Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Photo of the Day--February 22, 2012

So I've mentioned this no less than 100 billion times in this blog, but I'll say it again--Shenzhen's population in 1980 was about 300,000. Today it is about 14 million. Insane. But one question I have yet to ask in this blog is, where did all these people come from?

Now presumably they're mostly from more rural places in China, coming to the big city with big dreams to partake in Shenzhen's economic miracle on the banks of the Pearl River. And some of these people, indeed a surprisingly high percentage of them, are basically homeless/seemingly homeless vagabonds that do various things on the street for money. These various things range from being horrifically deformed (I told my brother before he came to visit that he should be prepared to see people with no faces. He basically told me "well what the hell does that mean? How can you not have a face?" If you ask him now, he will, without hesitation, tell you it is very possible for someone to not have a face. That was a long set of parenthesis) to being just really old and sad-looking to, in the case of the guy I often see on the walk into work, being a mad-dog Chinese man with a sick beard and a violin-like object made of what looks like a wooden box and a piece of bamboo.

Normally I walk right by this guy, given that I really can't be bothered to stay and enjoy his music on the way into work. Today, however, I was about 8 minutes early, and figured what the hey, dropped a 5 yuan note (about $0.82) into his bucket, and had a brief listen. Do I know anything about how to really distinguish good violin playing from bad? Not really. Even if I did, is it really possible to gauge one's violin skill when you're playing something that's as sophisticated an instrument as a string and 2 tin cans are a telephone? Presumably, no. But as I stood there on the street watching this 80-something year-old Chinese man play this matchbox attached to a stick and using fishing line as rope, I realized it really didn't matter if he was any good. This hero of an old Chinese man was here by choice, and odds are he was doing better financially here than he would be elsewhere, otherwise he wouldn't be here. And realistically, it's not that hard to make a livable salary performing like this on the streets, I assume.

For example--generally speaking, I try to live on about 100 yuan (~$14) per day, not including rent. This is for someone who is upper-middle class by Shenzhen standards. It's very safe to assume that someone who is literally playing a fiddle made of cardboard on the street can live on like 1/3 of that. So we'll round up and say 40 yuan per day in living expenses, not including his rent. Let's say this guy is either 1) completely homeless (unlikely), or 2) lives with a handful of other people in a very small space for about 1,000 yuan per month (even though it's very, very likely less than that, given that I pay 2,400 for a relatively enormous studio in the Sheraton Hotel. But better to overestimate than underestimate). Anyway, so that's a total of 2,200 yuan per month in living expenses. 70 yuan per day, give or take. I gave the guy 5 yuan. He needs 13 more people today to give him 5 yuan. 8 hour day=1.625 people per hour on average (1.75 per hour if you take out my 5 yuan donation, which I think is wise to do). I mean, I could be wrong, but that sounds pretty manageable, particularly if you're playing in an area like that of my office--lots and lots of upper-middle class people going to/from work.

Anyway, so that's just a little bit of a rant about the life of beggars in Shenzhen. And here is the photo of the day:

As you can see, just a heroic old Chinese man with a wooden box with a stick attached to it, playing what some could call a violin.

And now to change gears somewhat. I've been reading a good deal lately about the European bailout package for debt-ridden Greece. Reading, and thinking outside the box. Let me propose this idea--currently, Greece's debt is about 160% of their GDP. Wow. In the most optimistic scenarios presented, that number would be down to a whopping 120% by 2020. That's still insanely high. And presumably unsustainable given that their credit rating has got to be complete crap, and therefore their interest rates quite high. Now even in this most optimistic of scenarios, Greece is still A) giving up a decent amount of sovereignty, by the sound of it, B) having to make enormous cuts in government spending, and C) still suffering from a GDP that is contracting at a rate of like 6% per year.

Not good. So what would happen, I must ask, if they just say "well you know what, screw it. We're just going to declare bankruptcy and start over." Now one could argue that this would lead to devastating consequences, and one would probably be right (hell, just look at Iceland....graph at right showing their stock exchange up to/after the financial crisis.....)

However, is it really any more devastating than telling Greece "oh by the way, we're going to go ahead and loan you this money so you can make your payments on your debt, but we're also going to force you to do this and that in terms of cutting your budgets and selling off state-owned enterprises, etc"? I would argue that in the interest of preserving a high level of national sovereignty, this whole "we'll do whatever you want us to do, just don't kick us out of the Eurozone/let us default", it is at the very least worth looking into what would happen on a macroeconomic scale if they just said "to hell with it", defaulted, and consequently left the Eurozone. Again, I have to assume the consequences would be devastating in the short to medium term. But it is possible, maybe, that long-term, this could work out OK (maybe?). Greece, in theory, has a good location geographically to break from the EU--they have major potential trading partners nearby that aren't EU members, such as Turkey (yes, I know the Greeks and Turks don't get along, I worked for a Greek for 5 years and visited Turkey), Egypt (obviously in a state of political upheaval, but a population of 80 million is a pretty tempting market to get involved with), and Israel, among others. They are in a unique position in that, unlike France, Germany, Austria, and many other EU countries, they have non-EU countries very nearby. So is it possible to just say screw the EU and we'll do business elsewhere?

The short, conventional answer is no. But again, maybe this is worth a second look. Besides, how much worse can things possibly get over there? By the sound of things, not THAT much....

Anyway, another day, another photo, another completely unprecedented rant about something that few people really care about. Welcome to the mind of Blaine Curcio!

No comments:

Post a Comment