Friday, May 18, 2012

Volume 4 Issue 19: Intelligent Investing

Sacrifice of the Haves for the Have-nots

I've been meaning to share this article by Andrew Sheng for a while. It is an interesting read throughout. Here are some parts that Andrew Sheng talks about that ties in to the Western Delusion that any practice that is "un-Western" is not good enough. Here are some interesting excerpts:
In particular, the rise of emerging markets has challenged traditional Western deductive and inductive logic. Deductive inference enables us to predict effects if we know the principles (the rule) and the cause. By inductive reasoning, if we know the cause and effects, we can infer the principles. 
Eastern thinking, by contrast, has been abductive, moving from pragmatism to guessing the next steps. Abductive inference is pragmatic, looking only at outcomes, guessing at the rule, and identifying the cause. 
Like history, social-scientific theory is written by the victors and shaped by the context and challenges of its time. Free-market thinking evolved from Anglo-Saxon theorists (many from Scotland), who migrated and colonized territories, allowing fortunate individuals to assume that there were no limits to consumption. European continental thinking, responding to urbanization and the need for social order, emphasized institutional analysis of political economy. 
Thus, the emergence of neoclassical economics in the nineteenth century was very much influenced by Newtonian and Cartesian physics, moving from qualitative analysis to quantifying human behavior by assuming rational behavior and excluding uncertainty. This “predetermined equilibrium” thinking – reflected in the view that markets always self-correct – led to policy paralysis until the Great Depression, when John Maynard Keynes’s argument for government intervention to address unemployment and output gaps gained traction.

New thinking is required to manage these massive and systemic changes, as well as the integration of giants like China and India into the modern world. A change of mindset is needed not just in the West, but also in the East. In 1987, the historian Ray Huang explained it for China:
“As the world enters the modern era, most countries under internal and external pressure need to reconstruct themselves by substituting the mode of governancerooted in agrarian experience with a new set of rules based on commerce.…This is easier said than done. The renewal process could affect the top and bottom layers, and inevitably it is necessary to recondition the institutional links between them. Comprehensive destruction is often the order; and it may take decades to bring the work to completion.”

Using this macro-historical framework, we can see Japanese deflation, European debt, and even the Arab Spring as phases of systemic changes within complex structures that are interacting with one another in a new, multipolar global system. We are witnessing simultaneous global convergence (the narrowing of income, wealth, and knowledge gaps between countries) and local divergence (widening income, wealth, and knowledge gaps within countries).
A new wave of what the economist Joseph Schumpeter famously called “creative destruction” is under way: even as central banks struggle to maintain stability by flooding markets with liquidity, credit to business and households is shrinking. We live in an age of simultaneous fear of inflation and deflation; of unprecedented prosperity amid growing inequality; and of technological advancement and resource depletion. 
Meanwhile, existing political systems promise good jobs, sound governance, a sustainable environment, and social harmony without sacrifice – a paradise of self-interested free riders that can be sustained only by sacrificing the natural environment and the welfare of future generations.
We cannot postpone the pain of adjustment forever by printing money. Sustainability can be achieved only when the haves become willing to sacrifice for the have-nots.
I particularly like that last sentence. This is precisely what economics is all about. Resources are limited (i.e. not infinite). If control over resources (be it monetary or otherwise) is concentrated in the hands of the wealthy and powerful etc., then sustainability cannot be achieved. I am not advocating a completely egalitarian society, but the need for re-balancing can no longer be ignored. Germany has prospered from the formation of the Eurozone, while the periphery rode along its coat tails. Now that the region is in dire need of unity, why can't Germany play its role as a Eurozone member and sacrifice a little for the have-nots? It may seem like an exaggeration, but the health of the global economy depends on it.

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