Jobs, Jobs!

No, not Steve (of Apple) but employment.

If you are able to operate relatively efficient at night and love books, you might want to consider working in a bookstore like Kinokuniya/Popular or even the National Library Board. [No… I receive no commission…]

I am tapping on a few ideas here. Life (for a considerable number of us) would be a marathon. If we go by what Jim Rogers (the famed American financial investor) advised – one should work in a field of his/her interest; so even if one does not become rich, at least one is happy. He used the example of a gardener. The drudgery when one heads to work; to end up staring at the clock could drive one rather insane.

To back track, should you love books so much, I imagine that your enthusiasm would be sincerely magnetic to the customers and provide a wonderful experience no less.

Yet one needs to adopt a nuanced perspective…consider my earlier post on Following your passion


Gorbachev and the Cold War

A rather succinct paper by a tertiary student from a useful online academic site (with free content!)

Rafal Nedzarek. (30 Jul 2012). A critical evaluation of Mikhail Gorbachev’s role in the ending of the Cold War. E-International Relations.


Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.

The quote has been attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, 19th century British Prime Minister.

And here I was this morning I watching a ChannelNews Asia interview of John Francis – someone who basically ceased speaking for 17 years; and travelled on foot for 22 years.

Thus he spoke, with his actions on behalf of environmental stewardship. He verbalised his message through his very life. It was not easy. (Perhaps one in a long list of understatements in this world.)

That is more education and leadership, moral courage, and humility than has been said or taught.


His interview this morning (based what I recall) was consistent with his earlier audio recording found below.

John Francis. (no date). Explorers Bio. National Geographic.

[Audio Recording] John Francis: Planetwalker. (7 Dec 2009). Life Matters. Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Related posts:

Focused listening & learning

History – Why bother?

[Review] Content – The Man who quit money


Margaret Thatcher – British Education and Singapore

I am learning more about her beyond Thatcher for Beginners/Introducing Thatcherism. (It seems they were both authored by Peter Pugh. It is a huge loss that they are no longer available in the National Libraries of Singapore.)

So what did she do?

The Great Education Reform Bill (Gerbil) in 1988, consumed a massive 370 hours in parliament. It was a post 1945 precedent. Gerbil took place with the National Curriculum in the subjects of English, Mathematics, Science, History, Geography, Technology, Art, Music, Foreign Language, and Religious Studies. (The initiative surprisingly had spawned from the first three.) National Assessments were executed at ages 7, 11, 14 and 16. Thatcher directly charted the focus for History in particular, where she pinpointed the need to study ‘great British men, great British battles, and lots of great British dates’). This Curriculum was enacted in England and Wales after she left office. It increased government interference and control over performance indicators and duration of the 10 subjects.

Similar actions occurred in tertiary education with the Education Act of 1988. The University Funding Council (UFC), comprising government selected personnel, came to manage university finances. To account for the performance of tertiary educators/researchers, the Council compared publication numbers; page numbers and even citation numbers (Before any further research, I assume this to be the Bibliography rather than the footnotes.)

Centralisation in the education sphere (here I agree with Veldman) proved ironic. Thatcher, the very face of rolling back the state ended up expanding bureaucracies to oversee the teachers and lecturers throughout the country. One can only imagine the damage done. Injecting competition may have turned out top performing schools/universities but the funding decreases probably turned education into merely a means to an end (what end it was requires greater analysis)… This is not to mention reduced educational opportunities for students who simply needed more time to do well.

We juxtapose this against the Singaporean system. It is essentially centralised as the above (unless one homeschools or sends their child/ward to the international/private schools). Students (at least those from the top tier) have done well for international tests like the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – 2012. Therein lies the dilemma. Students who operate well in the rather fixed exam environment arguably face difficulties in becoming ‘innovators’.  Dr Tony Wagner, an expert-in-residence at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab said as much during World Educational Leadership Summit of 2015. (Incidentally, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had replaced admission assessments with students portfolios.) For those on the short end of the stick, Wagner does not use the term ‘failure’ – he utilises ‘Incomplete’. This parallels the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications framework (WSQ, begun in 2005) outcome of ‘Not Yet Competent’ for adult learners.

The country has moved, albeit modestly, in the right direction nonetheless. Achievement Levels (AL) of 1 to 8 would substitute the T-score (upon 300) for the Primary School Leaving Examinations from 2021. This stops using bell-curve (normal distribution) methods to distinguish students. It recognises each student on their own merit.

The pressure is unlikely to dissipate. But life is like that. It is a stressful thing. Nevertheless, the grace to accept things as they are would bring us peace; and remind us to plan for failure at different moments of our lives.

Hopefully one day, Singapore education would gain the comment given to its healthcare counterpart of being ‘…the least imperfect in the world.’


Meredith Veldman. (2016). Margaret Thatcher: Shaping the New Conservatism. New York. Oxford University Press. p.137; 147-149.

Barry Neild. (8 Apr 2013). Margaret Thatcher’s death greeted with street parties in Brixton and Glasgow. The Guardian.

Siau Ming En. (7 Apr 2015). Exam smarts could come at expense of encouraging innovation: Experts. Channel NewsAsia.

Lianne Chia. (14 Jul 2016). PSLE changes unlikely to eliminate pressure unless parents change mindsets: Parents, teachers. Channel NewsAsia.

Sharon Chen and Sterling Won. (18 Sep 2014). Singapore Beats Hong Kong in Health Efficiency: Southeast Asia. Bloomberg.

A smattering of law versus education

Below are some links to analyse the efficacy of law versus education:

Jessica Shepard. (3 Apr 2012). Schools cannot solve all of society’s problems, says minister. The Guardian.

John Aglionby (2 Nov 2002). Singapore’s fine culture keeps people in line. The Guardian.

Public Broadcasting Service. (2011). Prohibition.

Think tanks/Research issues

Ideological bases

It is imperative to critically analyse papers and information from think tanks and research institutes.

For pieces from the Mises Institute (US , state of Alabama), take note of its bent against ‘…statism and toward a private property order.’

Similarly, the UK based Institute of Economic Affairs aimed to ‘explain free-market ideas to the public, including politicians, students, journalists, businessmen, academics and anyone interested in public policy.’ (Sourcewatch. Last modified 12 Jul 2016.)

Manipulated Research

Longwood University professor of Business, Dr George Banks, co-wrote ‘The Chrysalis Effect: How Ugly Data Metamorphosize Into Beautiful Articles’. The work highlighted

“questionable research practices” (QRPs)… adding, deleting or altering data after hypothesis testing, selectively deleting or adding variables, dropping unsupported hypotheses or adding post-hoc hypotheses, or reversing the direction or reframing hypotheses.

This was based on 142 publications on management and industrial psychology beginning from 2000. [The other contributors were Dr. Ernest O’Boyle, assistant professor of management (University of Iowa), and Erik Gonzalez-Mule, a Ph.D. candidate.]

Banks also stated that such problems occurred in medical and social science research, though the medical community was dealing with it more effectively.


(16 May 2013). Researchers sometimes manipulate data, says study by Longwood professor. Longwood University.

[Margaret Thatcher was likewise linked to the IEA whose raison d’être was to ‘promote economic liberalism.’] Meredith Veldman. (2016). Margaret Thatcher: Shaping the New Conservatism. New York. Oxford University Press. p.54.


Japan’s Lost Decade (1990s) and the Asian Financial Crisis (1997)

In reverse chronological order, we look at the Asian Financial Crisis (AFC).

First, a timeline:

Timeline of the Panic. Frontline, PBS.

Second, the mechanics of currency speculation and debt:

Tejvan Pettinger. (22 Apr 2014). EconomicsHelp.

Ayse Evrensel. Speculation: Taking a Risk to Gain Profit. Dummies, John Wiley & Sons Inc. [Likewise, you can refer to an earlier post on carry trade.]

Bonds are debt instruments where borrowers (like companies, and even the Asian Development Bank which sells ‘green bonds’ to finance climate change programmes) offer a promise of interest payments to lenders (who effectively buy a piece of paper that signifies the promise.) Some, but not all bonds promise the return of the original sum invested at maturity (end of the loan period).

Eurobond – a bond ‘…sold outside the country of the currency in which it is denominated.’ [See Definition of eurobond. Lexicon, Financial Times.] For instance, a US$ bond being sold in Indonesia.

Third, how and why the AFC occurred with other related information:

a. Long term origins (Thailand) – capital inflows – Japanese banks accounted for more than 50% of foreign loans in Thailand and 25% in South Korea. The Japanese were lending overseas because local demand was suppressed by the deflation and property bubble burst in the early 1990s. The loans went largely to real estate whose collateral included ‘overvalued property and stocks.’ [See Michael R. King. Who Triggered the Asian Financial Crisis? Review of International Political Economy, Vol. 8, No. 3 (Autumn, 2001), pp. 438-466.] Their withdrawals in 1997 precipitated the devaluation of the Thai Baht according to King. This took place because of Thai Eurobond defaults (non-repayment) and the bankruptcy of Thai financier Finance One. Post devaluation, other foreign lenders pulled out as well. This phenomenon is also called ‘capital flight’.

b.The Asian economies involved were mainly export oriented. Thai exports had fallen below government forecasts of 18% (for 1996) due to competition from India, China, Vietnam and Myanmar. This reduced the demand for the Thai Baht. There was another medium term factor. A 1998 report from the Australian Parliament estimated that Japanese imports accounted for 5 to 7% of the Gross Domestic Product of Indonesia, Korea, Taiwan and Thailand. The figures goes up to 12% in the case of Malaysia. Due to the economic decline of the early 1990s, Japan was not buying more from these countries in spite of its trade surplus. It was therefore unable to encourage Asian growth.

c. The same report stated there was: ‘common agreement that the affected Asian currencies had been out of line with their economic fundamentals. For years, if not decades, many of the Asian economies had fixed their currencies against the $US…

Now we trace Japan’s Lost Decade

In similar fashion, the timeline:

  • Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock exchange peaked in 1989 and went downhill.
  • (Overall) Japanese property prices only collapsed in 1991.

Japan Times highlighted the appreciation of the Japanese Yen after the Plaza Accord (1985) as the underlying tipping point.  Consequently, there was domestic property speculation; and the Japanese bought the American Rockerfeller Center, golf courses in Hawaii and California. [I am rather doubtful of the return on investment (ROI) from the golf courses though.] In December 1989, the Japanese stock exchange index, Nikkei nearly hit 39,000 points. By December 1990, a mere year, the drop was more than $2 trillion. In 2010, the Nikkei was at 10,365 points – a 73% collapse. Both monetary and fiscal measures had failed to jump-start the comatose economy.  [The mechanics of the crash would be analysed later.]

The spark (ironically perhaps) stemmed from the Bank of Japan (otherwise known as the BOJ, the central bank) in an eventual attempt to rein in (take your pick)

  • over the top property prices
  • imprudent loans by banks and other financial institutions
  • Inflation (more than 2% when inflation previously had been low and stable between 1986 and 1988)

The rates rose to 4.25% then to 6% in 1990. (Now contrast that to the negative interest rates currently…)

Before you lambast the BOJ, one has to consider there was a considerable praise for the management of the Japanese economy from international commentators (as well as internal pressure to keep things running smoothly).

Going back further, the BOJ cut interest rates by half to 2.5% between 1985 and 1987. Arguably, this was a response to the more expensive Yen. Globalisation had also intensified competition in the finance sector. The local banks felt compelled to lend to companies and individuals. (They would have loathed to surrender market share.) Others also raised the issue of enveloping overoptimism. The borrowers then played the stock and real estate markets. Consumption (even the public) went into overdrive as it became ‘…one big expensive party.’

How did the crash (in both the stock and property markets) happen?

Interest rates hike – led to a shrinkage of money supply and fall in available loans since it was more expensive to borrow (and buy in particular property) thereby causing weak real estate pricing.  Moreover, it raised property mortgage costs. This resulted in defaults and foreclosure. Because the banks accepted property as collateral and companies bought property to decorate their balance sheets, the fall in values/prices ate into their net worth. Concomitantly, as there was intra-holding of stocks in the keiretsu company networks, the entire house of cards came falling down.  [See also p.11 of Hiro (Hiroyuki) Ito’s PDF slides entitled Japan’s Bubble Economy and its Burst for a description of the ‘vicious cycle’. He is a Professor of Economics at Portland State University.]

Decimation of confidence (1989 to 1992) – an idea from Keynesian economics where the recession came from the reduction in investment (which apparently includes stocks and capital equipment and buildings). One could posit that it was the BOJ who discerned the bubbles were unsustainable and within a very short duration repeatedly pushed up interest rates. Investors; speculators; shareholders and others basically could infer that the situation would not hold up (future stock returns were unlikely to be good), and this fed into the freefall. [Peter Lynch seemed to have questioned amazing price earning ratios of Japanese firms but he was not Japanese.]

It is very hard to discern which factor came first. There is a good chance they were somewhat concurrent and intertwined. However, from studies like The Asset Price Bubble and Monetary Policy: Japan’s Experience in the Late 1980s and the Lessons [Background Paper sponsored by the BOJ] (2000). Institute for Monetary and Economic Studies; one sees that property prices in major cities and Tokyo went downwards before the interest rate hikes. So perhaps there was already a sense that things were over-inflated. The interest increase then put in the devastating hammer blow.


Clayton Naff. (2 Nov 1990). If Japan’s spectacularly inflated land prices should collapse, some…
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<img src="; /&gt UPI Archives.

. (21 Nov 2008). Economics Help.

Jim Mueller. (6 July 2016). How Interest Rates Affect The Stock Market. Investopedia.

Can you talk yourself into a recession? Economics Help.

Benjamin Powell. (19 Nov 2002). Explaining Japan’s Recession. Mises Institute.

Thayer Watkins. The Bubble Economy of Japan. San José State University Department of Economics.

Barry Nielsen. (3 Sep 2014). Why Housing Market Bubbles Pop. Investopedia.

‘At the very peak of the bubble, a 1989 survey of institutional investors showed that the majority of them did not believe that the Nikkei was overvalued (Barsky, 2009, p. 32).’ Jesse Colombo. Japan’s Bubble Economy of the 1980s. The Bubble Bubble.

Eric Johnston. (6 Jan 2009). <!– –> Lessons from when the bubble burst. The Japan Times.

An Aftermath to Avoid. (Jul-Aug 2010). Harvard Magazine. [Note: this is a distinct publication set up by Harvard University Alumni.]

Fumio Hayashi and Edward C. Prescott. The 1990s in Japan: A Lost Decade. [Interesting diversion where constrained productivity growth is the reason for the economic coma.]

Charles W.L.Hill. The Asian Financial Crisis. Tran Huu Dung Homepage. Wright State University.

The Asian Currency Crisis. University of Colorado Boulder.

David Richardson. (29 June 1998). Asian Financial Crisis. Current Issues Brief 23. Economics, Commerce and Industrial Relations Group, Parliament of Australia.