Always Looking for that Angle

north-korea-not-crazy Are you as confused and frustrated with these uni-dimensional journalist reports as I am?  I know journalists always need to find an angle from which to position their stories, which sometimes means channeling and fitting whatever facts and data they can find into a neat little narrative.  Which is not to say that narratives are not important, because, well, who doesn’t like a good story?  But not when they clearly have little basis to back them up, or when only a small group of data is used to reach a certain conclusion.

Exhibit one: This Newsweek story claims a number of non-western, developing countries are experiencing booms of some sort, and are thus concluded to be faring much better in this recession.  And if the west does not get its act together soon, then, well, the jig is up.  But the real story is really much more nuanced than that.

As a matter of disclosure, Zakaria should disclose that he’s selling a book called The Post-American World. So needless to say, much of what he argues will go on to support the basic premises of his work, which is pretty straightforward: America is in decline.  This is not to say all his work is as one-sided and fantastical as this piece, a longer piece that takes longer to work out the issues on hand can be very enlightening.

Then, to declare good times are back, just by observing certain developing countries’ experiences with stock market rebound, is highly suspect.  Those markets are hardly mature, highly speculative, and very volatile. Stock market gains hardly signal wider economic recovery, or evidence convincing fundamental economic health.

People are generally more optimistic about the future, simply because they had come from a past that is so much darker than what a relatively stable west had experienced in the last half century. The article is simply a reflection of popular sentiment, if even that (ask the unemployed migrant workers of China if they are optimistic about their futures), not exactly one borne out of responsible analysis.

Exhibit two: Newsweek also claims North Korea is a trading powerhouse. Or something to that effect.  So contrary to all the reports from elsewhere of gulags, calculated craziness, or closing down its lonely embassies abroad, Newsweek fancies North Korean isolation a “myth”. According to the dispatch, North Korea “has diplomatic and commercial relations with more than 150 countries”.  But diplomatic relations and a friendly trading relationship are entirely different things.  Many countries want to engage with North Korea, not because they are fans of the regime or in awe of its economic prowess, but to simply maintain dialogue and get a handle on its erratic leader.

Moreover, the report claims the hermit kingdom fills the state coffer through more than just nuclear weapons and smuggled drugs sales, because it does “brisk” business with South Korea – hopefully not while carrying out nuclear tests across the demilitarized zone. It even goes through a London-based brokerage firm to trade gold.  So there you go, another entry for Ripley’s Believe It or Not, North Korea is a modern society that engages with the world!

Yeah right.

picture source: ya-wen

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