Travel

I am in Delaware only briefly.  I have not covered the state before, so here are some of my picks:

1. Chemicals manufacturer: I think that one has to go to the Duponts, I enjoyed the Gerard Zilg biography of the Dupont family and history.

2. Economic historian: Alfred Chandler.

3. Monetarist who studied policy instruments and uncertainty: William Poole.

4. Semi-libertarian journalist: Dave Weigel.

Hmm…music?  I don’t like George Thorogood.  A quality novelist?  How about a painter or sculptor?  Some big time NBA star?  Biden is my favorite of Obama’s VPs.  It is claimed that the movie Fight Club is set in Delaware.  So many special dishes too, in the local cuisine.

The bottom line: Small wonder it is!

1. Especially outside the immediate center of town, it feels as if something wacky is always happening.  Someone is screaming, backslapping, bumping fists, or screaming while backslapping and bumping fists.  Interactions appear to be random, highly intense, and short in duration.  The following interaction is more intense yet.  It reminds me of that old Humphrey Bogart movie “Beat the Devil.”

2. Every cabbie seems to know a random person standing on a street corner, who somehow mysteriously signals to that cab to be picked up, even if said cab already is delivering a Western passenger to some other location.  Shouting ensues, the random person is moved along in the cab only a short distance, always along the Westerner’s route, and then the person is let off again.  With a shout.  Rinse and repeat.

3. It is a better city for street food and stall food than is Chengdu.  The tastes are stronger and spicier, though I believe the peaks of Chengdu are higher and more subtle.

4. Don’t just stick to “the peninsula,” also travel to the alternate sides of the city’s two rivers, the Jialing and the Yangtze.

5. Haagen-Dazs is much more popular in China than in the United States, at least at the retail level.

6. “Sun Zhengcai, the former Communist Party chief of the Chinese city of Chongqing, is under investigation by authorities, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday, citing people it didn’t identify.”  He had been considered a possible successor to Uncle Xi.

7. On my flight from Kunming to Chongqing, I witnessed my first “facial surveillance” arrest.  Just as they were about to let us off the plane, two policemen appeared at the entrance, with a copy of a facial surveillance photograph.  (Before you board any plane in China, they photograph your face plenty, and match it to various databases.)  They walked down the aisle, turning left and right, looking for the passenger who matched the photo.  They found him and escorted him off the plane, with the crowd watching nervously.  He showed neither surprise nor did he protest his innocence.

8. An excellent room in a five-star luxury Chongqing hotel, with view and upgrade to a larger suite, costs $70 a night.

9. Nearby is “the world’s longest cantilevered glass skywalk.

The city’s “mind-blowing overpass has five layers, 20 ramps and eight directions,” good photos at that link.

Here is Wikipedia on Chongqing, by one measure it is China’s most populous metropolitan area.  “Its population is already bigger than that of Peru or Iraq, with half a million more arriving every year in search of a better life,” and that was written eleven years ago.

It has just that right mix of exotic and comfort, and is mostly unfrequented by Western tourists.  You can spend a day in the center of town and not see ten of them.  Here are a few points:

1. Except for the rainy season, the weather is perfect pretty much every day, all year round.  Unlike much of China, there is virtually no air pollution.

2. The town is set on a gorgeous lake, backed by lovely green mountains.  Dali has about one million people, and so it feels very manageable.  Yet it offers virtually every amenity and convenience.

3. Driving to the local villages around the lake is highly worthwhile.  Track down the local ceremonies and rituals.

4. The town and the surrounding region is full of ethnic minority groups, most prominently the Bai.  You can eat their food and buy their crafts.  There are other minority groups too, including various kinds of Muslims.  This is where Han Chinese and southeast Asian and Tibetan influences intersect.

5. The local cuisine features fish soups, cured ham, flowers, lotus root, and mushrooms mushrooms mushrooms.  For breakfast, bread is served with honey.  You can’t get these dishes anywhere else, not even in other parts of China, and yet none of this food is expensive.

6. You can stay at a luxurious five-star Hilton for $130 a night, or spend less and still do well.

7. The old town has crafts and curios and clothes shopping at very good prices.

8. The level of crime and other mishaps is extremely low.

For a good treatment of all of Yunnan, I recommend Jim Goodman, The Exploration of Yunnan.  Here is Wikitravel on Dali.

That is the title of my latest Bloomberg column; I love Chinese megacities, don’t you?  Here is the first and most general point:

Chinese megacities are associated with the greatest migration in human history, namely the movement of several hundred million people from the countryside into urban areas. This has created over 100 cities with a population of more than one million. And while Westerners tend to see only the harmful effects of that transformation, it’s gone fairly smoothly. Wages and living standards have risen to create the biggest rapid boost in prosperity the world has seen, ever. Surely it’s worth taking a closer look at that.

Here is the most important point:

If you spend a few days in these places, they will stand out as quite distinct. To suggest otherwise is actually to repeat a common Western imperialist meme about the Chinese, namely that they “are all the same” in some underlying manner. Observing and understanding diversity is a skill, and the Chinese megacities are one of the best places for cultivating this capacity.

By the way, the cameo appearance in the opening bit is Dan Wang.

*Paths of the Soul*

by on July 10, 2017 at 5:07 am in Film, Religion, Travel | Permalink

That is the title of an extraordinary Chinese-Tibetan film (with English subtitles, even in Kunming), here is one description:

A birth, a death, a pilgrimage. A film about the 1,200-mile journey of a pregnant woman, a butcher who wants to atone for his sins and a rag-tag band of villagers who go on foot from their small village in Tibet to the sacred Mt. Kailash has become a surprise winner at the Chinese box office.

It is doing better here per screen than Transformers 5 (or is that 6?).  Here is more about the plot premise;

They travel wearing thick aprons made of yak hide and wooden planks tied to their palms. Every few feet, they raise their hands high above their heads in respect for the Buddha, then lower their worshipping hands to their forehead and then to their chest before diving into the ground, touching the earth with their foreheads. To an outsider, the ritual looks like bodysurfing on solid ground. While they chant a simple mantra, devotees lie flat on their stomachs with their hands bent at their elbows, pointing toward the heavens in a sign of prayer. Then they stand up and repeat these steps as the summer’s scorching asphalt roads turn into slippery ice-covered tracks in the winter.

It turns out this is a real thing, as they say back in The Great NJ, and they keep it up for 1200 km over the course of a year (really).  Strapped babies and small children partake as well.  And this isn’t a pure outlier, as my Yunnanese friend Jimi tells me he has seen it many times in Tibet on the open road.

You may think it all sounds silly, but by the end of the film you realize that what you are doing with your own life isn’t actually so different and is perhaps in some ways less valuable.

 

I’m calling this as one of the two or three best movies of the year, or indeed of any year.  Highly recommended on the big screen, though here you can find it on Amazon.  It goes without saying that the film is full of social science.

Deterrence

by on July 7, 2017 at 12:59 pm in Law, Travel | Permalink

She told Hawaii News Now that she considered protesting, but was scared to make a scene. “I started remembering all those incidents with United on the news. The violence. Teeth being knocked out,” she said.

Here is the full story.  Basically the two-year-old toddler did not have his boarding pass properly scanned, the seat was given away to someone else, and he had to sit on his mother’s lap for a three-hour flight.

Greece fact of the day

by on July 2, 2017 at 4:39 am in Economics, Travel | Permalink

Better than not, but I can’t say I find this entirely reassuring as a predictor of future productivity growth:

With the exception of shipping, tourism is Greece’s biggest foreign earner, the mainstay of an economy that has otherwise contracted by 27% since late 2009 when the country’s debt crisis began.

The industry accounted for eight out of 10 new jobs in 2016, vital for a nation hit by crippling levels of unemployment. Bank of Greece figures show around 23.5 million tourists visited in 2015, generating €14.2bn of revenues, or 24% of gross domestic product. Last year, the country’s tourism confederation, SETE, announced arrivals of 27.5 million, an all-time high.

Increasingly, the sector has helped boost much-needed job creation, according to data released by the labour ministry. Recently, the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, said April and May had been record months for tackling the problem with 92,000 and 89,500 jobs created respectively. For every extra 30 holidaymakers a job is created, say officials.

Greek hotels and facilities could improve considerably, but the weather and ancient sites already have peaked.

Here is the full piece by Helena Smith.

Ben was wildly charming and charismatic before the crowd.  My questions tried to get at how he thinks rather than the hot button issues of the day.  Here is the transcript, audio, and video.  We covered Kansas vs. Nebraska, famous Nebraskans, Chaucer and Luther, unicameral legislatures, the decline of small towns, Ben’s prize-winning Yale Ph.d thesis on the origins of conservatism,  what he learned as a university president, Stephen Curry, Chevy Chase, Margaret Chase Smith, and much more.

Here is one bit from Ben:

Neverland and Peter Pan is a dystopian hell. Neverland is not a good place. You don’t want to get to the place where you’re physically an adult and you have no moral sense, you have no awareness of history, you have no interest in the future. Peter Pan is killing people, and he doesn’t really care; he doesn’t remember their names. It’s a really dystopian thing. Perpetual adolescence is the bad thing.

Adolescence is special. We need to figure out how to use adolescence; it’s a means to an end. So that’s what the book’s about.

I am an Augustinian in my anthropology, but Rousseau is a romantic. I think he’s wrong about lots and lots and lots of things, but I think he’s really, really smart. You have to engage him, and you have to engage people who have ideas that are different than yours because you may ultimately be converted to their view, and you need to encounter things that are big and challenging and threatening to your worldview. Or you may sometimes come to believe you’re right and be able to respond to the counterarguments, while your argument will be better. You’ll grow through it, and you’ll become more persuasive to others through it.

So I think Rousseau’s fundamental anthropological understanding of why we feel that things are broken in our soul is, he’s got a reason to blame society for everything we feel is wrong in the world, and I think there’s a lot of brokenness deep inside all of us, and so, that’s the Augustinian versus Rousseauvian sense of what’s wrong.

But I think the Emile is brilliant, both because it forces me to wrestle with ideas that I don’t agree with, or mostly don’t agree with, but I think it’s also just an incredibly good read.

Then there was this:

COWEN: …Might one argue that the more one thinks and writes about sex, the more you’re led to Rousseauian conclusions that a certain kind of constraint will prove impossible, and then one is pulled away further from Ben Sasse–like conclusions.

SASSE: That’s a really fair question. I wanted to stay away from sex 100 percent, and then ultimately I couldn’t do it.

COWEN: There’s three pages in your book about sex.

SASSE: Yeah.

COWEN: And page 33 mentions it once.

You’ll have to read the whole thing to see where Ben took that line of inquiry, his answer was excellent.

You don’t see many luxury goods shops, as the region has been deindustrializing since the 1990s.  There are modernist 1920s cement buildings scattered in some of the old central parts of the city, but nowhere is it attractive.  There is a nine-hour Chinese movie about the city falling on hard economic times, with its three segments called “Rust,” “Remnants,” and “Rails.”

If you travel a lot, you should not restrict yourself to “nice” places, which are more likely to disappoint.

Many of the city’s faces seem to have Korean, Japanese, or Turkic elements, befitting the location and the history.

The main sight is the Manchu imperial palace, a smaller, more accessible, and more atmospheric version of Beijing’s Forbidden City, but with hints of 17th century Manchurian and Tibetan styles.  This city ruled China in the early years of the Qing Dynasty, before the torch was passed to Beijing.

Embedded in Marshal Zhang’s Mansion is the best museum of money and currency I have seen; the Marshal was a heroic leader in the war against Japan, but later made “a wrong choice” and spent much of his 100-year life under house arrest.

The two major tombs in the city have little to offer except long walks on flat plains leading essentially nowhere.

For food the city shines, even by Chinese standards.  Laobian Dumpling serves what are perhaps the best dumplings I have had, and Xin Fen Tian is the place for fine regional specialties.  The city’s cuisine blends meat-heavy, dumpling-related Manchu dishes, rich and earthy casseroles, stews, and mushrooms, and finally Shandong-inspired seafood styles, stemming from the proximity to the coast.  The quality of the local fruit is high, blueberries and cherries included, and the nuts are famous throughout China.

Here is Wikipedia on the Soviet-Sino conflict of 1929, in which Shenyang (then Mukden) played a significant role.  The Mukden incident of 1931 was used to provoke/excuse the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.  Nowadays, Shenyang is a major stop on the North Korean refugee route to Laos (China returns them to NK, but some other countries will send them to SK).

Hardly any non-Chinese tourists come here, and that seems unlikely to change.  Yet this is a rich corner of history and cuisine, a former leader of Asian industrialization, a major seat of historic conflict, a crossroads of cultures, and now a mostly forgotten piece of turf.  What more could a boy want?

If Shenyang stays sleepy, the world will remain safe!

As organized, multiplayer video game competitions — also known as esports, or electronic sports — continue to gain recognition in China, entertainment giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. has accelerated its esports expansion with the unveiling of a new five-year plan.

The plan, which involves setting up esports leagues, tournaments and associations, nurturing players and constructing esports-themed industrial parks, was published by Tencent E-Sports, a subsidiary established in early December.

Tencent is the world’s largest mobile gaming company by revenue, according to research firm Newzoo. With the new plan, it aims to create a 100-billion-yuan esports industry in China within five years, the company announced on Friday at a press conference.

The plan was based on Tencent’s expectations that China is set to become the world’s largest esports market. Tencent predicted there will be 220 million esports players in China and 335 million globally by the end of this year.

Here is the story.  And:

The number of Chinese “red tourists” who visit Russia to retrace a shared communist history has been soaring in recent years, contributing to the wave of Chinese visitors to Russia that has grown with the help of closer bilateral relations between the countries, according to industry insiders on Tuesday.

“There definitely is growing interest among Chinese tourists for Russia, especially the older generations, who are nostalgic about the history of Russia,” Zeng Qingan, general manager of Beijing Global Travel Ltd, told the Global Times.

Zeng said that since his company started tour groups to Russia nine years ago, the number of participants has increased fast, especially after the company redesigned its tour routes in 2014 to cover historical Soviet Union era sites, including the Red Square and Victory Square in Moscow, the Lenin Memorial Museum in Ulyanovsk and Moscow State University. The travel firm called it the “Red Tourism” package.

Link here.  The revolution not only will be televised, but they will make an e-sports version of it, marketed on WeChat.

The Return of the Jitney

by on June 20, 2017 at 7:27 am in Economics, Travel | Permalink

Lyft’s new service, Lyft Shuttle, works on a fixed route for a fixed fee during commute hours. Salon mocks this as a “glorified city bus with fewer poor people.” In fact, Lyft Shuttle and Uber Pool, which is moving in a similar direction, are an improved form of jitney. Jitneys were very popular in the early history of the automobile because they were cheaper, safer and more flexible than public transit but the transit companies lobbied to have them made illegal or burdened with heavy costs.

In many less developed economies, however, jitneys remain a popular form of transit. In New York City, jitneys never quite went away but have continued to operate, mostly illegally, under the name jitneys or shared taxis or dollar vans. Moreover, contrary to Salon, the jitney has always been a form of transit appreciated by the poor. Here’s wikipedia on New York City’s dollar vans:

Dollar vans are typically modified passenger van, and often operate in urban neighborhoods that are under-served by public mass transit or taxis. Some of the dollar vans are licensed and regulated, while others operate illegally. Passengers may board them at designated stops along their route or hail them as share taxis….Dollar vans are often owned and used by members of inner-city communities, such as African/Caribbean American, Latino, and Asian-American populations.

The transit companies did have a legitimate beef with the jitneys. The jitneys would often free-ride on the market making of the transit companies by swooping in just before a bus’s scheduled arrival. Without passengers the transit company wasn’t profitable but without a transit company to ease coordination the jitneys weren’t as profitable or as efficient as they might be–jitneys were subject to what Al Roth calls market unraveling which led in turn to market thinness.

Klein, Moore and Reja came up with a clever solution to the unraveling problem, curb rights (see also my book Entrepreneurial Economics). Curb rights are rights to pickup passengers allocated by curb location and hour.

Will the new form of jitneys be subject to unraveling? Will curb rights be necessary? Probably not. Lyft has moved the location of coordination from the unowned streets to owned cyberspace. Thus the privatization of coordination has solved a market thinning problem that has plagued jitneys for over a hundred years.

Public transit still has useful features, especially the economies of scale available with subways. Economies of scale also make subways, as of yet, a natural monopoly for which regulation may be useful. It’s difficult to see, however, what market failure exists in the market for road transit. We might want to subsidize people but there’s little reason to subsidize buses or other forms of road transit.

Bleg for Dalian, China

by on June 17, 2017 at 8:32 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

After my trip to Shenyang, I’ll be in Dalian for the World Economic Forum.  Nonetheless I will get there a day early and have time to look around — what do you all recommend?

CHJ Automotive have not released official images yet of the car, but showed CNBC some of the initial designs of the ultra-compact vehicle. The car is 2.5 meters long and 1 meter wide. It runs on two batteries which are swappable, meaning that the car won’t need to stop for too long at a charging station to re-juice. Google’s in-car operating system called Android Auto is equipped in the vehicle

It will be priced at between 7,000 euros ($7,824) and 8,000 euros.

While it may seem like a small vehicle, Shen explained the target market the company is after in China.

“In China, there are 340 million people (who) daily commute with e-scooters, but there is a strong demand for them to upgrade to something,” Shen told CNBC in a TV interview on Friday.

“But we cannot imagine all of them driving cars, so we want to give them something else, which is an ultra-compact car.”

The product might be used for ride-sharing in Europe as well.  Here is the article, forgive the noisy music at the link, via Ray Kwong.

Here is the transcript and podcast (no video).  Jill and I discuss Mary Pickford, Dickens in America, why the early United States did not blossom culturally, Steve Bannon as a character from a 19th century painting, what the Tea Party got wrong and right, H.G. Wells, her working class background, Doctor Who and Gilligan’s Island, Elizabeth Bishop, what Americans don’t like about New England, Stuart Little, how she got her start as a secretary at HBS, and many other topics.  Highly intelligent throughout, though note it is not easy to excerpt.  Here is one good bit:

COWEN: You’ve argued at times that people overestimate the connectedness of the present with the American past. It’s not just that the past is a foreign country as Peter Laslett suggested, but it’s indeed stranger in some sense. If we could undo those mistaken intuitions about, “Oh this is like the 1960s” or “This is like Andrew Jackson,” whatever the analogy may be, what’s a concrete example of how that could improve our understanding of the current world?

LEPORE: I like to think about it in a different structural way. That completely understandable desire to find a historical analogy is just like to take an accordion and compress it.

COWEN: Yes.

LEPORE: They make then just like now. So, “Oh I know, Trump is just like Andrew Jackson. It’s the same move. He’s appealing to the people. He’s unwilling to enforce the rulings of the Supreme Court. He’s overriding Congress in order to get the mandate.” Whatever it is that you want to say about those two people. And that seems to me really quite kooky.

A different move that I find much more edifying and historically defensible is to pull open the accordion and stretch it open as far as you can, so you can see the distance between now and Andrew Jackson, the distance between Trump and Jackson, and try to understand what happened between those two characters and those two presidencies that helps us to see transformation. It’s a little bit like some of the controversy over how to interpret the Constitution. Because originalism, to me, is like squishing that accordion all the way together. “What would James Madison think?” is the question that originalists want to ask. Whereas I want to know what happened between when Madison thought that and here where we are now. And that’s a very different kind of constitutional interpretation.

In 1987, when it was the 200th anniversary of the Constitutional Convention, there was a lot of hoopla. It was right after the Robert Bork nomination, and then originalism was very much the priority of the Reagan justice department under Edwin Meese, and there’s a lot of conversation about the filial piety of a bicentennial. And this is an exciting thing to think about, that 200th anniversary of the Constitution.

Thurgood Marshall, as you know, the first African American Supreme Court justice who’d argued Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 — he was asked, “Are you going to participate in the hoopla, the bicentennial hoopla of the Constitution?” He gives this incredibly powerful speech in which he says, “No. You know what I’m willing to celebrate, not that document, which was flawed. Let’s just understand the ways in which it was flawed. I will celebrate the 200 years since, the 200 years of struggle to make good on the promises of that document.” And it’s that kind of thinking, that kind of historical thinking that contributes to our popular culture and to our discussions of the relationship between the past and the present, more than that desire to really collapse things and say, “Oh it’s 2008; this is just like 1932.” It’s not. It’s really not like 1932.

And:

LEPORE: I remained somewhat befuddled by how a lot of things happen in the world.

Recommended…

“The amount of high bridge construction in China is just insane,” said Eric Sakowski, an American bridge enthusiast who runs a website on the world’s highest bridges. “China’s opening, say, 50 high bridges a year, and the whole of the rest of the world combined might be opening 10.”

Of the world’s 100 highest bridges, 81 are in China, including some unfinished ones, according to Mr. Sakowski’s data. (The Chishi Bridge ranks 162nd.)

China also has the world’s longest bridge, the 102-mile Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge, a high-speed rail viaduct running parallel to the Yangtze River, and is nearing completion of the world’s longest sea bridge, a 14-mile cable-stay bridge skimming across the Pearl River Delta, part of a 22-mile bridge and tunnel crossing that connects Hong Kong and Macau with mainland China.

The country’s expressway growth has been compared to that of the United States in the 1950s, when the Interstate System of highways got underway, but China is building at a remarkable clip. In 2016 alone, China added 26,100 bridges on roads, including 363 “extra large” ones with an average length of about a mile, government figures show.

Here is the Chris Buckley NYT piece, excellent visuals too.  Via Kevin Lewis.