Chemistry Notes!

I’m not sure if this is long awaited, but ERPZ finally started a Chemistry Notes Section! I guess everyone would be more grateful if this was up a couple of months back when people are preparing for A Levels. Well, I haven’t found Zhuoyi’s website then and I was unsure about my handwritten notes then. So now, there’s only 2 sets of notes available, one kindly shared by Zhuoyi, which I’ve consolidated and reformatted into a single document. I might soon put up individual links to each set of Zhuoyi’s notes if readers are interested.

The other set is by me; it’s mostly handwritten with typed pages here and there. For those who might be interested, I’ve added a set of handwritten instructions on how you can make use of your Graphic Calculator’s statistics functions to perform calculations for reaction kinetics at the last few page of the document.

Enjoy Learning!

Making Judgments

Go on and strike!
Go on and strike!

Just a few days back I was discussing how we have to hold contradicting ideas as social science students; and it dawned on me that some students after training themselves to do just that, fails to make a judgment using the ideas. To them, it seems that everything is equally right and there’s no quantitative means of assessing which side is better. I hate to say this but then you actually have the power to decide what is right. After all, politicians, social scientist, economists and such are always at loggerheads and as I mentioned in that earlier post, no one is exactly right – at least we’ll never know what is truly right. We can only be sure of approximations to the right thing but then again there are high estimates, low estimates, depending on how things turn out.

The fact is we all make many decisions these way. There’s no way to know for sure that a plan will carry through and we have default positions, knowing all well what they rest upon and how they might change. We might wake up at 10am every Sunday Morning but then we adjust accordingly when we have appointments around that time on that day. You know that your priority is with the appointment and not with sleep; so unless your priority is the other way round, you’ll compromise. Likewise, when confronted with the question as to whether a Monopoly is harmful to consumers you might have to consider your priorities. You might be concerned with net transfer of wealth from consumers to the monopolist and thus against the theoretical supernormal profits. In that case you’ll argue that while the firm might be a natural Monopoly and the only one serving the market, it is harmful as long as it’s not taxed such that it only earn normal profits (with the tax revenue redistributed to the consumers).

On the other hand your sympathy might lie with consumer choice and welfare so you believe that as long as the monopolist exhibit some sort of dynamic efficiency, innovating and proliferating the market with variety then you’re fine with the Monopoly. After all, it is giving the consumers what they want that earn them the profits. But in an event when it becomes complacent and exhibits some sort of inefficiency (not in the P=MC sense though) then it needs some competition injected. Following that line of argument, some might choose to take side with competition right from the start and argue that as long as the market is a rather contestable market, with huge players ready and able to enter anytime (despite high barriers to entry), then the Monopoly need not be too closely regulated. The above arguments would all make sense and they could well be right answers for economics essays but then the question is whether you’ve presented your case convincingly by showing what are your priorities or principal considerations.

In other words, you do not make judgments when you’re analyzing or dissecting the ideas but when called upon, you’re able to demonstrate your principal concerns and judge the ideas in accordance to them. You should be comfortable with changing your stand when you adjust your judging guidelines and not cling on too hard to your positions. Karl Albrecht, author of Practical Intelligence believes that the open-mindedness so essential to learning and the path towards intelligence require this ability to see opinions/positions and separate from ourselves. So learn to pick up opinions from making judgments but readily drop them and learn to justify what prompted you to do so (new information input, changing circumstances, difference in judging guidelines).

Age of Turbulence

Words of the Wise
Words of the Wise

I read the review of Alan Greenspan’s book 2 years back in The Economist, but didn’t buy it until late last year when I went on a book-shopping spree. The book gone on to stay on my book table (yes, I seriously need a bookshelf) for another year or so before I dusted it two weeks ago and began reading it. In any case, I bought an updated version, which features an epilogue detailing Alan Greenspan’s take on the Subprime Financial Crisis and his prescriptions.

I was immediately surprised by Alan Greenspan’s clear writing and simple style so contrary to his famous inscrutable public announcements about the Fed. It is this that earned The Economist’s rare praise:

Sub-heading of the book review: “Not many surprises in this memoir-cum-essay except that it is an unexpectedly enjoyable read.”

Book Review Quote: “[D]espite everything, the book turns out to be first-rate. It engages on different levels: it is intelligent in a way that few popular books on economics manage or even try to be; and, wonder of wonders, it is a good read.”

The book begins as a memoir, detailing Greenspan’s childhood, interest in music, schooling, economic/technical inclinations and his long career in the Federal Reserve Bank where he was Mr Chairman. His memoir ends somewhat abruptly in retrospect at the eleventh chapter, The Nation Challenged. Beginning with the chapter, The Universals of Economic Growth, he went on with his economy essays and analysis of various economies, industries and trends. Like what The Economist says, Age of Turbulence is a good read, his memoir was very neutral and he was very humble about his work at the Fed. His accounts of the workings of the Fed provides non-American readers a good starting point to learn about their system. Greenspan’s essays on the world economy and economics stays faithful to his belief in the power of free markets and respect for the freedoms and rights that the American Founding Fathers have sought and preserved.

He defends his views that no one can possibly identify a bubble and actively sought to burst it before it gets too big and cause a crisis in its subsequent burst. As a matter of fact, this is the case because anyone who can confidently identify the bubble can profit from it by going against the flow and thus end up defusing it before it builds up. At times, when the so-called ‘irrational exuberance’ exerts too powerful a market force then regulators wouldn’t actually be able to defuse it anyways. He seem to sigh at the voter’s expectations that the government is almighty and is disappointed by typical politicians who doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of ‘trade-offs’. These are typical economist’s perennial concerns about the world in democracies that never seem they’ll ever go away.

As a pragmatist, Greenspan shows great appreciation for the rule of law that has maintained the workings of the market and fostered a culture of trust so essential to capitalism. And reflecting on that, Greenspan gives suggestions on how the emerging economies need to improve their governance and legal systems to catch up with their prosperity and march towards developed status. These are valuable insights gained from Greenspan’s 19 years of being the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank. Indeed, Greenspan confesses that he knows little about international economics until he took on this role since his work at Townsend-Greenspan & Company (which closed following his nomination to that post) deals little with the economies of other nations.

Overall, Age of Turbulence provides wonderful insights into workings of the capitalist system of America and great ideas about emerging economies, the direction the world economy is heading to – knowledge significant to any economics students and economist-wannabe.

Another sort of Criticism

Dropping more coins...
Dropping more coins...

After penning the entry on Yuan’s appreciation, I come to observe another sort of criticism that is used on China that does contribute to the global imbalance and probably needs more attention than the currency but is an issue the Chinese government have way less control. That is the lack of spending by the Chinese, which is something repeated time and again. The Economist’s Banyan column recently compared India to China:

Levels of capital and infrastructure investment [of India] compare favourably with China’s. And, much more than in China, the hot story in India is domestic demand. India is no mercantilist adding to global imbalances. It imports more than it exports, creating much needed global demand.

Although the article goes on to discuss the flaws of the Indian economy, especially its lack of participation in the supply chains that link up much of the emerging economies of Asia as a result of their focus on exporting services rather than industrial goods. Industrial production in India remains largely in the hands of a huge number of medium-sized enterprises.

Anyways, back to the fact that China is under-consuming; James Surowiecki explains on The New Yorker why the Chinese don’t spend. He briefly ponders over culture, but goes on to focus on the nature of their economy, and the structures that are reducing access to credit and thus raising the need to save, which means perenially low consumption.

In a sense, the culture revolves around the idea of investment for the future, saving first so that one would be able to spend them. The long history of struggles and uncertainty means the Chinese are probably more risk adverse than their Western counterparts and reluctant to take on debts. In a period of growing wealth, the Chinese naturally hopes to put aside money for the future (be it studies, starting a business, a family or just for rainy days).

As the economy develops, it’ll mature and eventually shift towards higher credit and lower savings. The large investment that the government is pumping into the economy will have to induce greater efficiency in use of capital to help speed up the maturity. Till then, Americans will still get the chance to complain about Chinese inability to spend in the consumer sense.

Deflation!

No more air...
No more air...

The recent entries seem pretty obsessed with money markets and the more talked-about economies. I’m keeping up with my readings of The Economist and that probably explains. Following the article I previously mentioned about Japan’s looming deflation. They probed further and devoted a recent article in the leader section to the issue.

The Economist followed up with an article highlighting the problems associated with the return of deflation. Japan is encouraged to loosen their monetary policy, worry less about inflation and more about deflation. Interestingly, they even tried to draw parallels between Japan and some other developed economies’ experience today.

Decaying Plastics, Melting Ice

Dripping Off
Dripping Off

We are dependent on oil not only for energy but something almost as ubiquitous in modern day products. Shaking off other aspects of our dependence on oil is thus as important as diversifying sources of energy. And some Koreans just found out how to make an alternative kind of plastic way faster.

Meanwhile, Brian Palmer wrote a piece on Slate.com about how we might be able to overcome bacteria resistance to anti-biotics, a problem we have faced since the invention of anti-biotics. Fighting evolution is not the ultimate solution, as Palmer argued; he believes we need to adapt the rules of evolution and manipulate the bacteria with other strategies to overcome the problem.

Johann Hari writes on moreIntelligentLife about how Arctic is changing as experienced by the Inuits living there. Many of us may know about climate change and perhaps some of the sciences behind it but our lives goes on pretty much the same except for periodic violent weather we might intuitively attribute to climate change. To climate scientist, arctic is at the front line of this phenomenon and Hari writes convincingly about the reality of climate change in the arctic and how the lives of the Inuits are affected. The writing reflects a deep respect for those who lives in the arctic; something lacking in most other appeals for attention to global climate change. Ultimately though, it reflects how people are all looking at the problem with different lenses and focusing on different consequences. If anything is to be done at all, we’ll have to connect the different groups together.

On other green matters, Nina Shen Rastogi asks on Slate.com, Should You Flush Your Drugs Down the Toilet?

Package for the Week

Hidden from sight
Hidden from sight

Reads for this weekend are here. Farhad Manjoo muses whether anyone would be able to stop facebook. From expanding, that is. The site has really amassed a huge group of user in a short time and people have been wondering if it would be able to generate revenue and such. Truth is, Facebook has really changed the stuff we do online quite very much and helped the Internet leap ahead as a tool for social networking.

Daniel Gross wrote about his tour to China’s most important dam and muses over his inability to find a chocolate bar there. He got Slate.com readers to send in excuses for not being able to find a chocolate bar in China. Examples included:

“Your quest for chocolate at the Three Gorges would be like me looking for Chinese dumplings at the Hoover Dam,” wrote one Beijing resident.

Jokes aside, for your watching pleasure, check out Shashi Tharoor’s recent talk on TED.com about soft power, with particular reference to India.

Insuring Nothing

Nope, not insured against kids
Nope, not insured against kids

Tyler Cowen mentioned something about product insurance at one part of his book, Discover Your Inner Economist. He says that one should not argue with his wife when she insist on buying product insurance even when you know that the results are economic analysis are at your favour. Presumably, there are some other cost-benefit analysis taking place, at the level where the cost of winning the argument greatly overwhelms the benefit (which of course is the cash saved on the product insurance). The Economist asked why people continue to buy them even when products are unlikely to fail, which means that these product insurances are immensely profitable for the electronics retail sector. The researchers who examined purchase data from a big electronics retailer for over 600 households from November 2003 to October 2004 concluded that the purchases were linked to the shopper’s mood. Of course, a less-than-rational wife might be the explanation, but even the wife has a sound explanation for that:

[…] the emotional tranquillity that comes with buying a new warranty is not in itself without value, even if “rationally, it doesn’t make sense”.

But I find an ingredient missing in this story; the researchers probably falsely assume that all the shoppers have got the same level of perceptiveness. And I believe perception have all to do with the purchase of product insurance. Think about it, when was the last time you had a product which failed and the warranty period was just over and you blame yourself for not buying additional coverage? But how about the last time when you did buy the product insurance and it didn’t fail at all within the span of its usage, not once? Just like the belief that we’re unlucky enough to always join the slowest queue in the supermarket; our erroneous perception of the frequency we get unlucky can make us more frustrated with a product insurance unextended than a product which didn’t fail after we bought the coverage despite the fact that they probably inflicts the same cost on you. Obviously it actually hurts you more when you think back and regret not extending coverage; you probably won’t even think back on how stupid you were to buy product insurance for a reliable product since you’re using it happily.

This creates a bias for purchasing product insurance. Our faulty perception supplements our faulty memory in suggesting that buying product insurance would be the wise choice, going by the seemingly sound argument of ‘if the product fails, I’m protected; and even if it doesn’t, I get a peace of mind plus the retailers deserve the reward if they recommended me the durable kind of good’. You could very well have realised that if the product was that durable the manufacturer would already have taken a cut for that on the retail price and that if the product ran a high chance of failure the retailer wouldn’t even offer you the product insurance in the first place. And if your wife has anything to say about that, it’ll probably be “Must you be that calculative?”

Rising Yuan, But not now

Give Me a minute, will rise soon...
Give Me a minute, will rise soon...

In one of the economics essay I’ve written for A Levels Practice, I argued that the appreciation of Yuan is unlikely to solve the trade surplus problem that they have and thus reality will not play out as the Americans choose to believe – trade imbalance will continue to mount and China may risk deflation, following the fate of Japan in the past. I was very lucky because during A Levels a somewhat similar question came out and I made the same sort of argument with points already in my mind.

Most journals and publications I read insist on the need for Yuan to be revalued, giving little credit for the fact that China already allowed it to appreciate against the dollar substantially compared to the past. Without the unpegging of Yuan to the Dollar in 2005, trade imbalance could have been worst. That doesn’t mean that it was the appreciation of Yuan that naturally lend its hand at achieving balance; it was mainly the gradual appreciation and the timing it was allowed to appreciate. The Economist analysed China’s side of the Yuan policy. It gives a balanced account of how political forces and potential economic problems makes China hesitant about revaluing its Yuan.

It is unfair that America always seem to put China into bad light by hinting that China could make a difference (since its central government wield a whole lot of power) but don’t want to. The fact is that there are way too many instances where Americans had the power too, but then they’d exclaim that all sorts of lobbying and market forces are in the way. If China were to give in to this sort of pressure, it would make them way too weak. Besides, America isn’t always right (in fact, most of the time it isn’t); China has done too well in their transition from central planning to market economy so far and will continue to create their own path.

The Becker-Posner Blog also features Becker and Posner’s individual views on the need for China to revalue the Yuan and when so.

More Economics Notes!

Free Lunch!
Free Lunch!

Just a couple of days back, I was searching for Economics essay questions just for fun and I stumbled upon Fiveless, an initiative by Zhuoyi from RJC 2 years ago when he was doing A Levels. It was a site with a wonderful array of materials for various subjects. Since Zhuoyi actually took A Levels the same time as me, I was kind of disturbed by the fact that I hadn’t stumble upon this site earlier when I was preparing for my exams. But there’s a chance that if that had happened, I wouldn’t have started ERPZ, thinking that someone else has already took up the job.

In any case, I wrote to Zhuoyi to inform him that I would like to consolidate the materials he has so nicely done up and make them available on ERPZ; he kindly agreed and I’m glad to push out the first set of materials that resulted from this ‘collaboration’. It’s a set of 40-page economics notes, summaries and cheat sheets. I’ve updated some of the statistics Zhuoyi has compiled in the notes, altered the formatting slightly to give a more consistent look, added content pages (that are frankly pretty much for the sake of cosmetics) and added very minimal of economics content. I hope I can find time to fill in the gaps because I’m aware that the notes lack content on some topics required in A Levels, but for now, it’s already pretty impressive. The link is also available under Economics Section.

All credit goes to Zhuoyi who’ve made such a great set of notes and generously shared them online under the Creative Commons Remix License. Anyone interested in building upon the work I’ve continued can leave a comment to request for a editable document version of the file from me.