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Monthly Archives: August 2009

shoesI liked running into this article on the new trend in athletic footwear. It seems there is little evidence to support shoe makers’ arguments that their shoes really help you run faster or prevent injury.  New companies are coming out with footwear that is little more than a glove for the foot., just a rubber or neoprene sleeve that often has the toes covered individually. Looks a little weird, but these companies seem to be doing pretty well.

Wish my dad were still alive so I could send the story to him. In my teens and twenties, even into my thirties, I loved going barefoot–used to run barefoot, play soccer, mow the lawn, go shopping–I even remember going to university classes barefoot. Every once in a while, especially from my dad, I would hear, “You are going to hurt yourself doing that.” He especially did not like when I would drive barefoot.  It made him furious, like I was rebelling against some important cultural ethic.


chinaascendingThe NY Times reports that Asia’s Recovery Highlight’s China’s Ascendance. This is something I predicted when US and China’s stimulus packages were introduced, and the statistics are coming out now. Though the US economy is still three times the size of China’s, it is China and the rest of Asia that is leading the world out of the global recession.

One question mark remains about China’s recovery, and that is whether Chinese consumers can make-up for the lost demand in exports to the US and Europe. One positive sign,  Chinese banks lent a record 1.1 trillion dollars in the first half of 2009. Another positive sign, US and European companies still find China a more affordable production location, and worker training has improved. As long as trade barriers do not become too popular, I think China will continue to lead the world out of recession.

Do you agree?

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gmThe NY Times reports that GM Adds Workers and Shifts as Demand Surges. Due mostly to the Cash for Clunkers program, the US auto industry looks like it is recovering. Cash for Clunkers was sold as a program to reduce emissions, help the economy, and restore manufacturing jobs, but does it really?

Many people in the US seem to think that good for business means good for the economy. That is another fallacy that is fairly easy to understand. Let us take a look at what is really going on.

Cash for clunkers is basically a subsidy to car manufacturers. People get a new car, but industry ends up with the money. Where does the money come from? Ultimately, the taxpayer. Given that the government is already deep in debt, the extra borrowing increases interest rates, and that is a great deterrent to private investment. Emission reduction? New cars must get 22 miles to the gallon to qualify. Sorry, but that is a very low standard to set for a program that comes at the expense of consumer income and potential investment in other areas of the economy.

Cash for clunkers is not a program for emission reduction, not a program for the economy, not a program for jobs. It is only a transfer of income from the worker to industry.

incineratorMore China bashing with the NY Time’s China’s Incinerators Loom as Global Hazard. The article begins with some frightening facts about incinerating trash, especially the toxins released into the atmosphere. China is building more of these incinerators as they run out of room for landfill. China is also cited for surpassing the U.S. as the largest household trash producers on the planet.

Some balance is restored with observations that clean incinerators are being built in the places that can afford them, government is pushing to clean emmisions, and the methane emmisions from landfill are worse than the incinerator toxins anyway. But the general tone of the article remains fixed on the dirty Chinese.

One Chinese engineer is quoted as saying that the Chinese are not really interested in recycling, again an apparant dig at Chinese pollution standards. What is not mentioned is that trash is regularly separated and recycled by the poor and by municipal collectors. True, in the typical household here, no one thinks about recycling, but as soon as our trash gets put out, people come along to take cardboard, plastics, bottles, styrofoam, metal. It all gets separated and sold for reuse in another form.

As for China recently surpassing the US as the largest producer of household garbage–yeah–with five times the population. So the typical US household can be proud for only producing three or four times as much trash as a Chinese household?

Why the anti-China slant in these articles? Does it help sell newspapers?

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TAIWAN-WEATHER-TYPHOONNow the sad news. Typhoon Morakot caused a great amount of damage in Taiwan, and still unknown numbers of dead. There are many news videos of builings and one hotel losing their foundations to the flood water and collaapsing into the flow. One whole village was buried under a landslide and about 100 are feared dead there.

That story reminded me of the one last year from Seshuan, where three villages were swallowed up whole. A worker left his job in Shenzhen to check on his village and his family. There was nothing to find but a mound of dirt and rock.

The economics of natural disaster has always seemed pretty simple to me, but many make the mistake of thinking this kind of thing is good for an economy, like wars, because it creates jobs, and might even improve income for a time.


Good for the economy means good for the welfare of society. Income and employment statistics are not the end-all of your welfare, nor your economy.

 (Don’t forget to visit and is an online shopping site which is said to be like a combination of Ebay and Amazon. I knew it existed–my wife and I bought phones there through a friend–but I did not realize how big it is.  Taobao has 80% of the Chinese online market, and generated sales of 15 billion dollars last year. This year they are expected to be bigger than Amazon.

One reason for their growth, they allow sellers to advertise on Taobao for free. One particular story is a bit inspiring–

“I never thought I could do this well,” said Mr. Yang, 23, who earned $75,000 last year. “I started out selling yoga mats and now I’m selling a lot of makeup and cosmetics. The profit margins are higher.”

Taobao fever has swept Mr. Yang’s school, Yiwu Industrial and Commercial College, where administrators say a quarter of its 8,800 students now operate a Taobao shop, often from a dorm room.

Too bad it is only in Chinese.

Hmmm. Maybe someone needs to start an English version of the same thing.

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prosA survey was done here in China to test people’s ideas on how trustworthy different groups are , based on profession. Farmers and religious workers came in first and second, and in third place, prostitutes.  Soldiers and students are seen to be slightly less trustworthy, and then we get to government workers, scientists, and teachers. Seen as least trustworthy of all–real estate developers, secretaries, agents, entertainers and directors.

I found this story in a category labeled Offbeat News. I supose because the prostitutes were seen as more trustworthy than government offiials and all the rest, but I am not all that surprised. In fact, I might put them ahead of religious workers as well.

George Selgin wrote an interesting piece called End the Fed? A not-so-crazy idea. It does sound a little bonkers to me. Selgin thinks it might be a good idea to return to a totally privatized banking system, and he gives some historical data to back-up the argument. Still, his examples come from over fifty years ago when–really–people knew less about how money and a national economy are interdependent. Of course the Fed has made mistakes, but I would argue that–as time goes by–US Central Bankers are better and better prepared to do their job well.

Even more frightening, and a more realistic possibility, is that Congress will succeed in taking some control over Fed policy. That would be a disaster. One easy argument–compare congressional policy over the last fifty years with Fed policy. The Fed’s independence has allowed them–mostly–to follow money policy that encourages growth and discourages inflation. To put them under the control of Congress puts them under the control of big business.

Crystal_Perfume_BottleThe headlines out of the US are dominated by health care reform and the Obama/Gates story, and I am no longer interested in either bit. But I did find an funny story out of my long-ago hometown of Ft. Worth. Perfume puts 34 people in the hospital. I have smelled bad perfume before, and it does get deadly when overused.

This story turns out to really be about “contagious fear.” There was a dizzy salesperson, an announcement made on the building’s PA system, and people started feeling ill. Sorry, but that is so weak. I have no sympathy for these people and no respect.

Come to think of it, maybe this is why Americans are so afraid of socialized medical care. The hospitals might get swamped.

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