August 2nd, 2010

[LINK] "Cape Breton synagogue closing"

This CBC news article advertising the decline of the Jewish community of Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island, besides reflecting the ongoing themes of Atlantic Canadian emigration-cum-urbanization and the assimilation of small communities in diasporas, underlines for me the differences between Cape Breton and Pricne Edward Island. The Jewish community of Prince Edward Island, several dozen people strong, is notable (as I blogged once) more for its absence than anything else; with a long history of mass emigration and an unpromising subsistence economy, the Island never attracted many immigrants after Confederation. Cape Breton, now, did have a dynamic industrial economy that attracted people of many diverse backgrounds, emphasis on did.

The 109-year-old synagogue in Glace Bay, N.S., is shutting down, leaving Temple Sons of Israel in Sydney as the sole remaining synagogue on the island.

But it may suffer the same fate in a decade.

"I think the synagogue on Whitney Avenue should have at least another 10 years," said Martin Chernin, president of the Sydney synagogue.

Chernin's family roots in Cape Breton go back to the early 1900s when the area's coal mines and steel plant attracted immigrants from eastern Europe.

By the late 1940s, Chernin said, there were more than 400 Jewish families in industrial Cape Breton, with synagogues in Sydney, Whitney Pier, New Waterford and Glace Bay. Many families had thriving businesses.

"The next generation came along, the parents pushed them to go to university and become professionals. And they did a lot of them. And their children after that did the same thing and, of course, they never came back to Cape Breton," said Chernin.

The Congregation Sons of Israel Synagogue in Glace Bay has about a dozen members. Last year, for the first time ever, there were no high holiday services. Planning is underway to determine what to do with the building.

Chernin said the Sydney congregation has just 57 members, with only a few children, and it relies on a visiting rabbi from Halifax.

[LINK] "Gulf Science"

At 'Aqoul, the Lounsbury comments on a Financial Times article that discusses the efforts of Persian Gulf states to establish thriving and indigenized academic cultures, the sorts of cultures that (it is theorized) would make the Middle East a centre of technical innovation.

The Arab world used to be a prime place for science, research and technology, but in the past couple of centuries it has deteriorated a lot, due to politics and ignorance. Things finally look like they are getting better now,” says Wael al-Delaimy, an associate professor of medicine at University of California, San Diego.

Abu Dhabi, for example, intends to pump Dh4.9bn ($1.3bn) into research and development by 2018 under a strategic plan for higher education announced last month. The emirate’s plan calls for 28 per cent of its graduates to be in engineering-related areas. But currently only about 9 per cent of higher education students are in those fields, says the Abu Dhabi Education Council.

Institutions such as the Qatar Foundation, home to branches of six US universities, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, and the Sorbonne and New York university branches being established in Abu Dhabi, are trying to fill the shortfall. Most are teaching establishments for undergraduates. But the intention is that, with time, they will conduct research and award doctorates. ....
Not all has gone well. This month John Perkins, the provost of Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Institute, said he was leaving for “personal reasons”. The Masdar Institute has been formed in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and aims to carry out research in renewable technologies. ....

“They [the universities] are slowly beginning to realise that money cannot buy people, especially scientists,” says Hilal Lashuel of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. “The lack of equal treatment is a major problem. Hiring and pay is based on nationality and not merit, and Arab scientists are often disadvantaged when it comes to both.”

In Dubai, Tarik Yousef, the dean of the Dubai School of Government, a think tank, agrees that a research culture cannot be developed remotely or by one and two-week visits. .... “I don’t think they [the universities] are going about it the right way. Who are they using to recruit people? [They use] this executive approach,” Mr Yousef says. Some universities are losing as many people each year as they recruit, he says. ....

“Academics want time for research – and they want to be rewarded . . . It has to be a two-way conversation,” he says. “The first question people ask me is: what is my teaching load? How much administrative work am I going to have to do? Am I going to be able to organise seminars and attend conferences and deliver papers?”

Another issue is citizenship. Gulf states have historically granted citizenship grudgingly if at all. In a globalised business such as academia where people prefer not to move frequently, the prospect of working for decades in a country and then being denied the right to stay there is unattractive.

Beginning by commenting that the Persian Gulf states are not synonymous with the Arab world--their oil wealth aside, the Persian Gulf states combined don't have the population of Egypt--the Lounsbury suggests that the more traditionalist and family-oriented culture of the Persian Gulf states won't allow for the merit-based system necessary for a successful academic culture, unlike in other Arab societies that have seen more modernization (Egypt, the Maghreb, "even Jordan").

[LINK] "Brave New World?"

3 Quarks Daily's Sara Firisen writes about the impact of new social networking technologies on children, and the need to educate them in appropriate use.

Will our children understand loneliness in the sense that previous generations did? In the world of texting, Facebook, Foursquare, etc., continuous connectivity to many other people is now the norm, however superficial these relationships may or may not be. If this kind of connectivity isn’t sufficient, there are various services, both paid and free, that are connecting people with new potential “friends”, or at least acquaintances:, a relatively new service, allows users to do just that, rent a friend for an hour or so. Craigslist, long a means for people to connect for casual hookups, or to advertise a yard sale, also has a section called Strictly Platonic, which enables users to find someone to connect with for everything from phone chats regarding, “jobs, men, losing weight, goals we hope to accomplish”, to finding someone to go to the theater with.

I don’t want to debate the pros and cons of this new digitally facilitated connectivity. Apart from anything else, it just is what it is. This is the future that children are growing up in, and if anything, it is almost certainly only the tip of the iceberg. Rather, the debate needs to be structured around what new life skills need to be taught in anticipation of this digital social revolution. I've written before about the importance of teaching children how to use social media safely and about maintaining their digital reputations. Perhaps, such a class should be part of every school’s curriculum, just as sex education should be. Children, even ones younger than teens, need to understand that it is likely that what they put out on the web today will follow them for many years, through college applications, job applications and dating.

[LINK] "Latvia: The Demographic Price Of Procrastination"

A Fistful of Euros recently featured Edward Hugh's post on Latvia's problematic prospects. That central Baltic state suffers from serious issues, with mass emigration compounded by very low fertility and relatively high death rates. A Spanish researcher has some observations of note.

Eliana Marino’s work is both extremely interesting and extraordinarily important, since what it illustrates is the negative feedback mechanism that can be activated by having an “L” shaped non-recovery in a rapidly ageing society with extremely low underlying fertility. What Eliana did was something macro economists seldom consider doing, she carried out some qualitative research, rather than running a computer model, to find out just what was happening on the ground.

The resulting survey, which she personally conducted in Riga from September to December 2009 and which involved some of the leading Latvian experts on migration issues, lead her to estimate that around 30,000 people may well have left Latvia in 2009 and the same number are likely to follow them in 2010. These numbers are considerably greater than the official register shows. As she argues these large emigration flows from Latvia will have a significant effect on the future demographic and economic path of the country, creating serious problems of labour shortage, unsustanability of the pension system and accelerating the already significant population decline.

As she concludes, Latvia faces tremendously difficult choices. Latvians basically have to reengineer their entire culture in the middle of profound economic breakdown.

The experts interviewed in the last months of 2009 proposed different solutions to both economic and demographic challenges but they agreed on the fact that a more liberal immigration policy might be really helpful to solve problems of labour shortage and pension sustainability as well as to contribute to the inversion of the negative demographic trends. However, this proposal, which is one of the main topic of public debate since the economic boom, is in direct conflict with the hostility of national population toward immigrants. Latvian critical historical experience with integration of different ethnicities is the clearest explanation of this hostility and probably some years are still needed to overcome these cultural barriers.

In definitive, the results of the survey allow to conclude that Latvia needs some important structural reforms (concerning an efficient social policy, a comprehensive population policy, a strong action against corruption and a reduction of the bureaucratic burden) to be implemented by the national government in order to prepare the country to play its role at the European and international level and to take the best advantages from the opportunities provided by the integration and globalization process. The first step to achieve this objective is the promotion of a cultural change whose main goal is to dump the “dependency from the past” and to open mental and factual borders to modernity.

[BRIEF NOTE] Is globalization a phantom here, but positive and solid elsewhere?

Is the past decades' globalization politically viable if it amounts to a mechanism for wealth transfers from stagnant wealthy countries to dynamic poor ones? That's the question that's been in my head thanks to the Globe and Mail's Doug Saunders, who has been writing a series of interesting articles examining the consequence sof the collapse of the last decades' economic boom, filing reports from Europe while considering the wider world. In last Saturday's "Was the boom worth it?", he considered just that question.

If we do it all over again, should we avoid that risk – or were there sustainable gains that made the volatility worth it? To formulate an answer, I enlisted the assistance of economic researcher Allison Martell, who spent the week scouring the latest economic statistics for North America and Europe.

[. . . ]

The after-tax incomes of the bottom 20 per cent of Canadians had fallen slightly during the crisis of the 1990s, from $21,000 to $19,000 (in constant 2008 dollars); beginning in 1997, they rose steadily, to just shy of $24,000. Among the next highest 20 per cent, they rose from $32,000 to 40,000 – and, with both groups, the purchasing power of their earnings seems to have levelled off but not fallen.

The same was somewhat true in Britain, though incomes have fallen in recent years. In the United States, it’s a different picture: After-tax earnings peaked in 2000, fell somewhat throughout the 2000s, and went off a cliff after 2008, dropping to 1997 levels (though not yet to pre-boom 1994 levels).

[. . .]

Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey shows that home ownership rose from 65 per cent in 1993 to somewhere above 75 per cent in 2008 with a slight dip, of 4 percentage points, at the end. In the U.S., it rose from 64 per cent in the 1990s to 69 per cent in 2005, then slumped every year after that, back to 1999 levels in 2009. European rates have generally held steady, except in Ireland, where they have plummeted to pre-boom levels (some European figures aren’t yet available).

But we should be wary: A study by the U.S. Federal Reserve last month looked at “real” homeownership, by discounting people who owe more than their homes are worth (and thus are unlikely to own them forever). That cuts the rate by 5.6 percentage points, killing most boom-period gains. We don’t know these figures for other countries, but Britain, Spain and Ireland all have plenty of “underwater” mortgages, and Canada generally doesn’t.

Indeed, the debt that made possible all those gains could end up undermining them completely. We looked at total consumer debt compared with income and, in almost every Western country, it rose sharply – even during the boom years, when incomes were rising. In the U.S. and Britain, debt went from 65 per cent of income in 1994 to almost 100 per cent in 2009; in Spain, from 40 per cent to 90 per cent; and in Ireland, from 60 per cent to 130 per cent.

The outliers were France and Canada, which saw debt rise less sharply, and Germany, where consumer debt has fallen since 1999. The answer is hard to avoid: In the countries that kept a lid on consumer and mortgage lending, the economic boom was worth all the hype. Everywhere else, it was like a bad dream.

This Saturday's article modified the picture somewhat for rich countries and brought the rest of the world into focus, with "Boom, bust and the end of certainty".

The first thing to remember is that the crisis has been contained, and the most important features of our world have remained stable, because our major democratic institutions worked. When markets proved to be as capable of cascading destruction as they are of escalating creation, it was big governments and transnational institutions that worked. It was independent central banks that worked. It was regulations, when present, that worked. And in the countries that recovered quickest, it was well-funded social safety nets that worked.

[. . .]

The second thing to remember is that this was not a global crisis. Quite the contrary: It was the end point of a new readjustment. In the most populous two-thirds of the world, this has been a period of increasing growth and prosperity only mildly dusted by the grey ashes from the West.

When it began in earnest in 2008, I was in Shenzhen, China, speaking to officials who were baffled to find that a million workers had failed to return from the Spring Festival holiday. It seemed that the collapse of orders from the U.S. had precipitated a Chinese crisis. By the end of the year, however, the workers had returned – though on new terms. City officials were forced to raise the minimum wage from 450 yuan ($68) to 750 ($113) and then to 900 ($136) a month; this year, they’ve raised it to 1,100 yuan ($166). Their city still faces a labour shortage of about 20 per cent, as officials worry that their raises have driven the cheap-garment trade to lower-wage Bangladesh.

And, indeed, we saw the other shoe drop this week (even if it was a hastily stitched canvas high-top with a questionable logo). Bangladesh announced that, in the wake of months of rollicking garment workers’ strikes against deplorable pay, the minimum wage would rise by 80 per cent, from 1662 taka ($25) a month to 3,000 taka ($45).

That’s the other answer to the question I posed last week: Was the boom worth it? If you look just at the West, real purchasing-power incomes of working people improved only slightly, if at all, over the past 15 years.

But it’s probably better to look at it this way: Our living standards remained exactly the same, and our large governments and institutions prevented them from deteriorating. And those in the East improved dramatically, as we used our non-changing incomes to buy their products. The boom-and-bust period was essentially a transfer of gains from the privileged centre to the margins. If we can hold on to what we’ve got, then the experience was worth it.

While the idea of a world with fewer global inequalities appeals to me, and the idea of compensating for stagnant incomes with relatively inexpensive manufactures from the former Third World instead of with consumer debt likewise works for me personally (although it's certainly tough on the rich-country manufacturers that don't adapt to find a durable niche), is this an arrangement that will last for any length of time?