Monday, 10 October 2005
China grows old
As some people say, China will get old before it gets rich.
A report from Xinhuatnet
says that more than seven percent of China's total population is 65 years old or above. "The aging problem has come around not only somewhat earlier but also developed rapidly," the report cited Hui Liangyu, vice premier of the State Council, as saying. He also said that currently, the number of Chinese age 60 or above accounts for more than 10 percent of the total Chinese population.
China's ageing population is largely the result of its one-child policy. However, even without this policy, the greying of China appears inevitable.
According to the CIA World Factbook -- updated on 20 September 2005 -- in rankings of countries by birth rates
and fertility rates
, the countries at the bottom are almost all either European -- including formerly communist East European countries -- or Asian countries dominated by Confucian cultures.
For all the talk of the uniqueness of Asian values that was in vogue in the 1990s, European and Confucian cultures clearly share certain common traits that manifest themselves in areas like economic performance and demographic trends.
Tuesday, 2 August 2005
American interest in Chinese rises with China's rising economic power
AFP had a story recently entitled "China's rapid rise spurs Americans to learn Chinese
". An excerpt:
China is casting such a huge shadow on the United States that many Americans are scrambling to learn the Chinese language in a bid to retain their competitive edge.
"Interest in learning Chinese among American youth and their parents has grown dramatically in the past five years," said Vivien Stewart, vice president at the Asia Society, a US group trying to bridge the gap between Americans and the peoples of Asia and the Pacific.
China's dramatic rise to near superpower status and its telling effects politically, economically and culturally are driving the interest to learn the language, experts say.
The report also mentioned the following:
[In US schools] Japanese is the most-sought-after Asian language.
"Our nation's schools are locked in a time warp," said Charles E.M. Kolb, president of the Committee for Economic Development, a pro-business think tank in Washington. "By ignoring critical languages such as Chinese and the essential cultural knowledge needed to succeed, our school systems are out of step with new global realities," he said.
I have been struck for some time by how ordinary Americans seem to know much more about Japanese culture and history than about Chinese culture and history, despite the fact that the latter are obviously richer. Clearly, Japan's economic power counts here. Cultural power comes from economic power.
However, as Mr Kolb said, there are new global realities, and Americans have to learn to adjust to them or find themselves at an increasing disadvantage in the global political and economic spheres.
Tuesday, 22 February 2005
Two-year-old gets engaged
People in modern societies take individual rights for granted. This was not the case in the past, and even in some parts of the world today.
According to the news report, "Toddler engaged to 40-year-old in Pakistan
", a two-year-old has been engaged to a 40-year-old man in Pakistan. This apparently happened as a result of a decision by local village leaders to settle a dispute between two families, with the engagement being part of the settlement. It seems that a complaint was subsequently registered against the village leaders and police were reportedly looking for them.
This is also reported to be the second such incident in that area of Pakistan. In an earlier incident, the leaders in another village had ordered the gang rape of a girl as a punishment for her brother.
It is really amazing that such medieval attitudes and practices can still be found in certain parts of the world. Insofar as such or similar practices were commonplace in most parts of the world centuries ago, it just goes to show how far modern societies and their legal systems have progressed.
Saturday, 29 January 2005
Rewards and returns in a free market economy
Elizabeth Anderson has an interesting post
that suggests that the income or returns that people earn in a free market economy does not necessarily constitute a reward for some virtues possessed by these people. Rather, the returns offered in a free market economy serve only as signals to direct people to productive activities. The corollary is that people cannot always justifiably claim to deserve their income.
The claim "I deserve my income," as applied to an individual's pretax income in free market economies, has considerable intuitive force... But...they are unjustified...
... However virtuous they were, by whatever standard of virtue one can name, individuals cannot count on their virtue being rewarded in the free market. For the function of the market isn't to reward people for past good behavior. It's to direct them toward producing for current demand, regardless of what they did in the past.
This isn't to say that virtue makes no difference to what returns one may expect for one's productive contributions. The exercise of prudence and foresight in laying out one's production and investment plans, and diligence in carrying them out, generally improves one's odds. But sheer dumb luck is also, ineradicably, a prominent factor determining free market returns. And nobody deserves what comes to them by sheer luck.
The ultimate aim of her post is to make a case for tax-funded social insurance, although by her own admission, this post by itself cannot clinch the argument. Her post suggests that the individual may not have deserved his income, but not necessarily that any part of that income should be turned over to the government for redistribution.
Her post drew a fair bit of criticism in the comments section. This is not surprising, as her end objective -- tax-funded social insurance -- is transparent. Conservatives and libertarians are unlikely to agree to it. Some even criticised her for arguing for social insurance, despite her explicitly saying that the post, by itself, is not intended to do so.
However, regardless of whether her end objective proves justifiable or not, I think Anderson's point regarding the function of return in a free market is a good one: It is a signal of desirable economic activity, and not necessarily a reward for past virtues.
Saturday, 11 September 2004
Religion retains strong hold on societies
Religion continues to play an important role in modern societies. And I am not just talking about Islamic fundamentalism.
True, the latter continues to be a source of religious militancy, not just in the Middle East but in South-east Asia as well -- witness the recent bombing near the Australian embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia that has so far left nine dead and well over a hundred injured.
However, religion remains important even in Christian Europe.
Recently, Serbia's education minister, Ljiljana Colic, ordered schools to stop teaching the theory of evolution, saying that in future Charles Darwin's theory would only be taught alongside creationism, the Bible's account of God's creation of the world. Ms Colic said the two theories were equally dogmatic.
The newspaper Glas Javnosti
quoted biologist Nikola Tucic as describing the ruling as "outrageous", and showing that Serbia's Orthodox Church was interfering in politics.
"We are slowly turning into a theocratic state and in the 21st Century we are going back to the Book of Revelations," he told the newspaper. "There were attempts like this in several US states, but they were rejected. It turns out that our fundamentalists are much more successful."
However, after protests from scientists, teachers and opposition parties, the Serbian government has decided to drop the move.
The secular tradition remains strong in Europe, but at the same time, religious fundamentalism also retains a strong presence in most societies.
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