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Tuesday, July 14, 2009 - 20:09 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Economics Thus Far

Attended the Computing commencement ceremony, where I took the opportunity to observe how the balloons were released (from within a large net). Might have jumped the gun a bit when crossing the stage to get my empty scroll, but whatever. Sakae sushi after that, then football late at night where I had a pretty bad-touch day.

The badminton kaki graduation
(photo credit: andy)

Other notable news: Man Utd got Owen on a free transfer and plonked the hallowed Number Seven shirt on him. Also an unheralded Frenchman, Gabriel Obertan, who has already gotten the regulars over at RedCafe busy:

Obertan, Obertan
Scores a goal whenever he can
He's got a kidney for a head
We don't care now he's a red

(he does look sorta like Mikael Silvestre,
a.k.a. Mr. Potatohead)

Geocities is dead. Long live Geocities.

Not having attempted a thesis in Economics, it seems only right to summarise what I have (or was supposed to have) learnt for the B.A. in Econs.

Modules taken (14):

EC1301 Principles of Economics

EC2101 Microeconomic Analysis I
EC2102 Macroeconomic Analysis II

EC3101 Microeconomic Analysis I
EC3102 Macroeconomic Analysis II
EC3303 Econometrics I
EC3312 Game Theory & Applications to Economics
EC3332 Money and Banking I
EC3333 Financial Economics I
EC3353 Health Economics I
EC3361 Labour Economics I
EC3371 Development Economics I
EC3383 Environmental Economics

EC4102 Macroeconomic Analysis III

Off the bat, why study Economics? In a word, money. Consider interview-ese translated to plain speak:

"I study economics because I wish to know how markets work."
Translation: "I study economics because I wish to know how (stock/option/forex) markets work so I can make money out of it."

"I study economics because it is critical to the running of the modern world."
Translation: "I study economics because money is critical to the running of the modern world, and I would like to have some of it, please."

"I study economics because of the exciting job opportunities it opens up."
Translation: "I study economics because of the exciting well-paid job opportunities in banking and finance it opens up."

"I study economics because of my unrelenting passion for it."
Translation: "I study economics because of my unrelenting passion for making money."

"I study economics because I want to make money."
Translation: "See? I'm being honest with you. Hire me now!"

"Mick Jagger and Arnold Schwarzenegger both studied economics."
Translation: "I'll be able to sing while flexing my muscles if you hire me."

It may be that some people study Economics (or Accountancy, or [Computational] Finance) where their main motivation in life is to get headaches from theoretical models (but can't stand the weirdos* over at the Math Department), balance rows after rows of columns while keeping to arcane tax laws, or sit and stare goggle-eyed at numbers on screens; to those, I unreservedly apologize in advance.

* They're actually nice, normal people - I know some of them - but I invoke the right to be randomly mean once in a while, especially where higher math is concerned.

For the rest of us acolytes of the Root of All Evil, I hasten to add that its poor reputation is undeserved. Open your textbooks (or visit Wikipedia), and revisit money's main functions: medium of exchange, unit of account, store of value.

Imagine trying to buy a drink at the canteen without money - the uncle might ask what service I might offer in exchange. I might say, um, I can type blog entries. He might then think about it, regretfully inform me that he can blog on his own, thanks very much, but perhaps I could ask the dishwasher, whom might be open to some reciprocal arrangement?

I suppose one could do without money in a tiny community, but how then would they arrange for more advanced services, such as specialized medical care, with the outside world? How many bushels of corn for a heart bypass? The community elders might refuse to debase the fruit of their labour with a single vulgar number, whereby the hospital might nod their heads and sigh, while having a grain trader act as an invisible intermediary.

The elders may then be horrified at how little their life-giving food is valued, but that's how the free market works - just about anybody can get the hang of cultivating potatoes, but not everybody can kick a ball between two posts and a crossbar. Don't like it? Nobody's stopping you from kicking some balls, which must be a huge lure if farming is expected to bring only ten thousand thingys in an entire life, while Cristano Ronaldo can earn that in half a day on a two hundred thousand thingys a week contract.

So money is a huge simplifier - you do things to get thingys, known as dollars in this part of the world, which can then be used to get everything one needs to survive, and more besides. Obviously one usually tries to pay as few dollars as possible, while getting as many dollars as possible for doing whatever it is that they do. More dollars seldom hurts, and after a few tens of millions it probably doesn't matter that much any longer for some. Having too few dollars can however be extremely inconvenient, thus the advice of many parents especially in Singapore, but certainly throughout the world: get an education, get a good job, get the dollars.

Having established the prime objective - getting dollars - all else is commentary, within certain legal (and hopefully moral) restrictions. The lower one sells something, it follows that the more people will want to buy it. Same for the sellers. You might be surprised at how many higher-level modules revisit this point, and ask for the solution of the two equations representing these conflicting desires. One might also look at the particulars, of how quickly people flock to (or abandon) a product if its price changes. This is known as elasticity. We might then study the interactions and implications of demand and supplies of different elasticities, and the exceptions, such as luxury goods, where the basic theory does not hold.

Some products - like left shoes and right shoes, or less lamely soccer balls and boots, go well with each other (i.e. are complements), while others such as chicken rice and chicken noodles don't (in terms of total sales, i.e. are substitutes). Common sense. People usually get more out of any product at first, and less thereafter (think of being forced to eat a fifth plate of chicken rice, i.e. diminishing marginal utility). Common sense. Firms produce stuff to make a profit, choose inputs to maximize profit, shut down in the short term if profits can't even cover running costs... all common sense.

That's why I like microeconomics - it's just that straightforwardly easy. Simply think, what would I do to get as much money in this situation over the implied time period, and you're set. Then the math eventually barges in and it may no longer be that easy, but the driving force is always the same. Money. More of it.

That about covers microeconomics, which at the higher levels involves more game theory (search this blog for past expositions... yeah right). Strictly speaking, one can cast even the basics of economics as game theory - consider for example consumer and producer decisions as a repeated game.

I daresay most of the "big" decisions that an economist can make comes under it - if one buys stock in a company, what will the other major stakeholders do? What should I bid in a sealed bid auction for a project? What will the reactions be if I raise regulatory standards this year and actually enforce them? A warning: humans aren't always rational actors; even if they are, they may see different games in the same situation...

The mathematical theory behind game theory can be challenging, and having not done especially well on Econometrics and Macroeconomics in comparism, I feel less equipped to speak on these subjects. In my own defense, plugging data into Excel is often enough to produce pretty regression charts. Also, when making real-life decisions, econometrics is a flexible tool, to be wielded as its user desires. Example:

Junior executive: "Sir, from past data, I'm not confident that this project will succeed, given a 95% confidence interval."

CEO: "Use only data from the last five years, and kick all the data points before that out. Does it look better?"

Junior executive: "Yes, slightly but not enough."

CEO: "Take all the data points of this competitor out. Surely they can't be that lucky again."

Junior executive: "Done. Nearly there."

CEO: "Tell me, under your previous evaluation method, does it now satisfy the 90% confidence interval?"

Junior executive: "Um, yes."

CEO: "Excellent! Write up the report and tell the board that we're confident of success now."

As for macroeconomics, knowing the reasons for why governments act as they should is one thing, but each time I flip to the opinion pages and read about some Nobel laureate in Economics (e.g. Krugman) lambasting the Federal Reserve or some similar institution (perhaps staffed by another laureate, certainly by an economist of impeccable academic credentials), I wonder if the theories can ever be substantiated in reality.

Take another famous case study, the Japanese liquidity trap. Doubtless the Japanese must have had a squadron of capable economists - what took them years to respond? Maybe they didn't have the political influence required to implement policies; or perhaps at this scale, national and international interests come into play, and no-one can really tame the beast, at least in any generalised way?

This "I don't really know" position isn't quite popular, since highly-remunerated positions in ministries and think-tanks are available for those who claim they can affect or predict the economy's movements, even if they don't quite manage to do so, as long as they spout some accepted theory (with a dash of radical ideas to give the impression of daring cutting-edge thinking). That's economics as a profession for you.

Health, labour, development and environmental economics are basically specialised microeconomics. Comparative health systems between the U.S. and Singapore? Incentives, (career) deferred payment, unions? Spreading the wealth to poorer countries (actually more of why it doesn't happen)? Carbon permits and compensation for pollution? Take the modules, learn the details, though as usual much is common sense - think of the money! Money, money, money!

What modules remain? Ah, Money & Banking, and Financial Economics. The important side of economics *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge*

Back to the story of thingys... sorry, Dollars/Euros/Pounds/Yen/money for a moment. How is it made? The bills and coins are produced by mints, but unfortunately one can't just buy a mint and print banknotes. Governments tend to take a dim view of such shenanigans. The next obvious question is that, since governments can print all that money, why should any government (such as that of the mighty United States) be worried about debt, when they could just crank out a few crates of the green stuff for the creditors?

One common misconception is that this can't happen because money is legally required to be backed by stuff, usually precious metals like gold or silver (thus "gold standard"). This does have its supporters even today, but there's one catch. Literally nobody follows it today.

All recognized currency these days is fiat, having its value just because a government says so. Yes, that's really all there is to it. So what determines its value? Scarcity, since the amount of currency is limited by the government. Theoretically, if the government decided to tack an extra zero on to all wages, eventually the price of all services would likewise increase tenfold. This is known as inflation, and occurs naturally (though far more slowly in a proper economy) to an extent.

The flip side is that savings become relatively worthless, which is why simply printing more money while not increasing the quantity and/or quality of goods and services is not an answer. Yes, it could work when repaying fixed sums of huge debts in the domestic currency ("I owe you one trillion dollars? Alright, here's a one trillion dollar note."), but only works once and is a real reputation killer, all the while screwing up the domestic economy. It's probably simpler to just deny that one owes the capitalist imperialist exploiters anything (the "Hor?" doctrine).

Another basic fact about money that many may not realise - take a look at banks. They keep your money safe, and even pay you for the privilege (though they don't pay much nowadays...)! Think about it - they pay good wages to employ fresh econs graduates, not to mention for all those beautifully furnished offices, smiling tellers behind counters, security guards and vaults, all to hold your cash for you. One might expect them to charge for the service, but no, they pay you!

Same as with whenever money is concerned, there's an explanation. Banks actually don't hold much of one's money in their vaults at all, but instead seek to lend it to others who need cash. The banks charge handsomely for lending, keep a good portion of it, and distribute the rest of it as interest to depositors. Smoothly done. Note that this means that a dollar introduced into the system by the government usually creates a few times that amount through the money multiplier, but this need not concern most common citizens as it's out of their hands, with some economists somewhere doing the sums for them.

The catch is when a lot of depositors suddenly want their money back; remember, the bank doesn't actually have most of their money on hand (uh oh). Ordinarily, this doesn't happen, but when it does (and unfortunately this behaviour is self-feeding), we have a bank run.

So technically speaking, keeping cash in a biscuit tin under one's bed is slightly safer than plonking it in a bank (unless deposits are guaranteed by the government - until the government falls, anyway). For the truly paranoid, some precious metals and actual consumables (and even guns and ammunition in the U.S.) are a good hedge.

Finally, we get to Financial Economics, one of the hot modules. The attraction is simple: if one can read the stock market, one doesn't need any other skill in life - just borrow the startup capital if need be, buy stocks, watch them go up, rinse and repeat, while doing whatever what wants to do after an hour or two of trading each morning/night. A dream life for many, and probably many have tried.

The trouble is the first premise: reading the stock market. A fail-safe method doesn't quite exist, unless one works for the stock exchange and takes a cut of all transactions. In practice, some people probably succeed in making a living from stock trading. Knowledge, luck and deep pockets all help. The module did have a month's worth of practice trading with a pretend portfolio, and since it was during the still-bullish month of October 2007, I did manage a 3% return over the month (as compared to just over 1% for an STI index-based investment, and 0.13% for a typical fixed deposit). That's over 40%, if compounded over a year, or over 3300% over ten years. Not bad, eh?

But wait.

First off, the market happened to be nice - the index did rise by 1%. A year on, and the students taking the module would mostly be scrambling to find excuses. The fixed deposit would surely look tempting then.

Secondly, is a 3% monthly return sustainable over the long term? Not in recent years at least. Take for example the famous Fidelity Magellan fund: its best single-year return for the past ten years was nearly 25% in 2003, and while that looks good, it's not quite even 3% a month (compounded, remember?). And the scary side: the fund lost nearly half its value last year, but then most funds tanked too. Those who had the foresight to buy China-based funds could have gotten annual returns of 20% over the past five years, but seriously, how many did so?

Not that some didn't enrich themselves on China penny stocks a few years ago. Disregarding actual value or potential, the story behind earning this way is the same: Those who got in early are the big winners, while many hop on the bandwagon midway, even though they may suspect that the stock is already overvalued, because it doesn't matter so long as somebody else will take it off their hands (the "Greater Fool" theory). The losers are then those who bought at the peak, and to a lesser extent those who held out too long, before the inevitable price collapse.

Worse, these stocks will probably not rise ever again, unlike blue chips, so even if one has the patience to wait it will be all for naught. Reminds one of something... Ponzi schemes, except that it's wholly legal (if the stock price is not driven up through explicitly fraudulent means) - buying and selling is how a market functions, after all.

Having dismissed short-term trading, we are left with the traditional way of accumulating wealth through stocks: buying stock in a good company (in effect becoming a part-owner), holding it, holding it and holding it. This is less glamarous than the image of an active trader sitting before multiple computer screens and yelling out orders to brokers, but it works! Take an index fund that does nothing but buy stocks matching that of a market index - a typical return over 30 years would be a 30-fold increase!

Even accounting for inflation over that period using U.S. Department Of Labor data that shows that prices have risen almost five-fold, it still means that waiting 30 years while staying invested in the stock market would multiply one's purchasing power six times: where one could have bought a house 30 years ago, one can now buy six comparable houses (that is, if real estate prices have risen the same as the general inflation rate). The picture is even rosier if one extends the wait to 40, 50 or even 80 years, as some investment guides hasten to illustrate.

The trouble is, of course, waiting 30, 50 or 80 years. What use is a load of money, if one isn't physically capable of transforming it into enjoyment? The ideal situation would have been for one's great-grandparents to have set up a modest trust fund, but if that isn't the case, the best use of the stock market would be saving towards retirement - over a very long term, the risk is minimal, and the returns good. One danger is having to liquidate one's portfolio midway due to unforeseen emergencies, so it may not be a good option for those barely getting by.

Here's what the situation may be like for an average university graduate (adjust upwards for high-flying scholar-types):

Quick n' Dirty Financial Calculator

Starting Salary: $ /month
Annual Increment: $
Years Before Retirement:    

Percentage Of Salary Invested:     %
Average Annual Investment Return:     %
Average Annual Inflation:     %

Expected Investment Portfolio
Value At Retirement:


Expected Investment Portfolio
Value At Retirement
(Present Value):

Standard weasel-ese: Calculator provided "as-is",
with no warranty expressed or implied, blah blah blah

The default values outline the situation for a fresh graduate at 25 years old with a starting salary of S$3000 a month, who retires at 65 years at a salary of S$11000 a month, assumed $200/year increment. Some fields such as accountancy enjoy greater increases, and certainly jobs with large variable components (e.g. sales, finance) can pay more, but on the whole I suppose that many would be satisfied with such a steady 40-year career (let's pretend that one is actually likely to have the same job at 65, lah).

To put it in perspective, the case-study "average graduate" modelled here would be earning S$7000/month mid-career after 20 years, and that salary would be higher than 75% of Singaporean taxpayers. The final salary of S$11000 a month would be higher than 87% of taxpayers. Even taking into account that the average salary should rise over the years, it's not superb, but certainly respectable.

This hypothetical "average graduate" saves 20% of his salary each month throughout his career for the long-term in the stock market, which averages a 7% annual return (the STI currently has a near-5% return over 22 years, but it would have been well over 7% had we looked two years ago when the index threatened to breach 4000, as compared to today's 2300; the Dow's historic return is over 10%, in comparism). I assume a 3% inflation rate (Singapore's average inflation rate since 1961 is about 2.73%, though it was a scary 6.5% last year).

The result is an investment portfolio worth about S$1.6M at retirement at age 65, or S$770k in present value terms. Is saving 20% a month, or about S$600 per month to begin with, reasonable? Well, let's assume that the graduate wishes to have somewhere to live, and buys (or rather, leases for a long time) a 4 or 5-room flat. This would cost about $300k, and even with a 30-year repayment for his loan, it would come to about S$1k a month.

With some skinting, it's quite possible. A car is another matter - one calculation gives the monthly cost of owning a car at some S$1.3k a month. Probably not a good idea for most fresh grads. It's another question whether "subsidized" HDB flats are really worth what the HDB says it is, but that's a question for another day. One of my profs had advice on buying a flat before one's family combined income breaks the S$8k monthly salary limit, but I'll leave astute readers to figure this out by themselves.

The final part of this blog entry is separated from the preceding parts by a horizontal rule, because unlike what has been said so far, what will be said was not taught in university modules and/or financial help books. Link: edchong's valedictorian stand-in/up take.

How to get (reasonably) rich, with minimal risk and money-management, has been described; Why one would want to get reasonably rich, or more commonly, unreasonably rich, is seldom if ever covered.

If you are reading this blog, you are almost certainly one of the richer people on Earth. Do you earn over US$7000 a year, or US$583 a month (S$850/month at current exchange rates)? If so, congratulations. You are earning more than the global average. Yes, the actual figure is probably somewhat higher for the working population, since dependants were included in that average, and the local cost of living may dampen the impact of one's salary; but it's an accomplishment nevertheless.

Another random fact: Tens of thousands die of hunger-related causes daily. It is a horrifying statistic, one I must have come across several times before at least, but done virtually nothing towards (playing FreeRice doesn't really count), and perhaps more shamefully, cannot summon sufficient empathy towards. Being hungry or voluntarily fasting is one thing, but the threat of actual starvation is difficult to comprehend. I could try to hammer out a piece against vanity purchases where people elsewhere are actually starving, but that would be so hypocritical that I wouldn't know where to put my face.

The thing is, this starvation is completely preventable. The food exists, or can be sent. It is never a matter of not having the food. The problem is money. During the Irish famine of the 1840s, food was still exported to those who could afford it; in famines, it is the poorest who die.

(Source: The Big Picture)

It is not that everybody should be entitled to the same - that was tried with communism, and failed with good reason - or even entitled to a "good" wage, or maybe, even a job. But it seems that everybody should be entitled to a bare minimum necessary for the sustenance of life; it just seems wrong that the price of a pair of shoes may be the difference between life and death for a family. Numerically, it is 150 U.S. dollars. Shoes. Lives. The life vs. luxury contrast may be most stark in the case of food vs. fuel. It is one thing to criticize super-picky welfare recipients, and another to leave those with no real choice or chances to their so-called fate.

More on the distribution of wealth: it seems natural that wealth begets wealth, and poverty begets poverty. On the individual level, wealthy families can afford better nutrition (often overlooked), better education and the social connections to give their offspring a leg up. The poor are often pressed into accepting bad employment terms, at least partly because they cannot afford to hold out. On the national level, wealthy companies and countries hold most of the cards in dealing with poorer ones. Unfair? Well, this potential for power is what wealth gives.

Personally, I foresee that continued advances in technology and automation will make the poorer and less-skilled increasingly redundant (yes, even despite recent setbacks, I'm talking a century or two). Automation causing unemployment is an old fear, which manifested centuries ago as "skilled" weavers suddenly found themselves replaced by looms. Of course, if one can be adequately replaced by a mere lifeless machine, it might be argued that one isn't really that "skilled" after all.

Unhappy at this turn of fate, some of the weavers mobbed factories and destroyed the offending looms; but in the great sweep of history, they failed. The cloth produced by the looms was, to consumers, about as good as handwoven cloth, and the price far lower. The comfortable livelihood of the weavers, passed down through generations, thus could not be maintained any longer.

This is a simple microeconomics problem concerning technology. Say that with the investment in a $50000 loom, an employer could hire one semi-skilled worker at $1000/month to work the controls and produce a unit of cloth. Otherwise, he could continue with five "skilled" weavers at $2000/month to produce the same unit, of the same quality. It does not take much mathematical nous to deduce that the loom would pay for itself very quickly (within half a year). Some employers might try to be kind-hearted and keep their old workers, but these will eventually be mercilessly outcompeted by those with fewer qualms, assuming no government controls.

The weavers have a few methods of recourse: they could claim that such automation destroys the traditional social fabric (as they did in reality); but few will actually care - money, in this case savings on actual fabric, is paramount. The weavers could try to increase quality and create niches, and indeed some might successfully do so, but the market is unlikely to support all the newly-unemployed weavers; most people just want good, basic cloth at a low price, which is now the realm of the looms. So it is that the majority of the weavers suddenly become "unskilled" and poorer, while the owners of technology and capital - the patent holder and employers - get rather richer.

Other than technology, which can only get better and cheaper, workers face another threat - cheaper workers. A case in point is the local IT industry, where a common gripe is that for general run-of-the-mill jobs, one can't get decent wages since there is always some programmer from India or China eager to snap the job up for say, S$1000 a month. Information technology is especially susceptible to external competition, since it doesn't quite matter where one's coder or website is based. Yes, it's always rosier at the top of the value chain, but how many can and do get up there?

Low-skilled jobs are another sector in which foreign workers have driven down prices - take construction, in which a general worker may earn S$500 per month, a goodly sum perhaps in the less developed countries they hailed from, but next-to-impossible to survive on, much less raise a family on, for locals. The official stance is that dainty Singaporeans wouldn't do such menial backbreaking work anyway, and a common counterpoint is that sure they wouldn't - not at S$500 per month, but perhaps at S$2000 per month.

Is it within the ability of the government to disallow foreign construction workers, in the interests of driving wages up for low-skilled locals? Certainly. But should they? Who are the winners and losers if such a policy is implemented? More locals should indeed be hired, but higher costs will likely result in higher construction prices, and whether the developers or property buyers/consumers lose depends on where these costs are shifted onto.

But would there a sufficient supply of locals? Would multinational companies view these extra costs as unnecessary and abandon ship? As with the minimum wage debacle, there are numerous plausible arguments on both sides, and both empirical results and leading opinion appear split. It seems the only way to come to a conclusion on the effectiveness of such a policy would be to actually implement it (the bane and boon of the social sciences), which would surely make for a great research paper for a faculty-full of economists, but that won't happen anytime soon.

Looking at foreign workers from another perspective, it might be asked: in a world of free markets, isn't this just part of the process towards inevitable global wage equality? Is that not desirable? However, it may be pointed out that many countries do protect their citizens to a larger extent than here, in that one can actually make a decent living as a construction worker or dustman. We can hardly blame the foreign workers from trying to better themselves; some have even staked their life savings (thousands of SG$), and more besides, on getting a job in Singapore. Indeed they might ask if locals could not do service work in the U.S. or Europe, and save up like them (answer: difficult, especially for the unskilled).

A last word on money - it is often tied to self-worth, the ability to provide. And it could be that, as technology develops, the world will have increasingly little need of those with few skills, as production is shifted to ever-more automated assembly lines, and ever-more adaptive machines. People could find themselves quite unneeded, and able to contribute next to nothing, other than being human.

Might it be that wealth and power become somehow even more concentrated at the top, with mostly useless make-work created to occupy the masses? Among the poor there must be many with pride; then would not such essentially-forced charity be painful to bear? What would happen to the elderly drink-can collectors, if we were actually conscientious enough to always dispose of them in recycling bins?

Want and fear often lead to meanness, and economics and the sciences mostly focus upon finding ways to satisfy wants. There is, of course, the other side of the coin, sometimes advocated by religions, which is reducing wants. Do we actually need to "win" to be happy? Do we always need to better others to survive? Must earning S$5000 a month lead to S$10000 a month? And when that is achieved, does one's happiness evaporate at meeting a lottery multi-millionaire? Must one take to heart others' sniping about one "lacking ambition", and about others surpassing oneself?

Frankly, after so long, there are many questions I have never found satisfactory answers to. This is partly why I do not particularly like public speaking, for all too often I am unsure of whether what I say is right, and other times I cannot be sincere about what I should say. Napoleon Hill's classic treatise on wealth, Think and Grow Rich, holds out desire as the first step. Randy Pausch said that brick walls are there to keep out those who don't want something badly enough. But, using that analogy, when we bulldoze the wall, will we crush anyone sitting behind it? Should be step on the heads of others to scale it?

When I win, will others be happy? That may be too much to ask - I have felt the worm of envy on others' achievements, after all. Not that a small dose of envy is all bad, if it motivates improvement of the self, instead of destruction of the subject. One thing I've not done in a long, long time is to really, really try. Is it because I don't really mind having other win? Or because I fear coming to grips with my limits and defeat? Or because all of this doesn't really matter, because I know what I really want, and I'm not getting it?

I feel age catching up. I am 25. In a short decade, I will be 35. Where and what will I be?

Allow me to cast my thoughts back in time, to conclude this long and winding post:

When I was in primary school, a classmate once asked me: which hero did I most admire in The Romance of the Three Kingdoms? I hadn't read too deeply into it, but replied without hesitation: Cao Cao. My classmate didn't seem too pleased.

Of course, he was probably expecting one of the three sworn brothers, perhaps Zhao Yun, or Zhuge Liang, maybe even the likes of Huang Zhong. But Cao Cao, who would betray the world rather than let it betray him (comic interpretation)? After going through the story, I was aware that I wasn't supposed to like him; but darn, did I feel an affinity for the bastard. He won in the end, didn't he? And he was quite the able administrator in a time of chaos, too. Better some judicious ruthlessness than having one's poor subjects trek in the wilderness, even if willingly, no?

Desire. A dangerous thing. But as it is, I continue as I have for long nights for long years to reserve the sum of love and hatred, for one thing only; and gaze in the mirror with disgust and sick yearning for the ugliness that may yet blossom, for that which swallows all my desire must also bear all my energies; which I suspect are far greater and far more insidious in utter hopelessness, than when damned with faint hope. And I will probably even enjoy it, because who am I trying to fool - I'm really not that kind of nice guy after all.

I did sleep more soundly.

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1 comment

Mr. Fish F. Chips said...

Being nominal hamster head of the Cao Cao Fan Club, and slacking over here in the afterlife, I was tasked to respond to tpk's assertion that "...technically caocao lost, since his son caopi betrayed his political ideology, and ultimately sima yi's family unified china instead".

Well, our stance on this is twofold - firstly, technically Jin did indeed win, but technically Jin was the direct successor state of Wei too. Secondly, Wei was the largest and most populous, and like I like to say, who dies with the most toys, wins!

Mr. Fish, out.

July 16, 2009 - 23:23 SGT     

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