Thursday, October 30, 2008

Nervous in Taiwan

The trip home has begun. The flight back from Taipei left at 6:15 this morning, which meant a very unwelcome alarm at 3:00 a.m. to get up and get ready for the ride to the airport. Despite the early hour, Cathay Pacific was great for the short hop back to Hong Kong--they actually served breakfast for a 75-minute flight. However, I'm dreading the next leg from Hong Kong to Newark aboard the veal pen with wings that is Continental Airlines. I would have probably been more comfortable checking myself aboard in a cat carrier than trying to squeeze into economy section.


Two questions that came up repeatedly with the Taiwanese economists were the election and the U.S. economy. The Taiwanese are just stunned that a black man may soon be elected President of the U.S. They are only slightly less stunned that such a lightly-qualified politician rose so fast. I'm not sure that my explanations about the host of other unpalatable choices among the Democrats and the erratic campaign by the Republican were all that convincing. They are clearly excited for us.

The other question about the depth of problems in the U.S. economy conveyed more concern. Taiwan and the other countries of Asia are heavily dependent on exports. With the U.S. economy now turning down (today's initial GDP reading for the third quarter showed a 0.3 percent drop), the Taiwanese are seeing their exports drop and their own economy stall. The official unemployment rate in Taiwan has climbed to 4.3 percent, a four-year high. The rate may sound enviable to U.S. ears, but the Taiwanese rate masks a tremendous amount of marginal and under-employment. Because of its high national savings rate, Taiwan is well-positioned to weather the coming economic storm. However, they would prefer that the storm passed them by.


Continental is calling the flight.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why do they hate science so?

Anne Applebaum on why she and other independents are repulsed by the McCain/Palin ticket:
It's not his campaign, disjointed though that's been, that finally repulses me; it's his rapidly deteriorating, increasingly anti-intellectual, no longer even recognizably conservative Republican Party.
And Christopher Hitchens on the McCain/Palin contempt for scientific research:
This is what the Republican Party has done to us this year: It has placed within reach of the Oval Office a woman who is a religious fanatic and a proud, boastful ignoramus. Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured. And those who prate of spiritual warfare and demons are not just "people of faith" but theocratic bullies. On Nov. 4, anyone who cares for the Constitution has a clear duty to repudiate this wickedness and stupidity.
Eight years of an anti-science, anti-intellectual agenda is too much already.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Academia Sinica

I have been spending the last few days on the campus of Academia Sinica in Nangang, Taipei. Academia Sinica is a multi-disciplinary research institute that was established on the mainland in 1928 and moved to Taiwan in 1949. I've been a guest of the Institute of Economics.

Academia Sinica boasts a beautiful campus. It's located outside the downtown area of Taipei, so it's more relaxed and tranquil. It's a terrific place to conduct research.

The Institute of Economics has a large and active research staff whose interests cover the range of major economic fields. The researchers publish regularly in Western journals, so aside from the change in scenery and the exceptional hospitality, the academic portion of the visit has been much like a stay on a U.S. campus.

The Institute is hiring this year. It would be a great opportunity for a research-oriented economist.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Some Taipei snaps

National Dr. Sun Yet-sen Memorial Hall:

National Palace Museum:

Taipei 101:

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Too mavericky?

Gov. Palin, who was tapped by Sen. McCain as a VP candidate chiefly because of her independence and willingness to buck party officials, is now being criticized by McCain's staff for going off-message and bucking the advice of the campaign. In one staffer's words, she's "going rogue." Hmm, no way to see that coming.

This appears to be the opening inning in the blame game.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

In (cough) Taipei

It's now on to Taipei (which in Chinese translates roughly into "asthma").

Taipei is bordered by mountains that rise more than 3,000 feet and features one of the world's tallest buildings, Taipei 101. A visitor would be excused though for not knowing this because these landmarks are obscured by the smog.

As you can see on the right, there are also more than a few motorbikes. The picture was taken while the bikes were staging at a traffic light. In the foreground, you may be able to see the toddler strapped to the rider's chest. Slightly older children rode in parents' laps. A few of the children actually had helmets.

If I wasn't coughing so hard, I might have said something.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Nice view

Once again, I've pulled tough duty. On the right is a shap shot out the window of my office at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. You can see the soccer fields and some of CUHK in the foreground and Tolo Harbor in the background. There's a lot of haze today, so the picture doesn't fully capture the nice view out into the harbor.

Yesterday I was able to travel down to Hong Kong itself. It's a 20 minute train ride from CUHK (you can see the train line in the picture).

I've got to work for my supper today, delivering a paper this afternoon. Tomorrow I head off for a week in Taipei to attend a conference and give a few more papers.

Monday, October 20, 2008


I'm on the first day of a week and a half trip to Asia. The next few days will be spent at the Chinese University of Hong Kong where I'm giving a seminar. The CUHK campus is perched on the side of a mountain overlooking Tolo Harbor in the New Territories. It's a stunning location.

The trip was smooth, though I would have really appreciated being able to sleep past 1 a.m. this morning.

Besides the wonderful views, the highlight of the trip has been a gecko who appears to be the original tenant in the apartment. He hasn't tried to hit me up for insurance ("Dave, have you ever thought about what your wife and kids would do if you weren't around and how a universal policy might help?"). However, there will probably be a few free hours before the sun comes up early tomorrow morning when he might be able to catch me.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A bipartisan opening

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has endorsed Sen. Obama. The endorsement, along with those by Christopher Buckley and other Republicans, suggests that an Obama Presidency might have bipartisan support. True bipartisanship, however, will require Obama to return the favor by incorporating alternative perspectives in his administration and to accommodate Republican concerns in his legislative agenda.

Maybe today's endorsement will be the mark the start of a dedicated effort to solve problems in this country and not just point fingers and jockey for partisan advantage.

Sometimes there are no good decisions

The November Atlantic has a heart-breaking story by Hanna Rosin about parents confronting the decision of how to raise children with gender dysphoria, that is, how to raise anatomical boys who think they are girls and vice versa. The decisions are agonizing.

On the one hand, if their child is truly trans-gendered, the parents can help their child move into his or her "affirmed" (non-anatomical) status with less physical and psychological trauma, possibly going so far as to provide puberty-blocking drugs that will greatly reduce the need for subsequent surgery.

On the other hand, only a small subset of young children with gender identity issues actually turn out to be trans-gendered. For these children who are not, accommodating their early identity issues is harmful and may mask other underlying (and sometimes treatable) problems.

The trouble, of course, is that there is no way to know for certain how the child's gender identity will evolve. Parents must make a decision for their child before all of the information is in. Making things more difficult are the social stigma associated with being trans-gendered, growing advocacy from the trans-gendered community, and the general tendency of all of us to get in parents' business about how they should raise their children.

The rational decision seems to be to go with the odds--that is, to try to redirect the child back toward his or her anatomical gender and to get counseling for this and other possible issues. However, it's far from a perfect decision. Ex ante, it may be the most reasonable, but ex post, it may cause significant harm.

We face these kinds of dilemmas in many other situations with uncertain conditions and outcomes. This is especially true of parenting. Sometimes there just isn't an unequivocal "right" decision, and even making a decision that seems best with the best possible motives and advice initially can be devastating in hindsight.

There is, however, an unequivocal lesson. In a world with so much uncertainty, we (I) need to be more understanding, less critical, and more supportive of the tough calls that people must make.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Congratulations to Paul Krugman

Congradulations to Paul Krugman, who won the Nobel prize in economics for his contributions to trade theory. Those of us of a certain age remember when Paul's most controversial writings had to do with international trade and finance.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sensible comments by Palin on energy

Gov. Palin was interviewed by Greta Van Susteren and gave the following comments on energy policy.

There’s so many things that we can do today to start getting us on that path towards energy independent. And it involves conservation and alternative sources of energy being plugged in also...

...People are realizing that these non-renewable sources of energy, once they’re gone, they’re gone. And we do have conserve and we have to start looking at the alternative sources.
Of course, the devil is in the details. It's easy to be "for" alternatives and conservation and then to nix specific measures to encourage these outcomes. Nevertheless, the comments, along with the suggestion that we need to boost domestic production, are sensible and play to Gov. Palin's strengths as the chief executive of our largest a large* energy-producing state.

If she and her running mate had emphasized a balanced approach instead of mindlessly chanting "drill, baby drill," the race for the White House might be a little more competitive.

*Corrected 10/10/08; thanks Roch.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Just the cost of doing business

Washington provides an $85 billion bail-out to AIG, and what does AIG do? According to the Washington Post, AIG executives turn around and throw themselves a week-long $440,000 retreat. Included in the tab, $23,000 for spa treatments. I guess that those multi-million dollar salaries that the executives were already paying themselves weren't generous enough.