Archive for April, 2008

Apr 25 2008

“Two Million Minutes”

Published by under Education

Order the DVD – Two Million Minutes

Just how flat is the world? I was chatting with a friend from my youth via Facebook’s new chat feature last night. We went to Carmel High School together in the upscale suburbs of Indianapolis, Indiana, until I moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia during my sophomore year. It has been 12 years since I had chatted with this friend. It turns out she’s become an elementary school teacher herself in Indianapolis, and she was surprised and excited to hear that I’d become a teacher and was working here in Shanghai.

Sarah directed my attention to a film she had just seen that she thought I might be interested in. I am posting the trailer here, because I’m dying to know if anyone out there has seen this film. I am particularly interested in it because it features students from both Carmel High School, where I did my first year and a half of my own “2 million minutes” (the name of the film refers to the number of minutes in the four years it takes to get through high school) before moving overseas as a 10th grader, as well as students here in Shanghai and Bangalore, India. The theme appears to be the vast divide in the content covered in the US vs. in developing countries with whom tomorrow’s graduates will be competing in the global economy.

Here’s the trailer. If anyone’s seen this film, please leave your comments here. I am ordering the DVD myself as I write this!

Two Million Minutes Trailer

24 responses so far

Apr 25 2008

Final study guide posted to “Exam Prep” page – time to get down to business!

Published by under AP Economics,Teaching

Throughout the year I’ve been developing SMARTBoard lessons for every topic in the AP Economics class. These lessons have now all been turned into .pdf files available for download in the “AP/IB Exam Prep” page of this blog. Check it out for links study guides for the nine units we’ve covered this year, as well as links to the wiki pages where the students have created their own, collaborative resource for AP exam preparation.

If you download and use the .pdf files, all I ask is that you leave a comment on the page telling me where you are, what school you go to or work for, and how you plan to use the study guides as part of your review!

Thanks, and good luck in preparing for the upcoming exams!

5 responses so far

Apr 24 2008

Dominican Republic struggles to find its “comparative advantage” as it faces new competition from Asia

FT.com / World / Americas – US economy threatens Dominican Republic

Trade based on comparative advantage… the theory originally articulated by Adam Smith, later fine-tuned by David Ricardo, the theory that suggests that if each nation specializes its economic activity on the products for which it faces the lowest opportunity cost, then trades with its neighbors, total world output and efficiency can be maximized: today this theory represents the philosophical underpinning of all free trade agreements signed between and among the nations of the world.

Through trade, countries can exchange their extra output with other nations for the goods specialized in by others, enabling all nations to enjoy a level of consumption beyond what they’d be able to achieve if they tried to produce all goods domestically.

For many developing countries, with their abundance of either land or labor, comparative advantages tend to lie in either agricultural goods or low-skilled manufactured goods. Since global prices for food are highly unstable and dependency on healthy harvests, good weather, and stable rainfall are all highly risky endeavors for a poor country, developing nations prefer to foster the growth of manufacturing sectors in their path towards economic development.

Strategies for economic growth available to developing nations include export-oriented and inward-oriented growth. A country like the Dominican Republic, the largest economy in the Caribbean, has pursued a predominantly export-oriented growth strategy, promoting through “free zones” the growth of a textile industry aimed at producing goods for consumers in developed countries, primarily the US.

To the Domincans, producing textiles for export to America has successfully given the people of this poor nation a grip on a rung of the ladder towards economic development. The import of capital has taken previously unproductive workers out of agriculture and put them into an industry where productivity, thus income, has risen, leading to improvements in living standards. Export-led growth, however, runs some serious risks of its own, as is being realized by the people of the Dominican Republic today.

It had been clear for some time that Luis Caraballo’s textile factory, in one of the Dominican Republic’s largest “free zones”, was struggling.

Finally, last December, he closed the factory gates for the last time: cut-throat competition from China and Vietnam, a weakening US dollar and unsustainable costs had become too much.

Once a hot destination for American companies looking for a cheap place to “off-shore” production of labor intensive textiles, the Dominican Republic today faces new competition, and is finding its comparative advantage slip slowly away from textiles…

The Dominican Republic depends heavily on the US, which is the destination of more than 85 per cent of exports. But textile exports – these days accounting for less than a third of total exports – fell by 32 per cent over 2007.

Although other countries in the Caribbean are also suffering from Asian competition – with Chinese textile exports to the US tripling between 2000 and 2005, while Vietnam’s multiplied almost 117 times – the Dominican Republic has been worst hit.

Here’s the thing: a nation’s comparative advantage may shift over time (from land to labor to capital intensive goods) as the structure of the global economy evolves. Once an economy like the Dominican Republic’s has undergone a period of structural adjustment, away from agriculture and towards industry, the flow of low wage workers from farm to factory begins to slow to a trickle, leading to rising wages and increased competition from countries with more abundant supplies of cheap labor.

The challenge for policy makers is to manage the structural changes as they come, minimizing the deleterious impact such global shifts of productive resources has on the citizens of a country like the D.R. Clearly, it is in the country’s interest to prepare its citizens for a “new economy”, one in which skilled labor will play a larger role. The problem is, this requires a solid education system, which the D.R., it turns out, does not yet have:

There is widespread acceptance of the need to develop a better-educated workforce, but so far education spending has been inadequate.

“The government simply doesn’t have enough resources,” said Mr Montás. About 40 per cent of its budget goes on debt obligations and another 15 per cent is dished out through subsidies. Just 1.5 per cent goes towards education.

It also turns out that this is a balance of payments story:

Mr Montás calculated that for every percentage point the US economy contracted, the Dominican Republic’s GDP would shrink by 0.4 per cent.

Not only will exporters be hit, but also the huge tourism sector and remittance flows…

One possible result of the decline in exports and flows of remittances from the US will be a depreciation of the D.R. peso, as demand for pesos by Americans falls. A weaker peso might make the country’s exports attractive once again, assuming the exchange rate is allowed to adjust on foreign exchange markets. A weaker peso should help slow the decline in the D.R.’s exports to the US, at least until new competition emerges, perhaps elsewhere in Asia, maybe even from Africa or other Latin American countries.

In all likelihood, given the increased competition from Asian textile manufacturers, continued economic growth in the Dominican Republic will depend on the country’s ability to educate and train its workforce to adapt to a more capital, technology and information-based economy, which, if successful, will eventually lead to rising incomes and higher standards of living for the people of the this rising Caribbean nation.

Comparative advantages evolve with the emergence of new competition among developing and developed countries. The negative impacts this evolution has on a particular economy can be managed if wise policy actions are taken to assure a country’s workforce is educated and trained to participate in tomorrow’s economy, rather than yesterday’s or today’s.

30 responses so far

Apr 21 2008

Why learning economics is SO IMPORTANT! The case of Ban Ki Moon…

UN chief warns world must urgently increase food production – Yahoo! News

So you don’t say things that make you sound stupid to people who have studied economics, i.e. AP Econ students. Here’s UN chief Ban Ki Moon speaking at a UN conference in Ghana this week:

“One thing is certain, the world has consumed more (food) than it has produced” over the last three years, he said.

Ban blamed a host of causes for the soaring cost of food, including rising oil prices, the fall of the U.S. dollar and natural disasters.

He said he would put together a special task force to help deal with the problem and called on the international community to help…

“We need a real world and not the world of economic theories,” Ban said. “I will work on this right now with a sense of urgency.”

You know who says things like that? People who don’t understand the basic economic theories. Sadly, the theory Mr. Moon is missing here is one of our science’s most basic and simple to understand: that of supply and demand.

First of all, I’d just like to point out the absurdity of his first statement, that “the world has consumed more than it has produced.” Mr. Moon, I’d like to ask you this: If our world has not produced all the food we’ve consumed, then whose world DID produce it? Can’t we just call up the world where all the extra food we’ve consumed was grown and ask them to send us more?

Next, regarding Mr. Moon’s “task force” that he plans to form to deal with the problem, my question is this: What can a handful of bureaucrats accomplish around a table in New York that the market can’t do on its own? Rising food prices send signals to farmers who grow food; a signal that sends a very clear message: “GROW MORE FOOD!”

I’m sorry, but Mr. Moon and his “task force” can spend all the time and money they want brainstorming ways to get farmers to grow more food, but in the mean time the invisible hand of the market, guided by price signals sent from consumers to producers, will work its magic to allocate more resources towards food production and away from alternative uses of grain crops such as ethanol production, eventually shifting the supply curve of food out, stabilizing food prices.

Mr. Moon’s intentions are honorable, but his means of achieving his goal are misguided in an era of the market mechanism, which underpins most of the world’s agricultural economies today.

25 responses so far

Apr 21 2008

China’s challenge – reestablishing its standing as an economic superpower

Live from Shanghai – OnPoint with Tom Ashbrook

The 21st century has been called “China’s Century”. With the Olympics in Beijing in a couple of months, the torch relay touring the worlds’ major cities has been met with fierce anti-China protests as angry activists have accused China of countless offenses from human rights violations to oppression of democracy movements to environmental destruction. Although it may be “China’s Century”, it sometimes seems that the rest of the world is not too happy about China’s emergence as a global superpower.

Last week, NPR’s Tom Ashbrook, journalist and host of the OnPoint radio program, visited Shanghai and featured daily stories about China in the world today. Below is an excerpt from the first of these stories, which caught my attention because it shared a minor fact that I had never heard before but which I find extremely interesting. Ashbrook’s guest, David Lampton, is a leading scholar on China’s re-emergence as a global superpower. Listen to what he says here:

“Re-claim their share of global GDP?” you might be asking? Here’s the thing… for much of the last 2,000 years, China was THE leading superpower in the world. In fact, up to the 1430’s, China had the largest navy in the world, had established tributary relations with dozens of kingdoms from Southeast Asia to India to Africa, had established and secured trade routes stretching overland to Europe and by sea as far away as East Africa, and some even think Chinese explorers had made it to North America seventy years before Columbus! While Europeans were dying of the plague by the millions and struggling under absolute poverty in a feudal society where the idea of national unity was still a century off, China had grown to be the largest empire the world had ever seen, first under the Yuan Dynasty and then the Ming.

As professor Lambert says, China’s GDP, or its total output of goods and services, accounted for ONE THIRD of the world’s output during much of the common era. This fact shocked me, but made sense once I thought about it. China truly was the greatest example of a global superpower the world had known by the 15th Century. Much of its wealth and power was a result of its efforts to globalize, or to integrate itself with the economies of the foreign nations, empires and kingdoms. Trade with its neighbors, near and far, had helped enrich China, but also built among China’s leaders a rightful sense of superiority over the other peoples of the world.

It was this sense of superiority that would lead to a long period of decline in Chinese dominance of the global economy. In 1432, the Ming emperor ordered the trading vessels of Admiral Zheng He destroyed. 3,000 of the largest ships the world had ever seen were sunk to the bottom of the Yangtze river and the East China Sea. The emperor declared China as “The Middle Kingdom” and ordered that all links with the outside world be severed, as China had no need for trade with others. China, the emperor claimed, was totally “self-sufficient” and could flourish without trade with the “barbarian” outsiders.

What followed was a long period of decline in China’s superpower status. From 1432, through the fall of the Ming in 1644 throughout the subsequent Qing Dynasty, into the 20th Century which saw repeated shifts in power between KMT, the Japanese and finally the CCP, China for the most part resisted attempts by its own and by foreigners to open its doors to the world, welcome trade, and encourage globalization of China’s rapidly dwindling domestic economy. The belief that China was “self-sufficient” endured while China’s share of total economic activity in the world dwindled to nearly nothing.

In the mean time, Europeans “discovered” the New World, philosophized about the gains from trade, integrated their own markets and later the markets of the colonies in Asia, America, and Africa, and grew wealthy as a result of these global exchanges. All the while, China stuck to its path of isolationism and self-sufficiency, as its influence and power slipped ever deeper into obscurity.

This period of isolation essentially lasted until the death of Mao Zedong, who could basically be called China’s last emperor. Since 1978, China has followed a new path, one that has attempted to reverse the mistakes of past dynasties, based on the doctrine of isolation and protection of domestic markets. Since its re-emergence as a global economic superpower, China has rapidly seen its share of global GDP increase from less than 2% in the 1970’s to around 16% today; a rebound achieved only through year after year of rapid economic growth, fueled by exports to the rest of the world. Isolation, it appeared, was not the path to wealth and power. China had discovered a new path, one that has done wonders for it income and standing in today’s circles of global power.

China’s re-emergence was made possible by one simple shift in doctrine and philosophy among its leaders: the belief that trade is good. While today the country still has many obstacles to overcome, such as the environmental challenges posed by growth, achieving a more equal distribution of wealth and income, fostering the growth of a domestic market to lessen its dependence on exports, and the challenges relating to human rights and demands for democratization, it would be wrong to say that China has not benefited from economic globalization in many ways.

A little history lesson is sometimes necessary to better understand where China is coming from and where it is going on its path towards re-emerging as a superpower in the global economy. The West, in the mean time, should pause to consider the rightful place the Chinese people believe is theirs based on their long history of economic power and dominance that for hundreds of years placed China at the pinnacle of power in the world economy.

9 responses so far

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