2011 in review

January 1, 2012

On 16 December 2011 I successfully defended my PhD Thesis. This blog was a project as part of my PhD research and to reflect my work. As my PhD thesis finished, I’m not updating (at least regularly) this blog anymore. You can now follow me on twitter.
Here is a report of this blog for 2011.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,500 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

PhD Defence Invitation

November 30, 2011

Get the PhD Defence invitation (PDF)

My PhD thesis has been approved for defense by the PhD Committee, and I will defend it on Friday, 16 December. I’m quite happy I will have the opportunity to do it, while somewhat nervous.

If you want a copy of the PhD Thesis send me an email to carlos (at) plan.aau.dk

We have recently had a baby

November 14, 2011

Therefore, I’m currently on leave.

Learn more about maternity/paternity/parental leave, and international comparisons. Here.

This week a colleague and very good friend came back from China. She went there for 3 weeks to visit her family. I think it has been a couple of years since she has not been in her homeland. After talking a while, I asked her what were the things she found different. She said now there are many more businesses, shops and great restaurants. For her dismay as earning a PhD on Urban Planning & Environmental issues, she also found many more cars and and extremely quick urban sprawl. She also commented how food has doubled price (e.g. vegetables or the same bowl of noodles from 2 yuans to 4). Other things, like transportation had not increased so much, though. An interesting thing, she found that in fashion stores like the Swedish H&M, clothes were more expensive in China than here in Denmark. “Even if they were Made in China!!”. I answered that maybe it was because over there H&M was seen as a luxury European clothes, while here it was more normal. She did not think so, arguing some reasons. [I admit I also thought about some conspiracy theories, such as dumping and others]. All in all, these stories from China are nothing new for the ones we try to follow some a little bit the Chinese economy evolution, it is just nice to confirm the data from a friend.

Then I asked her about the condo. A flat she and her husband bought in the outskirts of city relatively close to Shanghai, about a year ago. They bought it to invest their savings, not really to live there. Upon my wondering when they bought it, they explained to me that prices have increased a lot, and while they may not increase so much as the last years, prices will not go down. It found a good deal, and they rent it right away, and who knows maybe in the future they could temporarily use it, etc… I told them, the story sounds awfully similar to the one repeated over and over, in the Western countries a few years ago. I also showed them some graphs of the housing prices in Europe and the US. They said China is different because, it is not convenient for “the” Government, and that the starting prices in China were very low…. Anyways, you can’t go wrong investing in property in China… Once they bought it, the prices went up a little, but they have become flat.

-”So how’s the price of your apartment, is still stable?” I asked. “Yes -she answered- it is more or less the same as the last months… You’re SO interested about our apartment!! Why?”- She said smiling.

- “Because… your apartment is a symbol, it’s a sign for me. If the price of it goes down, then it’s like a dominoes that will reach the economy everywhere…. If prices go down, the new huge middle class in China will loose financial stability, they will get nervous and highly constrain spending. The Government and elites have been doing whatever they want, and the people won’t complain because they’re getting economically and socially ahead, but if things starts getting shaky and social protests come, they will have to start trying to give better expectations to the people. That could be spending not only in infrastructure as they have done, but they may have to offer more available health care, cheaper education (student loans?), etc. At the same time industrial production will come to halt, and unemployment will rise, then they may have to offer more unemployment benefits, and well connected companies will need more public funding, etc. Same thing as in Europe and US. For all these, China will need to start using their money and deposits in various forms in foreign countries. They will need to stop buying the crappy Western debt. This will unleash bad things. Western countries for sure will retaliate and block their products (kind of a similar thing happened when the Japan stopped buying debt from the US in the 1980s and then coincidentally the US blocked imports from Japan, destroying much of their industry. China and major Asian buyers have a much bigger population that only Japan, so they would not have a lost decade, but), this would not help China’s economy, creating more instability. Probably then China will unpegged the Renminbi from the dollar. The instability will not only be in China but everywhere. Of course, this is all a possibility, but with 65 million empty homes in China, and they’re constructing like crazy, it does not seem so unfeasible there is a housing bubble going on, and that people like in the rest of the world will start asking for more responsibility to their governments. [Ok, I gave her a lighter version]. So that’s why I care about your apartment. So could you please tell me if the prices go down, even a little?

She said she would tell me. I’ll keep you updated.

p.s. Telling this horror story I feel like using a blah, blah, blah from the zero hedge blog.

During the last couple of years there has been much discussion about debt. Is it good or not? In a family setting, common sense tell us that debt is not good. At the same time it also says that in many instances such as getting a house (or an education in some countries), it’s necessary to get into debt. For business it gets more complicated; incurring into debt or not has many variables. But what is really complex, is for a national economy. The public in general do not want their governments to get into excessive debt, in particular, to foreigners. If you have an education in economics, you know Keynes talked about it.

It’s my opinion that no matter what political orientation, politicians are not motivated to avoid debt at long term. Thus, this creates a great problems for many local, regional and national governments. Of course, this all gets very political, which by definition, ‘politics’ means how to spend our money.

Without getting very philosophical, political, technical or economic, I wondered : Are citizens happier if their countries are more in debt?

I checked real quick Wikipedia for a list of countries by external debt (public+private), and public debt by GDP. Then I compared it to the Map of Happiness. I had no idea what was the correlation going to be. I choose some countries and plot it. This of course is full of caveats, is just a quick and dirt view. I think an economists from Norway has done similar things (in a serious way), but I can’t find it now.

External debt vs. Happiness.
x = external debt (public + private) per capita in $USD; y = happiness index (from Map of Happiness)

x = public debt per GDP; y = happiness index (from Map of Happiness)

Well friends, the verdict is clear, and I had not idea it was going to be like this:

The more debt a country has, the more likely the citizens will be happier.

Bliss ignorance?

On my previous post I included appendix VI of my PhD thesis. This was about how twitter and blogging in general has helped me on my research process. There were no names, here it is a list of people who are on twitter that I’m thankful to them (probably some I have forgotten). A few of them don’t really use of twitter, but they have an account, and others I would not know them and quoted them if they would have not used twitter, so this is a very informal way to say thanks, but at least I woud like to keep a record of it.

They are not necessarily in order of importance.

People I have referenced (and I never met):

@TimHarford

@Richard_Florida

@paragkhanna

@joestiglitz

@profdavidharvey

@NYTimeskrugman

@MichaelEPorter

@EconTalker

@khberglund

People I have personally met and have positively influenced me in my thesis

@BramTimmermans (Aalborg)

@msdahl (Aalborg)

@jp_kramer (Germany/Berkeley)

@ClausOstergaard (Aalborg)

@DaniBergstrom (Berkeley)

@GoranLindqvist (Stockholm)

@effectuationHQ (Virgina)

@javierest (Berkeley)

@lykkeeandersen (Bolivia)

@blengyelb (Hungary)

@RecessionCone (Bay Area)

@_Phile (Berkeley)

@thmazing (Berkeley)

@dellarucker (Cincinnati, OH)

@prodigis (California) the guy who influenced me to go to Berkeley

@condedelamaza (San Sebastian / Donosti) the guy who influenced me to get into twitter

@malenel the girl (now Prof.) who influenced me to blog

People who I never met personally, follow on twitter, quite positively influenced me for my thesis, AND have provided important sources of knowledge in my thesis.

@euyarra (Manchester) A friend I have never met

@manufernandez (Bilbao) we wish we meet

@ben_spigel (Toronto) we have met, but we don’t remember

Twitter accounts I follow and I never met, but also influenced my thesis.

@HansRosling

@tedtalks

@urbanophile

@B_Eichengreen

(The following text will be the Appendix VI in my PhD Thesis)

Blogging refers to basically posting texts online. During my Ph.D. studies I have used a blog http://carlos9900.wordpress.com/, and a microblog account in Twitter: http://twitter.com/carlos9900. I chose to include the number 9900 because it is the postal code of Frederikshavn and helped me to keep in mind the blog’s orientation towards my Ph.D.

I set the goal of uploading a couple of paragraphs once a week or every two weeks. I wanted to post regularly but not distract myself. I also used Twitter (also known as microblogging and related to social network software) and uploaded some of my ideas almost daily. Very few Ph.D. students use blogging, and even fewer claim to use these tools for academic purposes. Among professors this is even rarer. I understand that for people who do not use these tools, blogging may not sound like an efficient tool to use during a Ph.D.. Thus, I would like to clearly establish what I achieved by doing it:

  • Practice much needed writing, without worrying too much about grammar, sources, etc.
  • Was able to get immediate feedback from ideas I shared. 13,000 people have visited my blog, and I got more than 100 comments.
  • Was able to ask for further information (sources, clarifications, etc.) from others and engage in conversations with colleagues and experts. Twitter’s virtual social network is an important place for dialogue.
  • Keep update on pre-state-of-the-art information in some fields. Many scholars and research centers share ideas on Twitter before publishing them.
  • One can follow the zeitgeist in some fields by following the discussion of academics, practitioners and consultants in real time.

During the Enlightenment in Europe, coffee houses played an important role in cultivating many innovations. Today in 2011 I believe social media is the place to nurture many of the latest ideas. On the other hand, these tools must be used properly since one can waste much time on them. Overall, however, I think that using blogging wisely can be a good tool for research purposes. I have also been satisfied to use blogging to spread knowledge among society.