gea-Pique-Ramos defensive unit remains on paper one of the best in the world, and it might yet be if they take the wake-up calls to heart. On offense, Isco has been magnificent, Diego Costa brutally effective, and Iniesta probably has the legs to be world-class for about an hour. Their supreme dedication to technical excellence has however led to all too many instances of trying to finesse the ball out of defence - I can see Russia hassling them hard for the first ten minutes, before falling back to play on the break.

As for Ronaldo vs. Uruguay, the latter are gritty enough at the back to shut him down, with all signs pointing to a sorry mud-wrestling night out with plenty of falling over.

  • Spain 3 - 1 Russia (assumed fixed defence)
  • Uruguay 0 - 0 Portugal (Portugal on penalties)

Group C - No Drama

"What a pathetic game."

- summed up in four words

France top the group with Denmark in second, true to form. Probably the most non-memorable group, exemplified by the pointless nil-all draw (the only one in the group stages) between France and Denmark on the last day.

Group D - Nearly Got Messi

"Iceland beats Argentina 1-1."

- Fox commentator kills it

Iceland's participation (over heavyweights like Italy and the Netherlands, no less) has long sparked questioning about why Singapore can't do it, since population (Iceland: just over 300 thousand) is clearly not a hard disqualifier. Short story: no monetary support, and passion that's slowly bleeding out with the fragmentation of resources (but hey, we held Japan in 2015, and Japan just beat the world champions... you do the math); it wasn't a fluke either, from how they nearly drew Croatia - who're already being played up as one of the outside faves with an on-form Modrić doing his thing.

Argentina were less than ten minutes from being knocked out by Nigeria, when Rojo of all people bailed them out, to the apparent disbelief of his own mother (uproariously followed up by: Gonzalo Higuain's mother - "When we realised the ball had gone in, we did not think it was Gonzalo... and it wasn't."); if that amounted to their response to their total shitshow against Croatia, it could be a short knockout phase for the Argies. Still, they have Messi, who's the one man you'd expect to come up with a goal from nothing... but still less entertaining than "they found some blood in his cocaine system" Maradona, who can't help but bring the lulz decades after retiring.

  • France 0 - 1 Argentina (the fates demand Ronaldo vs. Messi)
  • Croatia 2 - 0 Denmark (Croatia are perhaps the form team of the tournament thus far)

Group E - All About Brazeeel

"We may never see a 0-0 ever again!"

- France & Denmark: hold our beers

On paper, the Seleção have completely shaken off their humiliation from four years ago, having run away with the very-competitive CONMEBOL qualification league by ten points. However, they lack the mystique of past great Brazil sides to me - Neymar's got the obligatory questionable hairstyle down pat, but other than that, he's not a shade on the original Ronaldo, what with his rolling antics. Sure, he does get his fair share of getting chopped down, and exaggeration might even be the smart thing to do, but let's just say that he hasn't looked like carrying his team as Ronaldo or Messi have. Then again, Brazil are probably overall better than Portugal and Argentina... but not by that much - they drew the Swiss, and Costa Rica could very well have gotten a 0-0.

As for the Swiss, they got rewarded with a wheel of cheese from their fans, and no, they couldn't beat Costa Rica either (and struggled with Serbia).

Group F - Sweden? Top?!

"We put four different numbers on our players' shirts in training to confuse Swedish spies. Europeans can't tell our players apart by their faces."

- South Korea Starcraft-level pro tactics

Germany are out, and while there have teams that deserved to go through, but didn't, Die Mannschaft clearly didn't. A sad shadow of the machine from 2014, the writing was on the wall from their approach at the get-go. There was a sense that they never got out of second gear (Spain take note), and that just isn't enough nowadays (bar for WWII jokes). South Korea did Asian footy a world of good with their closing win (and other sacrifices), but sadly crashed out nonetheless.

Neither Sweden nor Mexico have quite convinced either. The latter wowed by beating Germany, only to be badly exposed by the Swedes at the end. As for the Swedes, they've got to be bracketed together with the other European mid-tiers such as Switzerland and Denmark: solid enough, but without the look of ultimate winners. But eh, Greece once did it...

  • Brazil 1 - 0 Mexico (Neymar rolls to a penalty)
  • Sweden 1 - 1 Switzerland (not much to pick between them, Sweden go through in a total toss-up)

Group G - Belgium: We can kick ourselves in the face, and what are you gonna do about it?

(in the background: IT'S COMING HOME LAAAADDDSSS!!!)

"The arrogance of Belgium to think they can beat us on yellow cards. We'll have Vardy and Jones start a pikey fight in the middle of the pitch with each other if we have to."

- time for English high-level planning

You know the script. England get drawn in perhaps the easiest group to qualify from, even including Group A, and after Kane edges Tunisia in the 91st minute, they spank Panama 6-1. At that, the distrustful fans - who've endured half a century of false hopes, mind - lose all restraint, sure as Charlie Brown races towards a football held by Lucy.

Yes, they go on to lose to Belgium, but that was a strategic victory - and frankly, England didn't look too bad, lots of direct running and balls over the top, they might even have drawn had Rashford got his one-on-one on target, but I suppose he paid attention in the pre-match briefing.

Truth be told, it's difficult to get an accurate handle on these two's true abilities, what with them playing against honestly not-very-good sides (see: Panama trying to score after an England celebration), and then a worse-than-pointless dead rubber. But lads, England are through...

Group H - Poland Cannot Into

"F**k you Poland you god damn weeaboos."

- a distraught Senegal fan

Poland: failed as Germany had, but outdone even in this. Japan squeak by on four points, and fewer yellow cards received compared to Senegal, with already-eliminated Poland all but settled for the face-saving consolation victory. Colombia sit between Uruguay and Portugal in the latest odds, which seems reasonable... and not exactly great news for England.

  • Belgium 2 - 0 Japan (well, they're third favourites)
  • Colombia 0 - 0 England (the pain is delayed, as England edge it on pens)

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Saturday, June 23, 2018 - 17:01 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

The Singapore Peace

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Sunday, June 17, 2018 - 22:16 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

G7 Shenanigans

[Bonus: He always comes out on top, like Sheriff Suriname!]

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Thursday, June 14, 2018 - 22:17 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Call It Again

It's time to stick our necks out once more, as we did in 2013 for Germany (admittedly nearly a year before the World Cup proper, then):

Group A: Uruguay, Russia [Saudi Arabia, Egypt out]
Group B: Spain, Portugal [Iran, Morocco out]
Group C: France, Denmark [Peru, Australia out]
Group D: Argentina, Nigeria [Croatia, Iceland out]
Group E: Brazil, Switzerland [Costa Rica, Serbia out]
Group F: Germany, Sweden [Mexico, South Korea out]
Group G: Belgium, England [Tunisia, Panama out]
Group H: Poland, Colombia [Senegal, Japan out]

Round of 16:

R16-1: Portugal [Uruguay out]
R16-2: France [Nigeria out]
R16-3: Brazil [Sweden out]
R16-4: Belgium [Colombia out]
R16-5: Spain [Russia out]
R16-6: Argentina [Denmark out]
R16-7: Germany [Switzerland out]
R16-8: England [Poland out]


QF-1: France [Portugal out]
QF-2: Brazil [Belgium out]
QF-3: Spain [Argentina out]
QF-4: Germany [England out]


SF-1: France [Brazil out]
SF-2: Spain [Germany out]

And we have:

Finals: Spain [France runners-up]
(yes, I know, coach fired, lala)
Awkward Rematch: Germany [Brazil 4th]


...and they won, for GREAT MEME POTENTIAL. Was there ever any doubt as to a GOD-EMPEROR-led victory?

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Sunday, June 10, 2018 - 23:12 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Three Articles

In the lead-up to probably the two most important events of the year - yes, the TRUMP-Kim Singapore Summit and the World Cup - we present a few carefully-curated readings.

Our Most Successful Investment Firm Again

First up, a 2009 discussion on Temasek, by one of those in-the-loop. Their latest return to the limelight was, of course, the floating of a private equity bond to "help investors supplement their retirement income". This oddly-specific mission statement has garnered a fair bit of misgivings (are they renaming the CPF as Astrea IV Class A-1 Secured Bonds nowadays?) regarding the rationale of it all. There has been no lack of external analyses, given the high profile of the issuer, but a key takeway should be that the bonds are not guaranteed. However, the general consensus also appears that the 4.35 p.a. return should be sound, barring another financial meltdown.

While there have predictly been mumblings that Our Most Successful Investment Firm is simply out of cash again (not entirely unjustified given recent admitted losses despite a booming bull market), I'd personally peg this as an unlikely motivation, given the tiny overall slice available to retail (just over US$100 million); angling for some good P.R., after watching what's going on across the Causeway as the 1MDB house of cards comes crashing down, seems more likely. I'd be slightly more concerned if this issuance turns out to be a test balloon of sorts and OMSIF begins to get into the habit of raising larger and larger sums from the populace, though.

In any case, the structuring of the bonds follows the iron-clad law of establishment financial innovation - we keep the upside, the small fry cover the downside. As previously explained in 2014 with reference to the CPF, bond/fund-holders do not get a bigger share if OMSIF actually wins big with their investments, but they (and not OMSIF) suffer the losses, if the OMSIF bets go bust. It's hard to find a better deal than this.

Teh-O? It's Kopi Lim, if you keep talking about this!
(Source: channelnewsasia.com)

Anyway, returning to the "Temasek in a teacup" post, there has always been a sense of puzzlement surrounding what OMSIF actually is. Its longtime CEO has consistently denied that it is a sovereign wealth fund, despite its funding and positioning being ultimately derived from sovereign sources. Emmanuel Daniel describes them as "part EDB, part investment-banking-inspired-private-equity-business and part fund management company", from which the Astrea bond issue might be understood as arising from the "EDB hormone" of not being entirely devoted to the bottom line.

However, Daniel continues, the problem is that the EDB mentality is to pile on risks, because "...EDB executives tend to be measured by the spectacularly successful investments they make, with complete unaccountability for the spectacularly unsuccessful ones." (again, the all-upside-no-downside pattern, also prevalent in Big Finance), which is further reflected in their chapalang portfolio style. His diagnosis is that all meaningful decisions are made by the reigning CEO anyway, for all the research done at lower levels, and that although the CEO may be (and remains) one of the most "quietly connected" people here (for obvious reasons), unspoken drawbacks abound with this sort of arrangement.

The fate of former OMSIF darling Hyflux could be instructive here, as they become the latest of our already-few notable homegrown startups to bite the dust, after years in distress (see example instructive process of vultures circling over at the ShareJunction forums), presaging a possible bond default (already rife in O&G). Looking at how they're throwing money at stuff like Magic Leap, despite the in-crowd roundly panning it, let's just say that I wouldn't be surprised if the CPF Minimum Sum accelerates its upwards trajectory.

The Deadly Dance - US vs. China

On to Christopher Balding's take on framing the US-China trade conflict with game theory. Before continuing, a few pertinent facts: under TRUMP's incomparable leadership, U.S. unemployment is at an 18-year low of 3.8%, and that's not even mentioning the largest monthly full-time job creation rate in a century, accompanied by a monster 4.8% GDP growth rate. These facts should be considered alongside insistence by Fake News Experts that "3% GDP growth is unrealistic", and an unimaginative narcissistic former President who queried, "what magic wand do you have?". Well, I daresay he's got his answer.

Don't let dry theory stop you from trying...
(Source: grrrgraphics.com)

But back to Balding's very systematic dissection of the US-China trade relationship. His first question is whether China should be confronted over its protectionist policies, to which the answer is an unmitigated yes (from those outside of China, of course). The next question is then whether this confrontation is over a technical/marginal dispute, or whether it is a fundamental conflict. Balding contends that it is a fundamental disagreement over the nature of international trade, and I cannot disagree.

The natural question is then how this confrontation should be pursued - should they do it the Hillaryesque establishment way, with strongly-worded letters to the WTO? Balding contends that this tack would have next to no effect, which is borne out by ample past evidence. Where I diverge from his analysis is his assertion that the identity of the POTUS does not actually matter much - Balding uses a "wins above replacement" sabermetric analogy, which I think is particularly unsuited to geopolitics. Recall that the very reason why statistics took off with baseball, was that many performance metrics could be effectively isolated - much of the action is one-on-one duels between pitcher and batter, and stat freaks could tally every ball, strike and hit. However, in the Greatest Game, even the rules can change, which is TRUMP's whole worldview.

One oft-raised fair question is then: if the target is China, why is TRUMP picking fights with his neighbours and Europe, at the same time? An answer is that America's erstwise allies would be entirely happy to act as middlemen for Chinese products, were they unconditionally spared from tariffs (unlike, say, South Korea, who agreed to a voluntary quota). The second, even simpler answer is that he can indeed fight the whole world - and win. It should be telling that editorials attempting to explain why TRUMP can't win tend to resort to convoluted explanations as to why objective advantages such as a humongous trade deficit and unparalled import market somehow don't matter in this case - money doesn't matter in postmodernist economics, it seems.

The mainstream media has, for one, been breathtakingly dishonest in their characterization of trade wars. The accepted narrative is that "nobody wins trade wars", which is clearly patently untrue to begin with - note China repeatedly caving, while trying to keep up a brave front. In like vein, the Fake News has been continually criticizing TRUMP for having the gall to impose tariffs, while being conspiciously silent on how his "allies" maintain tariffs on America, which he underlined by a drop-the-mike moment at the G7 summit, when he challenged everyone to drop all tariffs, since they hate them so much:

Yes, why are the news outlets not debating this?

A particular low was reached when Trudeau - one of the most smarmy and disingenious politicians that I have had the misfortune to come across - pulled out the war buddies card, to which TRUMP deservedly responded by remarking that Canada burnt the White House down, so why are they too good for American milk? A less-dignified POTUS could have pointed out the countless lives expended in liberating the half of France that wasn't actively corroborating, or the way the USA put Germany and Japan back on their feet despite definitely not owing them anything, but the GOD-EMPEROR has too much class for that.

An adjective eagerly applied to TRUMP by the presstitudes is that his style is transactional, to which one can only gape in amazement. Of course he's transactional, trade is transactional! For all the high moral ground the Europeans are trying to occupy, they don't actually care all that much for free trade either - what they want is the same transaction that everyone's after: free trade for the stuff that I'm exporting, tariffs for the industries that I'm trying to protect.

Anyway, for all of Merkel & Macron's optimistic bluster about European unity, an inescapable truth is that Europe's default historical condition has been one of hostile fragmentation, in which one can hardly find a polity that has not at one time been a mortal enemy of any other. It is another truth that the current EU, already weakened by Brexit, is facing growing internal dissent as non-core states (i.e. neither Germany nor France) come to realise that having a common currency can be a very bad deal after all. The new populist Italian government is already out to restore the lira, and it's anybody's guess how long the M&M alliance can hold out after that.

Still better than Trudeau.
(Source: reddit.com)

With all sincerity, a not-unlikely outcome is a realignment of the Western power bloc, centering around a revitalized Anglo-American hegemony, buttressed by Eastern and Southern European members that have had enough of chafing under Germany's jackboot heels while tolerating SJW-ism run wild. Poland, for example, has been one of TRUMP's staunchest supporters, and also been kind enough to offer America US$2 billion to host a permanent base on their soil - the sort of honest deal that TRUMP appreciates. It really isn't hard to see Hungary, Italy, Greece etc break ranks given some inducements by the King of Deals, after which it'll be interesting to see exactly how deeply Merkel & Macron like each other, once they're reduced to swapping baguettes and bratwurst between themselves...

De-Globalization Due

Well, that really diverged from China. We'll return to them with Michael Pettis' April post on the tradeoff between high wages and high savings under globalization. His abstract speaks for itself: "Democracies will increasingly have to choose between raising wages and redistributing income or maintaining free trade and capital flows. Because they are likely to choose the former, the world may face a long-term reversal of globalization."

It is understandable if this seems strange offhand - take a man earning six figures, say US$200k, after taxes; wouldn't he be able to save a lot, say US$100k a year, without much difficulty? Contrast a minimum-wage earner, taking home just US$20k - clearly, no matter how frugal he is, he can't save more than that, so why are high wages and high savings opposed?

The explanation is that wages vs. savings is a macro affair, and is meant to be considered at the level of the national economy. Pettis offers America as the classic (relatively) high-wage model, with China, Japan, South Korea and other East Asian economies as examples of the high-savings model. This is also known as the Gerschenkron model, after Alexander Gerschenkron who in the 1950s argued that developing countries should encourage savings to accelerate development. As it turns out, this could be achieved by suppressing the household share of GDP (e.g. by locking up $$$ in the CPF as a form of hidden tax)

Pettis' observation is that the Gerschenkron model has already run its course in Japan, who went from being a bona fide threat to overhaul America in the 1980s, to being the quirky manga and JAV producers that they are today (as another pertinent parallel, consider their Fifth Generation computing project funded by what appeared to be an endless stream of money, to China's massive contemporary bet on artificial intelligence; I won't be holding my breath, given one of their big shots telling Wired that "there is really one fundamental AI innovation [?] - deep learning [?!] - and everybody else is tweaking it for the domains"; if that's the limit of their imagination, there's little cause for concern)

In conclusion, Pettis' verdict is that as Japan has been unable to reverse its savings bias, despite painful decades of effort, China is likely to face approximately the same problems very soon, only magnified many times over (thus all their moneyed citizens fleeing to the decadent West, and driving up property prices). Considered in this light, China's continual backing off in the trade war preliminaries might make a lot more sense; the worst that can realistically happen to TRUMP is a luxurious retirement, shuttling between his skyscraper penthouse and Mar-a-Lago. Can Helmsman Xi afford another nothing to happen in Tiananmen?

They Go So Fast

In happier times?
[N.B. alternate view from two years ago]
[N.N.B. they framed the table and stools]
(Source: reddit.com)

Kate Spade, now Anthony Bourdain, both with a connection to Singapore. The obvious question weighed - both were fabulously wealthy, widely-liked with thousands upon thousands of adoring fans, and were by all accounts clear of scandal. Why did they, then, take their own lives, when others in far worse circumstances did not?

Richard Cory gets quoted a lot, when this happens:

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
'Good-morning,' and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich - yes, richer than a king -
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Well, I say, it helps to be pissed - if all else fails, one should rage, overworn as the phrase may be; rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The Last Light Of Western Civilization

The Eagle Has Landed!
[N.B. The convoy of the GOD-EMPEROR, along Eunos]
[N.N.B. Kimmy should really spring for motorcycles for his bodyguards at least... I mean, heck, we'd probably pay for it all if he asked nicely]

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