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Kicking Away the Ladder September 15, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, History.
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(Something I had begun writing more than a month ago and was sitting in my drafts folder)

For people who are interested in the hows and whys of historical successes in economic development, and especially the impact of foreign trade and the conditions thereof (and who isn’t?), this piece in the Independent is a good place to start.

If that piques your interest, Ha-Joon Chang’s “Kicking Away the Ladder” itself is also a good read.

Of course, economic development of entire nations does not rise or fall on just one issue, however given the fairly one-sided debate (discounting the failed economic models which continue to have religious adherents) which conveniently glosses over significant historical facts, it is heartening to see a piece in the mainstream press (albeit in the Indy which many may(!) consider left of centre) which challenges the dogma that a strict form of free market capitalism is the best model for the economic development of a developing nation (especially in a highly assymetric environment with powerful external forces), and might persuade some people to dig into the matter in more detail.

When I first read Kicking Away the Ladder, what struck me most was the (re-)realization that formal history education is sorely lacking. People harp on about how the Japanese education system’s history text books are inaccurate (or gloss over awkward issues), but I certainly saw little evidence of any attempt at tackling the multi-dimensional nature of historical events in any of the other attempts at taught history in any other country either.

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China invests in Blackstone May 22, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, Finance, History, Japan.
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China is putting $3B into Blackstone which is preparing to IPO. (Times)

This is the tip of the iceberg. The same article goes on to say that $200B is earmarked for overseas investments.

Jin Renqing, the Finance Minister, has said that one of its models would be Singapore’s state-owned Temasek Holdings, which invests in a broad range of industrial and financial assets at home and abroad, including Chinese state-owned banks.

I’ve been saying privately to anyone who wants to listen (and to many who probably don’t) that Japan should be embarking on a similar strategy with a strategic fund which is aligned to Japanese interests and strengths. (I suspect the best way would not be to get the government to do it themselves, otherwise it will end up being another exercise in futility, staffed by clueless academic “experts” and others who will be busy trying to divert money to their (and their supporters’) interests as is so often the case)

I don’t think putting money into funds controlled by interests not necessarily aligned with Japanese interests is the way to go (but then I’m sure it was a cheap way for China to get in the current US regime’s good books – after all Swarzman and Bush Jr were dorm mates at Yale – China isn’t stupid), but the country needs a well financed fund to a) keep key Japanese interests from being transferred to competitive hands outright (such as this one, but even moreso the other business units belonging to same), and b) to take a stake in overseas assets which are aligned with the future direction of the Japanese industrial base. (I’m thinking strategic technology and access to resources (energy, raw materials, logistics))

Japan’s foreign currency reserves are only $900B (according to the IMF) compared to $1.2Trillion for China, but there is another $2.1Trillion sitting in the Japan Postal Savings system, more than half of which are in low yield Japanese Government Bonds. It would seem that it would be in the government’s interest to put some of that into play.

Give me and my buddies $100B or so to go to work with, and I’m confident that we can return more money to the Postal Savings system than the current investments, whilst simultaneously strengthening Japan’s strategic position. Hell, even with just $10B and taking strong positions in venture businesses and SMEs I can see a lot of opportunities. I’m sure some of the big industrial companies and financial groups would be willing to pitch in a little money, after all they seem to be perfectly fine financing overseas funds in a similar fashion.

I’ll even offer to work on a miniscule management fee. The fee depends on the focus of the fund, but I think Japan needs new hands-on players in the VC scene (ie people with a nose for technology who are with the programme and not playing the game 6~24 (or more) months behind the global leaders), as well as in the bigger PE sector. If that is the case, it’ll need more than a handful of people to manage of course. Still, I’d have absolutely no interest in trying to get rich off management fees, nor do I feel the need for a corporate jet.
I’m not holding my breath for the Japanese government to come knocking on my door, although there are certain individuals (ok, one) making the right noises.

Hitoshi Igarashi (1947-1991) July 24, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in crime, History, Japan.
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The 15 year statue of limitations expired earlier this month, in the unresolved murder case of Hitoshi Igarashi, an assistant professor of comparative culture and specialising in Islamic studies at Tsukuba University.

It is highly likely that he was murdered because he had translated Salman Rushdie’s controversial “Satanic Verses”.  Only a week earlier, the Italian translator of the book was also attacked and stabbed, although he escaped with his life.

The murder is all the more tragic because Igarashi’s stated position on the issue was a conciliatory one, trying to bridge the gap between the Islamists’ position and the one espoused by Rushdie. He felt that by translating the piece and making it more accessible to Japanese readers, more people would have a chance to judge for themselves.

The police are continuing their investigations, as the statute of limitations is suspended for any period that the assailant is outside Japanese jurisdiction. Rumours persist that an Iranian securities force backed hit squad was flown in specifically for this attack, and if this were the case the assailants probably fled the country quickly, and may still be brought to justice.

I thought it was a shame that this issue, relating to freedom of speech which is such a fundamental cornerstone of western beliefs of personal freedom, have received such little press. Not even a statement from Rushdie to mark the 15 year anniversary.

We must not forget.

The CYA mentality May 20, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in History, Japan.
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Watching the NHK news just now, they had a piece about how they found some more mold growing on some of the paintings on the wall of the crypt at Takamatsuzuka burial mound.

The cause of the mold growth and the way the cultural affairs ministry insiders had attempted to hide the problem is strikingly similar to the situation at Lascaux. In France also, the people involved with the preservation inadvertently caused the initiation of the mold growth (in both cases contamination is thought to have occured when air conditioning units were being installed, and constructions workers were not sufficiently decontaminated before entering the work area), and they also attempted to cover up the problem. 

In both cases, problems were denied then understated, all the while access to the sites were restricted so that others would not find out how serious the problems were. At Takamatsuzuka, work is going on to remove the paintings from the walls, and it appears the people involved had hoped that they could get on with this work before the mold destroyed the paintings and their incompetence would go unnoticed. Of course, the best solution would have been to preserve the site as is, but that was not possible since the contamination and mold growth, and it seems that those responsible for this fiasco had begun strongly advocating removing the paintings when they found out they were responsible for the contamination and putting the paintings in danger.

The story from Lescaux also features prominently denials and restriction of access for independent outsiders.

Taxpayers' money is wasted on these people with little academic and moral integrity. The only thing these academics and bureaucrats have in common is a cover your ass mentality. To think that their own careers are more important than these historically important artefacts is so stunningly selfish, I am really lost for words, but as the two cases on opposite sides of the world go to show, lack of integrity seems to be an all too common human trait.