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By TheophileEscargot (Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 12:40:10 PM EST) Reading, Listening, Watching, Museums, MLP (all tags)
Listening: "Why Economies Rise or Fall". Watching: "Hair". Museums. Web.

Latest Teaching Company course was Why Economies Rise or Fall by Peter Rodriguez. Good overview of development economics. Not dogmatic: weighs up the various paths to growth, some mostly free market, some with a great deal of state intervention

Has one thing in common with most other economic texts on the subject though. To me, it seems that many economies that have shown great growth have done so through becoming a "workshop of the world": doing a lot of manufacturing for export. It's not clear to me whether there's actually space for many countries to do that at the same time: maybe there's only a certain amount of global manufacturing demand to go round at any given time. If so, maybe it's not possible for every country to get that kind of growth, whatever it does.

However, that's just a theory of mine, it might not be a zero or small sum game. Maybe if every nation became a massive manufacturer, the extra wealth they generated would lead to extra demand, and the world would just have an incredibly massive amount of physical goods going backwards and forwards across it.

Listening + Valentine's Day
Took Girl B to see the LSO Rachmaninoff Valentine's Day Concert, conducted by Neeme Järvi. Liked it a lot, always impressive to see a symphony orchestra in full blast.

Had a good meal out beforehand, went to the Skylon restaurant just downstairs from the Royal Festival Hall which has a nice view of the river.

I enjoyed it, Girl B seemed happy too.

What I'm Watching
Saw Hair on DVD. Musical about hippies who encounter a naive farm boy about to be drafted to Vietnam.

I'm not that into musicals, and it wasn't my choice, but I sat through it and was reasonably entertained.

Saw Gesamtkunstwerk: New Art from Germany at the Saatchi gallery: group exhibition of new-ish German artists. Apparently the name, literally meaning "complete art-work" is a kind of joke, in everyday German it's a mild insult you'd use towards someone who's eccentric or odd.

Very big, diverse selection. Liked some of it a lot, especially Markus Selg's wooden sculptures like Eva, and the bizarrely melded Thomas Helbig sculptures that look like the cast of Dungeons and Dragons put through a transporter malfunction, and Georg Herold's elongated figures.

Overall, I'm impressed by the way they're playing with colour and form to produce some kind of impact. Very little there is just flat-out boring like most British conceptual art.

Also saw the superb Lucian Freud Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery. Well worth seeing: it's much bigger than their usual small exhibitions with lot of his work. Even though his work is pretty common in London it's great to see everything together.

Not totally convinced by the exhibition notes that Benefits Supervisor Sleeping is as erotic as the Rokeby Venus though.


I think I need a new suit for interviews: my current one is ten years old. Any tips on suit fashions, preferably future-proof to 2022? My current one is dark blue three-button: I'm thinking lightish grey, single-breasted two-button for the next one.

I'm a tiny bit skeptical of Mark and Spencers' classification of suits into Regular Fit, Slim Fit and Super Slim Fit. I suspect at least some fat people must shop there: does that actually mean Total Lardarse Fit, Bit of a Gut Fit, and Thin Fit?

Sociology. Male violence: "The male warrior hypothesis makes many predictions that don't pan out". Elevator shoes and Heightism.

Charged knitting needle in space. 22 Bonds in 1 minute, Bondcophany.

Politics. Don't jump to conclusions, says Sun. Soca music site takedown raises concerns. Why are senior government staff paid through limited companies?

Random. Let's Panic About Babies! Terrible Peter Bradshaw review of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. New anti-virus software 'deadliest yet'.

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Burning like a silver flame | 12 comments (12 topical, 0 hidden)
Soft sciences by ucblockhead (4.00 / 2) #1 Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 02:44:44 PM EST
But this is also predicted on the historical account, because men control governments and handle foreign relations. It follows too that men start all wars.

Clearly sociologists don't hang out enough in the history department.

But yeah, the "biology is destiny" crowd are a bunch of idiots.  One only has to look at the precipitous fall in violent crime since 1992 to understand that.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

If biology isn't destiny. by ambrosen (4.00 / 1) #4 Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 04:02:04 PM EST
Export Economies by jimgon (4.00 / 1) #2 Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 03:07:22 PM EST
The downside to growth through export is that someone has to buy those exports.  So not every country can have a positive balance of trade.  Someone has to have a negative.  The world economy is a closed system and will always balance to zero in regards to imports and exports.  Also, there's only so much demand for finished products.  Not everyone can build toasters since there's only so many toasters you can sell to the world.  Never mind do it in a profitable manner.  There's a reason we don't make $10 toasters in the United States.  The profit margins are horrible.  They are much better out of China.  In order for manufacturing in the United States to provide sufficient margins we need to have higher margin products and most products are low margin.  Of course if you can live with lower margins, then you can still produce; but the purpose of business in a capitalist system is to produce maximum profit for owners.  

Technician - "We can't even get decent physical health care. Mental health is like witchcraft here."
Well, almost by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #3 Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 03:55:12 PM EST
It's true that not every country can have a positive balance of trade. But it is possible that every country could manufacture some physical goods, and use the value created by that to trade it for some physical good from elsewhere. That's part of how economic growth works, a virtuous circle.

I just wonder if the very fastest-growing economies have done that by aggegating the demand from a much larger population overseas. So they might achieve 9% growth by concentrating it, when the maximum that's possible globally is say 4% or so.

If that's true, then by looking at these fastest-growing economies for lessons, which is what is normally done, might be fundamentally misleading. Their strategies might not be scalable. We might be better off looking a countries that achieve 4% growth consistently and try to imitate what they're doing instead.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
In theory, it works like that by lm (4.00 / 1) #5 Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 04:05:37 PM EST
But in the real world, it's rare for profits to chase margins. Part of this can be explained through the fact that few industries have low barriers for exit and entry. For a company stuck in a market segment with 2% operating margins considered standard, it may be cost prohibitive to exit that segment and enter a new segment.

But I have a hard time believing that such barriers can completely explain why so many companies stay in such low margin market segments.

Moreover, the difference in margin between manufacturing in China vs. the US isn't always all that large. Take the iPhone as an example. Recall the breakdown published some months ago of how little the final cost would increase if the final assembly were done in the US rather than China?

I suspect that there are reasons beyond mere cost that drive some manufacturers over seas. In Apple's case, I would conjecture that part of it is the way that they want to control the entire supply chain and Asian manufacturers offered the sort of disposable flexibility that they wanted whereas American manufacturers did not.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
I think I linked to this somewhere by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #6 Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 04:16:02 PM EST
Why can't Apple make stuff in the US?
It isn’t just that workers are cheaper abroad. Rather, Apple’s executives believe the vast scale of overseas factories as well as the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers have so outpaced their American counterparts that “Made in the U.S.A.” is no longer a viable option for most Apple products...

...Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”

I think there's a kind of comforting but false myth that China just has dumb, low-tech assembly-line monkeys, when actually they've heavily invested in high-tech manufacturing plants and educated workers.

I think another factor is that they seem to have managers who can comprehend ideas like "investment" and business strategies other than "cut costs next quarter and pocket enormous bonus for doing it".

But if manufacturing demand is limited, there's not even much you can do about it. All over the world countries are trying to become the next workshop-of-the-world by encouraging manufacturing and startups and technology hubs and enterprise zones, but if global demand is limited, most of them are going to have to fail.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Limited manufacturing demand by lm (4.00 / 1) #8 Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 06:59:23 AM EST
I think it's okay if demand is limited with regards to manufacturing. You'll still need the service sector, agriculture, et cetera.

So, in theory, one country could specialize in beds and mattresses. Another county could specialize in toasters and toaster ovens. Another country could specialize in phones and mp3 players.

It would take a while to find a balance, though. And, in fact, finding that balance might be impossible. For it to work, each nation would have to have a work force unique suited to produce the product that it specializes in. I'm not certain that is very plausible.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
There isn't much research... by Metatone (4.00 / 2) #11 Tue Feb 21, 2012 at 11:33:08 AM EST
on global demand, I think because researching it would violate the sacred beliefs of economists... so it's hard to put figures around it.

However, we can see from the global car industry that in a mature segment productivity starts to outstrip demand. You can plausibly produce all the cars the world needs from 4 or 5 city-regions around the world. (Of course there are niche producers that survive elsewhere.)

If we skip to things that are easier to ship, then the concentration effect seems to get stronger. Motorbikes are basically 3-region produced it seems. Buttons and zips for clothing are verging on world production being mostly in a single Chinese city-region, as far as the figures available to those of us outside of academia show.

Does all that add up to a proof? Not really, but I do think it's suggestive.

[ Parent ]
See: "a real piece of work" by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #7 Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 02:00:54 AM EST

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

Benefits supervisor... by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #9 Tue Feb 21, 2012 at 11:18:12 AM EST
I think they meant as erotic as the Venus of Willendorf... 

M&S suits... by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #10 Tue Feb 21, 2012 at 11:20:00 AM EST
I'm currently a lard-arse... and Regular Fit is the one for me...

Not sure that Slim Fit and beyond work unless you are actually slim...

So it's like one fit for 70% of the population and 2 for the rest... 

I bought a brown suit by mistake by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #12 Tue Feb 21, 2012 at 01:56:15 PM EST
(Totally fed up and grabbed it because I finally found something that would fit me), and it actually looks great. It's not a very brown brown, I mistook it for grey. Marks and Spencers.

It's political correctness gone mad!

Burning like a silver flame | 12 comments (12 topical, 0 hidden)