How an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes: Making Macroeconomics Approachable

How an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes: Schiff, Peter D., Schiff, Andrew  J.: Amazon.sg: Books

In furtherance of my general objective to pick up general knowledge from all aspects of life, I have been trying to read more widely. Economics and macroeconomics as a topic feels a little strange and rusty to me, however, since the last time I was properly educated on the subject was when I was studying it at the junior college level (when I was 17 to 18 years old).

Thinking that it is a bit of a pity to let my knowledge of economics fade away without doing anything to maintain my memory of it, I have been trying to re-familiarise myself with the concepts. In attempting to do so, I picked up How an Economy Crashes and Why It Crashes, by Peter D. Schiff and Andrew J. Schiff (“HECWIC“). My experience with books on economics are that they usually assume that their readers already gain a certain level of familiarity with macroeconomic concepts, and thus they don’t usually function well as introductory books to economics concepts. Therefore, I expected myself to be re-reading sentences, trying to get it to click in my head, and doing more googling in the course of my read.

HECWIC was a pleasant surprise in how easy it was to consume. In this book, Schiff provides a bird’s eye view of current US macroeconomic policy through the lens of a narrative that spans throughout the book, complete with pictorial illustrations, on three men living on an island. Serving as an easy introduction to macroeconomics, the first half of the book explains the basic ideas of the components of an economy, the relationship between savings and credit, how an economy expands, and moves on to how this propels growth and economic development. This gradually makes way to the birth of the government and the republic and the narrative slants towards demonstrating how government influence (which is motivated by political considerations) sometimes creates incentives that distort the free market, creating inefficient resource allocation which creates the cyclical effect of economic booms and crashes.

It is easy to see that the narrative has a clear end goal in mind and is focused on fitting its narrative to that end – that Keynesian economics of expansionary monetary policy comes at its costs – mainly making future generations bear the cost of today’s uninhibited spending. The island-nation in the narrative depicts the US senate and its economy and its events in recent history (with just slight differences in the names used just so that they remain recognisable, where the changes made are for comedic effect and appeal). Towards the end of the book, the narrative also references Sino-US relations by introducing another neighbouring country.

All in all, HECWIC is a good introductory book to macroeconomics and why and how US macroeconomic policy has developed the way it has. Its humour and comedic style also make its concepts easier to digest, and it is definitely recommended for those who finds macroeconomics is too difficult to comprehend or boring. However, one should be more cautious in seeking to rely solely on this book to frame one’s knowledge on the topic – in simplifying macroeconomic concepts, the narrative makes multiple analogies to established systems which are based on certain key assumptions. I am no macroeconomist, but it is clear that these assumptions do not hold absolute as the world is multi-dimensional and there are many factors at play in shaping policy decisions. That said, this is absolutely a light-hearted, fun and witty book which I definitely recommend for all ages – no matter what level of macroeconomics knowledge you have.

(This post is not sponsored. Link to the book can be found here.)

He Who Can’t Marry and Tokyo Bachelors: A Thematic Exposition of the Bachelor Life in Japan

It should come as no surprise to anybody that the Japanese is at the forefront of showcasing societal commentary in their media. In particular, the themes that they like to explore are those surrounding generational issues, mental health issues, the aging population, and bullying, the lost and shattered dreams of their youth (due to a deflationary economy), just to name a few. Naturally, singlehood is also one of its problems, resulting in low population growth which further exacerbates the economy’s impending dearth. The prevailing narrative that is used to described singlehood is that of a personal lifestyle and a personal choice, shaped by personal circumstances. However, what is not often mentioned or shown is how much the development of society and its culture has very much a part to play in shaping that personal choice.

He Who Can’t Marry and Tokyo Bachelors just happen to be two of such Japanese dramas where the single life is featured as the core theme of the story, featuring bachelor(s) as the main character(s). He Who Can’t Marry (two seasons in total) tells the story of the life of bachelor Shunsuke Kuwano, a renowned architect who has built up his career and his name with it (as the pioneer of the “open kitchen” concept), but whom in stark contrast to his accomplishments, is socially awkward and unaware and often blunt to the point of being offensive. Proud of his solitary life and having a multitude of hobbies, he relishes being alone and often occupies himself with his various interests, and scoffs at the idea of marriage and the idea of building human relationships.

Tokyo Bachelors
Source: https://www.wakuwakujapan.com/en/program/detail/wj0000005533/

Tokyo Bachelors features three main characters, Taro Ishibashi, Reiya Miyoshi and Kazuhiko Iwakura, known affectionately as the “Bachelors by Choice”. If these bachelors are credit ratings, they would be the equivalent of the triple A standard amongst the eyes of all females – accomplished, high income professionals who own swanky bachelor pads in the middle of downtown Tokyo. The main protagonist, Taro Ishibashi, works as a analyst at Tokyo “Daiwa” Bank; Reiya Miyoshi is a divorced dentist who has opened his own clinic in Tokyo and curiously, manages to sustain his business amidst the stiff competition and sky-high rent; Kazuhiko Iwakura is a partner of his own law firm and the oldest of the trio.

Through daily happenings and the people whom each of the main characters in both stories meet, such events and their relationships with these people eventually begin to impact their mindset and views on marriage.

Singlehood vs Marriage, Logic vs Emotions?

In both series, the starting premise is similar. All the bachelors enjoy the freedom of singlehood, relishing the freedom to do whatever they want and the lack of financial responsibilities and being the sole breadwinner of a family (which is practically synonymous with “settling down” in Japan). The question is whether there will be events that happen and/or people they meet that would change their minds.

In Japan, the historical cultural baggage that accompanies marriage and the start of a family has long often been criticised to be archaic. The progress of gender equality and women’s empowerment has surprisingly been slower paced than most of its developed country counterparts and even arguably, its Asian counterparts as well. As such, women’s role in society is still largely confined to the household – the glass ceiling at work is still pretty much in place for ladies in the workplace, and marriage spells the end of her career trajectory as she is expected to give up her job and devote all her efforts to maintaining the household and taking care of the children. The workplace and family time becomes a binary choice for her, and this also creates a disproportionate burden on the husband, who suddenly has one or more dependents on him to care for (loans on top of a few people’s daily expenses). It is no wonder that as much as women would not like to get married, the men have equally lesser incentive to get married.

He Who Can’t Marry (Season 1)
Source: Netflix

It is within this context that our main characters thrive, as marriage becomes an increasingly senseless decision. All the main characters are self-righteous in making this choice at the start of the story, and tout various – logical – reasons why their choice for the bachelorhood is the more intelligent way of choosing to live one’s life. In He Who Can’t Marry, Shunsuke often repeats this mantra and analysis to his gaggle of starry-eyed lady friends who often rebuke his analysis and criticising his ‘wet-blanket’ approach to life. In Tokyo Bachelors, the trio often reiterate this to each other, using Reiya Miyoshi’s nightware of an ex-wife as an example, to justify their lifestyle of partying (replete with plenty of wine, lack of real commitment with women).

Roles of the Female Characters in a Story About Men

He Who Can’t Marry
Source: https://www.marieclaire.com.tw/entertainment/tvshow/45525

The story also introduces potential love interests for the main characters. Interestingly, most of them are women who are on par with these main characters from a socio-economic sense, meaning they are equally as accomplished in their careers as these male characters and are high earners as well. For example, in He Who Can’t Marry (Season One), we have Yui Natsukawa, a female doctor who is Shunsuke’s equal in every way and who challenges him to let people into his life and to interact with and build relationships with the people around him instead of keeping to himself. In Tokyo Bachelors, one of the female romantic interests is a fellow lawyer in Kazuhiko Iwakura’s firm. Again, this is a realistic portrayal of the dating scene in Japan and arguably modern Asian society in general – where individuals of similar socio-economic status are inevitably drawn to each other as they would be equals in every manner. Moreover, the inclusion of such female characters also offer a glimpse into the female psyche of being highly accomplished, career women in their 30s to 40s and why they have remained single – mainly because they chose to prioritise their careers in a society where the choice between career and family seems to be mutually exclusive.

For the other female characters in the story, their existence is purposeful – usually as a catalyst that enables growth and self realisation for the main characters, whether in terms of their views and opinions on romantic relationships and human relationships. In He Who Can’t Marry, it is clear that through Shunsuke’s repeated interactions with these women, he learns to relate to and interact with other people in a more socially aware manner. Even though he rubs people off the wrong way at the beginning, the people (including these female characters) gradually learn to appreciate the kindness underneath his gruff exterior, and Shunsuke in turn learns to be more empathetic and more sensitive to the emotions of the people around him. Such character development is noticeable though subtle, and masterfully worked upon each episode. There is no sudden change, but it enables the audience to look back from the last episode and feel a swell of pride for Shunsuke for having come so far since the first episode.

On the other hand, Tokyo Bachelors takes a decidedly more romantic approach to the life lessons that the bachelor trio learns. Taro Ishibashi has an ex-girlfriend to contend with, Reiya Miyoshi has an ex-wife with unresolved issues, and Kazuhiko Iwakura is thrown into a very real life situation which forces him to look at the concept of marriage seriously. As they realise their past mistakes, they grow to realise what they truly need from life and what they are really looking for in a lifelong partner, which overturns their previous convictions on the matter.

Tokyo Bachelors – the trio and the younger sister
Source: https://k.sina.cn/article_6770237875_19389a1b300100gmy6.html

While both dramas are comedies, He Who Can’t Marry arguably tries harder in incorporating characteristics in its main character which explain, logically, why he is somebody who “can’t get married, ever”, and those characteristics are also a very realistic portrayal of some of the single men in their thirties and forties and the kinds of people they inevitably come. Nevertheless, He Who Can’t Marry somehow still manages to make its main character lovable as his kind side gradually shows. In contrast, Tokyo Bachelors doesn’t take itself as seriously, and focuses more on drawing out the comedic dynamic amongst our three adorable main characters, on making its audience laugh, and following the spirit of the show – of being a ‘feel-good’ sitcom.

Interestingly, the fates of each of these bachelors are very different in the stories. Some find romance, some don’t. It is interesting how each of their endings serve to portray different grains of the same truth. The truth is when it comes to romance as with life in general, it is a bit of a Russian roulette. Some relationships don’t work out and there is nothing wrong with being single that way, some relationships enable one to find what one really cares about (which may not be finding a partner), and some relationships enable one to find who one really cares about and/or the qualities of a partner one is really seeking. The point however is that all of them end up achieving a better understanding of the self and what he is seeking from life, and essentially that is what the stories are really trying to show.

Conclusion

Both stories send very powerful messages of some realistic reasons and justifications for singlehood, and presents both the case for singlehood and marriage as evenly as they can and in as light-hearted a manner as possible. While one can easily breeze through both series, it definitely does yield more if one sits down to think about the messages behind each of them. Whether you are looking for a series that is a fresh breath of air from the usual rhetoric, or you are a happy single who wants to find something that finally does not advocate marriage as the predominant end goal of one’s romantic life, do give any of these two series a go, and you may be pleasantly surprised.

Steins; Gate: The Story of the Beginning and the End

Steins Gate - Cover 1

Slight spoilers ahead – please be forewarned if you haven’t had the chance to acquaint yourself with Steins; Gate.

I stumbled across Steins; Gate on a whim. It was sitting in a corner of Netflix, looking a little forlorn and abandoned. It is the year of 2021, 10 years after Steins; Gate was released, 11 years since the summer of the Prologue of the Beginning and the End.

Truth be told, I was not looking for it. I was not even looking for any anime in particular. Subconsciously, I just wanted something edgy, exciting. Anything to kick me out of the slumber that I felt, have been feeling, in regard to my choice of entertainment in general. (My heart isn’t ready for the last season of Attack on Titan yet, but it will be soon.)

Truth also be told, when I looked at the thumbnail of Steins; Gate, I realised I couldn’t remember a single thing about it save the main characters’ names. Okabe Rintarou, Makise Kurisu, Shiina Mayuri. And the others. I knew it was a time travelling science fiction show, but that was it.

Okay, maybe it would be good to rewatch this at this point. I thought. I could hardly remember the plot at all, and it would almost be brand new. I couldn’t even remember whether it had a happy or a sad ending.

And thus I was transported back to Akihabara, August 2010.

The Prologue of the Beginning and the End

Mayuri - Reaching Out to the Sun - GIF

A good series is like a good book. Everything you revisit it, something new jumps out at you.

For a series that is based on time travelling, it is perhaps predictable that the entirety of the events of the story takes place over a span of what two weeks, in chronological order. The reason why time travel is such an interesting sub-genre of science fiction is because the science in relation to it has not been fully developed or excavated. Many scientific theories remain as hypotheses. And so pseudo-science comes in to fill up the lacuna. Couple that with a little imagination, good grip on pacing, and the exploitation of the paradoxes and human conflict that comes with it, and voila! you have a psychological thriller in the making.

Human conflict is the central core of a good thriller, and this is where Steins; Gate shines at its best. We see our main character’s obsession with experimentation and greed of knowledge lead him to make choices that literally changes the lives of the people around him forever. When the realisation hits him, the damage is done. But what he knows cannot be un-known to him, and that is the crux of his despair as he tries to undo the damage, altering the lives of everybody whom he cares and he loves. His ability to retain his memories is both a blessing and a curse; doomed to remember the lives he had fundamentally altered with his bare hands, with all these made the more excruciating because of the memories made with the people he cares about all zipped away the moment he decides to alter the world line yet again. On top of all of this, his ability to traverse world lines invites the burden of being the potential saviour of the world and only person [/start spoiler] with the power to prevent World War III [/end spoiler].

Steins; Gate starts out slow, almost deliberately. We see plenty of dialogue between the characters, carving out their personalities with the banter between them. The goofy, insider jokes and the Japanese NEET or otaku-centric references – specifically to anime festivals, maid cafes and other moe clichés, and the setting of Akihabara, make its target audience completely at ease and familiar with this eccentric bunch.

Not surprisingly, this has the effect of making the drama pack a huge punch to our guts when the bomb drops onto our characters. Like a hamster on a mill, Okabe races against time, with time, and through time trying to save the life of his precious childhood friend. Each other person’s life that he has forcibly changed weighs against him, heavy in his guilt as he knows the sacrifices they made, even if they no longer remember the same after he alters the world line. In the new role he has found himself in and through his struggles, he finds his light in the form of Makise Kurisu, who has not had the benefit of having the same time travelling abilities, but whose intelligence enables her to catch on quickly and deduce solutions for the harried, disconcerted Okabe who is on the edge of being hysterical in his repeated failures to save his friend.

The Human Conflict of the Time Travel Paradox

Steins Gate - Okabe and Kurisu - 1

True love is about sacrifice, and this weighs heavily in this story. Okabe sacrifices his sanity by living through his precious friend’s death repeatedly, Kurisu tries to sacrifice her life to give Okabe what he wanted – a living Mayuri, Faris sacrifices her family so that her prince, Okabe could achieve what he wanted, and Rukako sacrifices his wish to be a girl, Suzuha sacrifices her life in another world to give effect to her mission of saving the world. Arguably, what this series is really depicting is not really just about romantic love but about the emotional bonds between people that thrive beyond romantic love. As it is established in the series, while Okabe and Kurisu are in love with one another, their choices remain beyond the love between them – both of them still chose to do what they felt was the right thing, albeit this is motivated by wanting each other to be happy and not to regret the choice they are making.

Imaginative Pseudo-Science at its best

If there is one thing I think that makes Steins; Gate stand out as an intricate story is how closely it tries to follow the real-life concepts which it is based on. It never failed to astonish me, throughout the series, how real these concepts are, from CERN (SERN) to the LHC (large hadron collider), the black hole, John Titor, and the butterfly effect. Watching the series is like a lesson on the science of time travel itself, and objectively and for the most part of it, the pseudo-science of the series interweaves with the plot development in a manner which stands up to scrutiny (at least from the perspective of my simple mind). Steins; Gate exemplifies one of the core characteristics of good anime: the ability to follow the rules which it has established. It has arguably gone further to achieve the objective of expanding how the story can develop within the limitations of those rules, and that’s where its creativity lies. It is imaginative pseudo-science in the backdrop and emotional conflict in the foreground, the latter which propels character development and evokes sympathy and empathy as to Okabe’s less-than-enviable plight.

A Series Worth Rewatching?

Steins; Gate is a story that yields more when you revisit it. Looking back, my first visit to the Steins; Gate universe may not have created any lasting impression for me because there is too much to unpack and I probably did not bother researching on the concepts that form the foundation of the story. I was also probably too caught up with the fact that I preferred Mayuri over Kurisu – but rewatching the series from a clean slate of mind enabled me to look more objectively at Kurisu as a character of intricacies, and admittedly I would have to say that Kurisu and Okabe make more of a better match of equals than Okabe and Mayuri ever would be. In prioritising plot development and Okabe’s emotional conflict, Steins; Gate also had to sacrifice Mayuri’s character development, which did not help in the popularity of her character vis-à-vis the intelligent and tsundere (read: extremely lovable) Kurisu. I hope that Steins; Gate 0 (which I am still watching at the time of this post) would help to flesh out the side characters more including Mayuri and which gives me enough ammunition to update this post.

Thank you for reading to the end, and I apologise for being away for so long (too much things have happened in the past 5 years, which is a story for another day). To all new visitors, hope you have enjoyed this post; to all my old visitors, hope you have been well, welcome back and feel free to drop me a comment / message below. Hope to catch up with you guys, and cheers ^^ 

Joining UnimeTV & The Mega Life/Writing Update

I actually don’t like writing about myself. I do write a lot about what I feel towards writing and blogging in general throughout 1.5 years of the limitless imagination, but I rarely talk about anything other than what is acutely related to this virtual space and the ani-manga community surrounding it. That’s really because I don’t like to bring anything that is not remotely relevant to the focus of this blog, which had unknowingly become established over time to – anime commentaries, essays, and just lots of posts about having no writing inspiration.

But I figured its probably time to write about one, mostly because I have been in the community for so long and yet I think, people don’t actually know me much. They know only what I write and what I choose to put on here, but I rarely communicate with people about anything outside the context of this blog.

But at this point in time, there are really a few things about my life that I think my readers need to know. I actually thought of skipping out this post because I am so pressed for time at this current point, but I realised there was one less deadline I had to meet and hence I ended up writing this.

Sorry for the wall of text as usual people. Read what you deem important.

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15 Anime OPs/EDs that make me cry

Note: This post is actually meant to be of therapeutic effect for me, because I am currently rewatching Diamond no Ace and suffering through angst, frustration, sadness and accentuated anxiety problems that have been seething underneath in the first place. But in any case, this idea came from my bouts of screaming, crying and cursing in watching said anime above. Since I have also never written about anime music, I figured there isn’t a better way to do it than this.

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A Cross-Cultural Comparison of TV: Why Anime May Not Be for Everybody

Last month, I wrote about how my anime journey began. My point then was to show how anime is a conscious choice of visual entertainment for me, rather than a product of childhood association, as with the case with others, anime hence forming a part of self-identity or a nostalgic sanctuary of dreams and innocence. Today, I attempt to evaluate the general stance of anime as an objectively more attractive choice among all story-telling mediums through a cross-cultural comparison across different types of TV series and dramas (excluding written fiction and movies, story-telling mediums that share lesser similarities with anime.) Through this, I hope to highlight how different anime is from its contemporaries, but also explain why and how anime may not be for everybody.

*Disclaimer: This post is mostly based on 80% personal experience and opinion, and 20% research.  What is written is, to the best of my ability, knowledge, and experience, objectively representative of their respective genres. Please be aware that there may be exceptions.*

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Anime: My Beginning & My Present

Throughout the one year and close to three months of the blogging community, I have come to realise that I have never provided much context to my opinions on anime, and what anime means to me. I thought they were too unimportant and uninteresting.

That is, until I read numerous such posts from other bloggers, and I realised how my different my experience is with anime as compared to others. Most importantly, I realised that providing the context of my experience is to certain opinions I write is quite relevant, especially when my preferences may border on being ‘different’ from most of my counterparts.

I won’t proclaim to deliver the most entertaining of stories below, but I believe that there is something in this post that would be of interest to any reader.

How it all began

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Charlotte: The Controversy

Surprises come when you least expect it.

I am shackled to this aspect of story-telling called ‘plot unpredictability’. The way it throws me in a loop and delivers yet another conclusion that is almost entirely unpredictable and unexpected thrills me to no end. Caught up in the adrenaline of the moment as my stomach drops, I throw away all inhibitions, all objectivity, and all logic, and I just let the excitement consume me whole.

I become but a slave to the story, as the control over my own evaluative, otherwise relatively discerning mind, slips from my fingers, dropping to the ground below with a clumsy ‘splat’.

Charlotte was that roller coaster, and its major plot twist was that split second you hover before you plunge down into the darkness, the words which had started to form in your mind dissolving into sheer exhilaration, a blinding flash of white.

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