Gail in China Report #2

Greetings Finite Worlders! Gail is on her 1 month lecture tour of China. She’s unable to access WordPress from China, but does have access to email, so she’s sending me updates to publish here on OFW. This is the second of her Updates to me from China.  My Byline/About appears at the bottom here, but the China Travelogue articles are authored by her and all photos are from her. We will try to keep you updated as the trip progresses. -RE

I left on March 13, and it is now March 25, so I have been traveling or in China for 12 days now. 

The short course I have been teaching is approaching its end point. I have given seven two-hour lectures to my class. Tomorrow, I will finish the last of my lectures (for 1/2 hour or so), and give a test for the rest of the period. The test will be multiple choice and short answer. The big concern I have is whether the students will know enough English to do well on the exam. One of the faculty has written translations for parts of the test, but there is still quite a lot that is not translated.
My plans for the rest of my stay here are still being finalized. I will be flying to Hohhot, Inner Mongolia on Friday, and staying through the week-end. That is about a 1.5 hour flight north-west of Beijing. One of the graduate students is from there. That is a big coal producing region, and wind energy is also produced there. The graduate student’s father is involved with wind energy.
There is also a plan that I will visit Daqing oil field with two of the professors, since that is a location that the professors are familiar with, and where they have contacts. The second trip will probably take place the following week-end (and a bit before and after), because the professors have teaching commitments during the week. In between, plans are still being finalized. One plan being discussed is an internal seminar with faculty/ grad students here; another is to try to get together with a fairly high level official that I met when I was here in 2011. I am doing other things as well. I have been helping Prof. Jiangliang Wang with a paper evaluating unconventional gas in China. (I have been a co-author on two previous papers with him.) And I am talking to graduate students about their projects, with the idea of perhaps helping them.
Prof. Feng would like to help me get my ideas together in an easy-to follow form. My lectures here have been videotaped (with me standing next to the slides), with the idea of putting the videotapes up on line, probably on OurFiniteWorld. I also have PDFs of my talk that can be put up on line, perhaps with notes added.
As I indicated previously, I am being treated very well. On Saturday morning, three graduate students and I climbed a nearby mountain overlooking a reservoir. It was not very high, and there were stairs leading to the top, so it was not too difficult.

 

Gail-China-1
A few comments about life here:
There are a lot of people wearing clothing with American logos on them, or with writing in English on them. Some of the writing is simply an American brand name like Adidas. I haven’t noticed any clothing at all with Chinese characters on them. In one case, I noticed a Chinese brand (361 Degrees) on a some shoes, written in American lettering.
A lot of people know at least a little English, since English has been taught in the schools for quite a few years (10?). But many of the students are not very good at spoken English, because most of their training was with respect to written English and grammar. The students have received PDFs of my presentations, so have had a chance to read them, and look up words if needed, to try to understand what is being said. Students all seem to have English-Chinese dictionaries on their phones, so that they can figure out translations.
There is no cold water served here, except bottled water (probably because of potability issues, past or present). At every meal, soup of some form is provided, free of charge. This is sometimes eaten with a spoon, and sometimes drunk from the bowl. Hot soy milk is one common from of soup, especially for breakfast. There are several other kinds of soup, including egg drop soup and various forms of thin grain porridge. At restaurants, if a beverage is ordered, it is often hot water, served in a pot (like hot water for tea, but without the tea). The graduate student office keeps thermoses of hot water, to make tea. In fact, all of the offices on campus seem to keep thermoses of hot water. These are refilled by the dining hall.
Gail-China-2
The food is quite varied here, with more vegetables (and more kinds of vegetables) served here than in the United States. Fish tends to have a lot of bones in it; meat often has a lot of bones in it (or it is ground, and in a dumpling). I am willing to try quite a few things, so I haven’t had a problem with the food.
One thing I noticed is that the campus is not very handicapped accessible. I have seen a few buildings with ramps, but most of them have lots of steps. There are elevators, but they don’t necessarily stop at every floor. If you want to go to the fourth floor, you may have to go to the fifth floor and walk down a flight of stairs. Doorways may have bars at the bottom that a person has to step over. I asked about not seeing any students in wheelchairs on campus. I was told that the bus system wasn’t set up for handicapped people (and I doubt that the dorms are set up for handicapped people), so wheelchairs are few and far between.
The Great Firewall of China blocks a lot of websites–anything Google related, WordPress and Blogspot blogs, Facebook, Twitter, the Wall Street Journal, and I am sure a fair number of other sites. Our Finite World is available to read (but not edit) in China, but I have been having difficulty accessing it, apparently because of a weak WiFi system on campus. People who are accessing the Internet using an Ethernet cable are doing much better at connecting up with Our Finite World.
I commented earlier about the heat being turned off in the buildings on March 15. After being here a few days, I think that the reason for the cut-off has to do with the inflexibility of heat from radiators (probably hot water heat, using coal to heat the hot water). We in the United States in newer housing are used to systems where temperatures are easily regulated. But when the heat is either “off” or ” on” as it seems to be with radiator heat, the problem as the season heats up is that rooms quickly get too warm when the temperature outside rises. This is especially the case when there are a lot of people in a not very large room, with the sun shining in. Even with the heat off, there are times that someone opens a window to try to get the temperature down.
Smog levels have varied a lot. Today, the pollution level was high again, making it the third day out of the twelve since I arrived with a noticeably high smog level. I am feeling some effects in my sinuses. At this time of year, there are also some trees blooming, so my problem may really be a touch of hay fever.
I keep talking about diminishing returns in my talks. As I think about the differences between China and the United States, it strikes me that in many cases the difference has to do with diminishing returns. China has chosen the inexpensive way to do things, such as serving fish with lots of bones, not doing much to accommodate the handicapped, and using radiator heat put in buildings long ago. There is a more polished way of handling these issues, but the cost of making an upgrade may not be proportional to the benefit.
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First Report from Gail in China

Greetings Finite Worlders!   Gail is on her 1 month lecture tour of China.  She’s unable to access WordPress from China, but does have access to email, so she’s sending me updates to publish here on OFW.  My Byline/About appears at the bottom here, but the China Travelogue articles are authored by her and all photos are from her  We will try to keep you updated as the trip progresses. -RE

Here’s the email Recap so far from Gail

Greeting from Beijing!

I am being treated well at China University of Petroleum in Beijing. I have given four lectures to my class so far, and will give four more lectures (and a short test) to my students next week. The classroom is not heated after March 15, so students have their coats on.

I understand cutting off the heat on March 15 is pretty much standard in Beijing. Some of the graduate students have reported that their apartments are quite cold at this time of year–the night temperature gets down below 40 degrees.

The apartment I am in has  a separate heating and cooling unit, in addition to central heat. So my apartment has been as warm as I have wanted it. My apartment is intended for guests that the university wants to treat well. The apartment is not luxurious by United States standards, but it is very adequate for my needs. It is conveniently located, in the middle of the campus, so it is easy to get wherever I want to go. It even has its own machine for washing clothes, plus a rack for drying clothes. It is quite large, with a big kitchen area, living room, bedroom, and bathroom.

I have given four lectures so far to my class, and will give another four lectures next week. I have discovered that students don’t like talking very much in class. Usually, they understand written English better than spoken English, so I have tried to see that copies of my presentations are available in class. Professor Feng who invited me occasionally spends a few minutes explaining something I have said in Chinese so that the student have another chance to understand what is being said.

The classes are being video taped. I understand that they will be edited (probably to remove the Chinese portion) so that I can put the videos of the lectures up on OurFiniteWorld.com. I am attaching here the first of the lectures I gave. I will try to do write-ups of these lectures as well.

On Saturday afternoon, I am giving a lecture to MBA students. This will be a shorter overview of our problems. Actually, that lecture will be very soon. I need go over to that lecture in a few minutes.

I am being treated very well, with graduate students going with me to meals and taking me sight seeing. This is a photo of a group of us, after the dinner we had the first day I was in Beijing.

A few Pics from the trip so far…

Group who had lunch together first day

students from my class

Note from RE: Gail also included an Acrobat file of her presentation slides, however I will leave that for Gail to add after she returns.

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The oil glut and low prices reflect an affordability problem

For a long time, there has been a belief that the decline in oil supply will come by way of high oil prices. Demand will exceed supply. It seems to me that this view is backward–the decline in supply will come through low oil prices.

The oil glut we are experiencing now reflects a worldwide affordability crisis. Because of a lack of affordability, demand is depressed. This lack of demand keeps prices low–below the cost of production for many producers. If the affordability issue cannot be fixed, it threatens to bring down the system by discouraging investment in oil production.

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Role of Wages of the Common Worker in Oil Prices, Collapse

In their book Secular Cycles, Peter Turchin and Surgey Nefedov point out the important role falling wages of the common workers played in early collapses. I got to thinking that this might be an issue with our current situation as well, including the low level of oil prices.

I explain this in two presentations. The first one is called “Overview of a Networked Economy“. The second one is called, “Economic Growth and Diminishing Returns.”

A couple of (amateurish) slides that need explanation are the following ones:

Standard definition of economic growth

The cloud above my representation of the economy is supposed to represent the cloud of goods and services that the economy makes. Many people would like us to believe that as long as this cloud is growing, everything is fine.

What Peter Turchin discovered is that there is a smaller cloud that really needs to be growing, as well. Continue reading

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The Problem of Debt as We Reach Oil Limits

(This is Part 3 of my series – A New Theory of Energy and the Economy. These are links to Part 1 and Part 2.)

Many readers have asked me to explain debt. They also wonder, “Why can’t we just cancel debt and start over?” if we are reaching oil limits, and these limits threaten to destabilize the system. To answer these questions, I need to talk about the subject of promises in general, not just what we would call debt.

In some sense, debt and other promises are what hold together our networked economy. Debt and other promises allow division of labor, because each person can “pay” the others in the group for their labor with a promise of some sort, rather than with an immediate payment in goods. The existence of debt allows us to have many convenient forms of payment, such as dollar bills, credit cards, and checks. Indirectly, the many convenient forms of payment allow trade and even international trade.

Figure 1. Dome constructed using Leonardo Sticks

Figure 1. Dome constructed using Leonardo Sticks

Each debt, and in fact each promise of any sort, involves two parties. From the point of view of one party, the commitment is to pay a certain amount (or certain amount plus interest). From the point of view of the other party, it is a future benefit–an amount available in a bank account, or a paycheck, or a commitment from a government to pay unemployment benefits. The two parties are in a sense bound together by these commitments, in a way similar to the way atoms are bound together into molecules. We can’t get rid of debt without getting rid of the benefits that debt provides–something that is a huge problem.

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