Posts tagged china
Bad incentives accelerate the problem you’re trying to solve, whether it’s piranhas or global warming.
A few days ago, a story emerged from southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang region involving piranhas. One local man was bitten on the palm by a piranha while catching the fish from a local river. The man brought the fish home, “whereupon one of his curious friends got too close to the fish and was also bitten.”
The local Liuzhou government attempted to quell fears by issuing a bounty for the fish, a reward for 1,000 yuan ($160). So internet retailers started selling the offending fish online at cut rate prices:
The reward nonetheless became a death sentence on other aquatic life in the river as thousands of locals swarmed to the riverside and hauled over 90 kilograms of various unoffending fish from the water.
Ads offering to sell piranhas proliferated meanwhile on Taobao, China’s leading online trading platform, with one vendor offering express delivery of piranhas for US$1.80 per fish from Ningbo in the coastal province of Zhejiang — some 1,600 kilometers from Liuzhou, according to state broadcaster China National Radio.
The government canceled the program when it became apparent that more piranha’s might be left in the river, “as people may buy them cheaply and release them deliberately.”
The story cleanly follows the “amateur capitalism” trope of China news. It functions as a pat on our back, that the ‘backwater’, ‘disorganized’ Chinese government and fishermen mutate market incentives into farce.
But bad incentives are equal opportunity hazards. Today there’s a fantastic example in the NYT regarding carbon offsets:
But where the United Nations envisioned environmental reform, some manufacturers of gases used in air-conditioning and refrigeration saw a lucrative business opportunity.
They quickly figured out that they could earn one carbon credit by eliminating one ton of carbon dioxide, but could earn more than 11,000 credits by simply destroying a ton of an obscure waste gas normally released in the manufacturing of a widely used coolant gas. That is because that byproduct has a huge global warming effect. The credits could be sold on international markets, earning tens of millions of dollars a year.
That incentive has driven plants in the developing world not only to increase production of the coolant gas but also to keep it high — a huge problem because the coolant itself contributes to global warming and depletes the ozone layer.
So since 2005 the 19 plants receiving the waste gas payments have profited handsomely from an unlikely business: churning out more harmful coolant gas so they can be paid to destroy its waste byproduct. The high output keeps the prices of the coolant gas irresistibly low, discouraging air-conditioning companies from switching to less-damaging alternative gases.
Wonder if the UN will have as much sense as the Liuzhou government.
Wearing full face masks at Chinese beaches is currently in vogue:
For legions of middle-class Chinese women — and for those who aspire to their ranks — solar protection is practically a fetish, complete with its own gear. This booming industry caters to a culture that prizes a pallid complexion as a traditional sign of feminine beauty unscathed by the indignities of manual labor. There is even an idiom, which women young and old know by heart: “Fair skin conceals a thousand flaws.”
With the pursuit of that age-old aesthetic ideal at odds with the fast-growing interest in beachgoing and other outdoor activities, Chinese women have come up with a variety of ways to reconcile the two. Face masks like Ms. Yao’s have taken this popular beach town by storm.
“A woman should always have fair skin,” she said proudly. “Otherwise people will think you’re a peasant.”
“ Localizing does not simply mean making specific allusions to a culture. Nor does globalizing mean having a faceless homogenizing front for a corporation. Obvious cultural taboos aside, overthinking about “the right balance” may not always be helpful. Even terms such as “glocalization” may still be implying a false dichotomy. The emotional appeal comes from your advertising being honest and authentic, not containing overt cultural references. That is what makes a brand human, and humans are not always so different.”
Jonathan Mak Long , interviewed in Evan Osnos’ New Yorker blog.
Jonathan is a 20 year old Hong Konger designer, whose first ad is this:
James Fallows explains the significance of this seemingly mundane picture, which was taken by a Chinese engineer visiting Florida on a business trip:
To the Chinese engineer, what was fascinating and significant about the picture was its orderliness. The yellow school bus stopped, turned on its “do not pass” flashers, and extended its Stop signs. And — the amazing part — all surrounding traffic actually obeyed. Even those who are fans of the excitement and passion of Chinese life will agree that such a scene is hard to imagine in a Chinese city. You’d have motorbikes cutting past on the sidewalk, cars veering into the opposite-direction lane to get around the obstacle, a cacophony of horns complaining about any vehicle that did slow down, and in general the creative-chaos that extends from many other parts of Chinese life to its roadways. (Where it can seem festive, but also dangerous: China’s traffic-death rate per active motorist and per mile driven is several times higher than in North America or Europe.)
To local authorities in Florida, what was notable about the situation was:
- a foreigner
- stopping to take pictures
- of a bus
- containing children.
If you see something, say something. So they detained the man for questioning.
Our world powers in a nutshell. (Via The Atlantic)