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Daily Archives: September 13, 2022

Charts: Taiwan Total Exports Down in August 2022

Source : Bloomberg and Trading Economics

Humour

Pretty Safe Lies

Bryan Caplan wrote . . . . . . . . .

“But is it safe?” Good economists will scoff that it’s a meaningless question, because safety is always a matter of degree. Nothing in the real world is perfectly safe. Even if you spend your day hiding in your house, you could die of a heart attack, an earthquake, or a home invasion.

In contrast, non-economists – and bad economists – love binary thinking about risk. Everything is either “safe” or “unsafe.” This was blatant during COVID. How many times did you hear the sentences, “Is it safe to reopen restaurants?,” “Is it safe to reopen schools?,” and “Is it safe to fly yet?”

What silly questions! Each activity has a positive probability of catching and spreading COVID – and the probability of bad outcomes rises the more time you spend doing the activity. Politically, however, you couldn’t regain your freedom until an authority gave each silly question an even sillier answer. “Yes, flying is now safe again.”

The most ill-formed COVID question of all was probably, “Is the vaccine safe?” What reasonable people wanted to know was, “Is taking the vaccine now safer than waiting until we run more tests?” What policy-makers kept asking themselves, though, was: “Can we get away with pretending that we know for sure that the vaccine has absolutely no negative health effects for anyone?”

Will the vaccine cause horrible problems in twenty years? We’ll know with near-certainty in about twenty years. For now, all we can honestly say is, “The risk trade-off seems very favorable, especially if you remember that contracting severe COVID also has long-run risks.” Which is good enough to justify vaxxing.

What’s afoot? I once again invoke the World’s Most-Underrated Psychological Theory: Social Desirability Bias. The harsh reality is that safety lies on a continuum, and no one is ever perfectly safe doing anything. These self-evident truths sound bad – and when the truth sounds bad, people lie. When the lies become ubiquitous enough, people start to sincerely believe absurdities. Absurdities like, “X is safe; do as much as you like. Y is unsafe; never do Y.”

Politicians, as usual, weaponize these absurdities. If they want to keep the schools closed, they just declare schools “unsafe.” If they want to open the schools, they just declare the schools “safe.” Either way, they pander to the emotionality of the masses – and avoid math. Almost nothing sounds worse than math. As the demagogues who rule us are well-aware.

How are we supposed to cope in this desert of Social Desirability Bias? Do a little math. Compare unfamiliar risks to familiar risks. Start with: How does this risk compare to the risk of driving? Nor should you crunch the numbers in isolation. Do it with your family, especially your kids. If you don’t lead your family with good math, demagogues will lead it with bad poetry.


Source : Bet On It

The Metaverse in a Fragmented World

Andy Yee wrote . . . . . . . . .

Heralded as the next chapter of cyberspace, the metaverse transforms the internet of information to one of experience through immersive, three-dimensional interactions. While we are still in the early days of the metaverse, the blending of physical and virtual environments has the potential to revolutionize social interactions, business models, and politics, with significant impact for society and the economy. In the areas of education, healthcare and urban planning, the use of immersive technologies for international collaboration is also compelling. Economic consultancy Analysis Group estimated that the metaverse economy could be worth more than US$3 trillion in a decade.

Though described to be an interconnected network of immersive virtual worlds, the metaverse as we know it comprises multiple metaverses created by different platforms. Like the internet, the metaverse is not a monolithic technological creation, but a constellation of systems, protocols, hardware, applications and organizations, making it a complex sociotechnical ecosystem with a wide range of public and private actors.

Major global powers, including China, Europe and the US, see the metaverse as the next strategic battleground to shape the rules of a new technological domain. Major technology platforms such as Meta (previously Facebook) and Tencent are betting big on its economic opportunities. Cities such as Dubai, Shanghai and Seoul are unveiling metaverse development plans. And cypherpunks – people who advocate for the use of cryptography to bring social and political change – are pushing for a decentralized metaverse to escape a capitalist dystopia.

To make sense of this immensely complex ecosystem, it is best to understand the metaverse as a space subject to competing ideals and political pressures. If we can learn anything from the evolution of the internet, it is that the metaverse is subject to the same technical, governmental and commercial sources of fragmentation.

Internet scholars Kieron O’Hara and Wendy Hall discerned that at least four internets have emerged: the Silicon Valley open internet, the highly regulated European “bourgeois” internet, the Chinese authoritarian internet, and the US commercial internet. We can therefore equally envision a future of at least four metaverses, namely the open cypherpunk metaverse, the civil European metaverse, the authoritarian Chinese metaverse, and the commercial US metaverse.

THE OPEN CYPHERPUNK METAVERSE

The concept of the metaverse is rooted in the cypherpunk ideals of Silicon Valley. It originated in the 1992 Neal Stephenson science fiction novel Snow Crash, which features a character escaping reality into an immersive virtual world by night. Today, cypherpunks harbor a deep distrust of metaverses promoted and controlled by corporations and governments. They advocate for a decentralized alternative metaverse built on peer-to-peer and open-source technologies, eliminating surveillance and censorship and guaranteeing individual autonomy.

In an extreme scenario, such a highly aligned and autonomous digital community may even gain political power through collective action. Entrepreneur and essayist Balaji Srinivasan argued in his new book The Network State: How to Start a New Country, published this year, that technologies such as Bitcoin, Web3 and the metaverse allow people to exit legacy arrangements and form new groups more easily than ever before. This leads to the possibility of a network state, whereby a community originating in the cloud can crowdfund territory in the real world and negotiate for diplomatic recognition to become a true state.

THE CIVIL EUROPEAN METAVERSE

In recent years, Europe’s political preference for a civilized bourgeois cyberspace has served as a counterbalance to the commercially driven view of the US. Through major frameworks such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Digital Markets Act (DMA), and the Digital Services Act (DSA), the European Union has developed global regulatory influence for minimizing bad behavior, protecting privacy, and guarding against dominant platforms on the internet.

Being more intertwined with the real world, the metaverse is expected to accentuate the downsides of the internet, including privacy protection, online harassment, hate speech, cybersecurity, addiction and competition. We can therefore expect Europe to extend its internet regulatory approach to the metaverse. For example, a Council of the European Union paper recommended that Europe take the lead in tailor-made policy tools and innovative political thinking to safeguard the metaverse. Partly driven by Europe’s increasing scrutiny, Meta announced the creation of 10,000 jobs in Europe to showcase the metaverse’s benefits.

It is unrealistic to envision a completely interoperable and interconnected metaverse

THE AUTHORITARIAN CHINESE METAVERSE

Underpinned by its Made in China 2025 and China Standards 2035 strategies, China takes a long-term view in shaping technical standards of foundational technologies as a source of geopolitical influence. It has been promoting a vision of the internet that enables centralized and fine-grained controls to ensure that Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ideals are upheld.

China sees the metaverse as the next internet battleground, in particular guarding against the development of a decentralized economy that would remain outside of state control. Its strategy encompasses both the foundational and the application layers of the metaverse. At the foundation layer, it is aggressively developing its own central bank digital currency and Blockchain Services Network (BSN) to ensure that transactions in the metaverse are centralized. At the application layer, it is bringing together key metaverse companies via the state-backed Metaverse Industry Committee to shape standards and applications in the metaverse.

If this state-centric vision of the metaverse is realized, it has the potential to strengthen the rule of the CCP through the granular control of reality. Not only can it offer the possibility to create altered versions of the real world for its citizens, different levels of virtual reality with different levels of access for different groups can also be created, with tight control over how access is distributed.

THE COMMERCIAL US METAVERSE

While sharing similar ideological roots of the open metaverse, the commercial metaverse spearheaded by big US technology platforms is a sociopolitical force of its own, given the platforms’ reach and resources. A large portion of consumers will experience immersive virtual worlds through centralized technology platforms, which are making significant investments in the metaverse. In 2021, Meta alone invested US$10 billion to build metaverse hardware and software. In early 2022, Microsoft announced the acquisition of video game company Activision Blizzard for US$69 billion as a key component of its metaverse strategy.

Accompanying this tremendous prowess is the role of these platforms in framing the socio-political debates pertaining to the governance of the metaverse. We can foresee the commercial metaverse sitting uneasily with the open, civil and authoritarian versions of the metaverse. On the one hand, these technology platforms will champion US liberal values in contrast to their Chinese counterparts, which are under the authoritarian state’s tacit control. On the other hand, commercial motivations may drive them towards developing capacity for surveillance, prediction and behavioral influence, putting them in direct conflict with the open and civil versions of the metaverse.

WHOSE METAVERSE?

By now, it is clear that at least four metaverses are emerging. Of course, these four visions will not exist in pure forms and will share similarities. For example, the European civil metaverse will want to nurture its technology companies, and the Chinese authoritarian metaverse will care about data protection and privacy. It is also possible that newer and more niche versions will emerge. However, as these four visions are each underpinned by powerful ideological and institutional backing, it is likely that they will mature over time and coexist with each other in uneasy tension as the dominant categories.

In a world broken down along geopolitical lines, it is unrealistic to envision a completely interoperable and interconnected metaverse. Similar to the way we describe the internet as the splinternet, it will be more appropriate to describe the metaverse as the paraverse – parallel virtual worlds with different norms, rules and algorithms with only limited linkages. The fragmentation of the metaverse will deepen further in the coming decade. In the end, the dawning virtual environment will mirror many of humanity’s divisions and fault lines in the physical world.


Source : Asia GLobal Online

Infographic: The Race for the Moon Continues

Source : Statista

Brain Drain Hits Hong Kong’s Education Sector As Teachers and Students Join Exodus

Su Xinqi and Holmes Chan wrote . . . . . . . . .

As Hong Kong students return for the new academic year, veteran teacher Wong is counting down the days until the political maelstrom sweeping the city leaves him no choice but to quit.

Wong, 34, fears he will soon join the exodus of teachers and students triggered by Beijing’s tightening grip on Hong Kong, which has started transforming local schools, according to multiple educators.

The latest government figures show more than 4,000 teachers left their jobs in the past school year, a five-year high and a 70 percent spike from the year before.

“I have no faith in the future of Hong Kong or that of the industry. It is hard to nurture a person in this environment,” Wong, who asked to use just his surname, told AFP.

The political crackdown has coincided with the coronavirus pandemic, during which Hong Kong has kept strict zero-Covid rules that have fuelled further departures.

Students have pulled out of school in droves, with 30,000 fewer attending primary and secondary school in September 2021 compared to the preceding October.

Wong, who has taught for more than a decade, said five teenagers from his class of 32 withdrew halfway through a term to emigrate.

“The students are leaving not because they dislike the school, but because of Hong Kong’s environment.”

Patriotic classrooms

China is remoulding once outspoken Hong Kong in its own authoritarian image, following massive and sometimes violent democracy protests in 2019 in which youngsters played a key part.

Teachers have since been ordered to instil patriotism in students and comply with a Beijing-imposed national security law that has criminalised much dissent.

Curriculums are being tweaked to align more closely with Chinese Communist Party ideology.

Earlier this month teachers were told to “study and learn the key messages” of a recent speech by President Xi Jinping.

Students and parents have also been encouraged to report teachers who might be breaching the security law.

Wong received a letter of reprimand from Hong Kong’s Education Bureau last year after his teaching materials analysing the pros and cons of civil disobedience drew anonymous complaints.

“It shattered the trust that was fundamental to teaching,” he recalled.

Between 2019 and 2021, Hong Kong authorities received 344 complaints against teachers in relation to the democracy protests, with 55 percent of cases found to be substantiated.

One high-school principal told AFP he would instruct staff to keep their heads down and comply with government guidelines to the letter.

“Everyone is being very careful… If some (teaching materials) may touch on political sensitivities, then we’ll skirt around it,” said the principal, who requested anonymity.

“Nobody wants trouble and the teachers don’t want to be held personally responsible.”

Lower standards?

Authorities have rejected the idea of an emigration wave and argue teachers choose to leave their posts for various reasons, including retirement and further study.

Hong Kong’s education chief said schools were generally operating smoothly and there were enough qualified teachers despite a “slightly higher” attrition rate.

But a recent survey of 140 schools showed each institution on average lost 32 students and seven teachers over the past year.

Newspaper Ming Pao surveyed its classified section and found at least 200 schools were still looking for teachers in late July. In previous years most vacancies would be filled by the end of May.

Administrators say some schools have been forced to hire less-qualified candidates.

Schools are also competing to poach students, as their headcount often determines their government subsidies and protects against closure.

And education is not the only sector affected by brain drain.

The city’s labour force has dropped about six percent since 2018 to 3.75 million people, according to the latest official figures, the lowest number in nearly a decade.

A new generation of Hong Kong teachers are now weighing options and assessing risks that come with their careers.

University graduate Mak, 23, has spent a year teaching English at a secondary school even though he does not have a teacher’s diploma — a fact his employer did not seem to mind.

“I’ll continue teaching for the next few years, but not necessarily in the long term,” he said.

Mak feels he has little control over what happens to his profession.

“There’s not much that can be changed,” he sighed. “You either submit, or quit.”


Source : Hong Kong Free Press


Read also at SCMP

Hong Kong principals appeal to city leader John Lee to plug education brain drain as teachers desert classrooms . . . . .