Posts Tagged ‘public speaking’

Siberia

March 2, 2015

On the way to town from Krasnoyarsk airport, I ask the lady from the foreign ministry about the only two buildings I plan to set foot in in this city in eastern Siberia: the hotel, and the conference centre.

‘Beautiful,’ she says.

‘Beautiful?’ I repeat. ‘Do you mean the hotel is beautiful, or the conference centre is beautiful?’

‘Everything is beautiful,’ she clarifies.

We enter the city and I am conscious of the sound of people eating breakfast cereal, loudly, outside the car window. The eating stops and starts again each time we stop and start at a traffic light. After a while I realise that this is in fact the sound of the little nails on the car tires that enable vehicles to have traction on ice.

Arriving at the hotel, the nice lady from the foreign ministry insists on helping me to take my luggage to the room. We enter. ‘Let me see how your view is,’ she says. She pulls aside a curtain and peaks out: ‘Very good.’

Later, I take a photograph that approximates to what she was looking at.

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It is thus that I arrive for the XII Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum, of which the 2015 theme is Economic Integration with Asia (Mr Putin, you remember, having fallen out with everyone in Europe).

Since the organisers have invited many more people to speak than there is time for, I am asked to reduce my remarks to a maximum 15 minutes. That equates to about one minute for every thousand kilometres of round-trip travel, but still constitutes top billing. After the Plenary Session, there is a High Level Luncheon, to which very few people turn up. One of those who does speaks loudly into his mobile phone as I am asked to say a few more words.

I am not sure that I understood anything that was going on at the conference.

Possibly, people in business were intimating that the central government does not do much governing.

Fortunately, the bigger point turned out to be that there was time before I left for the foreign ministry lady to give me a tour of key Krasnoyarsk beauty spots.

Paramount among these is a hill with a very small, windmill-shaped church from which Krasnoyarskians enjoy panoramic views of their city.

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We were at this Elysium on a Friday, which is one of the days (along with Thursday) when people like to get married, since it allows for the requisite three- or four- day weekend of drinking.

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Descending to the city, we stopped at the bridge over the Yenisei (one of the Three Great Siberian Rivers, along with the Ob and the Lena), which is so famous that it appears on the 10-rouble note. (That equates, following the latest devaluation, to the 10 pence note.)

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Not far from the bridge, the Soviet-era water pumping station is being restored for the benefit of future generations.

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At the other end of town, the second-most famous beauty spot in Krasnoyarsk is another bridge. The foreign ministry lady told me that in the summer romantic couples stroll across it in droves.

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You just have to try to imagine the droves.

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Naturally enough, there was another wedding couple there.

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Nearby is a triumphal arch erected in 2003 to celebrate the 375th anniversary of the city’s founding. (This appears to be the first anniversary to be architecturally commemorated.)

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The arch will make French people think of Paris. As a British person, my favourite landmark is the iconic Krasnoyarsk time-piece known as Little Big Ben.

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There is a train from Krasnoyarsk to Moscow. It takes three-and-a-half days.

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I travelled by plane, which takes just five hours. To Moscow.

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As I was leaving, I noted in the VIP lounge of Krasnoyarsk airport that management has been quick to amend the map on the wall to include Crimea and its administrative centre, Simferopol. I wondered whether the contractor has yet prepared a piece for the eastern Ukrainian (should I say Western Russian?) region of Donbass.

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I hope you find these images of the best sights in Krasnoyarsk useful. Before my visit, Internet searches under terms such as ‘Krasnoyarsk best sights’ failed to elicit anything.

 

Latest thoughts on the Chinese economy / the ‘new normal’

December 16, 2014

China held its Central Economic Work Conference last week, chaired by president Xi Jinping, so here are a few thoughts on the current state of the Chinese economy and a few links to an article I have written, and talks I have given, recently about the Chinese economy.

First up, the slogan du jour is definitely ‘new normal’ (新常态). Xi Jinping has been using this for about six months, but now he is really using it. Xinhua’s short, official report on the conference has ‘new normal’ in the headline and ‘new normal’ six times in the text. See here for the English version.

What does it mean? It means that local politicians, state firms, and everybody else should dial back their expectations about credit and growth. The increase in both is slowing and that is the way it is going to be as China undertakes a deleveraging process in the banking and corporate sectors. There is not going to be the kind of collapse in growth that many have predicted. The government has plenty of room to fine tune the slow-down, Chinese exports remain competitive, and the global economic environment, while not great, is not a disaster from the perspective of China’s needs. Look out for reported GDP growth in 2015 between 6-7 percent.

Against this background reforms will continue to increase the extent to which the market prices credit in China’s economy. There has already been a big shift in favour of lending to the private sector since the global financial crisis (see my review of Nicholas Lardy’s new book, below), and this is one aspect of an ongoing financial liberalisation process. To my mind, this explains the recent strong performance of the Chinese stock market much better than claims it is down to an interest rate cut (which wasn’t really a cut at all given falling inflation). Previous run-ups in the Chinese market have coincided with periods of financial sector deregulation. The difference this time I suspect is that the bull market will last longer.

All in all the outlook is a not unattractive one: slower growth, better credit rationing hence higher quality growth, and a rising share for consumption in the economy at the expense of slowing investment. The main risk — as was the case during Zhu Rongji’s long period of ‘structural adjustment’ in the 1990s — is that the central government listens to local politicians who say they cannot maintain ‘social stability’ without more credit and growth. Zhu didn’t listen to such imprecations, and we have to hope Xi won’t either. As the slogan says, China needs and is getting a new normal. Otherwise the books really cannot be balanced and financial system risk will become unmanageable.

Later re. the new normal: Damian Ma has written an excellent piece for the new issue of Foreign Policy around the theme of the ‘new normal’. Well worth a read, with a lot more detail than I can offer here.

 

Links:

Below is a link to download the review of Nick Lardy’s latest book, Markets Over Mao, that I wrote for the latest China Economic Quarterly. The book makes an important contribution to the optimists’ case that China will overcome its current slough of non-performing loans in the banking system.

2014 CEQ Q4 final Markets Over Mao review

 

This next link is to a download of a synopsis of a talk I gave at the Madariaga College of Europe in Brussels (an EU think-tank) a couple of weeks ago. It is about how China’s development model is similar and dissimilar to those of Japan, Korea and Taiwan. The theme will be familiar to anyone who has read How Asia Works, but there are some additional, up-to-date thoughts about China as well as responses to questions raised by the Brussels nomenklatura. The precise topic I was asked to speak on is ‘What can east Asian countries learn from China’s economic policies?’

2014-Dec-01 – Madariaga – CN lessons to East Asia_final

 

The Youtube video below is a speech I gave at the National University of Singapore in October (blog entry about that trip here) on the subject of ‘When will governance matter to China’s growth?’ (governance here meaning institutions like a free and fair and prompt judiciary). Roger Cohen of the New York Times speaks first about the role of the US in east Asia. Then I speak at roughly the 25-minute mark. Then there is a joint Q&A.

 

 

And here is another Youtube video where I spoke separately about How Asia Works at the National University of Singapore. There is quite a long Q&A in which lots of questions about development from a more Singaporean perspective are addressed.

 

 

Weekend reading and viewing

June 21, 2013

Just started watching The Bridge, but I imagine the whole world has seen that by now. Not too bad. Below is the first 14 mins, enough time to decide if you like it.

What journalists deserve when they ask incredibly stupid questions. We’ve all been there as hacks. But this woman really cops it from Lou Reed. An interviewee after my own heart. See the very end.

Martin Wolf’s piece on Greece (sub needed) stuck in my mind this week.

The death of Michael Hastings in a car crash made me read his remarkable Rolling Stone story about Stan McChrystal in Afghanistan. It was the end of McChrystal in Afghanistan. He is now reduced to speaking with me at a conference in Wisconsin next week.

Booked my tix for the Young Lions, below, in the Django Rheinhardt festival in NY next week. What is not to like?

Only thing you can really say against them is that the original guy had two less (functioning) fingers

Just in:

US government files sealed complaint against Snowden. Britain’s government and GCHQ are mindless lickspittles (again); with their own, non-existent moral bottom line.

The Snowden White House petition will go through 100,000 signatures today, 22 June. If you are an American, sign this thing. You’ll have something that makes you proud to tell your kids.

Obama (below) does a good job of defending what has been going on (though he weasles around the hard bits). But in the end, he is wrong. Because he is defending a means of opposing terrorism that rests on intrusion into privacy and the support of despotic allies, with money and guns, instead of solving the problems that create terrorism in the first place. He needs to break out of this way of thinking. If he wants to be the greatest American president since Truman — and he should want that — he needs to go back and look at the way in which the United States headed off insurgencies in the 1945-52 period by supporting land reform programmes and tackling the root cause of poverty and anger in the third world. Think bigger. Drones and snooping are not the stuff of a great American leader.

On the road

June 17, 2013

The longest trip I ever made away from the family. Three-and-a-half weeks including Astana.

From there I arrived in Beijing. Domingo Cavallo sitting in the seat next door except I didn’t recognise him. We shared a cab into town and had a nice chat.

Various talks in Beijing, but also desperately trying not to stop to smell the rose(s) and get on with my research. The revelation of this trip was Line 6, newly opened, of the Beijing Underground. What a line. It connects, on a straight, east-west route, the greedy gweilos of Chaoyang district and the paranoid, pipe-hitting, nationalistic politicians and bureaucrats in the Beihai North and Chegongzhuang areas. Plus it ends up in IT-land Haidian. It’s the golden line of money and power, with the fastest trains to match. Well built.

Beijing subway

Tianjin was easy on the 300kmh train. Back in the day I was pulled over on the expressway doing 160kmh. You are the fastest today, said the policeman. 谢谢, I replied. He popped the fine in a briefcase, heaving with cash. Still took 2 hours door to door. The train is 30 mins. Then an interesting factory manager. Minimum wage in Tianjin this year is Rmb1,800. Ouch.

Then 5 hours on the high-speed to Shanghai. I never liked the place, but this time, for the first time, they charmed me. The urban planning is just better than Beijing. The people are calmer, less bullshitty than they were. Beautiful dinner with friends. Small dogs. I am still obsessed with where all the dog shit goes. They say no owner cleans up after the pooches. It’s the waidi ren, the peasant slave labour, that just picks up the shit early in the morning while Shanghai is dozing.

No high-speed to Guangdong yet, so took the sleeper. Beers in the dining carriage with a businessman who told a story you just could not make up. It’s like they just want to write the next book for you, take the weight… We trade numbers. A Burmese-Chinese returnee who can’t speak Chinese and a Shanghainese too.

In Guangdong I have to go to Zhongshan, near Zhuhai, to see a rather smart company. Seems to me a lovely place, not visited in 15 years. Taxi driver says street crime is on the rise. But I think the people are great, open, smiling at the gweilo.

Then across the border for a weekend on Coloane, at Pousada de Coloane. Sunday lunch at Fernando’s, my favourite anywhere. You never could book. However they have introduced a piece of paper on which you write your name after 12.30, when restaurant already full, and they use this to determine who at the bar is next. Even Portugal is making progress. I lament the changed shape of the Vinho Verde bottle.

Hong Kong is a whirr of money pigs and talks. In the midst I am drinking 温水in the FCC when a svelte young colonial strides in. It is Hemlock. I hardly know him. Convex chest, unhunched shoulders, a smile… He tells me, apologetically, that he has ‘a girlfriend, almost half my age…’ Wonders will never frickin’ cease. Of course he still shoves a plate of noodles in his face at 11am. But Thus Spake Zarathustra just came to a movie theatre near you.

All in all, a lovely trip. Problem is that in the whole month only Bowring tries to really nail me, with a question at the FCC. God bless. It is one of the points that Charlie Munger lists in his guide to gentle informational murder. They just don’t challenge you. And yet without the struggle, we cannot progress.

Finally, I get home. And the wife tells me to stop swearing so much. Gravity, at last.

 

Some media stuff:

Pilling on Indian IT after a chat

Marginal Revolution likes the book. And is probably right that neither beach reader nor academic reader will be happy.

Tom Holland on the book.

Jake Van der Kamp responds to Tom Holland in the SCMP, except without reading the book. This is staggeringly lazy. File under Howard Davies. And I have often quite liked Van der Kamp’s stuff. But this thin, indolent drivel is a pretty good guide to why so many millions remain poor. How can anyone serious pass judgement on something they have not read? It is a book about stages, that takes in your view, Mr Van der Kamp, and the other one. Separately, and somewhat pedantically, ‘fulsome’ does not mean ‘full of’. It means ‘insincere’.

And now Holland responds. His main point is valid. I said at the beginning (and end) of How Asia Works that this is a book about economic development. Real development is also about social and political development. But I was not willing or capable to try to put the other parts of the equation in the same book. It would be too complex. And people would not absorb the basic message about economics. The next book will deal with the institutional stuff.

RTHK on the book. I had to download a plug-in to run this, but assume the average reader is more tech savvy than I. Trick is to do all this and then hit the play button to start the show. But first go to ‘Select segr’ and choose the 11.05 slot. With Phil Whelan. That is where the interview is. Very clunky stuff. But listenable if you get there. ACTUALLY… just did this again a slightly different way. Went here. Then just scrolled down the page and hit the button next to ‘Joe Studwell — How Asia Works’. Took a couple of secs to load up, but then fine.

Podcast interview by the Economist Intelligence Unit in Hong Kong. It was the end of the day. I am more tired than at RTHK, but still a decent chat.

Amcham in Beijing. The podcast should be here.

More to come when I remember what it was.

Spare Ball

May 26, 2013

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An interesting couple of days in Astana in Kazakhstan at what I initially dubbed ‘Davos in the desert’.

Except that the steppe around Astana is surprisingly fertile, and the new capital that has been constructed there sits on a large river. They spent a lot of money.

I wasn’t sure about coming. A ‘World Anti-Crisis Conference’ run by a low-population petro-state with a developing onshore financial centre structure didn’t seem the obvious place to address the world’s problems.

Kazakhstan’s global image is largely defined by the Borat movie, Prince Andrew selling his home to a Kazakh politician for what was reported to be a lot more than the asking price (he is also patron of the British-Kazakh society), the loucheness of Astana’s nightclubs, and the generally hedonistic behaviour that goes on.

In the end it took a fee to get me there, although less than I get from multinationals, brokerages and industry associations (so that’s ok, then). I don’t know what the assorted economics Nobel laureates and politicians were being paid, but I had a pretty good turnout for a talk organised by UNCTAD on the theme of ’50 years of development: what have we learned?’ This next link should connect you to my official statement to the conference based on what I said.

Joe Studwell Astana Statement final

I thrust copies of the statement into the hands of Romano Prodi, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the Saudi development minister, the Chinese Under-Secretary General of the UN, Domingo Cavallo and Edward Prescott. Well, what’s the point in going, otherwise? Mr Prescott, I am afraid, moved swiftly into poll position as the single most historically illiterate Nobel laureate in economics I have met. Note that the sample size is only 4. In his remarks about Japan’s 20-year economic hiatus, Prescott ‘explained’ that Japan developed through policies of free trade and then, from the early 1990s, ‘started to subsidise everything’ (my italics). I kid you not.

Finally, a bit of cultural fun. Standing in line at an event at this conference, someone started telling me about the very popular Kazakh game of kokpar. It is a kind of polo, played with a dead goat as the ball. This guy claimed the animal is decapitated before play commences although I didn’t have time to check. Two teams wrestle this dead goat, drop it, lean out of the saddle to pick it up, ram each other’s horses and so on, all in an effort to dunk the goat into a pile of tyres at either end of the field that is the goal. But what really took me is that sometimes the goat carcass gets eviscerated or otherwise damaged beyond a limit acceptable for play. The teams therefore have a spare ball, in the form of a live goat shackled at the side of the pitch. That must be one very unhappy spectator.

More:

Apparently I am among the world’s greatest minds.

The trip to the Kazakh embassy in London made me think about where comedians get their ideas from. I went to the Kazakh embassy in South Kensington, but unfortunately they had moved it to Pall Mall. They just forgot to change the web site. That was half a day gone, so I didn’t feel so bad about the fee. (I see that now, 26 May, they have changed the site.)

Filling out the form, I read that:

‘Wrong filling of application form can become a cause of refuse in issue of entry visa.’

Thank gog my submission accurate was.

Still, the thing was a lot more worthwhile than I expected and if it keeps getting better it could even be important.

Thought food

January 31, 2013

Here is a rather powerful piece of writing – particularly the historical analysis in the first half — encouraged by The Guardian’s George Monbiot having turned 50.

It connects up to this article about Nick Clegg who, I think, fails to recognise that if the Liberal Democrat party cannot be more principled than the Labour party, then there really is no reason whatsoever for its existence.

 

Completely separately

Have I entered a parallel universe, or did I just give a speech to a large conference in the US at which these were the newspapers people were reading?

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Fade away and radiate

February 21, 2010

To San Martino di Castrozza for what northern Italians call una settimana bianca or ‘a white week’. In fact, this is the white week, the week of carnevale when northern Italian schools shut for a ski break and everyone grabs the three official days of public holiday and adds to them the inevitable ponte of two more days which takes them to the weekend, allowing for nine consecutive workless days. At the lift where ski school meets, we overhear a woman asking her friend if her husband is working this week. The response is as if the dumbest question in the history of the world has been asked: ‘But of course not, this is white week.’ Even if Italy sinks back into the Third World, its holiday arrangements will remain forever sacrosanct.

I have to leave white week early to give a talk in Florida. But this isn’t so bad because I already had three Sundays skiing at our local Umbrian mini-mountain, Monte Nerone. Despite living 45 minutes away for eight years, this is the first year we have been. There is just a single button lift, but it is quite long and gives access to two good pistes of about 800 metres. Better still, the place is run by very nice people. My son was initially undone by a pair of skis from the sales that are almost twice as long as the ones he used the year before. I could do little to help him because, as part of my ongoing mid-life crisis, I started using a snowboard when I hit 40. So one of the young lift operators put on his skis and spent two hours teaching Luca. Not the kind of thing that happens in your average ski resort. And, after all that, there is a decent enough rifugio at the bottom of the pistes which serves pasta at Euro7 a plate. Given that there is a web camera overlooking the bottom of the pistes which allows you to see exactly how much snow there is in real time, and given that you can wake up and arrive after a fresh snowfall to find there are only 10 other skiers at 10am, it is a pretty good deal. Adults pay Euro18 per day, children Euro10; the lift is only open on weekends when there is sufficient, natural snow. Amazingly enough, the place has been operating since 1969.

Florida is not quite like Umbria. I arrive via New York, which is very deep in snow and very white and beautiful from the air. Florida is unseasonably cold too. Landing in America there is the usual double-take at the number of very fat people. And then arriving in Orlando, there is the supplemental double-take at the number of old people and the number of trousers with elasticated waistbands. Ten minutes in Orlando and you begin to think that Italians have found the Holy Grail itself with their determination to maintain an attractive outward appearance. I take a cab to the 750-rooom hotel with its obligatory man-made lakes, two golf courses, jogging trails and written warnings not to ‘jog alone’. Reckless as ever, I complete a run on my own and live to tell the tale.

The talk I have to give is to a group of people who definitely do not originate in Florida – steel producers and traders, the kind of Americans who still smoke and drink large quantities of beer. They want to hear about China and are friendly. Given that I have to address them at 8am and they were out drinking the night before, I write up a short note about the four points I told them to bear in mind when thinking about China in the next few years.

That done, I am looking for something to occupy me on a Saturday night in Orlando when I notice a poster of an aging blond woman who looks strangely familiar. The haggard, too-much-Prozac look makes me think of a kindly Delta Airlines stewardess who served me coffee on the flight in. But no. On close inspection I realise that what I am looking at is the current incarnation of Debbie Harry, lead singer of the eponymous band Blondie. A quick web search reveals that she was born in Florida, before being adopted by shopkeepers in New Jersey. As if this isn’t compulsion enough, while I am on my rebellious lone jog, my i-pod randomly shuffles Union City Blues to the top of the playlist – a song I have not heard for a long time. It is obvious that I am destined to attend a Blondie concert at the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando. Will it be better than the theme park gig in This is Spinal Tap, where the rockers open for a puppet show?

We must support the aged. I take back what I said about Ms Harry’s appearance on realising that she – singer of one of the first singles I ever bought, aged about 10 – is now 65 years old. We must respect the aged because it will not be long before we dwell among their number.

On which subject, it is worth mentioning that a major golden oldie, one who has been to crack hell and back, has just brought out an album that may be rather good. After many disappointing later-life recordings, Gil Scott Heron has released an album with a slick, modern sound that may be what the poet-singer has been looking for for so long. I saw him in London, years ago, in the midst of quest for something new and good and he was rubbish. But in this album there reside flashes of the tortured genius of his youth. You can have a listen here.

And so what of Debbie Harry and crew in concert in a theme park? Well, let’s just say I may have seen the future and it ain’t entirely pretty. Debbie darling, if you are reading: you cannot wear a bondage girdle and have a tea mug on stage. There has to be a choice.

 

More:

Oh, when we were young.

Psycho killer, qu’est que c’est?

March 16, 2009

Cambridge: The term is done. To celebrate, and inspired by the ongoing Umbrian struggle against freemasonary, witchcraft, sexual perversion and other matters diabolical, I attend a talk about psychopathy given by world-renowned psychopathy expert James Blair (no relation, though it is an interesting coincidence that various people have speculated — perhaps trying to make him seem more interesting than he is — that Tony Blair is a psychopath).

I make several learnings from the talk:

1. Psychopathy is correctly pronounced with the stress on the ‘o’, not on the ‘a’.

2. Contemporary neuroscientific research suggests that psychopathy is connected with insensitivity/low response in the amygdala and other parts of the brain that process emotional (as opposed to rational) response. This results in psychos not noticing the fear/distress/pain they cause to others. Mr Blair highlights an example from his own work of a psychopathic mugger who reasoned it was best to hit his victims over the head with a brick from behind, because this minimised the chances of them fighting back. The psycho failed to notice it also left his victims with stoved in heads.

3. Psychopathy is not to be confused with sadism. It is not part of the psychopath’s essential make-up that he enjoys causing suffering to others. He tends to be neutral on the question of the enjoyability of inflicting pain, and is afflicted instead with a sort of moral and emotional failure to empathise. The sadist is a different animal. An individual like sadism legend Jeffrey Dahmer, suggests Mr Blair, would likely fail to score the requisite 30 out of 40 points on the standard Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist.

4. If my children do not respond to my imprecations, and do not grow up as I intend, it could be because they are psychopaths. The news that there would have been nothing I could do is almost as comforting as the two glasses of red at the drinks reception after the talk. Of course, since only an estimated 20 percent of the prison population would score 30 on Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist, it is unlikely that all of my children are psychopaths. Nonetheless, I have dozed through enough quantitative methodology classes to know that it is not impossible.


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