Optimistic Wishes for 2010

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In today’s The Straits Times, occasional columnist Tom Plate writes about ‘an optimist’s wish list for 2010‘. Tom Plate is a relatively regular columnist for The Straits Times and writes for many other newspapers in the Asia-Pacific as well. His articles also often make for interesting reading because he writes in a rather cheerful and casual (yet still professional) style, a style not exactly like Paul Krugman’s whose writings I recently referred to in my last entry for erpz.net but I enjoy his writings as much as Krugman’s.

In this article, he tries to infuse some optimism into his hopes for the coming year. Some of the wishes are really wishful thinking, but still no harm keeping your fingers crossed.

His wishes:
1. World pays more attention to South Korea, less to North Korea
Well, actually this tactic might work. North Korea is sometimes like an attention-seeking kid throwing a temper-tantrum and sometimes you need to ignore the kid for a while so that he calms down. But then again, does your kid have nuclear weapons that he can throw at his ‘friends’?

2. These bad big shots will resign: Britain’s PM Gordon Brown, Burma’s junta leader Than Shwe & North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Il
I agree on the latter two but Gordon Brown… he’s not doing a good job at all in Britain, but he’ll probably be kicked out through the elections this year. Why is Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad not on this list? He’s a greater danger to the world than Gordon Brown is.

3. India’s Odd Couple named Time’s Man and Woman of the Year: PM Manmohan Singh & Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi
Like Plate says, US needs to pay more attention to India. It will make not ‘just a good strategic partner’ as US President Obama claims, but a staunch ally and friend not just in the War on Terror but in terms of the global economy and climate change for instance. US needs to soothe the frayed nerves of their Indian counterparts.

4. China’s President Hu opens up, gets down with Western media
This is not that hard to do on a personal perspective, but if you think about the Chinese leadership and how they go about doing things… this is pretty much like expecting Wish Number 2 to magically be granted.

5. Japan finds a successful premier: NOT Yukio Hatoyama
In all honesty, is anything so wrong with current PM Yukio Hatoyama? I think he is hamstrung by his 2 parties allied to his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) that are imposing many demands on him and not toeing the official alliance line. And then there’s DPJ Chairman Ichiro Ozawa who pulls strings behind the scenes… which makes the current PM’s life so difficult. Give him a chance to learn the ropes. We are so willing to give President Obama chances to make mistakes as a newly-minted leader without much experience, so why not PM Hatoyama?

He did not tackle climate change in his article as I hoped he might have, but let’s just stick to politics and economy for now. Or he probably feels pessimistic about climate change as well? We dont really know what he doesnt write, but from what he has written in his above list, if any of the wishes came true it’d make global affairs less complex and less troublesome for America at least.

The Big Zero

Null, nothing

Paul Krugman’s article, published in The Straits Times, regarding the 2000s, gives quite a bit for thought. Paul Krugman is a famed American economist from Princeton who was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 2008 for his theories on trade and economic geography. I have always loved to read his articles in The Straits Times because they have always been very insightful and succintly written, and always hit the nail on the head. This article that I introduce here is no different, but it’s slightly different in tone from what he writes.

Usually, he adopts a rather neutral or slightly positive tone in his writings, even if they are regarding the economic crisis today (he studies economic crises, hence his expertise in commenting on them). But in this article he takes a rather pessimistic, negative view towards the decade that just passed us: the Noughties (2000s). He proposes calling it ‘The Big Zero’ because ‘nothing good happened’ and ‘none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true’.

And then he justifies with some general statistics based on America: almost zero job creation, private-sector employment decline, fall in median household income after adjustment for inflation, zero gains for houseowners, zero gains for stocks. Read the article for moredetails, but we all have seemed to come back to square 1, in 1999, or gotten worse off. So what’s with all that optimism about the economy?

By right things were supposed to go well. There was confidence in the financial system, expressed by Lawrence Summers in 1999. Summers is, by the way, the current administration’s top economist and in 1999 then deputy Treasury secretary. He believed then that America had ‘honest corporate accounting’, but this seemed to just vapourise if we look at this century. Even before the current financial meltdown, much earlier on there was Enron and WorldCom, two large and supposedly reliable firms that were exposed for dishonesty.

And then American politics does not seem to have a solution to the problem. The Democrats try to seek compromise in what they seek and their ideas are vehemently opposed by many as being too socialist, while the Republicans seem to believe that the solution to the problems caused by ‘tax cuts and deregulation’ is more ‘tax cuts and deregulation’.

Certainly not a very inspiring decade. But this restricts itself to America of course. I must say that for most other countries it was probably not this bad. If we take the example of China, to call this decade The Big Zero would be to forget its ascent onto the global arena as a superpower. So… the Americans have it bleak but the Asians are having it better.