Monday, 31 May 2010

Macroeconomics: Things to check out

Since I'm revising for my Unit 2 (MacroEcons unit) exam, I thought I should share a few links to web resources/videos that might help/be of interest to Econs students.

1. BBC Documentary: The Love of Money (2009)

This 3-hour documentary looks at the world financial crisis of 2008-2009 and the events surrounding it - the Greenspan years, the collapse of Lehman, and the response by politicians. It features accounts from key players in the crisis - Alan Greenspan, Tim Geithner, Alistair Darling, Gordon Brown, and many more. It's no longer on the BBC iPlayer, but fortunately for everyone (especially those not in the UK, I found them on YouTube. (I typed the title of the episodes as used by the BBC, as well as the title used by the YouTube member in brackets)

Episode 1: The Bank That Bust the World [The Fall of Lehman]

Episode 2: The Age of Risk [The Boom and Bust Years]

Episode 3: Back from the Brink [The Last Days of the Banks]

2. iTunes U

A feature that was added to iTunes not too long ago, iTunes U is one of the places to go to for free, publicly-accessible web content (tutorials, talks, etc.) from some of the biggest universities/academies around. Obviously, some of these are way beyond A Level Economics. But you can watch them just to get a feel of what Economics (or whatever course you want to do) at Uni might be like, I guess

Some of the ones that I've downloaded (long ago and starting to watch now):

University of Warwick: The Global Credit Crunch and the Global Economy

MIT: The Economics Meltdown: What Have We Learnt, if Anything? by Paul Krugman

3. Spot of Economics Blog

A blog by one of the Econs teachers from my college, Mr Spottiswoode. It's more for the UK syllabus, so if you're reading this from Singapore, there may be some stuff that's a bit different/irrelevant (I don't think you'd care about the UK Balance of Trade as much as I have to for my exam). But still, it's a good read.

Hope you found the links useful!

Thursday, 27 May 2010

On OECD's Outlook, BBC iPlayer, Intel GPUs, and Rupert Murdoch's empire.

Phew, that was a long title.

Yes, it's a posting of 4 topics. So treat them as 4 separate blog posts.

This first bit is on Econs - if you're doing MacroEcons, you might be interested. Otherwise, this is just a load of gibberish. It's a bit UK-focused, but heck.

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) has recently released their latest outlook for the member economies (mainly US, EU nations, and Japan). One recommendation that they mentioned in the outlook was the warning that the US, UK and Canada should raise interest rates to 3.5% "latest by the end of this year". Another was recommendations for fiscal tightening in all member countries, to ease those budget deficits and please bond markets.

But there are problems with their recommendations, though.

In times like now, where the economy is still quite fragile, it seems a bit risky to use both contractionary fiscal and contractionary monetary policies together in such a short period of time.

Yes, these governments have to restore confidence and calm markets about their sovereign debts, so as to avoid a debt crisis like the one in Greece (especially in the PIIGS - Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain). And yes, George Osbourne, pay off debt now, and there's less later. But the concern now is whether it's too early to take away the support the economy still needs - unemployment in the States is still rising, as is expected in the UK until Mid-2010. Consumer confidence and spending is not exactly strong, either. And with the Euro still tumbling thanks to Greece and Merkel, I suspect the UK will be affected by poor exports as well.

And I've not even got to the raising of interest rates yet. Raise that, and people on mortgages would have to spend more of their income on loan repayments, assuming these people still have a job. Also, higher costs of borrowing isn't very helpful to businesses which are planning to reduce their workforce. This could have an impact on aggregate demand, employment, consumer confidence, and ultimately, economic growth.

Oh, and let's not forget what Mervyn King mentioned about the inflation rate in the UK. It was 3.7% CPI, above the 2(±1)% target. Reasons? Well, VAT went back up from 15% to 17.5% in January, oil prices rose 80% y-o-y, and so did food and clothing prices. Mervyn's concern is that at the moment, the upward pressure on prices are short-term, and they are masking the downward pressure on prices as a result of the spare capacity in the economy, created by the recession. 

With these factors in mind, I would think interest rates shouldn't go up until GDP growth has stabilised. Get the easy money flowing a bit more. before worrying about an overheating economy.

As for the fiscal policies, the governments would probably know best. They have to calm markets at both ends - on one end, you want to keep spending to get economic growth again; on the other hand, you want to keep bond markets and credit ratings agencies happy by cutting spending/borrowing. It's a balancing act. Looking at Greece, there appears to be strong pressures to cut spending/reduce borrowing. But not so much that the economy enters a double-dip. (PIIGS are an exception, I guess. They MUST cut spending.)

In other non-Econs news, have you checked out the new BBC iPlayer? It's in testing now, and it'll replace the current design in June/July. One feature that is planned, according to the Financial Times, is the ability to search for content from other networks (BSkyB, ITV, Channel 4, etc.) and click through to those networks' websites (e.g.: 4oD, ITV Player, etc.). Thought that was an interesting tidbit.

Link: [FT article - may have limited access]

And in Tech, I highly recommend reading this Ars Technica posting on the state of Intel and their GPUs. For techie Econs student, this could be an example of how monopoly leads to reduced incentives to improve the quality of the product (resources being allocated and used inefficiently in the market, perhaps?).

And in slightly upsetting news for proponents of 'free news online', The Times & The Sunday Times will start charging visitors to their websites, and from June onwards - £2 per week, £1 per day. News Corp. (which owns The Times and Sunday Times) said they will also start charging for their other news websites, The Sun and News of the World, later this year. The rationale for such a move is valid, though. They seem to have a harder time making money off online ad revenues, so they will have to move to a charged model to keep the business running. It'll be interesting to see how this pans out, since there are free alternatives to The Times - (I love their iPhone App, by the way), The Independent,, just to name a few. I love the Times, so I hope Rupert Murdoch works this one out. Don't get me wrong, I hate the guy for what he stands for politically, and for the power he has in the media circles (he owns Fox News, WSJ, BSkyB, The Sun - most read tabloid in the UK, The Times, and News of the World). But The Times has pretty good cartoonists and columnists. Heck, even Clarkson is writing for The Times!

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Whoa, things are quiet around here...

Sorry, I haven't been blogging much recently.

Exams are coming (*gasp!*). Not just any exams, either. It's the finals - the A Levels. Just give me another 30 days and it'll all be done.

Gosh, I really can't believe how time flies. Pretty soon, I'll be moving on to Uni, and then, a job. Seems a bit overwhelming, now that I think of it that way...

But the music ain't gonna stop till the fat lady sings, innit? (Sorry, trying to mix a bit of rap and UK teens accent there.)

Anyway, speaking of rap, I'm really not sure what has gone in to me, but my music preference seems to be on a whirlwind tour of different genres. Just to give you an idea, here's what I've been listening to recently, album-wise (Thanks to Spotify!):

"Immersion" by Pendulum

"Beachcomber's Windowsill" by Stornoway
Genre: Alternative Indie Pop/ Folk

"Conditions" by Temper Trap
Genre: Alternative Rock

"Nothin' on You" (Single) by B.o.B. feat. Bruno Mars
Genre: Alternate Hip Hop/R&B

Come to think of it, I always have this sort of a mix in my general playlists - a hint of R&B, a sprinkle of Rock, a dash of Pop, and a cup of electronica. All alternative, preferably.

And speaking of alternative, I have a question for you. Look at your iTunes playlist. Specifically, look at the genre column. What proportion of your music says "Alternative"? Because most of the stuff I listen to seem to be categorised as "Alternative" even though I would argue them to be something else.

The Corrs - they're more 90's Pop than Alternative, IMO.
Fall Out Boy - I though they're a bit Pop/Rock?
Coldplay - Pop!
Linkin Park - Rock!

My point is, how do you define what is Alternative, what is Pop, and what's neither? The lines are blurring, and I think there's a need to make clear distinctions between these genres, or just forget with the whole "Alternative" idea and call it "Interesting music with no real genre".

What's your thought on Alt-Pop?

Monday, 10 May 2010

A New Government?

Well, looks like things are really shaking up in the UK today.

First, there's the speculation that the Tories and Lib-dems will announce a coalition by today.

Then, no.

If it becomes clear that the national interest, which is stable and principled government, can be best served by forming a coalition between the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats, then I believe I should discharge that duty to form that government which would in my view command a majority in the House of Commons in the Queen's speech and any other confidence votes.

But I have no desire to stay in my position longer than is needed to ensure the path to economic growth is ensured and the process of political reform we have agreed moves forward quickly. The reason that we have a hung parliament is that no single party and no single leader was able to win the full support of the country. As leader of my party, I must accept that that is a judgment on me. I therefore intend to ask the Labour party to set in train the processes needed for its own leadership election. I would hope that it would be completed in time for the new leader to be in post by the time of the Labour party conference. I will play no part in that contest and I will back no individual candidate.

--Gordon Brown, in a speech outside 10 Downing Street

Gordon Brown announced he was going to resign as PM and Labour Party Leader before the next Party Conference in the Autumn. Meaning? New PM, new Labour leader. Something almost everyone seems to be happy about - the Electorates, the Lib Dems, the Plaid Leader, the former Labour MPs/candidates, etc.

Gordon Brown has taken a difficult personal decision in the national interest. And I think without prejudice to the talks that will now happen between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, Gordon Brown's decision is an important element which could help ensure a smooth transition to the stable government that everyone deserves.

--A Statement form Nick Clegg via Lib Dem HQ

Gordon Brown has done the decent thing following the overwhelming rejection of his premiership last Thursday. It was clear that he had no mandate from the people to maintain his position in Downing Street, and he has now shown that he has heard that message loud and clear. Mr Brown's announcement is a signal to other progressive parties that Labour is willing to talk in order to explore the possibility of establishing a progressive alliance to govern in Westminster.

Elfyn Llwyd, Plaid Cymru Leader in Westminster

Then, Nick Clegg released a Press Release saying he's not happy with how talks are going with the Tory representatives, so he's going to talk with Labour.

Over the past four days we have been working flat-out to deliver an agreement that can provide stable government that can last. The talks with the Conservatives have been very constructive and I am grateful to David Cameron and his team for the effort they have put in. But so far we have been unable to agree a comprehensive partnership agreement for a full parliament.

We need a government that lasts, which is why we believe, in the light of the state of talks with the Conservative party, the only responsible thing to do is to open discussions with the Labour party to secure a stable partnership agreement. We will of course continue our discussions with the Conservative party to see if we can find a way to a full agreement.

--A Statement form Nick Clegg via Lib Dem HQ

So, it appears like we might have a Lab-Lib-SNP-Plaid-SDLP-Alliance-Green Coalition, if one analyst is to be believed...

For reference, here are the numbers.

There are 650 seats in the Commons. But there are five Sinn Féin MPs who do not take their seats, leaving 645 MPs. So to get a working majority you would need 323 votes.

There are 258 Labour MPs and 57 Lib Dem MPs. That makes 315. The SDLP (a sister party of Labour's) has three MPs and there is one MP who represents the Alliance (which is allied to the Lib Dems). If you add them, you get to 319. Plaid Cymru is in coalition with Labour in Wales. They've got three MPs, and if they join the total rises to 322. The SNP has also signalled its willingness to join a progressive pact of some kind, and its six MPs would take that total to 328. If the Greens' Caroline Lucas were to vote with this bloc, that would take you to 329.

The Tories have 306 seats. (One is the Speaker, but two Labour MPs – and another Tory – are likely to become deputy Speakers, and so they cancel each other out.) When the contest in Thirsk takes place, that is likely to rise to 307. If the Democratic Unionists (eight MPs) were to vote with the Tories (as they normally do), the Tory-DUP total would rise to 315.

Gordon Brown is right to say that the "progressives" could form a majority. But they would be dependent on several small parties and they would not have much of a cushion for when people started to rebel.

All I can say is that things are getting interesting, and possibly a bit heated, judging from the Tory response as delivered by William J Hague,

That is the choice that they will now have to make ... We are absolutely convinced that we should not have another unelected prime minster and we should not change our voting system without a referendum... Under the Tory plans, Tories would be free to campaign against AV in a referendum.

--William Hague, during a Conservative Press Conference

Thanks to The Guardian's Andrew Sparrow's Election Live Blog for all the excerpts. Link:

Hope they wouldn't mind me condensing their material before they get swept under continuous updates!

Monday, 3 May 2010


Finally, another item off my New Year's Resolution! I was starting to feel I'm not going to meet any of the remaining items on that list!

Yes, I went to the Brighton Dome yesterday to watch "This is Apollo", part of the Brighton Festival 2010 events that's going on from 1 May to 23 May.

It was interesting to hear how Brian Eno feels about, well, the 60's - the era when man tried everything that they could imagine - travelling to space; developing the Concorde; Andy Warhol, who most notably created an 8-hour film, "Empire" (See Wiki: ), which basically featured the Empire State Building at night, with the lights going on and off as the cleaners roam around the building; and of course, the Apollo Moon Landing Mission itself. He described the 60's as the time when man tried everything - the drugs, sex, and travel.

Eno also talked about the story behind his compositions - Apollo, which turned out to be a project he got involved with after someone who had access to the Moon landing footages used his "Music for airports" tracks as the soundtrack. He made some new compositions for the Apollo Landing clips - one of the challenges he faced was trying to emulate the sound of space, which, as we know, is silence. The result was his 1983 album, "Apollo". [Spotify: Brian Eno – Apollo iTunes: ]

He also reminded the audience present last night that his music was not meant to be played 'live' - he just composed them on the computer, looping over and adding/shedding layers as he went along. So, he sent his music to some other composer, got him to write the music for performance, and got BJ Cole and Icebreaker to perform the music last night, accompanied by a condensed, 50-minute film of the Apollo mission, from the entering of the shuttle, to take-off, to the time on the moon, and finally the return journey.

It was an emotional roller-coaster, as you watched and imagine how frightening it must be to be sitting on top of a huge bomb propelling you out of the Earth's atmosphere and being the first few to land on the moon. Yet, at the same time, you see the trio floating about out of their craft, then in their cramped shuttle, and once they landed on the moon, you see them having great difficulties holding objects with their thick gloves. Of course, it wasn't all serious and gloomy - you see the astronauts bunny-hopping so care-freely, and occasionally tripping.

And of course, I got to hear one of Eno's most brilliant compositions - An Ending (Ascent) [Spotify: Brian Eno – An Ending (Ascent) iTunes: ] as the astronauts drifted further away from the earth's atmosphere, and finally as they landed over water.

Oh, by the way, I have to say, what a diverse range of musical instruments they had - from glockenspiel to accordion, from piccolo to electric guitars, from double bass to a pedal steel guitar. Pianos to Sax, and all sorts of other percussion instruments. All these, to emulate the sound of space. Talk about irony!

I must say, this has to be one of the most impressive events that I've been to in a while. The only thing that spoiled it for me was Eno's not-so-brilliant voice as he sang a few tunes after the film. But that's minor, really, compared to how immaculately the music and video complement each other. It's just astoundingly brilliant. 

Rating: 4.9/5.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

First past the post.

On 6 May 2010, the UK goes to the polls to decide who will form the next parliament.

Here, there's been quite a stir about the electoral system and how it can be unfair to certain political parties.

You see, the UK has something called the "First past the post" system [Wiki link: ] , somewhat similar to those in the US Presidential election and the Singapore General Elections. Basically, the electorates are divided into constituencies, and the person with the most votes in each constituency wins for that constituency. Sounds fair, right?

Well, arguably, no. Let me explain using the example of the US Presidential elections of 2000, between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

In the US, the candidate with the most votes in each state wins all the electoral votes, or 'tickets', for that state. The tickets are allocated in a way that should more or less reflect the population in that state. So, a large state like California would have something like 55 'tickets'. A candidate that gains 270 tickets wins the election. (Yes, this is an oversimplification. But for simplicity's sake, let's assume that's true.) In 2000, Al Gore received the most number of votes [50.9m, compared with 50.4m for Bush]. However, due to the way the 'tickets' have been assigned, Bush was able to win the election with 271 tickets, even though he didn't get the most votes.
[Link:,_2000 ]

In the UK, there has been criticisms being fired at the voting system, too. Mainly, the percentage of votes for a party does not translate into the proportion of seats in the House of Commons received by that party. This has often put smaller parties, like the Liberal Democrats, at a disadvantage, as they would require much more votes to translate votes into seats. In contrast, the incumbent Labour party can still remain the largest party in power, even if they came in third place in terms of votes. Many have said this is unfair, arguing that there should be a more direct translation between votes and seats. Gordon Brown himself has thrown in his own idea into the hat - Alternative Voting
[Read: ]

Why am I blogging about the electoral system in the UK? Well, I thought it would make an interesting Mathematical/Political/Philosophical debate. How would you solve a problem like the Electoral system, be it in Singapore, the UK, or the US, to make it more representative of the people? Or does it not matter, whether we get the same level of representation in Congress/Parliament as we do in terms of public sentiments? What is the most fair, efficient way to run an election and decide the winners?

Just my two cents' worth.