“A” does not equal “A”

In a nice Orwellian move, China’s top censor has denied the fact that there is censorship in China!  To wit, he stated that “China does not censor but ‘manages’ internet content.”

He goes on to helpfully clarify that “the Chinese government blocks some foreign websites because it ‘has the right to choose friends.'”  So…censorship then!  Indeed in Freedom House’s ranking of countries by internet freedom, China comes in dead last at #65.  All that “management” is taking a toll.


The Orwellian world of Venezuela

Simon Romero (@viaSimonRomero) tweeted this picture of a book at a Caracas bookstore:


“War is peace” and “Voices of Liberty” come from Chavez, Jesus, Simon Bolivar, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara, Gandhi, Fidel Castro.  Huh, that’s quite a grouping.  How did Jesus and Gandhi end up with this crew?

Orwell in Venezuela

The news out of Venezuela would be a lot funnier if it weren’t so tragic.  In honor of the late President Chavez, Maduro has decided to create a new cabinet post called the Minister of Supreme happiness.  So what will said minister do?  Apparently he or she will  “serve the elderly, children, people with disabilities, and the homeless.”

The always excellent Fausta writes that “the minister will begin imposing cheer on December 9, in time to coincide with the first ever “Loyalty and Love to Hugo Chavez Day” and notes that  Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called the agency a “social advance in the struggle against the perfidy of capitalism.”

Wow, you really can’t make this s**t up!

Apparently the Earth Institute ranked Venezuela as the happiest country in South America (and 20th worldwide) in 2013.  Given that the country faces constant shortages of toilet paper, food, and feminine pads, it makes me wonder about EI’s survey methodology or worry about the mental state of the rest of South America.

Fausta also reports that the new ministry will be headed up by a military officer, as is the “office of Sovereign People, the Superior Office for the Defense of the Economy, and the Strategic Superior Centre for Homeland Security and Protection.”

When life gives you lemons (Chinese government style)…

In Chengdu, China, the municipal government was facing the prospect of large protests on Saturday, May 4th. The date represents an anniversary of a student movement in the early 20th century as well as the 5th anniversary of protests against an oil refinery 25 miles away.

The government was worried about any tainting of the city’s reputation in the lead-up to the Fortune Global Forum that will be held in Chengdu in June. Apparently, they weren’t too worried about how their reaction would affect the city’s reputation. In an Orwellian, truth-is-stranger-than-fiction, type of turn, NPR reports that the government decided to:

1. Change the calendar so the weekend was no longer the weekend.  Students were ordered back to school, and government employees to work, on Saturday.  Meanwhile, the weekend was temporarily moved to Monday.

2. Declare a “virtual combat exercise” on Saturday.  At the same time the protests where supposed to go down (and at the same location), at least 5 different security forces were out patrolling, including paramilitary police in trucks and anti-riot police in full gear.

3. Make the woman who forwarded the text message about the protests issue a formal apology on TV.

4. Place 10 dissidents under house arrest or make them “go on holiday” (that sounds ominous and not at all holiday-like).

5. Threaten to fire any government employee that attends the protest.

I have to give Chengdu’s government an A for effort and creativity for effectively shutting down the protest, but I question whether this model is going to continue to generate growth.  China has an aging work force, huge environmental problems, and its economic growth is predicated on extremely high levels of investment.  How much longer can China keep posting high growth rates based mostly on factor accumulation instead of innovation?  In my opinion, China’s inability to allow freedom of expression will eventually stifle growth and ironically bring about the government’s demise as well.

A Singaporean strategy for increasing the fertility rate

In my Global Economic Relations course, we are currently discussing the economic benefits of free labor mobility.   One of the students mentioned that a lot of rich countries have low birth rates (often under the replacement level) and used Singapore as an example.

I explained to my students the creative (and often racist) ways in which the Singaporean government has encouraged people to have more babies. As noted in this 2006 article, Prime Minister Lee set up an institution in 1984 called the Social Development Unit (a perfect year to create such  an Orwellian sounding agency), which would find innovative ways to get young people to procreate.  He was worried that the well-educated women (who typically were of Chinese heritage) were not having babies, while the lesser educated women of Malay descent were procreating much more rapidly.

So what did the SDU try?

1. “Increased financial incentives to encourage bigger families, amounting to cash gifts of S$3000 (US$1889) for the first child and savings of up to S$18,000 each for the third and fourth child.”

2. Tax rebates

3. Tax cuts on maids plus more childcare and maternity benefits.

4. “Offer graduate women with three children priority in securing places at the top nursery schools, an advantage in helping children get ahead at school, university and in the workplace.”

5. Set up “love cruises” for singles!

6. “Speed-dating and online dating services, along with an agony aunt called Dr Love.”

Somehow all of those awesome ideas didn’t make Singaporean couples want to procreate.  So now the government has paired up with Mentos (huh?) to urge citizens to do their patriotic duty and make babies on “National Night.”  You truly cannot make this stuff up.

Here is the article on this awesome new campaign, but even better is the video itself.  Check it out in all its glory.  Wow.

I guess just allowing more young people to immigrate there is out of the question?