Quotable (#21)

From a conceptually-rich John Law (2006) post on the game-theoretic fragility of the world monetary order:

The first rule of investing is that it’s never a good idea to buy anything just because everyone else is buying it. When the price of an asset is the result of herd behavior, not fundamental value, it’s called a “bubble,” and bubbles always pop.

This rule is absolutely right — except in one case.

In English, a bubble that doesn’t pop is called “money.” Money is always fundamentally overvalued. Its purchasing power is independent of its direct physical usefulness to anyone.

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Mandarins

Many of the recent short posts here have been inter-connected by the topic of international ‘soft power‘ tensions. Somewhat ironically, this is a subject that is peculiarly prone to failures of insight. No cultural formation is disposed to a self-understanding that would expose itself as something inherently threatening.

The reactions of Western academic, media, entertainment, and ancillary cultural powers to Chinese resistances and counter-actions are characterized by a remarkable uniformity, and systematic refusal of reflection. Doesn’t any obstruction of — or non-compliance with — these highly-internationalized forces of communication indicate simple fear of the truth? That is overwhelmingly the core assumption, when such matters are discussed by those very organs of trans-cultural agency which should be in question, but which manage very successfully not to be. The ‘conversation’ is almost wholly controlled by those who would be the topic of the conversation, if the conversation were permitted to happen.

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Confucius Institutes

The debate.

An anecdotal moment from Jeffrey Wasserstrom:

Some time ago, I found out, but not until just before giving a talk, that the local CI was my visit’s sponsor. I was annoyed and tweaked my planned lecture to show it. In my new opening, I said that since a CI was sponsoring the event, a few words on Confucius were in order. I found it odd, I said, that China’s ruling party had excoriated Confucius when Mao Zedong headed the country, yet now named institutes in his honor. The official line on history was still that Mao was better than his anti-Communist rival Chiang Kai-shek, I continued, but the present veneration of Confucius as a national saint fit better with Chiang’s worldview than with Mao’s.

Was the Beijing-appointed head of the CI outraged? No, she wasn’t even miffed. She said she loved the talk and I’d be welcome to come back and speak again any time.

(An anecdote is only an anecdote, and might not be worth that much, but a casual presumption is worth less.)

Quotable (#20)

A quote, and a reference, that requires no explanation:

If you wish to understand the future you need to understand the city, for the human future is an overwhelmingly urban future. The city may have always been synonymous with civilization, but the rise of urban humanity has been something that has almost all occurred after the onset of the industrial revolution. In 1800 a mere 3 percent of humanity lived in cities of over one million people. By 2050, 75 percent of humanity will be urbanized. India alone might have 6 cities with a population of over 10 million.

The trend towards megacities is one into which humanity as we speak is accelerating in a process we do not fully understand let alone control.

Internet Sovereignty

A statement of immense geostrategic importance is noted by The Wall Street Journal:

In a full-page spread on the Monday, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece newspaper laid out China’s position on how the Internet and its supporting infrastructure should be dealt with across the globe.

The page featured interviews with five Chinese experts, including the so-called “father” of China’s Great Firewall Fan Binxing. The upshot: They believe each country should have ultimate power to determine what Internet traffic flows in and out of its territory. It’s a concept China has termed “Internet sovereignty,” and though the opinions of each expert in the article varied, the core message is that each nation should have the right to govern the Internet as it sees fit.

The only absolutely safe forecast at this point: It’s going to be complicated.

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