My colleague Jim Rosenberg at CGAP points me to a very useful post on the debate taking place around M-Pesa, the highly successful mobile payments service in Kenya. (See my earlier post on Disruptive technologies: M-Pesa vs. the banks for a bit of background.) It seems the banks in Kenya are threatened by the success of M-Pesa and are clamoring for a regulatory crackdown from the Central Bank.
The December export numbers for China showed a 2.8 percent decline from the year before. This was the worst showing in a decade, but better than the 4-5 percent decline expected by the business press. There is still plenty of cause for worry, as economist and blogger Brad Setser wrote in a recent post, "This really doesn’t look good". While Setser is talking about the breath-taking drop in Korean and Taiwanese exports in December, some of those exports normally would be on their way to China for further processing and re-export. So, the grim news from those economies in December probably presages more tough times ahead for China's exports.
In this deteriorating global environment, the Ministry of Finance and the World Bank's Beijing office last week held a seminar with some very good international and Chinese economists to discuss China’s macroeconomic policy options. While the economists had a wide range of views, I took away a pretty strong consensus from them on three things:
The folks over at the India Development Blog have a very interesting post that points out that the Italian mafia has been flourishing during this financial crisis. According to Alastair:
One could make a strong case that the reason why Barack Obama won the US presidential election is because of “Media Literacy” — not just the “Media Literacy” of his campaign workers, but that of a wide swath of the American electorate.
Russia's oligarchs have been suffering through the financial crisis. (It must be hard having to give up the chateau in France and the penthouse in London.) But one oligarch already pointed the way years ago.
Big changes are apparently underway at the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Foundation (referred to by many as the '$100 laptop project'). The organization has announced it is laying off about half of its staff and refocusing its mission. Included in its new intentions is that "Sub-Saharan Africa will become a major learning hub".
You can read the official announcement over at the OLPC blog, which goes into much more detail.
What this may mean for the fate of perhaps the most famous "low-cost laptop" remains to be seen, but a few things *are* clear: Since the idea for a $100 laptop gained wide currency in the aftermath of the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos in early 2005, and its first unveiling (of a sort) at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis later that year, the landscape for 'low-cost computing', and the recognition that there are emerging markets in developing countries for such appliances right now, if the price is right, has changed radically. infoDev used to track about 50 'Low-cost computing devices and initiatives for the developing world', but gave up at the end of 2007, when the explosion of activity in this area made the maintenance of such a list increasingly unfeasible (and, given that one of the rationales for such a list was to highlight that there was a lot of burgeoning activity in this area that people didn't know about, increasingly unnecessary). While many of the highly-publicized commitments to buy the OLPC XO laptop for use by students in developing countries have not (yet) materialized, it is a testament to the attractiveness in many quarters of the vision (if not its implementation) of the 'one laptop per child' idea that the of the relevance of computer use in schools continues to gain traction in many ministries of education and parliaments around the world.
Brian Schwarz of the China Challenges blog reports on the difficulties facing workers in China due to the financial crisis. Governments around the world are gearing up with various stimulus packages, but in the meantime prospects don't sound very good:
I received this missive from a friend:
December 11, 2008
Some latest published reports, journal articles, and papers.
- Crops for a Salinized World - Science - 12/5
- Eyes west: Could the United States topple Europe as the driver of international climate-change regulations? - Nature - 12/18
- Climate talks defer major challenges - Nature - 12/18
- News Update
This is the first blog entry of what I hope to be regular updates from the financial sector and related areas across the East Asia and Pacific region. So, let’s see how the New Year began in Asia.
Unfortunately, the bad news keeps coming on the economies in the region in terms of exports and industrial output. Exports and industrial production fell 6.2 percent in Malaysia in November and exports from Thailand fell 18 percent in November. Surveys of consumer confidence, business sentiment, and manufacturers across the region have all shown significant declines.