Aliens & Laws

Jumping Fish
Jumping Ship

The Lexington of the latest The Economist made an important point about the indirect impact of terrorism on America. Migration of brains into America has slowed, tourist has become rather fed-up with security checks that comes with a vacation in America and even conferences have moved away from there as a result of the hassle brought about by security restrictions. Perhaps improving the ‘service quality’ of border customs would improve the situation.

The interesting phenomena raised in the article is that giving illegal workers legal status will help reduce their competition with the American workers.

American blue-collar workers fear that Mexican immigrants will undercut their wages. Mr Hinojosa-Ojeda says they won’t if they are legal. The fear of deportation makes illegal workers accept worse conditions, he finds. Once legal, they demand higher wages, and no longer drag down those of the native-born.

The report on the economic benefits of immigration reform is available from Center for American Progress. The idea fits into conventional wisdom about making choices between alternatives. Removing the option of getting deported would naturally help raise the expectations of the foreign workers and make it harder for them to compete with those native-born.

Monikers aka Generalisations

Frustrated by Intricacies

An article in The Economist raised a rather interesting but oft-neglected problem: the proliferation of labels and categories where countries are haphazardly shuffled in, without consideration for historical or geographical accuracy. I first encountered this in JC Geography, when we were taught to evaluate (it’s amazing though that we have to be taught how to evaluate, but this is the A-levels for you) the tendency of geographers to pigeon-hole countries into monikers like the North and the South or Third World, Second World and First World, which can be highly inaccurate and neglects discrepancies or outliers. In the topic of Globalisation, we were taught that to divide the world into a simplistic North-South divide would be to forget about what it really means to be geographically in the Northern hemisphere or Southern hemisphere. Developed countries like Australia and Singapore, for instance, would be technically south of what is in the North in the divide but that does not mean these countries are economically comparable to other countries in the South.

Pardon if what I just described to you sounds confusing, but you will get a better idea if you read The Economist article, which gives many more examples of blatant generalisations in history and geography. Even labels we consider absolutely normal or acceptable might hint of insensitivities. We often refer to South America as Latin America, but this term smacks of colonialism, and the continent while still speaking mainly Spanish and Portugese is certainly wielding its own influence rather than continue to be within the Latin or European sphere of influence.

These labels are certainly convenient, but we should never forget that they must be questioned every now and then to check their relevance. Like, even the oft-used ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries could be questioned in terms of the spheres they cover and how to categorise countries. For instance, would Singapore be a ‘developed’ or ‘developing’ country? And based on what indicators?

Something for the GP (General Paper) and Geography student to think about.

Goodhart’s Law

Narrow Street
No Space for 2 Targets

A couple of weeks back, I stumbled upon the concept of Goodhart’s Law and I can’t help wondering if the same is true of corporate performance indicators. Perhaps the case is weaker for corporate performance indicators but the idea may still hold some truth.

The Law based on Goodhart’s formulation in 1975 is “any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes

It is initially more or less based on the conduct of monetary policy and has much to do with statistics. But in the corporate setting, tying CEO’s financial rewards to share prices has somewhat the same sort of effect. Without the coupling of the 2 variables – share prices and CEO financial compensation, the share prices would ordinarily reflect the performance of the company, which is a proxy for the outcome of the management of the firm under the CEO (although people might argue that it is inaccurate, but in business, outcome is still the most important). When they are linked, CEOs might become obsessed with raising share prices of the firm and neglecting the core management of the firm.

The same applies for lower level sort of work. For example, if the waiting time at the government clinic is used as a measure for performance then doctors and nurses might quickly try to go through the patients and speed up consultation to hit their performance target rather than provide quality care and service. Likewise, if too much emphasis is on delivering good food at a local restaurant, service might be compromised, which explains why the boss of the pizzeria down the street has real bad attitude. Perhaps this is just part of human nature, the narrow focus of our minds.

Ruin & Farms

Years Back...

As The Economist reports on the need for a whole scale re-invention of the state of Michigan, an investor in Detroit has come up with an interesting proposal to utilize the unused land in the largest city of Michigan and attempt to restore economic activity in the city that is hollowing out.

There is much potential in building up engineering capabilities of the population of Michigan to kick-start newer, more tech-intensive industries. The small start-ups may be slow to hire and would begin with the best brains, subsequent growth would help raise employment figures. Like what is mentioned in The Economist article, the state has no quick-fix to return to prosperity and will have to toil long and hard to develop newer industries. This could be considered a punishment for having lobbied so hard to maintain the inefficient automobile industry and the refusal of firms in the state to carry out restructuring.

On the other hand, the urban farming idea in Detroit might be a good start given that it might offer the chance to warm up the construction industry. Nevertheless, reviving Detroit would do little to help the state of Michigan if the other towns and cities don’t come up with new ideas on how to rise again. Moral of the story of procrastinating change: Someone will have to pay the bill someday.

Internet & China

Google China
Expensive Evil

With so many people obsessed with the Internet in China and yet even more obsessed with curbing the addiction of them, Google should be making money in China. But apparently it didn’t quite beat that much and thus decided on a ‘New Approach‘.

The Economist discusses the issue at length, citing how Google has come to this after experiencing hackers attacks. They also talked about the similar kind of problem other big sites are facing from China.

Tech Crunch noted that Google’s stance in this case is more about business; perhaps the hacking attacks have been around for a long time and Google has gathered the evidence but lately, they reviewed their business and decided that the cost of maintaining the engineers and censorship is too heavy given the gains they made.


A Dip seems fun...

Clive Thompson from Wired wrote a great piece on Groupthink; the main question is whether you can persuade people to like something by convincing them that others also like it?

And the experiments cited in the article gave interesting results that leaves us somehow worrying if our ‘destinies’ are determined by pure luck. It appears that for the very best and very worst, evolutionary forces would more or less elevate or eliminate them in long run but for most of the ones in the middle, their fate could be a matter of chance.

The article seem to imply there’s little way out of the problem of groupthink of such grand scale; it is suggested that the use of social cues for many decision-making is wired into our nature.

Fox vs Time Warner

Fox Time Warner
Food Fight!

Days ago I stumbled upon a recent dispute between Fox and Time Warner Cable. The basic idea of the dispute was that Fox wanted more money from Time Warner for carrying their channels and Time Warner didn’t want to. The whole thing ended up with publicity campaigns on both sides ( for Time Warner Cable and for Fox) to make use of TV viewers’ support to raise their bargaining power. They eventually settled the dispute so viewers will continue seeing Holmer Simpsons munching on doughnuts.

It is interesting how Lauren Collins explained in The New Yorker how Time Warner Cable was basically using a forced-decision device since there’s a spectrum of other options available to them. Time Warner Cable could have just absorbed the price increases and sacrifice their profits. By running the Ad campaign, they’re signaling to Fox that they’ll not accept any changes to the pricing of the deal – either get paid the same or no more screenings of Fox programmes; effectively introducing a Morton’s fork. At the same time, like what Collins mentioned in the article, “The strategy in a nutshell: couch potatoes as human shields.” The company handling Time Warner Cable’s campaign, Purple Strategies is pretty amazing; they are basically specialist in positioning stand in public for organizations or political bodies in ways that allow them to maneuver themselves under different circumstances.

The incorporation of strategic movements in corporate lives is going to become increasingly common, which gives us more reason to check out Dixitt and Nalebuff’s Thinking Strategically or their newer Art of Strategy.

More Wars

The day Google Nexus One came out, my co-workers were looking at the features and thinking to themselves, “When is this going to come to Singapore?”. While it didn’t take long for people to start complaining about the confusion and frustration created by the weird relationship between Google, the handset-maker HTC and the mobile operators.

Nexus One
Good? Or Goo?

Perhaps the somewhat disturbing problem is that Google have started becoming somewhat ‘evil’; The Economist reported on how they were telling everyone they weren’t intent on having their own phone but eventually came up with this awesome one. Google’s model for developing the phone is typical of course, using an open source mobile phone operating system, contracting the hardware development to an experienced handset manufacturer in an emerging economy with loads of hi-tech industries (in other words, Taiwan).

This contrasts starkly with the Apple model of production, which involves enclosed development. Perhaps this war of phones and wider consumer electronics will demonstrate which model of development would prevail in long run. I tend to think Google’s strategy is more robust but Apple should be able to hold out for quite some time still. Being a Mac user, I’ve confidence in Apple’s ability to churn out products that they would eventually manage to market to the mass market and aid consumers to love them. Google might want to spruce up their ability to do just that.

Layout Re-org

ERPZ now have a permanent homepage! We are still working on it and hopefully, we’ll be able to feature a couple of articles on the homepage each day. The new system of navigation is designed to give the articles and resources put on ERPZ roughly the same exposure and also to allow first-time users to learn more about ERPZ before going on their search for academic resources.

We hope this would be an improvement over the former blog sort of navigation system layout.