Category: Current Affairs

Solve for the equilibrium?

At $US15,000, BYD’s new Qin EV is already being touted as a “Corolla killer”, as the world’s second largest EV maker continues to disrupt the global auto market.

Launched earlier this week in China, the all-electric Qin Plus has five variants priced between 109,800 RMB to ($A23,300) to 139,800 RMB ($A29,700).

The Qin Plus comes with a 100 kW motor and the option of either a 48 kWh battery providing 420 km CLTC range or a 57.6 kW hour battery with 510 km range.

Mobility consultant James Carter wrote on LinkedIn  the new offering is the $15,000 car that incumbent OEMs (car makers) hoped would never come.

“The new BYD Qin Plus EV Honor Edition is the car that makes EVs way cheaper than ICE vehicles and blows open the mainstream market,” he wrote.

Here is the full article.  So will U.S. and EU car prices fall?  Or will protectionism result?  Aren’t they planning to make a bunch of these cars in northern Mexico? Will America invent some new kind of trade restriction?

What should I ask Fareed Zakaria?

Here is Fareed’s home page, here is Wikipedia:

Fareed Rafiq Zakaria…is an Indian-American journalist, political commentator, and author. He is the host of CNN‘s Fareed Zakaria GPS and writes a weekly paid column for The Washington Post. He has been a columnist for Newsweek, editor of Newsweek International, and an editor at large of Time.

He was managing editor of Foreign Affairs at age 28, briefly a wine columnist for Slate, and much more.  His new book Age of Revolutions: Progress and Backlash from 1600 to the Present is very classically liberal, and in my terms “Progress Studies”-oriented.

So what should I ask him?

Claims about Iran (from the comments)

I’ve chatted with a lot of Iranians online in the past few years (they’re in Iran). Some of their takes (always subject to the “plural of anecdote is not “data”)…

1. Islam is seen by younger people as the doctrine of a failed government staffed by a bunch of crooks.
2. And it’s a foreign, Arab imposition, while the “real Iran” – the Achaenemids – were Zoroastrians, but quite willing to allow non-judgemental religious pluralism.
3. The IRGC is staffed by redneck losers, or by non-Iranians. (Iran has a separate “regular army” that all Iranian men must join as conscripts.)
4. There is a rather vast city-country divide, with people in the big Iranian cities largely non-religious or dabbling in Zoroastrianism, with the last stronghold of Islam being rural areas, particularly near Afghanistan (and around some of the religious cities).
5. The Iranian government is surprisingly weak in places like universities, where numerous people are openly hostile to it.
6. It also is pretty weak in its ability to control the Internet; it shuts down the entire Internet occasionally, but it doesn’t have much of a “great Chinese firewall” in place to selectively filter.
7. Many younger Iranians can read and write – and often speak – quite a lot of English, and they have access to Western websites.
8. Booze and drugs are highly available in Iran.

My impression from my chats with them is Iran is far from the Islamic North Korea it’s often made out to be.

I don’t myself have a good sense of those issues, but I thought this gjk comment was interesting enough to pass along.

Why don’t nations buy and sell territory more?

Egypt has agreed to a $35bn deal with the United Arab Emirates to develop the town of Ras el-Hekma town on its northwestern coast, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly announced on Friday after weeks of speculations.

Madbouly said at a news conference, which was attended by Egyptian and Emirati officials, that Egypt will receive an advance amount of $15bn in the coming week, and another $20bn within two months.

The deal is the largest foreign direct investment in an urban development project in the country’s modern history, the prime minister said. It is a partnership between the Egyptian government and an Emirati consortium led by ADQ, he said.

Here is the full story, Nuuk here we come…

Dwarkesh Patel with Patrick Collison

Israel facts of the day

GDP declined by an annualised 19.4 per cent compared with the third quarter. On a pure quarter-by-quarter basis, the economy contracted 5.2 per cent compared with the previous three months.

The sharp drop was caused in part by the call-up of 300,000 reservists, who had to leave behind their workplaces and businesses to embark on months of army service, the Central Bureau of Statistics said.

Other factors to hit the economy included the government’s sponsorship of housing for more than 120,000 Israelis evacuated from the northern and southern border areas of the country.

Following the October 7 attack, Israel also imposed tough restrictions on the movement of Palestinian workers from the West Bank into the country. The move hit the construction sector, causing labour shortages that became an additional drag on economic growth, the bureau said.

Overall, Israel still closed the year with a growing economy, with GDP up 2 per cent in 2023 from 2022. But that compared with an increase of 6.5 per cent a year earlier.

The war has triggered a steep increase in government spending, which rose 88 per cent in the three months after the outbreak of war compared with the preceding quarter. Consumers, meanwhile, were spending 27 per cent less. Imports of goods and services fell 42 per cent, the report said, while exports dropped 18 per cent.

Here is more from Polina Ivanova and Neri Zilber at the FT.

Equatorial Guinea facts of the day

After the discovery of oil in the mid-1990s, per capita income soared and catapulted the country into the club of high income countries (it peaked at over $35,000). Meanwhile, living standards stagnated at deplorable levels — from education attainment, to infant mortality rates, to poverty rates, and more. Primary school enrollment has declined since peaking in the early 2000s. Life expectancy is 15 years lower than in countries of comparable per capita income (presently at round $7500). Poverty rates exceed 70%.

To compound matters, the country’s oil output is in decline. Current oil production (around 52k barrels per day) is a mere 13% of peak production in the mid 2000s. As a result of decades-long neglect of the non-oil sector, overall economic output is declining in tandem with declining oil production.

Here is more from Ken Opalo, the piece is instructive throughout.

Well-functioning democracy for neither me nor for thee?

I have been following only snippets of the debate over whether Biden should step down as the Democratic nominee, for instance here Josh Marshall responds to Ezra Klein (NYT).  Most of all, I am struck by how little faith some of the commentators have in democratic processes.  Let’s consider a few possible arguments why Biden should not step down:

1. The Democratic Party process would not produce an electable candidate against a Republican with dozens of criminal charges against him.  Not even in an election that is supposed to have such enormous stakes.

2. The Democratic Party process would not produce a better candidate than a guy who, whatever the reality may be, is regarded by most of the American public as too old.  Not even in an election that is supposed to have such enormous stakes.

3. An open Democratic Party convention would badly embarrass itself, if it were on the television (and internet) every evening.  Remember Chicago 1968?

4. An open Democratic Party convention would be chaos, and perhaps commandeered by party extremists.

5. “Dealing” with Kamala Harris, whether that means accepting her as the nominee, or easing her out, somehow involves unacceptable consequences.

6. There are other arguments floating around too.

I am not saying these arguments are true (mostly I don’t know), I am merely reporting that I am reading and hearing them, and yes I mean from Democrats.

Most of all, I am struck by how skeptical and cynical these arguments are about democracy.  It’s not even democracy in the “can we beat the Trumpers?” sense, but democratic processes internal to the Democratic Party.

Skepticism about democracy — yet never ever explicitly voiced — is a growing problem among Democratic Party thinkers (though not Ezra).  On one hand, they wish to turn around and call people on the Right, or libertarians, “undemocratic,” or “anti-democratic,” or whatever.  On the other hand, when it comes to actual decisions of great consequence, they are the ones terrified of the democratic processes they themselves have created.  They know that, but can’t quite bring themselves to voice their doubts in those terms.

I am pleased to see that I am more positive on democracy than so many of the Democratic Party thinkers.  I don’t have any particular predictions about the 2024 cycle, but I can report that I am not short the market.  What I observe, however, is just how many people are shorting democratic processes and ideals.  Must, sooner or later, a greater consistency between theory and practice reign?  Or are professed views simply the handmaiden of political convenience, and they will, one way or another, disperse and end up blowing in the wind?

U.S. equity market dominance

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column:

The worldwide dominance of US equities is increasingly obvious. Of the top 10 components of the MSCI global stocks index — which itself now consists of about 70% US stocks — eight are US technology companies. The S&P 500 has breached the 5,000 level. On most days, Apple or Microsoft alone is more valuable than the entire stock markets of major European countries. By one estimate, last year publicly traded US firms accounted for 44.9% of global market capitalization.

All these gaudy numbers raise a question: Is the world on the cusp of a new American century, at least in the corporate realm? The answer is a qualified “yes.”

And this:

The major US tech companies sell to the entire world. Therefore part of the relative rise of US equities is about the liquidity and prestige of US markets, not just US economic success. US listings will dominate, and all the more over time, even when US customers are not the main source of revenue. Say you found a successful French AI company. Wouldn’t you prefer to be listed on the Nasdaq rather than on Paris Stock Exchange? A Nasdaq listing may make it easier to raise money, and the rest of the world will have a better understanding of the rules under which your securities are governed.

And:

And, just to fill out this rosy picture of America’s economic future, the US is doing well in other kinds of financial markets as well, including venture capital, private equity and private credit. The financialization of an economy does carry risks, but a lot of the recent developments are about deleveraging and greater maturity-matching — which should contribute to stability rather than damage it.

There is much more at the link.

Is some deterrence being restored?

Iran, eager to disrupt U.S. and Israeli interests in the Middle East but wary of provoking a direct confrontation, is privately urging Hezbollah and other armed groups to exercise restraint against U.S. forces, according to officials in the region.

Israel’s brutal war on Hamas in Gaza has stoked conflict between the United States and Iran’s proxy forces on multiple fronts. With no cease-fire in sight, Iran could face the most significant test yet of its ability to exert influence over these allied militias.

When U.S. forces launched strikes this month on Iranian-backed groups in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, Tehran publicly warned that its military was ready to respond to any threat. But in private, senior leaders are urging caution, according to Lebanese and Iraqi officials who were briefed on the talks. They spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive conversations.

U.S. officials say the message might be having some effect. As of Saturday, Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria hadn’t attacked U.S. forces in more than 13 days, an unusual lull since the war in Gaza began in October. The militants held their fire even after a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad killed a senior Kataib Hezbollah official.

“Iran may have realized their interests are not served by allowing their proxies unrestricted ability to attack U.S. and coalition forces,” one U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.

Here is the full WaPo story, via Christian.

Average is Over, love and romance edition

The dating site Tinder reports that, in 2023, 41 percent of Gen Z users were open to or seeking non-monogamous relationships, and 26 percent were open to ‘hierarchical polyamory’.

Here is the link.  On the AI side, from the London Times:

What all my AI girlfriends have in common is that they foster pseudo-intimacy at lightning speed, they all have extra cost levels and they all “gamify” the experience somehow, whether through collectable badges, gems or levels of achievement which reward interaction with the AI.

Good luck young ones, what is the (partially) offsetting change in norms this will produce?

How did Madrid become the capital of European liberalism?

But in the case of Madrid, the last 25 years have been a clear move towards higher degree of tax competitiveness, smart regulation, and an overall liberal policy in the economic sense. And then our society is fairly open and tolerant and recognized to be what we would broadly described as a free society, an open society.

And I guess that began to make sense 10 years ago, but it’s really started to make sense in the last several years. Following the pandemic, I think we had a great opportunity to show that mentality to the rest of the world because as everybody was shutting down, Madrid was Europe’s only open capital for very long in 2020 and 2021.

And I guess that raised a lot of eyebrows. And that is why a lot of people are moving to Madrid. People are voting with their feet. They want more of this. And that’s the Madrid way of liberalism that I discuss in this book. And to be honest, It’s not so common that you get to see 25 years of ongoing, non-stop free market reforms coupled together with an open, tolerant society…

Barcelona had been the icon of openness and the region that projected itself as a more European territory within our country and its economic power powerhouse as well. But sadly for Catalonia and happily for Madrid, there’s been a big change and a big shift to the point that this no longer applies. And it’s not been the case at all for the last few decades. I think the international level, of course, perceptions are harder to shift, but I don’t think anyone in Spain today will argue that Catalonia, as they have moved closer to the ideas of separatism and as nationalism has become a powerful figure in the regional politics, hasn’t been slowly becoming a more closed society.

That is from Diego Sánchez de la Cruz, interviewed by Rasheed Griffith, both podcast and transcript at the link.  Interesting throughout, and Diego has a new book out Liberalismo a la madrileña.

Markets in everything, Korean opening bid edition

“We will continue to do what we can as a company to solve the low birth issue,” Lee Joong-keun, the chairman of Booyoung Group, a Seoul-based construction company, said last week after awarding a total $5.25 million to his employees for 70 babies born since 2021.

Both male and female employees at Booyoung are eligible for a $75,000 payout each time they have a baby — no strings attached.

Here is the full story.

Trump’s threat to let Putin invade NATO countries

I don’t usually blog on “candidate topics,”or “Trump topics,” but a friend of mine asked me to cover this.  As you probably know, Trump threatened to let NATO countries that failed to meet the two percent of gdp defense budget obligation fend for themselves against Putin (video here, with Canadian commentary).  Trump even said he would encourage the attacker.

Long-time MR readers will know I am not fond of Trump, either as a president or otherwise.  (And I am very fond of NATO.)  But on this issue I think he is basically correct.  Yes, I know all about backlash effects.  But so many NATO members do not keep up serious defense capabilities.  And for decades none of our jawboning has worked.

Personally, I would not have proceeded or spoken as Trump did, and I do not address the collective action problems in my own sphere of work and life in a comparable manner (“if you’re not ready with enough publications for tenure, we’ll let Bukele take you!” or “Spinoza, if you don’t stop scratching the couch, I won’t protect you against the coyotes!”).  So if you wish to take that as a condemnation of Trump, so be it.  Nonetheless, I cannot help but feel there is some room for an “unreasonable” approach on this issue, whether or not I am the one to carry that ball.

Even spending two percent of gdp would not get many NATO allies close to what they need to do (and yes I do understand the difference between defense spending and payments to NATO, in any case many other countries are falling down on the job).  I strongly suspect that many of those nations just don’t have effective fighting forces at all, and in essence they are standing at zero percent of gdp, even if their nominal expenditures say hit 1.7 percent.  Remember the report that the German Army trained with broomsticks because they didn’t have enough machine guns?  How many of those forces are actually ready to fire and fight in a combat situation?  It is far from obvious that the Ukraine war — a remarkably grave and destructive event — has fixed that situation.

The nations that see no need to have workable martial capabilities at all are a real threat to NATO, and yes this includes Canada, which shares a very large de facto Arctic border with Putin, full of valuable natural resources.  Even a United States led by Nikki Haley cannot do all the heavy lifting here.  What if the U.S. is tied down in Asia and/or the Middle East when further trouble strikes?  That no longer seems like such a distant possibility.  And should Western Europe, over time, really become “foreign policy irrelevant,” relative to the more easternmost parts of NATO?  That too is not good for anybody.

With or without Trump’s remarks, we are likely on a path of nuclear proliferation, starting in Poland.

People talk about threats to democracy in Poland, and I am not happy they have restricted the power of their judiciary.  But consider Germany.  The country has given up its energy independence, it may lose a significant portion of its manufacturing base, its earlier economic strategy was to cast its lot with Russia and China, AfD is the #2 party there and growing, and the former east is politically polarized and illiberal, among other problems.  Most of all, the country has lost its will to defend itself.  That is in spite of a well-educated population and a deliberative political systems that in the more distant past worked well.  You can criticize Trump’s stupid provocations all you want, but unless you have a better idea for waking Germany (and other countries) up, you are probably just engaging in your own mood affiliation.  On this issue, “argument by adjective” ain’t gonna’ cut it.

The best scenario is that Trump raises these issues, everyone in Canada and Western Europe screams, they clutch their pearls and are horrified for months, but over time the topic becomes more focal and more ensconced in their consciousness.  Eventually more Democrats may pick up the Trump talking points, as they have done with China.  Perhaps three to five years from now that can lead to some positive action.  And if they are calling his words “appalling and unhinged,” as indeed they are, well that is going to drive more page views.

The odds may be against policy improvement in any case, but by this point it seems pretty clear standard diplomacy isn’t going to work.  I am just not that opposed to a “Hail Mary, why not speak some truth here?” approach to the problem.  Again, I wouldn’t do it, but at the margin it deserves more support than it is getting.  Of course it is hard for the MSM American intelligentsia to show any sympathy for Trump’s remarks, because his words carry the implication that spending more on social welfare has an unacceptably high opportunity cost.  So you just won’t find much objective debate of the issues at stake.

If you’re worried about Trump encouraging Putin, that is a real concern but the nations on the eastern flank of NATO are all above two percent, Bulgaria excepted.  Maybe this raises the chance that Putin is emboldened to blow up some Western European infrastructure?  Make a move against Canada in the Arctic?  I still could see that risk as panning out into greater preparedness, greater deterrence, and a better outcome overall.  Western Europe of course has a gdp far greater than that of Putin’s Russia. they just don’t have the right values, in addition to not spending enough on defense.

So on this one Trump is indeed the Shakespearean truth-teller, and (I hope) for the better.

Lithium

WEF 2002: The world could face lithium shortages by 2025, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says, while Credit Suisse thinks demand could treble between 2020 and 2025, meaning “supply would be stretched”.

Reuters 2023:  Lithium producers are growing anxious that delays in mine permitting, staffing shortages and inflation may hinder their ability to supply enough of the battery metal to meet the world’s aggressive electrification timelines.

GEP 2023: Lithium faces supply shortages due to past underinvestment amid surging electric vehicle demand.

This list could easily be extended. In contrast here from Nat Bullard’s presentation is data on battery prices per kilowatt-hour. Note that almost all of the above is very short-term extrapolation from the price increase in 2022. As Tyler says, do not underrate the elasticity of supply.

But I haven’t yet given you my favorite headline on this topic, an all-time classic:

Lithium Price Crash Could Trigger Shortages From 2025