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How Japanese and Americans Save Differently

By: inoljt Thursday May 23, 2013 7:05 pm

In America a dollar today is worth much less than a dollar in 1980. Americans marvel at how much cheaper things used to be in the past, when Coca-Cola and movies only cost five cents.

In Japan the story is quite different. For long periods in the past two decades, nominal prices have in fact declined.

These facts reflect a conscious decision made by the authorities of both countries. The United States, like most of the world, has accepted and even encouraged a slight degree of inflation. The belief is that this will encourage spending, providing a continuous boost to the economy.

Japan – for better or worse, probably for worse – has done things differently. It has not encouraged inflation; prices have stayed the same or even decreased in nominal terms. This reflects the strong power of the often elderly Japanese saver, who doesn’t want her savings to lose value. Today Japan’s new government is undertaking a bold course by forcing the Central Bank to print as much money as possible until inflation hits 2%.

These different policies have created different attitudes towards saving in both countries. In the United States saving is often associated with the stock market. Americans ought to invest their money in the stock market for retirement because “the stock market will always go up.” Japan’s stock market has done poorly over the past few decades, however. As of this writing, the Nikkei 225 is at 14,937.56 – far below its high of 38,957.44 in 1989. A Japanese saver who invested all his earnings in stocks during the 1980s would have lost a lot of money. Instead, Japanese households keep their earnings in cash. This graphic, from the Wall Street Journal, shows this:

 photo household-financial-assets_zpsc5fb02c3.png

Cash is a much safer way of saving in Japan than in the United States; it doesn’t lose as much value over time, unlike here.

There is much to be said about the Japanese way of saving. The American method is complicated. Investing in stocks requires lots of tough decisions: how much money to put in, how conservatively to invest it, which mutual fund or plan is best, how to diversify, etc. There are lots of big words which the typical person might not understand. The whole process often takes a considerable amount of time and effort. The poor often lack this.

In a sense, then, the American system of saving exacerbates income inequality. Wealthy Americans save in stocks and bonds and are shielded from inflation. Poor American save in cash and bear the brunt of the blow. Is it a coincidence that Japan is much more equal than America?

For all its disadvantages, however, the American system is probably better than the Japanese system. It is Japan which is trying to create inflation and make itself more like America, not the other way around. What is more, Shinzo Abe’s government is wildly popular for doing so.

Still, few policymakers consider how a system of saving based on the stock market, due to inflationary pressures encouraged by the government, widens income inequality. Perhaps the overall economic advantages still outweigh the disadvantages. But more people ought to pay attention to the disadvantages.



Do Tourists Get Sick When They Visit the United States?

By: inoljt Wednesday May 15, 2013 10:00 pm

It’s a common thing when Americans visit other countries. They get sick. An American visits a friend in a foreign country, consumes everything on the plate her friend has prepared (out of politeness, not because she actually likes the food), and spends the rest of her week sitting on top of a toilet.

It’s the different environment and the lower sanitary conditions, people say. Your immune system just has to get used to the bacteria there, that’s all.

It makes one wonder, however. Do foreign tourists ever get sick when they visit the United States? Does an Indian visiting her American friend ever eat everything on the plate her friend has prepared (out of politeness, not because she actually likes the food), and spend the rest of her week sitting on top of a toilet?

I’ve never thought about this until now, and I honesty don’t know. Does anybody reading this know?

Did You Know that the United Kingdom Censored Animal Farm? Here’s Why:

By: inoljt Thursday May 9, 2013 9:23 pm

 photo 83e0d-animal_farm_zpsf82b5c28.jpg

Animal Farm is one of the most famous tracts of the 20th century. It’s a prescient warning against totalitarianism. Its influence is such that phrases such as “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” are still used today.

Yet for several years before its publication in the United Kingdom, Animal Farm was censored. Why did this happen? Well, the answer is quite simple.

It criticized the Soviet Union.

Animal Farm may have been about animals, but the farm was quite obviously the Soviet Union. Napoleon, the dictator pig, was obviously Stalin. It was in the midst of World War II at that time, and the Soviet Union was bearing the brunt of the Nazi attack. The Russians were a vital ally of the United Kingdom.

No reputable publishing organization was willing to lay hands on a text which tarred the Soviet Union so blatantly. One publisher wrote:

I mentioned the reaction I had had from an important official in the Ministry of Information with regard to Animal Farm. I must confess that this expression of opinion has given me seriously to think … I can see now that it might be regarded as something which it was highly ill-advised to publish at the present time. If the fable were addressed generally to dictators and dictatorships at large then publication would be all right, but the fable does follow, as I see now, so completely the progress of the Russian Soviets and their two dictators, that it can apply only to Russia, to the exclusion of the other dictatorships. Another thing: it would be less offensive if the predominant caste in the fable were not pigs. I think the choice of pigs as the ruling caste will no doubt give offence to many people, and particularly to anyone who is a bit touchy, as undoubtedly the Russians are.

George Orwell, in protest, included an introduction arguing for the need for free speech. He wrote a preface to the novel which can be found here. The preface included the argument that:

At this moment what is demanded by the prevailing orthodoxy is an uncritical admiration of Soviet Russia. Every-one knows this, nearly everyone acts on it. Any serious criticism of the Soviet régime, any disclosure of facts which the Soviet government would prefer to keep hidden, is next door to unprintable. And this nation-wide conspiracy to flatter our ally takes place, curiously enough, against a background of genuine intellectual tolerance. For though you are not allowed to criticize the Soviet government, at least you are reasonably free to criticize our own. Hardly anyone will print an attack on Stalin, but it is quite safe to attack Churchill, at any rate in books and periodicals…

Stalin is sacrosanct and certain aspects of his policy must not be seriously discussed. This rule has been almost universally observed since 1941, but it had operated, to a greater extent than is sometimes realized, for ten years earlier than that…You could, indeed, publish anti-Russian books, but to do so was to make sure of being ignored or misrepresented by nearly the whole of the highbrow press. Both publicly and privately you were warned that it was ‘not done’. What you said might possibly be true, but it was ‘inopportune’ and ‘played into the hands of’ this or that reactionary interest. This attitude was usually defended on the ground that the international situation, and the urgent need for an Anglo-Russian alliance, demanded it; but it was clear that this was a rationalization. The English intelligentsia, or a great part of it, had developed a nationalistic loyalty towards the USSR, and in their hearts they felt that to cast any doubt on the wisdom of Stalin was a kind of blasphemy.

Times were different back then. It takes a very different frame of mind to think of a world in which this “nationalistic loyalty towards the USSR” exists amongst the British intellectual elite. The censorship of Animal Farm would probably not have happened in the United States, where anti-communism sentiment was much greater. Yet it happened in the same world we live in, albeit one different in surprising ways.


Japan’s Strange Isolation, and How It Hurts Us and Japan

By: inoljt Monday May 6, 2013 11:03 am

Japan is one of the world’s most advanced economies. In some ways, however, its economy is quite isolated. This is a result of both geography and history. Japan is both an island alone and a former colonial power heartily disliked by its immediate neighbors.

A fax machine

Isolationism leaves the West behind on smartphone technology while Japan continues to rely on relics like the fax.

This is different from most other advanced economies. Any Western country has close links with the rest of the West. Take the United States. American culture is fairly similar to Western culture, and there is a deep degree of mixing between the Anglosphere, the United States, and Western Europe. In that sense the market for American companies is not just 300 million people, but rather 800 million people.

Japan is different. Japan should have just as close a connection with East and Southeast Asia as the United States has with Western Europe and the Anglosphere. But due to its colonial past, it doesn’t. In a sense Japan is like Israel, surrounded by hostile neighbors. The irony is that there are a lot of similarities between Japan’s culture and its path of development compared to those of its neighbors. But its neighbors would rather pretend that this similarity doesn’t exist.

So Japan is left isolated. But Japan is also a big and wealthy country, with well over 100 million people. It can afford to remain splendidly isolated. Japanese companies can market to the 125 million Japanese consumers and ignore the rest of the world.

This is bad for both Japan and the rest of us. Japan, in its isolation, has developed a number of unique practices and products. Some are better than the rest of the world’s; some are worse. In an ideal world we would copy what Japan does well, and Japan would copy what we do well.

This happens, but not enough. For instance, Japan has incredibly advanced cellphones. Long before Apple came up with the iPhone, you could check your e-mail, pay for your groceries, surf the web, and watch TV on a Japanese cellphone. In fact, in the United States you still can’t do some of these things with the iPhone! Unfortunately, consumer tastes in the West were too different for Japanese electronic companies to penetrate. The natural thing for them to do would have been to market to China and Korea, and from there spread the technology to the rest of the world. Too bad China and Korea hate Japan.

The opposite story holds true with something surprising, the fax machine. Today faxing is almost a relic in most of the world. Few young people even know how to use a fax machine, and I am not one of them. In their splendid isolation, however, Japanese companies are still highly dependent on the fax machine. An enormous amount of energy, paper, and time is wasted faxing in Japan. Here Japan would do well to copy from the rest of the world and abandon this increasingly unique Japanese practice.

In an ideal world, Japanese companies would have spread the smart-phone to us years before Apple came up with the idea, and our advances in technology would have convinced Japanese companies to abandon the wasteful fax machine years ago. Both sides would have been better off. Alas, this hasn’t happened. Instead, Japan and the rest of the world continue to remain too far apart, to the detriment of both.


The Hillary Clinton Gender Gap

By: inoljt Thursday May 2, 2013 4:44 pm
Hillary Clinton in 2008

Hillary Clinton's Polling data shows a major gender gap in many states.

By: inoljt,

Four years before the 2016 presidential election, and before we even know who is running, some enterprising pollsters have released polls matching Hillary Clinton against an assorted group of potential Republican candidates. Clinton does well; she leads in a number of red states.

In these polls, one interesting constant is the massive gender gap that Hillary Clinton opens up.

Here are as many 2016 polls that I could find. They show the gender gap in hypothetical match-ups between Clinton and various Republicans.

Date State Hillary Clinton (Overall) Hillary Clinton (♀) Hillary Clinton (♂) Republican Gender Gap
25-Apr NH 52 61 42 41 19
25-Apr NH 52 60 43 38 17
23-Apr CO 48 53 41 45 12
23-Apr CO 48 53 42 44 11
19-Apr NC 49 54 43 42 11
19-Apr NC 52 57 46 40 11
19-Apr NY 59 64 53 32 11
11-Apr KY 45 50 40 45 10
11-Apr KY 46 51 41 40 10
3-Apr US 46 51 41 42 10
3-Apr US 49 54 45 43 9
3-Apr US 49 53 46 42 7
3-Apr US 50 53 46 43 7
3-Apr US 46 47 45 43 2
3-Apr US 54 56 52 38 4
3-Apr US 52 57 46 40 11
3-Apr US 52 59 44 41 15
21-Mar FL 53 58 47 40 11
21-Mar FL 56 61 50 40 11
21-Mar FL 54 60 49 41 11
21-Mar FL 51 56 45 40 11
21-Mar FL 52 55 48 41 7
14-Mar PA 47 55 39 42 16
14-Mar PA 54 62 45 36 17
14-Mar PA 55 63 45 38 18
13-Mar PA 52 55 49 37 6
13-Mar PA 52 56 49 40 7
13-Mar PA 55 58 52 38 6
8-Mar MI 51 57 44 37 13
8-Mar MI 52 59 44 41 15
7-Mar US 45 51 38 37 13
7-Mar US 50 56 43 34 13
7-Mar US 49 49 36 42 13
28-Feb WI 52 56 47 38 9
28-Feb WI 51 56 45 43 11
28-Feb WI 54 59 48 41 11
27-Feb KS 42 49 34 47 15
27-Feb KS 42 52 34 50 18
21-Feb MT 42 47 37 50 10
21-Feb MT 44 47 41 51 6
20-Feb NJ 49 60 35 45 25
20-Feb GA 49 54 42 46 12
20-Feb GA 50 55 44 45 11
14-Feb LA 48 56 40 45 16
14-Feb LA 46 54 39 43 15
14-Feb LA 46 52 40 46 12
8-Feb AK 42 47 35 43 12
8-Feb AK 53 60 46 37 14
8-Feb AK 44 49 37 43 12
7-Feb US 49 54 44 43 10
7-Feb US 46 53 38 41 15
7-Feb US 49 54 44 41 10
7-Feb US 50 55 45 44 10
31-Jan TX 45 48 41 43 7
31-Jan TX 50 54 45 42 9
31-Jan TX 46 51 40 45 11
24-Jan MN 44 51 38 38 13
24-Jan MN 50 57 43 37 14
17-Jan FL 49 54 43 44 11
17-Jan FL 50 56 43 46 13
10-Jan US 51 54 47 38 7
10-Jan US 44 52 37 42 15
10-Jan US 51 55 47 37 8
10-Jan US 53 58 48 39 10

Comparatively, in 2012 women gave Barack Obama 55% of the vote, compared to the 45% that he won amongst men. The gender gap in that year was 10 points. In 2008 it was 7 points (Obama won 49% of males and 56% of females). The largest ever gender gap in recorded exit polling occurred in the 2000 presidential election, when Al Gore won only 42% of men but 54% of women.

It appears that Clinton would open a huge gender gap. The largest gender gap in this table (25 points) comes when she goes head-to-head against Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey. Christie’s brash style is very popular amongst men but much less so with women.

One point of caution is that the vast majority of these polls come from just one polling firm: Public Policy Polling (PPP). It’s possible that this gender gap is simply due to a mistake in the way PPP is polling. Interestingly, the two results with the lowest gender gaps (of two and four points) came from a national poll by McClatchy-Marist. So take caution in interpreting these results.

Nevertheless, as potentially America’s first female president, Clinton appears to be able to count strongly on the support of women.

P.S. Since the full table was too wide, I took out a couple of sections. The full table is below.

What Foreign Language Do North Koreans Learn? English!

By: inoljt Monday April 29, 2013 10:34 pm

By: inoljt,

North Korea has been in the news in the past few days and weeks. Most of the attention has been negative; tensions have risen between North Korea and the United States. Not that this is new. The two countries have had bad relations – to say the least – for many decades now.

Coincidentally, just today I was watching a BBC documentary on life in North Korea.  The documentary is very good. It shows that North Koreans are just humans as well with dreams like the rest of us. On the other hand, there is something strange and broken about the society in the film.

Anyways, skip to 5:04.

It’s an English class, in North Korea! The middle-school children are learning English as their main foreign language.

This was truly shocking to me. English classes in North Korea! The concept is mind-blowing. One would think for sure that the main foreign language taught in North Korea would be Russian or Chinese. But nope, it’s English, the language of the imperialists. Because “foreign language is a weapon for the life and struggle.”

Apparently the children of the elite speak English in North Korea. For instance, the granddaughter of the chairman of North Korea’s parliament is apparently “learning English from British native speakers.” The United Kingdom has a British Council which sends a few English teachers to North Korea. It’s said that Kim Jong-Il once told Madeleine Albright about his desire “to invite Korean Americans to teach English to North Korean students.”

It’s also interesting listening to the lesson itself and the quality of the English being spoken. I had a hard time understanding what the announcers were saying; I got a bit more on the second pass. The man seemed to be a bit worse. The students spoke very quickly, and about half of it was comprehensible.

The teacher, on the other hand, spoke very very good English. She had a British(?) accent. It’s pretty amazing that she learned English in North Korea. I have no idea how she managed this. There were several Americans who deserted to North Korea in the ’70s, but if she had learned from them she would have had an American accent. To gain such an accent, she must have been young when she learned; since the British Council’s endeavors are only a few years old, she couldn’t possibly have learned from them. Perhaps a boarding school in the United Kingdom?

It really speaks to the power of the Anglosphere that even the primary foreign language taught in North Korea is English. And the North Koreans are doing pretty good given the lack of native English speakers willing to work in the country; their English might actually be better than Japan’s. That’s pretty embarrassing for Japan.

All in all, this is probably a good thing for North Korea. It’s impossible to truly learn a language without learning the culture of the countries which speak that language. North Korea may believe that “foreign language is a weapon for the life and struggle,” but foreign language is also a conduit to cultural influence. If the North Korean elite learn English, they’ll be exposed to an incredibly potent firehose of information. Hopefully that will bring positive change to North Korea.

What Exactly Was the Popular Vote in 2012?

By: inoljt Saturday April 20, 2013 8:19 pm

I was recently writing a post on how news organizations still haven’t updated their election results. As part of that post, of course, I tried to track down the “real” popular vote. That is, how many votes did President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney actually win, in reality?

Election 2012
I ran into a problem. Apparently nobody knows.Different organizations are reporting different numbers. To find reliable election results, most analysts go to Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. However, Dave’s numbers differ from those of Wikipedia. Unfortunately, Dave doesn’t provide a source of how he got his numbers. Wikipedia does; it derived its numbers from the Federal Election Commission Report. Ironically, however, Wikipedia’s numbers are actually different from the report’s numbers. Then there is Dave Wasserman, who with great labor added uncounted ballots to the numbers as they were counted. His numbers are slightly different as well. Here’s a table:

Votes Won According to… Barack Obama Mitt Romney
Dave Leip 65,909,451 60,932,176
Dave Wasserman 65,909,191 60,932,015
Huffington Post 65,899,660 60,932,152
Federal Election Commission Report 65,899,660 60,932,152
Wikipedia 65,907,123 60,931,767

The vote counts by private individuals such as Dave Leip are probably the most accurate. Unfortunately, these people don’t say how they got their numbers.

In addition, there is the fact that uncounted ballots are still being discovered and added to the official count. For instance, a stack of ballots was found in New York City in March, after the completion of the Federal Election Commission Report. So the report is probably wrong. Dave Wasserman also has stated that the official certified results in some states are wrong; apparently the states incorrectly added up all the official county numbers.

The best way to find the popular vote is probably to add up individually all the official certifications of the vote by each state, which I may or may not do. Of course, we also have to be aware of the fact that some of these official certifications may be wrong.

We may never actually know how many votes Barack Obama and Mitt Romney won in the 2012 presidential election.


Photo from League of Women Voters of California licensed under Creative Commons

Idiocy at the State Department

By: inoljt Tuesday April 16, 2013 11:50 pm

By: inoljt,

 photo pakistan_kindle_zps719de173.jpgI recently had the opportunity to watch a presentation by the State Department. Making the presentation was an intense, broad-shouldered diplomat. He talked about his recent posting in Pakistan and the department’s attempts to improve America’s image in a country where it’s less popular than Osama bin Laden. He showed pictures of events he’d held, full of smiling Americans and Pakistanis. The pictures were similar to the one above.

I couldn’t help but notice one thing. In all these events the only language that appeared was English. There would be a presentation of awards given by the American government, for instance. On the background there would be a seal of the American government and signs like “furthering our partnership with Pakistan” or “a gift from the United States.” In English.

I asked the diplomat about this. Surely it would be better to write all this in the language(s) Pakistanis actually use. He stiffened. Well, he responded, Pakistan is a former British colony, so there’s a lot of English-speakers. Sometimes he would go to a local television station and say “Hello, it’s nice to be here” in Sindhi, which is a local language. He didn’t actually know anymore Sindhi than that phrase, but then the local television would be kind enough to subtitle the rest of what he said in English during the interview.

Perhaps using English-only written materials can work if you want to get Pakistanis to love America. Whether or not this is true, it’s also evident that America’s government is really bad at foreign languages. During the Iranian Revolution, for instance, the United States had four CIA officers at its American embassy. Not one spoke Farsi. Then there is the famous “reset” incident with Russia. In 2009 Hillary Clinton presented Russia’s foreign minister with a red button titled “reset.” The aim was to reforge relations with the country after the war with Georgia. Except they used the wrong word: peregruzka (перегрузка) instead of perezagruzka (перезагрузка). Apparently nobody in the State Department knows Russian grammar. Not as if Russia is important or anything.

 photo peregruzka_zpse740c824.jpg
Now, I know a person who would be a very good representative for America in Pakistan. This person is young and probably fluent in a Pakistani language. He’s fairly familiar with Pakistan’s culture and traditions, having visited his relatives there a number of times. Indeed, after the recent floods he ran a campaign to gather donations for Pakistan. He also has a firm grasp of American culture. He’d be very good at getting Pakistanis to like America. He loves Pakistan.

Which is probably the problem, in fact. I highly doubt that this individual agrees with American policy directed towards Pakistan. He’s probably a ferocious opponent of the drone strikes. Therein lies the problem for the State Department. The truth is that American policies are bad for many countries. The people most familiar with the country aren’t willing to represent American policies. The people willing to defend American policies know nothing about the country.

This is also why the State Department rotates its diplomats every few years. If a diplomat stays too long in a country and becomes too familiar with it, said person might start disagreeing with American policies towards said country. The classic loyalty problem. The State Department avoids the trap by moving its diplomats around. Unfortunately, this ensures that American diplomats never end up with more than a shallow understanding of the country they’re sent to. You end up with diplomats in Pakistan who try to change Pakistani opinion by putting up posters everywhere in English.

It appears, for better or worse, that this is the price that the United States is willing to pay in order to ensure the loyalty of its diplomats. If so, maybe America should invest some time into making sure somebody at the State Department knows the difference between “overcharge” and “reset” in Russian.