Combating Defeatism: Why Most Asian Economies Will Probably Never Fall Completely Flat

“Combating Defeatism: Why Asian Economies Will Probably Never Fall Completely Flat”

John Lett (About) (Readings)

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

From http://www.flickr.com/photos/59937401@N07/5857188778/, "10 Euros, 10 Dollars, 10 Pounds," by  Images_of_Money, June 16, 2011.

From http://www.flickr.com/photos/59937401@N07/5857188778/, “10 Euros, 10 Dollars, 10 Pounds,” by Images_of_Money, June 16, 2011.

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.

John Lett (About) (Readings)

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5 Responses to Combating Defeatism: Why Most Asian Economies Will Probably Never Fall Completely Flat

  1. This is the only blog I sub and it works for me on many levels. I get it via email and usually share it pretty widely, at least once.

    Back when I first knew people who’d lived and studied in Asia, it was the 1980s. They kept telling me I knew nothing of those cultures and had many silly ideas about things there. They were right.

    I spotted many things in this posting which I’ve found to be true, both from knowing people who’ve worked in Asia and dealing with Asian students here in France — and a few Asian neighbors and business contacts. Every country, every region, is very different and it’s wrong to generalize, but as I learned in Iceland, throw my preconceptions out the window! Anything I assume is probably way, way wrong and way, way off!

    Again, the take on Europeans seems accurate to me. They have a long history, have seen currencies, governments and systems come and go, and they generally try to keep calm and grounded. I found Europeans very hard to understand, at first. Of course, they vary widely from country to country. They are not as likely to “throw in the sponge” as newer cultures might be more likely to do — particularly in the Americas.

    I continue to be saddened by the bad health of so many Americans I know, their lack of planning, of discipline, their unpaid debts, and their unrealistic attitudes, often based on “our way is the best way.” What do we know? (I am American.) Our history is short, and our “culture . . . ” Well, it doesn’t even COUNT as a culture in much of the world! It’s so recent!

    I am disturbed also by the lack of backbone I find in Americans. Their lack of moral compasses. And those who claim to be on sound moral ground are generally SO intolerant! They seem to not realize how brainwashed and misinformed they generally truly are. I find genderless people, with no sense of responsibility, who want to just shrug things off and have an easy time of things. Lazy! Where is the pioneer spirit, as wrong as what we did to the First People was?!

    The short attention spans and desire for quick fixes I spot among Americans disturb me. When they ask me why I have any savings, I say, well, I will be 55 next year, and when I was 20, I started saving 20 dollars per week, and never stopped. Even while homeless, unemployed, and having to relocate — even expatriate. This is the last thing they want to hear! That I went to college for 12 years, became a registered representative to learn investing, that I “did without” for decades! To the point of sacrificing to an extent they just seem to find unimaginable. Did they not even hear their grandparents or parents speak of hard times? Did they not hear the ads in the ’80s to buy “Made in the USA?” Did they not see the Debt Clock? (I met Mr. Durst, by the way.)

    Very good posting.

    • People should watch your video “I OWN YOU NOW” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGCRUPNRpnQ) where you were working with some of the students and had them say this in Mandarin as an icebreaker.

      Americans still have a lot of dynamic energy if there is some sense of constructive tasks set before us. I have gone abroad for extended periods five times from 2005, and each time, things were worse than when I had left, except in the spring of 2011. Reduced circumstances have become normalized and people are more dynamic again. My hometown of Topeka, Kansas has so many new, locally-owned businesses, arts weekends, a well-attended Farmer’s Market, and so on.

      The lack of discipline is an extremely good point you make, and I am also guilty of it. There is just a barrage of information and stimuli all the time. The most focused I have ever been in life was in the fall of 2007 when I first arrived in Korea and had no phone, laptop, television, or anything for the first three months. The words on the page of a book resonated deeper and longer and it was quite special. We all need to set some sort of parameters around our day.

  2. richgedney says:

    John, I ‘m so glad I subscribed to your blog. You hit the nail on the head. I’m starting a business over again here in Atlanta after taking a job that did not work out in Los Angeles. In retrospect I did not think big enough with this business years ago when I started. I was just satisfied with what I made and went along thinking it would always be the same. Its the old saying if you don’t grow you will wilt and crumble. This time I plan to keep on growing. That is but one goal. The other is to start a business in China or another Asian country. I recently visited Guangzhou, China as well as spending a month in Thailand. I want to further my contacts in China and continue down that road as well. Thanks for the great article. It made my day. Cheers, Rich

    “Have you ever wondered why Republicans are so interested in encouraging people to volunteer in their communities? It’s because volunteers work for no pay. Republicans have been trying to get people to work for no pay for a long time.” George Carlin

    • Rich, I have not been to Guangzhou, but I have a friend there who is Chinese. He was working in Vancouver, Canada at a hotel and was making around $18 per hour, while management can easily hit $22 in the union environment. Granted, you will never be able to own property for that salary here (around $40k), but it is a safe salary. When he went to Guangzhou and applied at their top four- and five-star hotels, they were indifferent to his skills and said they could hire him on for 72 hours per week for about 3500RMB (less than $500 a month). As a foreigner however, you can expect 4500 and upwards to maybe a few 20,000-30,000 positions. I would look at the consulting or industrial positions that are not related to teaching, however.

      • richgedney says:

        Thanks John.Great advise.I’m always looking around the net for opportunities.All the while continuing to hone my film making skills,locally and on Youtube.I hope to produce some local TV at “People TV” here in Atlanta.Mater of fact II was just at the “People TV” meeting at city hall yesterday.Were doing our best to keep funding for local public run television in Atlanta.So I’m always looking into networking locally and when I travel.Consulting might be a viable option for me.I would love to see the no holds bared edition of this post. 🙂

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