Posted by: yannaungoak | August 14, 2009

Last day of goofing around

Last day at Middlebury! I’m going to go up to the Burlington tomorrow afternoon and just bunk out at the airport (again!).

I’m so glad they served hamburgers and clam chowder at the dining halls today, instead of some attempt at ethnic food. Some real American food before I finally leave this place. Too bad I didn’t take my camera to the dining hall, I would’ve taken pictures. Clam chowder is definitely a favorite of mine, ranks right up there second only to Buffalo wings as far as American food goes.

I haven’t done much today but I’ve been busy in some way or other, just little unfinished tidbits and errands. And I’ve also been kinda tipsy for the better part of the day, just chillin’ out for one last time before heading off into the scary real world.

I do have one cool thing to share though. I was listening to this chat between Paul Krugman the economist and Charles Stross the science fiction writer. You can get the mp3 file of the chat here, and the transcript of the entire chat here.

It was interesting. They compared their visions of the future, with Stross pointing out the gargantuan shifts in technology that has occurred in  recent times while Krugman insists that that technological change does not necessarily translate to societal change. There were a number of things that I found interesting, but these things kinda struck out…

Krugman said something about trade (and with him being a trade economist and winning a shinny Nobel prize for it, I guess we all should listen):

That’s by the way one of the mysteries … we don’t quite know why there’s so much stuff being shipped long distances, particularly … it’s one thing where we’re talking about oil because oil is where it is, it has to be shipped to get to other places, but … there was a time, again thinking of the United States, a time when we knew what Detroit did for a living, we knew Troy, New York was the detachable collar and cuff center of America and all these local specializations and you could explain why stuff was being shipped back and forth. These days, it’s very very hard to figure out what’s different about the economies of different cities and so if … why is there so much … who are all those people on the plane today. Why were they traveling and … better still, when you’re flying between Cleveland and Atlanta, what is it that Cleveland has that Atlanta needs? What is it that Atlanta has that Cleveland needs? Actually, what is that Atlanta has that anyone needs? I actually did try to figure out what Atlanta’s economy is about … it seems to be about the airport. We’re not quite getting it.

I found it odd too that these days, there’s no real sense of identifying products with locations. Italian shoes? Russian caviar? Aside from those kinds of high end luxury products, its kind of like a free for all. This ties in to what I said in my previous post too. It’s funny that even the world’s best economists haven’t figured out why so much stuff is shipped all over the world for no apparent reason. Maybe the hippie localvores do have a point after all: that most trade is unnecessarily complex. But I remain eternally doubtful of simplification, and love how wondrously complicated and complex the actual reality is.

Another point raised during the conversation that I found interesting was during the question and answer session with the audience. Someone asked how people in the developed world (Americans in particular) can be persuaded into taking life more easily, just chilling out and living off the vast sums of wealth they have already accumulated. Krugman made a really good point I thought. He said that there was a signaling problem involved in the process of getting people to just chill out. Basically, even if you’re rich, the thing is that if you want to keep your high end professional job, you have to show dedication. This means that being qualified for a job quickly becomes synonymous with being a dedicated workaholic. You have to prove your dedication by putting in those extra hours, just so that you can be a cut above the rest. It actually has little to do with actual material gain, but more to do with some notion of social standing and hierarchy. It’s funny, coming from a country where most people have nothing better to do with their lives than to sit all day at tea shops and chill out, I find it really weird and almost disturbing that Americans are so competitive to the point that even chilling out to them is a game. You get points for being the most chilled out among your peers, of course all the while being highly accomplished at every other endeavor of life as well. Effortless perfection, they call it. I think it will be the death of us all.

Well, I think it’s good for me that I’m heading far far away from all this madness. We’ll just have to see what other kinds of madness the folks from the other side of the world are infected with. Keep reading this blog to find out… 😉

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