Google left China and soon after that the shares of Baidu on NASDAQ soared above that of Google, going above 600 USD per share. The Economist reports on the message Google’s departure leaves for businesses in China, trying to warn business people that it is still not that easy to do business there.
Yet as Fortune explains, it’s not entirely about business. Beliefs of the founders of Google mattered, it seems. Well, I guess there is a concoction of complex ideas there but to simplify matters, let’s just say Google don’t agree with China and realised that dealing with China might entail too much costs (both in the business, social and emotional sense) and so they have pulled out. Yet they didn’t exactly pull out of the Chinese world, because they merely made Hong Kong their headquarters for the Chinese Language Google.
Meanwhile, it appears as if Climate Science is also under similar sort of mess. People are not agreeing with each other once again and making excuses here and there. But I believe The Economist makes a good point when they say that the uncertainty is precisely what justifies our efforts at combating climate change. The uncertainty should be what binds us together rather than become a point of contention. It’s stupid to agree that the science is uncertain and imprecise and then go on to squabble over what is the ‘true findings’ or ‘accurate data’.
I’m not sure how many people have chanced upon Post-It Notes with inspirational illustrations anywhere in Singapore and picked them up; the author/illustrator/documenter of Things We Forget is certainly doing something amazing for his/her own life and that of the others. The Post-It illustrations and notes are indeed inspirational if not a reminder of how much wisdom we lose in the course of conducting our lives. The address of the blog is apt in that sense.
And since I’m at introducing and recommending other websites, there’s an interesting free online textbook project at BookBooN. It’s not exactly free so to speak, since the textbook is interspersed advertising much like a magazine is. But well, you don’t pay a cent to download.
I think interviews are rather artificial settings; they surround a poor candidate and then bombard him/her with questions. Yet one should remember that an interview is not interrogation and the whole point is for the entire thing to become a natural interaction rather than an artificial, forced conversation that tells no truths. This is a rather short piece on the contents of a scholarship interview, not an article that tells you what to wear, how you should shake your hand or smile at your interviewers.
Questions to Ask Although you usually start out being asked questions, you should be preparing stuff you want to ask the interviewer beforehand so that you are not caught off guard when the interviewer asks if you have any questions for him/her. These questions should be genuine questions so don’t bother to ask if you already know the answer because your face would tell that while you’re listening to the reply.
There’s a couple of areas you might like to ask about; in particular Scholarship selection procedures, life of a scholar, and the work of the scholar in the organization. For selection process you might like to ask “How many rounds of interviews will you be put through?” or whether there is “any other sort of assessments (like test/essay to do)?” Some organizations would have a psychometric tests, others have workshops that are sessions to assess their candidates.
On life of a scholar, ask if there’s any internship or attachment for scholars? And how will they be related to the work scholars eventually do at the organization? Related to that, is the work a scholar is going to do upon graduation; ask “What sort of work do scholars do after graduation in the organization?”, check if there is job rotation, and “How long is each cycle?” as well as “What functions will scholars be exposed to throughout the career/bond period?”
Depending on how you’ve set the tone of the interview, you should preferably be able to ask some casual stuff like how long your interviewers have been with the organization. Ask about their work if you don’t know their positions yet and see how they like the organization or if they face any particular difficulty/challenge in their work in recent times. This would help make the interview a more natural conversation rather than one that is zero-ed in on ‘work’.
Questions they might ask Now for the more important questions, the ones they will be asking you. There are very general ones like your aspirations, reasons for choice of your course, how they tie up with your interests, how you’re coping in school right now (or how have you coped with school in the past).You should also be expected to share your experiences in school with leadership activities, or team activities.
Some organizations like to pose scenario questions like ‘talk about a time when you had disagreements with a teammate’, ‘tell us a situation where you had to overcome a huge challenge’, ‘tell us your most difficult time in life so far’. Otherwise, the open-ended tough questions like “What have you done in life so far that tells you that you’ll be suitable for our organization?”, “Can you tell us why you deserve this scholarship?”
Prepare to explain your present commitments as well: “What are you doing now?”, “How do you spend your vacations?”, “What interest do you have besides your studies (and work)?” Knowing some current affairs would help especially when they are related to the organization that is offering the scholarship: “What do you think is a challenge facing our industry/organization?” “Do you think there’s anything about our organization that we should change or need to change?”, “What potential markets have we overlooked in the course of our expansion?”
Other Tips & Advice Try to remember your responses to their questions and also their answers to your questions because it’ll serve you well to remain consistent throughout your rounds of interviews; you’ll realise that some questions comes to you over and over again posed by different interviewers because they never heard your reply to these questions, so it’s also important to maintain that consistency.
Remembering their responses to your questions shows that you’re paying attention and not contemplating what to ask next or how to respond while they are answering your question or explaining stuff to you. If possible, jot down their responses to your question somewhere right after your interview (perhaps type a note in your handphone or something)
Remember there is no right or wrong answers in an interview so never look as if you regretted something you just mentioned (if you really do, please correct yourself immediately on the spot) and in many sense, as long as you are sure what you’re saying, you’re giving the right answer.
Don’t appear self-important but show the interviewers what you are willing to do to serve them and what you’re not willing. When you’re given the tough questions, ask for time to think about it. You could say, “Wow, that’s a big question, give me a moment to organize my answer” or something like that. Try to think about the tough ones beforehand so that you’re more prepared to handle them. Don’t bet on them not coming out.
Don’t hesitate to clarify their questions; if you don’t know what they’re asking, ask them questions to clarify; sometimes the question they’re trying to pose is more close-ended than it seems.
In general, The Economist adopts a rather sarcastic tone when discussing Alan Greenspan’s role in the build up to the Subprime Mortgage Crisis in 2007. They are arguing that central bankers are around to ensure macroeconomic stability and therefore are expected to ‘play safe’ and manage the economy. That is, if reducing short-term interests rates could rein in the housing boom, that should have been applied. Even if Greenspan couldn’t have identified the bubble, and that the house prices are not related to the interest rates that central bankers could influence, the leverage growth in securitised markets might be worth managing:
By looking only at the effect of monetary policy on house prices, Messrs Bernanke and Greenspan also take too narrow a view of the potential effect of low policy rates. Several economists have argued convincingly, for instance, that low policy rates fuelled broader leverage growth in securitised markets.
Of course, having just read Dot.con and Lord of Finance, I do realise that central bankers’ attempts at interfering with specific market booms have often been ineffective or with rather disastrous results and thus choose to focus only on economic fundamentals like price inflation. Greenspan does have a point when he suggests that the central bankers are unable to deal with a global force that are changing the conditions of the economy. Very often, these efforts may create further imbalances that merely postpones a crisis.
Like I say, no one claims monetary policy is easy to conduct – it’s too often more of an art than a science.
After leaving it on my bookshelf for a while I eventually took out Lord of Finance to resume reading books on my journeys. Written by Liaquat Ahamed, I bought it at one of Harris’ 20% storewide sales during a period when I was thinking about reading up more about Finance after the recent crisis. I thought it was good to beef up my knowledge of American finance since Age of Turbulence was the closest I got to reading about the financial sector of America.
The book turns out to be more than what I was expecting. Written in the style that feels very similar to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, Lord of Finance traces the little stories that demonstrated the personalities of the four most important central bankers prior to 1929. They had exerted huge influence on the economies of Europe and United States, and unintentionally engineered in the Great Depression with their policies and beliefs. It was interesting to get a peek at a world still obsessed with the almost divine quality of gold as a storekeeper of value and with poor understanding of monetary economics.
Even more intriguing is that monetary policies and innovations are being created by these people who has a nuanced view of monetary economics and poor understanding of the workings of the economy. The stories and opinions of civil servants, politicians and aristocrats in those years demonstrates the experimentation humans had gone through in order to figure out how this gigantic machinery works. Of course, this study and experimentation carries on today.
Liaquat Ahamed got really good reviews (here and here) from New York Times for this book, especially for the fact that the contents of the book chillingly echos the stories of Wall Street in the past couple of years, involving banking heros and monetary policies, speculative bubbles and a huge crash. The description of the mania and the built up to the eventual crash sounds rather familiar to me given that I just finished John Cassidy’s Dot.con a while back. Men’s penchant for not learning from History seems particularly pronounced in bouts of ‘Irrational Exuberance’.
For that, Liquat gives a brilliant analogy for the role of Central Bankers or the policies makers trying to stabilize the economy and also pushing for growth. He sees them much like Sisyphus in the Myth of Sisyphus, condemned the work hard to create the conditions fertile for economic growth only to have speculation and irrational exuberance extinguish the fruits of their labour – much like Sisyphus who have to push a boulder up a mountain knowing that when the deed is done, it’ll roll back to its original position for him to do it again. Perhaps Albert Camus is right, for the struggle probably do fill the central bankers’ hearts and the belief of their heroism keeps them happy.
Lord of Finance simply surprises me with the rich collection of anecdotes about the main characters of the story Liquat tries to tell and the manner it imparts knowledge on finance and the workings of money in the economy to the readers – subtly and not too overwhelmingly technical. As a result the book caters to a wide range of audience; students interested in economics, history, finance and perhaps just stories about great men’s mistakes.
Those interested in getting a preview before making a purchase of the book or going on a trip to the library to borrow it might like to check out New York Times.
Inequality is a market failure. We do pick this up in A Levels but then there’s little discourse on that. Not only do we dwell little on the solutions – which ranges from progressive taxation to welfare handouts – we ultimately ignore how inequality undermines the ultimate roles of markets, which is the efficient allocation of resources. I’ve always grasp the idea rather intuitively but then fail to deliver it in a philosophical and economics framework. I’ve pointed out the lack of philosophical musings in today’s study of Economics when I introduced Michael Sandel’s lecture on Markets and Morals.
I’ve always pose the question to my Economics student, if a person earns $1000 a month and another who earns $1 a month both needs a glass of water. The rich guy is willing to pay $10 for the water while the poor one is willing to pay $1. The market thus allocates the water to the rich man. We all know that this allocation is problematic and it doesn’t seem efficient; how is it that, in terms of willingness to pay, a person who is only willing to part with 1% of his monthly income gets the good when another is willing to part with 100% of his monthly income for it? So what exactly is the problem of inequality?
Once again, Michael Sandel points this out in the second lecture presented in this video. You don’t exactly have to watch the lecture in order to grasp the point but the idea is that when inequality (in terms of unequal distribution of income) exists, effective demand cannot properly reflect the ideal sort of demand signal transmission that would allow the market to allocate resources efficiently. In extreme cases, free markets becomes not entirely free. In other words, people are not transacting out of their free will but coerced by their own economic circumstances. We see this very often in the case of poor people in developing countries who are forced to sell organs, resort to prostitution, act as surrogate mothers, become a runner for crack.
Gary Becker is not wrong about the rationality of these people. They’re making rational choices but it is often that their choices is very much limited. That unfeeling market processes coerce us into certain decisions is something close to the hearts of all of us. Often, however, we can’t quite work out what is so unjust about that because we believe that to a large extent, we determine our riches. Somehow, deep in our hearts we know that some other decisions that we made caused us to be in the state we are in such that we are coerced into making that next decision. The fact that this argument comes back to us shows how each and every decision made in the marketplace by us are not independent. This makes for a determinism argument in a market setting where free will is supposed to reign.
There are much wider implications of all these arguments and I shall explore them if I get the chance.
Many have attributed the housing bubble that eventually resulted in the Subprime Mortgage Crisis to the previous, one of the longest serving Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan. We are pretty familiar with Greenspan, who have written Age of Turbulence. In his book, he highlighted his general argument against anyone who would finger-point him as allowing a bubble to inflate. He pronounce that it is impossible for anyone, whether the regulatory body or not, to accurately identify a bubble.
As for the Subprime Mortgage Crisis, politicians in the United States still blames it somewhat on Alan Greenspan and now that everything is cooling down, Greenspan offers his own defence. Although Greenspan was nicknamed ‘the Maestro’, he subtly attributes the period of great prosperity and low inflation to the globalization forces and technological advancement more than his skills at handling the monetary policy of US. In any case, he outlines his job at the Federal Reserve as an observer trying his best to keep to fundamentals of the economy and the crisis therefore comes as a surprise both because of how the economic agents have basically defied market assumptions namely on the issue of counter-party surveillance. Essentially the government cannot possibly provide the ‘self-interest’ that is supposed to drive the free market.
No one says that managing the economy is an easy job. Sound economics decisions by governments often turns out to be political disasters anyways so sometimes politicians stop heeding economists altogether. The recent issues that confront Tim Geithner is essentially similar; the economy is picking up thanks to his plans but people are unhappy with him. Figures on employment are not helping him anyways since the recovery is ‘jobless’ so to speak. Management of the economy is a huge balancing act for the government.
The idea of government has gone really far since the days of Locke’s conception of the social contract. The philosophy of governance in the modern world is just getting more complicated.
I’ve previously introduced Michael Sandel’s lectures on Justice in Harvard. I haven’t finished the series despite great interest in it but I recently watched another of his lectures, one at Chautauqua where he talks about the Morality of Markets. In some sense, I was particularly interested in this issue and believe that all those trained in Economics should be made to study it. After all, Adam Smith was a Moral Philosopher. The philosophical element of Economics is becoming lost in our study of it today.
That is what makes this particular Michael Sandel lecture extremely insightful. He starts with the idea that we’re now plagued by market triumphalism and he tries to question what is wrong with that. As often in his lectures, he poses a scenario either hypothetical or based on actual proposals in the real world and then solicits opinions from the audience. He eventually surfaces his points and ideas from the responses of the audience and does a brilliant summary of the issue.
He gives a good and important point in his conclusion of this lecture that explains why we should not allow markets to expand indefinitely in our lives. In other words, there are areas where markets can, indeed serve the best interests of the societies especially when we all can agree that the market system gives an accurate and fair valuation of the good or service involved. Unfortunately there are values out of the consideration of the market that we might cherish and therefore we should not allow particular goods or services to become commodities to be traded and transacted. The danger of the markets is that it leaves its mark on the commodities that are traded; the values that we cherish becomes diluted, corrupted by the market system.
The example of paying a child to read is important in illustrating this. We should cherish reading not because of the monetary gains but the intrinsic value derived from joy of reading and learning. Therefore when we start paying children to read, it sends out the wrong messages and distorts the valuation of reading. The trick then, perhaps is a solution around this limitation of the market, to be able to remove that mark that market leaves on the thing traded. Unfortunately there’s no easy solution and possibly none. This is a strong argument against markets and while it is applied to a small group of tricky issues, they are worth pondering over.
Michael Sandel makes Political Philosophy and Moral Philosophy not only accessible to the public and ordinary, non-philosophy students but also makes extremely relevant connections between traditional Western Philosophy and the issues plaguing us in the modern world. It’s really fortunate that we are able to access his lectures even though we are not studying in Harvard or in America. There are other videos of his public lectures available on FORA.tv.
I write this time on something less relevant to my usual muses about politics, the environment, geography or economics, as I leave for India tomorrow and wont be writing until April. I was trying very hard to find inspiration to write something different or something I’d feel passion for, but I did not find any in The Straits Times or this week’s The Economist. Instead, I found an article about travel on Financial Times. In their Travel column, Sophy Roberts writes about how tourism and travel nowadays is all about the crowds: plenty of people thronging the same sights as you, making the place feel very impersonal and leaving you with a bad impression and aftertaste.
Roberts writes about her own experiences in Venice and somewhere closer to home: Angkor Wat. All these tourist hotspots are becoming too popular and visited by too many people that many times when you visit a place what you see there most of the time is people and not so much the real place of interest. Tourism is pretty much a commercial concept, of course, but it seems to have become too commercial and too popular. The clamour towards the middle class has also unleashed this attitude or desire to see the world and experience what it’s like outside, which is not bad unless thousands of others think like you and wish to do the same.
Even I am guilty of having this desire to see the world and travel to everywhere and anywhere I can. My passion as a geographer developed very much as a result of and with the desire to see the world beyond Singapore. And it is important to travel outside of your home country to experience the diversity of cultures. It’s just sad that many of these tourist places have now become too saturated with unfettered tourists, especially during peak season, that it just taints your experience or could even destroy the whole beauty of travelling around.
I wonder if I were in the writer’s shoes, would I have done what she did, to fork out that kind of money to get exclusive access to less-crowded places. Personally, I have visited places that I felt would have been beautiful were it not for the huge crowds, especially in China. When I visited Hainan Island twice in 2006, the beaches that I visited were actually really beautiful places, but the whole picture was tainted by the tremendous numbers of tourists like myself who wanted a piece of the place. And in my plans for future travel, I keep thinking about visiting places that are not saturated with tourists, but then I would not be able to keep within my tight budgets if I were to really backpack across Malaysia.
Then again, for some tourist attractions, it is the tremendous number of people there that gives you the vibe and excitement. Kuta Beach in Bali, when I visited in 2008, was not that crowded but I think I might have felt the holiday mood more if there were more beachgoers and more surfers around. I sure hope that when I visit the Taj Mahal in India, I will not have to fight with the crowds to take a photo of this Wonder of the World.
The writer ends by saying that “cliche… has long been an intrinsic part of tourism”. Maybe.
Historically, technological advancement combined with economics have helped to push civilization towards greater levels of achievements; yet too often, there are times when they are combined in the wrong ways that produces somewhat problematic results for the aggregate society. An example would be the problem of counterfeit products, which is recently featured in The Economist. Interestingly it has extended beyond just luxury goods, luxury consumer electronics to the more sophisticated stuff like cars, computer and machine parts. The chief argument against counterfeits is not so much that they are unsafe. As technology advance, counterfeits that are of low quality would naturally be abandon by the market anyways. The reason for the market’s embrace is a result of their avoidance of taxes and the willingness to accept lower margins, which allows them to price way more competitively.
Another time when technological advancement is combined with skewed human intentions is the gender-based abortion that The Economist is hinting at. The distorted sex ratio have potentially disastrous consequences on society at large. Unfortunately the imbalance is already a fact and will take at least a generation to restore some balance so in the meantime we will probably have to put up with way lower rates of marriages (if rates sustain, it would only be because divorce rates have also been increasing; which implies re-marriages).
Well, more arguments for big governments, or if not, intrusive ones.