“Combating Defeatism: Why Asian Economies Will Probably Never Fall Completely Flat”
I have been holding on to this post for some time (approximately six weeks) because there is not a politically correct way to handle the subject matter in a way that is palatable to Europeans and North Americans. As a result, I have vastly stripped down what I had originally intended to publish.
Value$: A Mixed Economy, the book I wrote which inspired a lot of my spiritual work combining with the economics and social commentary here, ironically, is largely about the defeatist attitude found all over
North America except a few pockets. As you will see expanded upon in another posting soon (Essential Education, Part II), many cultures in Asia think as North Americans and Europeans used to – very big and very optimistically. I am certainly not idealizing any place, but these lessons of effectiveness in certain areas of work and society are transferable.
Many people believe that North America is the most wasteful and materialistic place. Twenty years ago, I would say this is definitely true. However, in many parts of Asia, the race to keep up with where North America is perceived to be have made consuming the primary activity.
Pushing People into the Public Space. In South Korea, where I lived for some time, the housing spaces are small, with single people still living with their parents or in a studio apartment. Restaurants are relatively cheap and particularly for women, shoddy but nice-looking clothing can be found. As a result of this, people are pushed to do their socializing outside of the home, it’s not too expensive to do so, and also, there is less storage space, so when something is old, people just throw it out! This combined with used items being perceived as bad luck, and transferring furniture or items to another place having the same bad connotations creates a situation with very high turnover. Some combination of these conditions and ideas also exist in Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and China.
Thinking Big. Delusions of fame and status-seeking behavior exist worldwide and typically follow wherever the hyper-media environment originating from the US goes. However, where North Americans and Europeans no longer feel able to fight for the top spot, many people in Asia are willing to strive to go. Recently, when I have been doing some business with a Chinese contact in the art world, enormous numbers are discussed, people fly from the ends of the earth for education, to spend lavishly, etc. While this is a very small percentage of the population coming from that region (perhaps 500,000 people in total out of 2.5 billion for the continent, or 1.2 billion from East Asia), that mentality sets the tone for the continent. North Americans in particular have been so beaten down that most people there think in terms of reducing or contracting their presence on the market (not necessarily a bad thing) in terms of purchasing or risk.
In the two years I lived in Asia, I was offered all kinds of extraordinary opportunities with celebrity figures, business ventures, privileged information, and so on. This is often the case for English speakers abroad, because generally more elite figures have easier access to foreigners for a number of reasons. However, I believe that “talking and thinking big” are far more common there now, whereas the mentality in North America is to lay low. As a major generalization, Europeans are looking to have a normal balance in life and not expect anything too spectacular or awful.
Risk. If you would like to see things move along, keep a certain amount of assets or core protected from risk, but move more things into risk – but only if they are tied to objects or projects of tangible value.
One thing that I am not sure about in Asia is how the following affects the economy as a whole, though it is bad for individuals: nearly every family (mostly men) lost thousands of dollars by lending money to a friend. It is not customary to write things down in some countries as the oral contract supersedes all, but this is a common sense consideration to most in Europe or North America.
Volunteering. This is a noble thing to do, but each time one does it, particularly when one is doing it in a place that makes money in some capacity, think twice. In some parts of Asia this is considered an absurd thing to do, and I have observed that with its increased popularity, the worse employment prospects have become. It had better be for a pilot project or for a limited period. In South Korea when I offered to do work for a reduced rate, people would scrunch their nose; I found out that this means “the product must not be very good.”
Concentrating Capital and Family Decision-Making. It is unthinkable to most Koreans, Japanese, or Chinese people to leave their children to finance their education or housing totally to the banks and government. It’s not always that there is the expectation of care later on, but if one has the money, why would they have their kids pay 5-7+% interest every year on a loan? A western adaptation to this could be to write a loan contract, even with interest, but at least this money would be kept within the family instead of to random investors and institutions. This securing of financing from outside sources is a major reason why westerners are losing their holdings – it is like a chicken handing over her eggs to the fox and then wondering where her pension went.
Pride and Vanity. There is TOO much emphasis on appearances and aesthetics in many places, but a mild amount of it does have its virtues. Even on a very small budget, nearly all the children I taught and saw were well-dressed and clean. People put their best foot forward. In the US in particular, people outside of cities (myself included some of the time), go about unkempt or not suitably dressed – sometimes one feels overdressed if they put in any effort. This is not normal around the rest of the world, and is a relatively new thing. In Asia, people are dressed ready to receive what the world has to offer, and therefore more opportunities are likely to come.
In Summation. While life is far from perfect anywhere, Asia has some useful life strategies to offer the world that were once endemic to the west. The kind of hours and effort people put in in a lot of Asia are excessive, and do not allow people time to think, but it is also worth noting that as long as consumption (of products or services) is our main mode of economic activity, people have to remain busy and confident to keep full employment.
Invest in your surroundings and support quality.