Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Monday, 16 February 2009
Monday, 16 February 2009 20:41

Stimulus or investment? Japan vs. USA

Ever since the start of our current financial disaster various economists and pundits have been comparing first the US banking problems with Japan’s, and then more recently the infrastructure-heavy stimulus program with Japan’s construction state. NYT has a substantial article that easily marks the most high profile comparison yet. I’m certainly no economist and I’m not even taking the time to look at numbers right now, but my quick take on the issue is that the comparison is being significantly overblown, but it is still a very worthwhile comparison to make, so that Japan’s various successes and mistakes can be absorbed as lessons. See the following summation of Japan’s massive pork spending:

“Dr. Ihori of the University of Tokyo did a survey of public works in the 1990s, concluding that the spending created almost no additional economic growth. Instead of spreading beneficial ripple effects across the economy, he found that the spending actually led to declines in business investment by driving out private investors. He also said job creation was too narrowly focused in the construction industry in rural areas to give much benefit to the overall economy.

He agreed with other critics that the 1990s stimulus failed because too much of it went to roads and bridges, overbuilding this already heavily developed nation. Critics also said decisions on how to spend the money were made behind closed doors by bureaucrats, politicians and the construction industry, and often reflected political considerations more than economic. Dr. Ihori said the United States appeared to be striking a better balance by investing in new energy and information-technology infrastructure as well as replacing aging infrastructure.”

Japan’s huge boom in public works spending was less a national stimulus program than a gigantic rural welfare program of pork-barrel projects designed to prop up the ailing LDP in its long decline. The money was largely directed not to the areas where it would benefit the largest number of people, but the areas where it would benefit the largest number of politicians. This was not done entirely out purely cynical political motives but also due to a genuine desire to arrest the decline of the rural regions themselves, in the face of continuing urbanization and a decline in Japan’s traditional and lionized (if anachronistic) agricultural lifestyle. Regardless of intent, a huge proportion (I won’t use words like “most” without looking at actual numerical research) of the spending was “stimulus” but not “investment”.

I am very, very wary of the general principal of “economic stimulus.” I am not opposed to government spending, or even large amounts of government spending, as long as it is being spent on something that is actually necessary or build further value in the future, i.e. services or investment. I think this attitude should be obvious from the mass transit funding letter I wrote and posted in my blog.

In short, I worry that the discussions on spending currently ongoing in Washington may turn into a series of worthless boondoggle projects oriented at unpopulated rural areas, combined with random tax cuts and other expenditures poorly aimed at short-term (i.e. one election cycle) economic recovery, while continuing to ignore the trillions of dollars in outstanding repairs or upgrades as well as vital new investment that the country needs. I think it’s safe to say that politicians are going to spend this money. The question is, what will it buy us? Would we rather have a bunch of bridges to nowhere, vacant museums and amusement parks in virtually deserted rural towns, and paved-over mountain tops, or would we rather have a modern electrical grid, mass transit that at least meets late 20th century standards if not 21st century, a safe and reliable water system, bridges rated to not collapse, and maybe even an adequate system of public health care?


Monday, 16 February 2009 19:41

A surgeon’s cut for a Caucasian look

---Mascara, false lashes and the surgeon’s knife: a Taiwanese route to beauty.

At 19 years old, Audrey Tu (杜綺文) was already applying strips of glue to her eye lids every morning and evening to catch the eyes of boys and envious girls. Her little beauty secret made her eyes become wider, prettier. “It gave me self confidence and so I had more friends than I ever had before,” she said. But this technique was not permanent. So, at 21, she found herself lying on a table at a surgeon’s home to get permanent double eyelid surgery.

There is a vast increase of the number of Taiwanese women who go under the surgeon’s knife to have double eyelid surgery in an attempt to look more beautiful.

The surgery gives women self confidence in their personal and professional life as they take the opportunity to move closer to the Asian ideal of round-eyed Caucasian beauty.

“Better appearance helps a lot in getting a job. In this period of high unemployment, many people with similar qualifications apply for the same job, and I believe a boss will be more willing to hire me now that I look prettier,” said Mrs. Lin (林美環), a 34 year old unemployed secretary, who had the surgery last month.

Professor Chang Chin-hua(張錦華) from the Institute of Journalism at National Taiwan University has been doing research on cosmetic advertisements in all kinds of media since 1995. She said that Taiwanese women have increased their power and mobility within their social and economic environment by going under the knife.

But the new trend in eyelid surgery, and one especially popular among the young, is a desire for more natural looking facial alteration. At the same time as wanting to conform to the beauty ideals society has given them, girls want to use plastic surgery to look more “naturally” beautiful. They hope for a natural look through successful surgery. Indeed, they ask surgeons for natural looking double eyelids.

“My brother and I did not inherit the natural double eye-lids of our parents,” complains Audrey. If half of Asia naturally has double lids, the other half has to go under the surgeon’s knife.

>>>The eyelid surgery is the bulb of cosmetic operations in Taiwan

“Blephariplasty” is by far the most popular technique in Asia, and involves the surgeon creating a crease in the upper lid of the eye with a scalpel. Millions of such surgeries are performed every year in Taiwan, and demand has boosted the market to become one of the most advanced in all Asia. Furthermore, because eyelid surgery is not a high risk operation and is much more affordable than any other kind of plastic surgery, it has become the fastest growing type of plastic surgery.

You can see this success when entering the hall of the fancy “Nobel Group” clinic (諾具爾醫療焦團). Secretaries in light pink suits come to you and welcome you to sit on one of the wooden chairs. Stone paths keep the air fresh and easy listening music helps you to relax. “Our patients are younger and younger every year,” Dr. Chen Mei-Ling (陳美齡), the head surgeon at the clinic, who recalled having done the surgery on a 12-year-old boy once, said. “Most of the girls tell me at the first appointment the surgery is the dream of their life - they have saved money for a couple of years”, she added.

In a crowded clinic situated on Zhong Xiao road, Taipei, known as Taiwan’s ‘Cosmetic Street’(整形街)Dr. Chen operates on more than 180 patients a year, for different cosmetic surgeries. Along ‘Cosmetic Street’, almost 50 cosmetic clinics cluster together, competing for customers.

“Most of the patients are girls, but the trend is reaching boys who are now learning to cherish their appearance too,” she said. “A few years ago, a young boy came to me to have the eye beauty surgery. One surgery lead to another, and after three facial operations, the poor boy’s girlfriend dumped him because she thought he was too plastically similar to magazine models”, she laughed.

The age of women who undergo the operation ranges from 25 to 40 years old, but is narrower for boys, who usually get it at a younger age.

Renee Wu (吳蕙君), a 24-year-old woman working as a doctor’s secretary, had her operation done at the “Oriental Plastic Surgery” clinic (東方整形外科) in Taipei on Zhongshan road. She said that she had wanted to have it done since she was 13 because she saw it in magazines.

As her parents were not wealthy she said: “After I began Junior High School, I saved all the money I had to get the surgery once I graduated.” Indeed, two months after her graduation she was at the hospital, and paid the $20,000NT the surgery cost with the money she had carefully put aside for so many years.

And even if Dr Chen said she sees more and more mothers accompanying their young daughters to the clinic, eager to see how much prettier they will look after the surgery, money was still an issue for Audrey Tu. As a student doing a Master degree

in journalism at National Chengchi University, she could not afford the full price operation . However, after a year and a half of applying strips of glue to her eye lids every day, she decided to go for the surgery with the aid of a discount.

One of her professor’s friends, a well known surgeon working in a cosmetic surgery clinic in Taipei, offered Audrey and her friend the chance to have the surgery at his place. “I only paid $8,000NT for surgery which lasted only 30 minutes,” she said enthusiastically. The surgeon, who did not want his real name divulged, has arranged an operating room at his place where he performs the eye surgery without full legal procedures on girls willing to do it this way to save money.

All of the women spoken to cited increasing social acceptability as another reason why cosmetic surgery is becoming more popular. Women who have had the surgery are more comfortable talking about it than they would have been only a few years ago.

“The only reason why I would feel frustrated if people notice my eye surgery is because I would think that it does not look natural enough,” said Audrey. “But it has changed my life so much that I would recommend it to other girls who lack of self confidence,” she added.

Professor Chang said that young Asian girls have a tough time coping with the models of beauty which they are exposed to in the media and the magazines. “They
grow up and are influenced by these stereotypes,” she said. Magazines pages are full of impossibly beautiful models. Furthermore, their boyfriends or friends push for them to alter their faces. “It is a culture of monitoring each other,” she said.

“I still do not believe in a single stereotype of beauty, but my friends’ influence was so strong that I felt I had to do something about it,” said Jiang Huey lin(江慧玲), an 18 year old high school girl. “I do not think that I look more beautiful now when I look at myself in the mirror, but all my friends and my boyfriend think I do, so I don’t regret having had the eyelid alteration done,” she added.

Professor Chang explained that women are more subject to this beauty myth than men are. For centuries, Asian women have suffered to look beautiful and appearance has been a woman’s most important attribute for just as long. In this context, women feel more pressure to go for cosmetic surgeries than men do.

>>> A deep Korean influence on Taiwan eyelid surgery.

This trend toward “westernizing” the Asian eye is even more pronounced in South Korea, where one person in ten has had cosmetic surgery, national surveys estimated last year. There, young people want to look like their idols and they are not afraid of cosmetic surgery which has become almost commonplace.

And, as in the rest of Asia, South Korea’s first obsession is with the eyes. Girls can get the operation done for $800US and it became a favourite high school graduation gift from parents.

Attracted by the reputation of the country and the world famous “plastic surgery street” in Seoul, Taiwanese girls fly to Korea over the weekend to get double eyelid surgery.

Doctor Su (蘇惠珍), surgeon in cosmetic surgery in the “Veteran hospital” (榮民總醫院-千葉診所) in Taipei city, learned her job in South Korea, and has been working in the ‘Cosmetic Street’ of the capital.. She said that although South Korea has had a deep and long term influence on Taiwan in the field of plastic surgery, the surgery techniques used in Taiwan are as up-to-date as those in South Korea. She felt that, if people go to South Korea, it is only for the Korean plastic surgery myth, because in reality the market in Taiwan is, if anything, even more competitive.

In fact, the sheer number of people wanting cosmetic surgery is pushing scientists to improve their techniques, and Taiwan, Korea and Japan share the cutting edge. “There are trends which differentiate the results sought by Taiwanese from those Koreans look for, but the basics of the surgery are the same.”

Ironically, however, foreigners do not understand this fad for bigger eyes and find slanting eyes exotically attractive. Gary Peddle, a Canadian who has been living in
Taiwan for four years, said: “It’s always seemed a bit sad to me that people do that. They can’t see the charm they already have without the surgery.”

Dr Chent’s new book ‘美顏風華’ (A graceful and beautiful face) was published in May 2006.

(Photo by Louice Fang)

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