Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Apples and Oranges

The African Stock Exchange Association meeting was held in early November in Zambia. I attended the past two years but could not make it this year. I found this one frustrated blogger who refused to go to the event. I actually would have gone if it the dates had been more convenient but this guy has HAD IT with ASEA.

This blogger thinks that the Association of African Stock Exchanges could be more could do more than it currently does. His frustration got me thinking.

The facts are that most African exchanges are quasi-governmental organisations and not part of a capital market structure as we know it. They are part of the government. ASEA functions perfectly well as a quasi-governmental organisation. It has very little power and spends time creating Memos of Understanding between exchanges so that there is cooperation and information is shared. Frankly I think it functions exactly as it has been created to function.

ASEA does not create opportunities for exchanges to take advantage of economies of scales or innovation. It provides an opportunity for meeting and hearing from exchange leaders and to learn a bit about the exchange of the host country. To ask it to be more is not to understand it.

I do not blame the blogger for his sentiments. I often think how much better things would be for certain African exchanges if they only…….

But there is something wrong with THAT thought, I think. The problem is thinking THAT way stops you from understanding how things ARE. If you can understand how things ARE then you know a lot more than if you spend so much time wishing things were different. If you understand how things ARE then you might be able to portray things accurately. That is always a good place to start and it might be where you end also. That is not so bad.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Knowing and Unravelling

I experienced a typical Orange County moment last week when I tried to communicate with Hector, who is the man in charge of my pool. I spoke Spanglish to him. He rolled his eyes and spoke Spanglish back. I said “Gracias” and he rolled his eyes again. Hector sometimes brings his girlfriend when he cleans the pool. He also drives a new and rather expensive looking pick-up truck which he parks in front of my driveway so I cannot get in and out. Without exception everyone who helps me to keep my household going is Hispanic. Not surprisingly, my community is only 9% Hispanic. My helpers take the bus or drive to my house.

As far as violent crimes are concerned, I live in the safest city in America for the last six years. My town is 47% White and 36% Asian. Asian encompasses all sub-category of Asian including Indian, Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Cambodian, Korean….etc. I receive a China Daily newspaper in my mailbox every Thursday. I do not remember ordering this and yet each week it comes informing me on all things China. My town is multi-cultural and has a distinct Asian flavour-sometimes in a segregated way, sometimes not. All in all, my town has had a Pacific Rim focus long before Obama decided to go there and give China adgeda.

While things on the left coast are very grim in terms of economics, in general, people still immigrate here. The Sunday LA Times, Orange County edition, advertises property in Orange County alongside property in India. Business is booming at the community colleges with former mortgage lender employees retooling and learning new skills while the recession lingers and many homeowners have mortgages that are under water.

Obama’s travels and the upcoming G20 in Seoul are a non-event here because people are losing their homes and hoping the new Governor, Jerry Brown, will save us all or that at least next time pot will become legal. Unemployment is a very high 12.4% with little relief in sight. Still, driving around I see new Mercedes-Benz, businesses expanding, buildings being built and people buying up the houses that others cannot afford to keep. It can be confusing.

Yet, when I teach my Introduction to Business class I am filled with a funny kind of awareness an even hope for the future. I recently set my students the task of writing a business plan for any business they choose. While this class on some days can seem comatose while I lecture, they came alive with this assignment.

Upon grading, I read about socially responsible Hookah cafes, Volleyball clubs, restaurants that grow their own veggies in a sustainable way, and a clothing line that combines art/music/important political and social commentary in order to inform. The class is absolutely diverse in terms of gender, age and ethnicity. They spend all their time on their phones and facebook and google what I am talking about DURING my lecture. While this may say quite a bit about my skills at classroom management, I think it might also say something about the future, something more than just technology is important and social networking is the key for business. Listening to my students talk; reading what they created, challenged what I KNEW. These students are not just different from me; they are different from all of us. They create differently. Adapting the economy to suit this creativity is part of what America does better than most other economies.

“An important factor in classical Chinese “knowing” is comprehensiveness. Without an assumed separation between the source of order in the world and the world itself, causal agency is not so immediately construed in terms of relevant cause and effect. All conditions interrelate and collaborate in greater or lesser degree to constitute a particular event as a confluence of experiences. ‘Knowing’ is thus being able to trace out and manipulate those conditions far or near that will come to affect the shifting configuration of one’s own place…’knowing’ …vocabulary… tends to be one of tracing out, unravelling, penetrating, and getting through.”

Sun-Tzu The Art of War, translated with an introduction and commentary by Roger Ames, (Ballentine Books, NY, 1993)

Frequently, China is touted as the next big challenge to the US which is allegedly why the current administration is rushing around Asia making friends with old enemies and plying old friends with gifts. I really don’t know or care much. But I do notice that it is a bi-racial, multi-cultural President who is doing all of this.

I recently wished a friend who lives in Kuala Lumpur ‘Happy Diwali’ via email. He responded that it was good that Obama’s trip raised awareness in Americans of festivals other than Christmas. I really wanted to reply that living in London raised more awareness in me of Ramadan and Diwali (and how to find good curry) rather than President Obamas travels. But that seemed petty so I will write about it here instead. The real truth is that Diwali is celebrated all over Orange County and Mercer County, NJ and NYC. It is this cultural mix that has always set America apart and maybe explains why it remains the Superpower that it is.

“For the classical Chinese world view, in the absence of an initial creative act that establishes a given design and a purpose governing change in the cosmos, the order and regularity of the world emerges from the productive juxtapositions of different things over the full compass of their existence. No two patterns are the same, and some dispositions are more fruitfully creative than others. For this reason, human knowledge is fundamentally performative—one ‘knows’ a world not only passively in the sense of recognizing it, but also in the active shaping and ‘realizing’ of it. It is the capacity to anticipate the patterned flow of circumstances, to encourage those dispositions most conducive to a productive harmony, and ultimately to participate in negotiating a world order that makes best advantage of its creative possibilities. Harmony is attained through the art of contextualizing.” Sun-Tzu The Art of War, Id at 59.

America is racist and still segregates in many ways that are unfair and wrong; but the melting pot idea lives on and nobody does that better than us for good or ill. It is THAT confluence which might explain our endurance despite frequent predictions of downfall. I don't know if US and Chinese politicians understand these things. Personally, I believe many of my students know things that I am just learning. For the first time, I believe I have begun to understand more completely going with the flow and what that means for me and for OC.