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James Hong

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Julian Robertson (founder of Tiger Management) talks about our economy. He gets it dead on. In order to even possibly recover, the American public needs to demand politicians for pain. Unless Americans understand that we can't have something for nothing, and the lifestyle we've become accustomed to over the last 30 years is NOT what we deserve nor is it sustainable, we and our US Dollar are going to be toast.

Unfortunately, I am not particularly optimistic about spoiled children realizing they are spoiled and asking their parents for more discipline. When does that ever happen?

Friday, September 04, 2009

What will the US be like for Asian Americans over the next 50 years?

A country's economy lies in shambles. Debt owed based on a decade or two of bad behavior have crippled the country. Unemployment reaches extreme levels never seen before, hyperinflation starts to rear its ugly head based on the government's decision to print more and more money.

Is this a description of where the US is headed? Quite possibly.

But it's also a description of the Weimar Republic, also known as Germany from post World War I through the ascension of Adolph Hitler (who unofficially but effectively ended the Weimar Republic and began the Third Reich via the passage of the Enabling Act which rendered their parliament impotent)

A nation depressed, under debt loads inconceivable of ever being paid off... and who could the Germans blame but themselves?

Aha, but that's the problem. It's almost human nature not to ever blame yourself. It's much easier to blame others, especially when your peers are doing it too. A psychological scapegoat is needed, the perfect defense mechanism. It was this energy of the people that Hitler captured so adeptly that led to his spectacular rise in power.

Anyone who has studied cults understands this, because it's the same thing. Take people who are downtrodden, likely with low self esteem. Put them together in a group. Tell them it's not their fault, it's the god damn [insert common enemy].

In the case of the Nazis, the common enemies were the Allied nations who imposed the Treaty of Versailles upon the Weimar Republic (basically made them pay back for all the damages from World War I ), and of course mixed in with that was a healthy dose of anti-semitism.

So let's say the US economy does collapse further. (Some people believe we have recovered. Others believe the current recovery is not real and point to the fact that the stock market recovered by similar amounts during the Great Depression just before the second wave hit. In either case, for this scenario, let's presume that things do get worse.) There are a lot of arguments being made that inflation, and perhaps hyperinflation, are down the road for the US. Regardless of the inflation/deflation argument, it is hard to argue with the fact that unemployment is at an extremely high level right now, and it is still increasing.

This leads to a POTENTIAL scenario that the general mood in the US will match that of Weimar Republic citizens. At that point, all that is needed is an extremist leader who is willing to point fingers at an appropriate common enemy...

... and who is the most likely common enemy going to be? Take a look at this video:

This video is not about Asians, but rather about the United States Debt Crisis... but with the mention of China in the pledge and the focus on China when the person says the US owes money to "Foreign Governments", it's not hard to figure out who the best common enemy is going to be. Of course, it's going to be the people we owe money to, and more importantly, to the people who are doing well in the face of us not doing well.

Of course, the Chinese can hardly be blamed for our bad behavior right? Even if that's true, at some point in time the Chinese have made it fairly clear that they would like to see the US Dollar not be the world reserve currency anymore. They are already shifting their reserves away from the dollar (in relative terms, not yet absolute). Some day, they may drop what they themselves refer to as "the nuclear option" by basically abandoning the US Dollar completely in a move to make the Chinese RenMinBi the world's reserve currency.

Keep in mind, I am not saying that this scenario is likely, but it is definitely a possibility... and that action would only make it easier to blame the Chinese.

I am reminded of the stories I read in the late 80's and early 90's about anti-Japanese violence in the midwest. That was when American jobs in the car factories really started getting lost to the Japanese, and movies like Gung Ho started coming out. As an Asian American growing up in those days, the attempts to ridicule and emasculate asian males were quite obvious. Goodbye Bruce Lee, Hello Long Duk Dong.

If this scenario plays out, there's a chance that the United States is not going to feel like a very welcoming melting pot for Asians. In a country that has a history of racism, and policies that were entirely race based (Japanese Internment Camps, harsh anti-immigration laws targeting asians, slavery), it's not hard to imagine a bleak future for my son. The Japanese internment camps were less than 70 years ago. And I was shocked to hear a neighbor of mine make a subtly racist comment a few days ago, which led me to the realization that she was probably 20 years old in the 1960's.. which means she grew up in a country fraught with racist attitudes. Somehow, living in San Francisco had made me somewhat oblivious to racism. It was saddening to have that veil lifted.

A massive amount of value and jobs created by companies founded or cofounded by immigrants in this country (for example: Google, Paypal, Intel, eBay, Nvidia, and Yahoo.. and before you start saying it is a recent tech phenomenon, let me also mention Dupont, Proctor and Gamble, Pfizer, and US Steel). Making things hard for immigrants in the US may lead to a negative feedback loop where fewer immigrants leads to less innovation and fewer jobs created, which in turn increases racism, which leads to fewer immigrants, [REPEAT].

So as I prepare to go on my year long trip around the world, the way in which I view my trip has taken an added dimension. Unfortunately, I'm no longer just going abroad to see what life is like in other countries, I'm also contingency planning an escape route.

I was born in this country and love being here, so I really hope this scenario is wrong.. I think the odds of things playing out this way are low, but it is clearly not impossible.