Global Glance: July 27, 2015
A quick look at intriguing international stories
By John Bostwick, Managing Editor, Radius
Welcome back to Global Glance. This week we look at:
- Observations from the author of China Rich Girlfriend
- Canadian expats’ right to vote and whether we should care
- Greece’s debt crisis
China Rich Interview
Consumers of so-called “wealth porn” can get their literary fixes this summer with the release of China Rich Girlfriend, Kevin Kwan’s sequel to the 2013 novel Crazy Rich Asians. The books are part of a projected trilogy and follow some wealthy families of China, Singapore and Hong Kong. As Janet Maslin writes in a recent New York Times review, those old families “join in a single shared pursuit: watching in horror as their youngest generations squander money in ways so staggering that Western show-offs look like pikers by comparison.” (Readers can click on a link at the top of Maslin’s review to read it in Chinese.)
While Kwan’s Rich novels may not have serious literary pretensions, they do reflect some of the nuances of life in those three distinct Asian countries. Ruchika Tulshyan’s interview and article in The Wall Street Journal’s Expat blog make this clear. For example, she notes of China Rich Girlfriend that “Singaporean characters frequently drop Singlish (Singaporean-English) . . . into their conversations,” that it has “lengthy descriptions of Chinese New Year customs,” and that “the explanatory footnotes alone from [Kwan’s] first two books could probably be released as a third one.”
Kwan also explores some cultural differences in the interview. He believes, for example, that the Asian one percent are different from their Western counterparts in at least one visible way: “I would say that the ultra-rich in Asia live on a scale that far surpasses the wealthy in the US or Europe. The trend these days amongst the high net worth crowd in the West tends to be more outwardly democratic — people with money want to present themselves as living normal lives ‘just like everyone else.’” The less ostentatious ways of the Western ultra-rich may or may not be more admirable, but they do sound less fun to read about.
Long-Term Canadian Expats Denied the Right to Vote: Does It Really Matter?
To turn from fantasies of the ultra-rich to legislative changes: Over one million long-term expat Canadians learned last week that they will no longer have the right to vote in their home country. As reported in the Canada edition of The Huffington Post, “Allowing Canadians who have lived abroad for more than five years to vote in federal elections would be unfair to those who live in Canada.” Justice George Strathy, who wrote for the majority, noted that “permitting all non-resident citizens to vote would allow them to participate in making laws that affect Canadian residents on a daily basis but have little to no practical consequence for their own daily lives.” The majority also noted that other countries have similar restrictions in place, such as the UK, which has a 15-year limit, and New Zealand, which has a three-year limit.
Some long-term Canadian expats remain unconvinced by the ruling and angry about it. One of the applicants in the case, who lives in the US, told The Huffington Post the decision left him feeling like a “second-class citizen.” That said, one stunning statistic cited by HuffPost must leave readers wondering if the story is a tempest in teapot: “Although the legislation technically applies to more than one million expats, records show only about 6,000 of them actually voted in the 2011 election.” Assuming a pool of 1.4 million, that’s a voter turnout of .4%. It seems that long-term Canadian expats who exercised their right to vote in 2011 comprised an even more exclusive group than the wealthy “one percent."
Making Sense of Greece’s Debt Crisis
The prospect of boning up on the Greek debt crisis is not something that has most of us skipping to our laptops every morning. For one thing it’s an unwieldy subject, with roots that extend to the 2008 global economic crisis and beyond. And it involves multiple key countries (like Germany and France), institutions (like the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank), and politicians (like Alexis Tsipras and Angela Merkel). For a blessedly concise overview — including the latest news, how Greece got to this point, and why there’s still a crisis after two bailouts — check out The New York Times piece, “Greece’s Debt Crisis Explained.” The Guardian’s “Greece Bailout Agreement: Key Points,” is a similar piece on how “Greece and the rest of the eurozone have finally reached an agreement that could lead to a third bailout and keep the country in the single currency bloc.”
Many articles about the crisis fail to give a sense of how it has affected the daily lives of Greeks. Al Jazeera America’s Dody Tsiantar is good on this. Her story “Greece’s VAT Changes Spark Confusion,” nicely captures the absurdity of some value-added tax (VAT) changes put in place this month as a condition of moving forward with the third bailout. The changes went into effect last Monday, and many of them seem arbitrary to say the least. Here’s one of Tsiantar’s examples: “Fresh baked bread still carries the 13 percent tax, but add raisins, and it’ll cost an additional 10 percent.” Some Greeks have maintained a sense of humor in the face of these rising prices and confusing regulatory changes. One classified ad in a local paper ran, “Butcher seeking economist with a master’s in microeconomics to set prices for kebabs and ground meats.” By the bye, Tsiantar’s article also contains a good short explanation of VAT.