Blog

Game of (economic) Thrones

Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, China 2017.

Did any of you have the chance to watch the series “Empires of Silver” yet? I have been watching the first few episodes on my recent Singapore Airlines flights. Overall I thought the tv-series/documentary was pretty well done, with very pertinent content considering the trade ‘wars’ that are currently being waged.

What caught my attention about the show:

  • Sponsored by Eastern entities. Why would they?
  • Made for Western audiences. Again, why?
  • Discusses trade imbalances during last days of the Qing dynasty, a global silver shortage (due to imbalanced trade flows to China) and how the west used opium to try and balance the deficit.
  • Touches on what happened when China decided to stop the importation of opium.
  • Makes mention of China’s deep ties with global economies back then, and influence on the west by having deep personal/business relations between chinese businessmen and prominent figures from the west.
  • Goes in detail about how much the Chinese actually align with a hard currency as a culture (which happened to be silver back then)

What I found interesting were the number of analogs to the present day we find ourselves in:

  • Global shortage in trade currency (It was silver back then, USD today), albeit for different reasons compared to the present day.
  • Western powers balancing trade by forcing non productive exports upon surplus countries (US treasuries today, opium back then).
  • Surplus countries stopping importation of useless goods (Opium then, US treasuries now) and the subsequent instability that follows.Luke Gromen from Forest For The Trees has been calling this well for ages.Foreigners are saying No to US monetary opium
  • Guess what? China is hoarding hard international trade currency again. This time it is Gold. See below:
The trend is pretty strong here.

I wonder how the recent launch of Shanghai gold futures by the CME group plays into all of this. Gold futures denominated in yuan, traded on the shores of the US of A! Internationalisation of the yuan has been repeatedly called for by figures on both sides of the aisle. Looks like it might finally be accelerating.

Went live 3 days ago!

This time, maybe, when China starts to become THE centre of global trade as they were before, they might be able to sidestep their previous problems.

China will have stronger networks with foreigners via the belt and road initiative (OBOR). They will probably have the ability to build trade surpluses without gumming up world trade (Gold in China stays in China by law, while foreigners can swap CNH (offshore yuan) for Gold offshore or for other Chinese goods and services). Also, China will navigate the coming period with caution rather than hubris.

So what is the next move that global players might be moving towards?

I know that not everyone is a big fan of Mr Keynes, but maybe his ‘Bancor’ idea from 1940 might have caught the imagination of a few powerful figures? See PBOC comments from 2009 and other interesting developments:

  • PBOC’s Yi Gang joins trade talks in US? When was the last time the Fed’s Jay Powell went to China for trade talks? 😉

In any case, this TV series is another sign that they are not going into this new phase without having thought it all through. They might not pull it off, but it all seems at least calculated.

They wouldn’t want to be like a bull in a china shop would they?

JN

Risk is a Hot Potato

Avoid opening and serving a can of risk to a client when going through a negotiation. Especially not when the product you are providing is not the buyer’s only option.  

For example, imagine a situation where the equipment you are supplying to industry is doing pretty well.  Multiple orders are about to drop.  You might think it a good time to let your potential client know that if they hold back on placing an order soon,  they might have to go to the back of the line for deliveries. 

Well, it depends.  If you were in the west, your counterpart might be more inclined to appreciate your candor, and your openness might actually be a strong enough call to action to get you the deal.  Scarcity and social proof doing its magic again right?

In Asia, especially in China, that most likely will be seen as show of weakness.  You have just introduced an unknown variable into the procurement team’s decision equation.  

“Can I trust them to deliver on time if they are this busy?”

“What if my boss isn’t able to decide till next Wednesday?  I don’t want to get into trouble…”

If communication of tight delivery schedules is needed, and that call to action is still something you want to throw out there, ring-fence that risk.  Instead of saying that deliveries might get delayed, try putting a fixed number next to your statement.

“If an order isn’t placed within the week, expected delivery time then goes to 3 months.” 

This way, risk in the form of an extra unknown variable is taken away from the buyer’s smorgasbord of decision making factors. 

Risk is a hot potato, don’t be passing it onto a potential client’s lap! You do not want to be the supplier that makes a procurement team’s job that little more complex. 

Don’t Get Locked Out!
Taizhou, Jiangsu Province

Why. 为什么。

The word ‘Why’ usually ends with a question mark.

In Mandarin, the translation for ‘Why’ is actually made up of 3 characters, Wèi shé me. It literally means ‘for what’.  In other words, ‘what are you doing this for?’.  It brings a sharper focus doesn’t it? The perspective to the question asked becomes starker.

What if we tried something different?  What if we started using the word only with a full stop at the end. Just as Simon Sinek says, always start with why.  In other words, have the answers to all your whys before you set sail. Whatever you do, the attitudes you take, the relationships you build, try and start with that powerful word.  What are we doing this for? What are we sacrificing to attain this?

Not knowing our whys mean we have to navigate through our path of life without a compass, unsure and afraid. Knowing them brings direction, motivation and inspiration.

Success – When Gravity Pulls

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Success.  A word that is truly difficult to define.  Don’t believe me?  Ask around.  Everyone has their own unique interpretation of what the word means to them.

Why The Difference?

Do bear with me, feathers might get ruffled here.  I am going to pull up some instances of people chasing stereotypical ‘success’ to present my opinion.  No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred 🙂

Here goes:

  • Hipsters trawling through thrift shops, searching for used gems that will afford them their unparalleled uniqueness
  • Inner city youth yearning for pimped out rides with spinners shinier than mirrors
  • 1.3 billion Chinese building up a country that resembles what suburban Americans save money to fly away from
  • Singaporeans paying ransoms for a German VW golf hatchback while well-to-do Germans find ways to ride on the overpriced Deutsche Bahn

I could name more examples, but perhaps your own minds are swimming with similar examples of your own.

When we see distinct patterns of definitions of success that span geographies, cultures or even history, we have to assume that environments are partly responsible for shaping our ideals.  Every zeitgeist is unique, but holds true for a people of a particular time and place.

Uniqueness that is not random. Uniqueness that gets replicated.  Houston we have a problem.

Pursuing What We Had No Right To Possess

I wonder if our images of success are implanted deep within us based on the lacks and wants we endured in our pasts.  I grew up in the bustle of a tropical metropolis, and now long for a cabin in the woods with a nothing but a fireplace and view of the forest without.

If we look back at the various ‘success’ stereotypes I brought forward, we could hazard some guesses on what might have been their inceptions:

  • African americans in the 50’s and 60’s watching rich white neighbours roll past in their shiny cadillacs
  • Millennials growing up in cookie cutter homes with busy unavailable parents working at cookie cutter jobs
  • Starving East-Asians coming out of poverty looking eastward at the bursting middle class of 美国🇺🇸 (literally the ‘beautiful nation’ in mandarin)
  • Singaporeans grappling with extreme resource scarcity with an overarching savings culture that has transcended generations

It seems that absense truly does make the heart grow fonder.

Why The Pursuit Of Change?

With few exceptions, change on the whole brings with it associated discomfort.  Adapting isn’t easy, and due to this, people loathe change.  We as a species hate decisions and live on autopilot for a majority of our time.  Relationships, jobs, places of residence, even consumer brands are things we struggle to displace or replace.

Yet we constantly strive for what we never had, and want lives we have never lived.

We seek change on the macro, but avoid it at all costs on the micro.  The dissonance is breathtaking.

This yearning to have what was never experienced seems to be buried deep within us.  Look around us and you will see it at work constantly and consistently.  It is strong and unyielding, and is impressive in its ability to shape cultural landscapes.  What is this invisible hand that drives us and guides us?  Could we be seeing evolution’s muse working within us, fine-tuning our compasses over the generations?

As the tides of time ceaselessly shift, we can only look on as history reveals this gravity that is pulling us to ever loftier heights.

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Why The Sacrifice?

My grandpa volunteered to leave home (Australia) to fight the Japanese empire in a foreign land, thousands of kilometers from home.  My young grandma was pregnant at the time with my dad.

My great grandma on my Mom’s side left Southern China on a wooden vessel, heading south into the unknown, the only certainty she had was that she would never see home again.

Choices were made at significant personal cost.  What propelled them?  What was the value they saw in stepping into the abyss?

I sit here sipping on an organic dry red, candlelight licking at the brushed aluminium corners of my Apple laptop.  I have Australian sheepskin shoes on my feet, and am gazing at wooden christmas toys hand carved in the Saxon Mountain ranges of Germany.  I have never wanted for anything.

The number of layers of protection I am cocooned in thanks to my friends, my family and the state make it impossible for me to understand what my forbears felt as they pushed off from the shore.

As we trudge to work shoulders hunched, wishing the work day was behind us rather than still to come,  I have to wonder why we are unable to make our own leaps of faith towards carving out a different existence.

The Paradox That Is Time

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Time has to be one of the most paradoxical things that we all have an intimate relationship with.  On one hand, it has tremendous value as nothing can be done or achieved without it.  Yet, we struggle to truly understand and leverage its value as we do not consider it scarce.  The two minutes we kill by watching a cat video is soon replaced by two more.  How do we harness this resource? 

We all know that we get more value from the hour before a deadline than the hour after it. But! Not so simple!  Much like other commodities such as gold and oil, time is truly fungible.  A minute spent waiting for your final grade at the university of Shanghai, China lasts exactly as long as 60 seconds spent gazing at the Teletower on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany.  So why the difference?  And how do we ensure that we make the most out of our time?

The interesting thing is that we almost always initially and erroneously feel that we have infinite time (and therefore do not value it), until we are faced with the reality that we don’t.

Managing Our Relationship With Time

I am convinced that the formula to a life worth living is dependent on our relationship with time.  If we distill our thoughts and actions down to their rawest of motivations, we see how each moment was viewed either as a precious resource, or a painful reminder of our potential that we need to escape from.  How we consistently treat these little packages of time over our years lead to drastically different outcomes. 

Oscar Wilde doesn’t think we can kill time without injuring eternity.  I hope we heed his advice.