Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sharing Nugget #41

#41: Capitalism needs to be more equal.

Allow me to share this great piece from The Economist. I will let it speak for itself.

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The wealth of nations: Winner takes (almost) all
Dec 7th 2006 From The Economist print edition

The other half live with less than $2,161 to their name

MUCH of Adam Smith's classic treatise on the “Wealth of Nations” is not really about wealth at all, but about income. The two concepts are different: income is the flow of money a nation or household receives in a year; wealth is the stock of assets it has accumulated over its life so far, minus its debts.

The difference matters but how much so is hard to say. The global distribution of income has been noisily debated; the distribution of wealth ignored. Economists can talk (and argue) only about what they can measure, and whereas they struggle to measure global income inequality, they have barely ventured to do the same for wealth. Until now.

The World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER) in Helsinki this week released a bold attempt to measure how personal wealth (which includes financial assets, real estate, consumer durables and even livestock) was distributed around the world in 2000.

Britain, Sweden and America have been counting their wealth for a century or more. Other high-income countries have been tallying it for decades. But it was not until three populous, poorer countries—China, India and Indonesia—began surveying household wealth that a global reckoning became thinkable.
Whether even now it is quite doable remains a matter of judgment. The authors have numbers, sometimes patchy, for just 38 countries. For the remaining 191, they have to “impute” wealth, based on how they compare with the countries they do know something about.

What do they find? If you had more than $2,161 (measured by official exchange rates) in 2000, you belonged to the wealthier half of the human race. Were you lucky enough to own more than $515,000, you could hobnob with the top 1% (although this is a “far from exclusive club”, containing 37m adults). The top ranks are still dominated by the Americans, Japanese and Europeans (see chart). China occupies the middle ground. Wealth is shared much less equitably than income: more than half of it is held by just 2% of the world's adults. The distribution is equivalent to a world of ten people, in which one had $1,000 and the other nine had $1 each.

Many people in poor countries have next-to-nothing; but quite a lot of people in rich countries have less than that: their liabilities exceed their assets. For example, the bottom half of Swedes have a collective net worth of less than zero. That said, the Nordic countries seem to thrive without much personal wealth. Finland, for example, has wealth per head (measured in terms of purchasing-power parity) of under $39,000, less than South Korea. The Finns' entitlement to a generous state pension and other largesse counts for more than a nest egg to call one's own.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sharing Nugget #40

#40: Whoa! Elitism, in my face.

I attended a talk by a certain national (but not really governmental) organization here in school. It’s mission is to encourage youths to step out and achieve what they dream of. And they have an award system for it. I am not stating their name - I am not going to say nice things about them.

Basically, the talk turned the students off. Many came in ready to hear about what they can do for the community and how they can realize their aspirations, but they were left sour. Two girls even stormed out of the room. Here’s how the speaker, the director of the organization, pardon me, “screwed it up”.

For the whole 1 hour, he showed slides after slides about youths that “achieved” a lot. We were dumped with phenomenon stats and facts about meeting the who’s who (including the Queen and David Beckham), how they were groomed to be sent overseas, their tangible achievements etc. We saw, people after people, graduates with first class honors, from elite schools, fantastic speakers or debaters. The list goes on.

It smacks of elitism.

“Its ALL about the attitude. We will scan through the people and select some for grooming”. If it’s all about attitude, how come the examples he gave are either scholars or ivy league university people?

This director drew up more stereotypes than the number of games David Beckham had to sit on the bench at Real Madrid – (where he is leaving for US for a shameful amount of pay, but I digress). He thinks that people who are not “so educated” needs help. And “all young people like you” needs a guiding light in their life. We need help! And most incredibly, he claimed that “every youth”, like us, “needs help to TURN AROUND”. Well, I did not realize until now that I am on the wrong lane. Oops, better make a U-turn. Oops again, there goes my life.

Yes, he mentioned a girl from a “neighborhood school” who did well and achieved. Well, I believe it served to strengthen his stereotyping attitude more than trying to dispel it.

Speaking about attitude, he stressed (throughout the talk), that “It’s all about the attitude”. Then he went on to tell stories after stories about youths who lacked attitude and how he feels so satisfied to ‘put them in their places’. He reveals that he sits on the scholarship boards etc.

Then came more. He said that “I am not saying that if you are not a President scholar etc, that you will be groomed to go for the top achievements, but you can still do well…” And he meant do well in our “Class” (Not classroom class, but social class). If this is not elitism, what is? And if everyone in the room is not a president scholar, wouldn’t that mean he has spent the pass one hour telling us stories of achievement that will not be offered to us?

This is so shameful.

My friends who attended the talk with me expressed that they felt like “the guy has wasted one and a half hours of my life”. And they apologize to each other for dragging each other down for the talk. Well, I definitely felt so at first. Now, upon reflection, I believe that that session is not wasted. I sat through a lesson on “what-not-to-do”s.

Thank you for the lesson. Herr Director. Or should I say, Your Majesty.
Sorry for the attitude.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Sharing Nugget #39

#39: New Year Reflections.

Finally, I feel mentally light enough to blog again. Time to catch up on reflections.

Other than the usual stuffs like managing school work, CCA, social life; and keeping my wife company, working to build a stronger marriage, learning to share space with my mum-in-law, spending time with my family; here are some highlights that are worth a thought.

#39a: I can never feel numb about war.

Most recently, I saw “Yamato” – a Japanese movie set in WWII. Briefly, it is about a few characters who went through the birth and death of the greatest warship of its time. Historically, the warship was one of the last Japanese surface ships left. Consequently, it was sent on a suicide mission to Okinawa in an attempt to inspire Japanese soldiers to defend the “holy” homeland.

Besides serving as a “wow” insight into life as a sailor on the ship, it reminded me that war is painful. That hardest part came when the sailors were allowed home to visit their loved ones, knowing that they will never come back. I cannot describe how heart-wrenching it is. We can only imagine. And you must see it for yourself.

There is a mother who cried to her son, and told him, “Don’t you dare die… Don’t you dare leave me alone”. There is a girlfriend who said, “I love you, and I will wait for you in Hiroshima”. That sucks really. We all know she will be vaporized by the atom bomb later. Then there are the fathers who saw their children for the last time. No one deserves such pain.

Then we think about those in Iraq. Americans and Iraqis dying for what? Freedom? Capitalism? Oil? You make up your own mind.

#39b: Rank and file.

Over the December holidays, I was posted to Air Force School as a Project Officer in the service support branch. It was a good experience. I was tasked to write a paper and manage the renovation projects. This means I get to design a lot and have my designs actually constructed. Woo-hoo!

Anyway, what was new to me came during the first few days when I was there. I was very uncomfortable about being “ambushed” by cadets, trainees, and even warrant officers who are as old as my dad saluting me and addressing me as “Sir”. There were times where I replied “good morning” when it was 2pm. Also, I had to practice my return salute abit. Haha… Then it struck me.

I have been in SMU long enough to feel uncomfortable about one human being having to salute another (me). What makes you different from me that you have to address me as a higher entity? Okay, I know… SAF needs hierarchy. A defense force needs rank and file. No contest, I fully agree. I think what changed is that I have learned, in SMU, that people can get things done as a team without depending on rank. I don’t see cadets or trainees as subordinates. Rather, they are colleagues.

This reminds me that I must not become on of those Officers who goes around “screwing” their subordinates, throwing their rank around and demands respect. I trust that my memories of team-work in SMU will serve me well as a reminder. In short, I have found evidence that participating in student life has opened my mind a lot. This is something we cannot learn from a textbook.


My mind feels drained now. It is tiring to reflect. Haha. “Must… rest… now.”