Sunday, October 23, 2005

Tokyo girls

The Sunday Times Style magazine today features an article of Tokyo girls. As is often the case with Western media (a notorious example is New York Times; its article in 2002 argues that the popularity of manga in Japan is due to low literacy rates as a result of the difficulty of learning Japanese characters...), some parts of the article are not quite right. So let me correct them here.

Now, to be part-time (or freeter) is the chosen career dream for the next generation of Japanese youth. You work three days a week in shops and spend the rest of your time chasing creative dreams.
Although there are indeed such Japanese young people, the majority of freeters are those without any dreams. They don't know what they want. But they do know that being employed by a big company is not what they want. So to be part-time is NOT "career dream" at all. It's a passive choice.
Off Omotesando, Tokyo's Champs-Elysées, hair salons are training their beautiful male stylists to flirt with the ladies (it's all part of the service).
It's true that there are loads of stylish hair salons off Omotesando, where "carisma" hairstylists cut your hair. But I haven't heard that they flirt female customers. (Yumiko-san, who used to work at a hairsalon in Japan, says it can happen, though.)
Dressing isn't about showing off your body to men. Japanese girls aspire to something much more elusive: mote. Mote is softer than sexy. It means delicious and perfect, and Japanese girls set about the pursuit of it with alacrity.

Mote is NOT a word meaning delicious and perfect. It means popular among people of the opposite sex.
Girls such as Hikaru Utada (who releases her first English-language album here this month), the duo Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi (described as "Led Zeppelin meets Hello Kitty") and the band Morning Musume don't just do pricey pop videos, in-store promotions and the odd fashion line. To be adored by Japan's idol-worshipping masses, 100% media saturation is necessary. JPop stars are expected to be television stars, cartoon and video-game characters, models, performing dolls and film actors in blockbuster movies...
Although this characterization of JPop stars is correct, Hikaru Utada is not a good example. She's more of an artistic type. When you want to talk about JPop divas, you shouldn't miss Ayumi Hamasaki (her official Japanese website) though her popularity has passed its peak.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A helping hand

(Before reading this post, have a look at 14th October.)

Tim asked me to come to his office to talk about my research. He knew that I got stuck with my dictatorship project. And what he told me was kind of a helping hand.

He suggested as an alternative research plan the investigation of the findings by Mulligan et al. (2004). They argue that democracy doesn't matter for economic policies empirically. This is a manifestation of the Chicago political economy school in the 1970s and 80s - political institutions do not matter for economic policies as efficiency concerns always drive the policy-making whatever political institutions are in place.

Obviously Tim doesn't like this argument - he is one of the founding-fathers of the new political economy literature, the main theme of which is how political institutions shape policies.

As their empirical strategy is quite half-hearted, this project, if less ambitious, will more likely yield returns immediately. Plus it's more or less related to what I've been doing, so it may give me a break-through in the dictator project as well.

Psychologically, this suggestion does a lot to me. Tim is a great economist - as it can be seen in this LSE news - but he's also great in terms of stimulating researchers (including PhD students) surrounding him. I believe that these years of sitting at a desk in Sticerd, the research institute directed by him, will benefit my future life as a researcher. I've learned a lot on how to create an active research environment.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Japanese dinner with Kotono at Hazuki

Had a Japanese dinner with Kotono at Hazuki, a Japanese restaurant near Charing Cross station.

It was a fantastic dinner. I now declare that Hazuki is one of the best affordable Japanese restaurants in London, alongside Yanbaru. We had a huge number of dishes - salmon roe with grated radish, deep-fried tofu, grilled ox tongue, assorted tempura, deep-fried oysters, and, among others, grilled samma (Pacific saury - the fish of autumn in Japan), which I haven't eaten in the past three years as I didn't go back to Japan in autumn since I started my life in London.

You see? This is the Japanese-style - or Far East style - dinner. Share dishes among many and taste a wide variety of dishes at once. Europeans never understand this.

For dessert we had green tea icecream. This is NOT a typical Japanese dessert, I must say. It's only popular at Japanese restaurants outside Japan. Having said that, the icecream was delicious. Kotono especially liked it.

She is a violinist and I a drum & bass maniac. As I blatantly argued before in this blog (I forgot when it was, though) that classical music and drum & bass are closest cousins, our conversation never stops, especially when it is about music.

Good foods and good talk. An excellent dinner.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Supervision on what to do next

Talked to my supervisor. What I should do now is (1) try to extract something from the dictatorship project, even if it's not that interesting; (2) find an applied theory work given that running regressions in the past year didn't take me anywhere, which indicates that I'm probably not good at empirical research; and (3) make even more efforts because not even having a single paper written at this stage of the PhD life (the beginning of the fourth year - PhD students usually finish their study by the end of the fifth year by writing three papers) is pretty much a red alert.

Although investigating the determinants of economic performance in dictatorship is an exciting topic, the difficulty with this topic is that there is no stylised fact on this issue at all. You can come up with any theories you like. But if that theory has no empirical backing, then it's useless. That's what I learned from my supervisor a year ago - which is why I started doing empirics.

So the best strategy right now should be to find a stylised fact that's not been fully explained by any theories...

EC501 Development & Growth PhD student seminar at lunchtime. Until last year, present at this seminar were only one junior faculty member (Oriana in the Michaelmas term or Robin in the Lent term) plus one senior public economics professor. This year, senior development economics faculty members (Tim and Maitreesh) are also among the audience. Looks like professors in the development & growth field get really serious about educating PhD students. That's definitely a good thing for us. Hooray!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

A dead end

I finally conclude that the research project that I've been doing for the past three years won't go anywhere. Dictators are totally random in terms of their economic management. Amazing.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Econometric analysis of econ PhD graduates

Today's Labour Markets Workshop at LSE was quite interesting. The main finding of the paper presented is that economics PhD graduates get a better job in booming years (years with more job offers and/or favourable macroeconomic conditions) and that those students who got a better initial placement are more productive in research outputs for the first 12 years of their career. (If you're interested, have a look at the paper. Especially, read the acknowledgement on the first page. The last sentence indicates the author, Paul Oyer, is quite funny a guy.)

In the paper, the economics department ranking data at (see my post on 23th June) is extensively used. The speaker said this ranking was great because it also ranked non-academic research institutions (e.g. the World Bank), which is important for his research purpose as not every economics PhD graduates became professors.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Lecture Notes on Applied Microeconometrics

This new academic year sees a couple of changes in the courses offered to PhD students of economics at LSE. One of such changes is a new course EC524: Empirical Methods in Applied Economics. This course aims to bridge the gap between pure econometrics and empirical economic research. It's often the case that what you learn in a standard econometrics course is not enough to do empirical research in applied fields (labor economics, development economics, etc). You often find that what econometric researchers - those developing estimation techniques by using statistical theories - say in their econometrics lectures is different from the consensus among empirical researchers - those analysing economic data by using the estimation techniques - in applied fields. Such differences can be learned by reading empirical papers on your own, through research guidance by your supervisor, or from comments to your seminar presentation on your work.

Obviously this is not the most efficient way to learn. Hence this course. I think this kind of course is very rare even amont US top schools. Luckily, the lecture notes of the first part of the course - nonstructural identification lectured by labour economist Professor Steve Pischke - are accessible to anyone. If you're interested, check them out. It's very useful to anyone conducting microeconomic empirical analysis, especially program evaluation.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Academic Year 2005/6 Begins

A new academic year begins, after the whole summer of unproductive research of mine. (It was not that I was lazy. I mean that returns to efforts I put into my research were very low.)

The Department of Economics at LSE runs EC501 Work-in-progress Seminar - the seminar where PhD students have to make presentations on their research - separately in several fields of specialization (see here for the list of fields). This year development economics (called Development & Growth) and public economics are separated, which is a good thing as last year there were so many PhD students in the combined field so not every student could present their work. (But these separated two seminars are scheduled at the same time, which is inconvenient for those interested in both.)

The Development & Growth PhD seminar takes place in Monday lunchtime. Today, after we go through guidelines for presentation (which could be useful for any econ PhD students), presentation slots are allocated among us. Higher-year students are required to present first. So my slot is 14th November even though at the present moment I don't have anything to talk about...