Economics

Japan inside a virtual Pokeball

As soon as Pokemon Go was launched, Pokemon fever struck us once again.

For those who are not familiar with the concept of Pokemon, Pokemon is an eminent Japanese franchise that first entered the global market as a video game for the Game Boy. Players are designated as Pokémon Trainers that have two goals:

  1. Complete the Pokédex by collecting all of the available Pokémon species.
  2. Train a team of powerful Pokémons from those they have caught to compete against those of other Trainers and eventually win the Pokémon League.

Those who have encountered the Pokemon franchise will likely have, at least once, imagined themselves being Pokemon trainers. Pokemon Go has now made this dream come true. Virtually.

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Pokemon Go is an AR (Augment Reality) game that connects our real world and virtual world of Pokemons through iPhones and Android devices. As you move around, your smartphone will vibrate to notify you when there’s a Pokémon nearby. Once you’ve encountered it, you need to take aim on your smartphone’s touch screen and throw a Poké Ball to catch it. Be careful when you try to catch it though; otherwise it’ll escape.

By providing an opportunity to pursue our long-given up, surrealistic dream of catching Pokemons, Pokemon Go has used the Pokemon franchise as its ‘Pokeball’ to capture a tantamount proportion of the global market. It became the most downloaded app in its first week and also the fastest to reach 50million installations on Google play. It is also the fastest mobile game to surpass the $500 million in terms of pure revenue.

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To Japan—the birthplace of the Pokemon franchise— Pokemon Go is more than than just a game; for better or for worse.

One of Japan’s social issues is the high number of NEETs—those who are ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’. In society, they are usually seen as hermits who never leave their rooms and devote their time to their hobbies. Such lifestyle tends to result in in a myriad of social disadvantages, such as insecure and poor future employment, criminal behavior, and mental and physical health problems. Thus, to resolve this issue, Japanese government had encouraged them to meet psychiatrists, and such approach—not surprisingly— turned out to be ineffective.

Yet, Pokemon Go was able to achieve this. Taro Aso— the Finance minister of Japan— claimed, “Shut-ins and otaku are all out there now playing Pokemon, which is doing what psychiatrists couldn’t — just look at what’s happening overseas.”

Without intending to, Japan was able to indirectly develop an effective way to recover NEETs. Although their employment is still an issue, this can still be seen as a great step forward.

However, many in Japan are concerned that the players might go too far in order to capture Pokemons and Yoshihide Suga, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, is one of them. When told that Pokemon characters can be caught around the Prime Minister’s Office, Suga said, “I would like to caution people not to wander into dangerous areas and places that are off-limits.” While some might perceive him as a worrywart, Suga’s concern is not baseless. After all, pokemons have been sighted inside the grounds of Fukushima Daichi power plant.

960x0.jpgIn 2011, the nuclear power plant in Fukushima was destroyed by the tsunami following the March 11 earthquake, releasing radioactive materials into atmosphere. In spite of the measures taken since then, there’s still more than 200 million gallons of radioactive water in Fukushima, which is more than enough to fill two Yankee Stadiums to the brim. Fearing the potential of Pokemon Go players inadvertently straying inside the contaminated sites while playing the game, Japanese government has enforced security to prevent them from entering dangerous areas and the facilities, including the nuclear power plants. In addition, Japan has requested Niantic—the founding company of Pokemon Go—to case pokemons from appearing at such dangerous areas.

However, effective action is yet to be taken.

Currently, Pokemon Go is only about 10% complete, and it also plagued with server issues, irritating bugs and a thoroughly broken combat system. Nevertheless, solving the problem of pokemons appearing in Fukushima is relatively easier than it is thought to be to Niantics with its connections and resources.  However, doing so will force Niantic to adjudicate its app into a selectively-functional app. Not only would doing this be a terrific headache, but it will also put the company in a precarious position during its prime time. Consequently, Niantic gave no comment. Most likely, Niantic will wait as long as possible before publically involving itself. Because once it does, there will be no turning back.

Although the situation was initially fine inside the ‘pokeball’ that Pokemon Go used to capture the market, things are gradually becoming hectic. Sooner or later, Niantic will fall, unless it can quickly learn how to properly control its own product, like how the pokemon trainers should with their pokemons before challenging the league.

 

 

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UBER—The Disruptive Innovation

You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, the German Philosopher

 

Like CityCab in Singapore, Uber is a transportation network company. It was founded in 2009 and is headquartered in San Francisco. However, there is one large difference between Uber and other major transportation companies—its drivers are not licensed to drive taxicabs.

Also, Uber drivers are able to log in and off the Uber system whenever they want, strategically allocating their work hours. Compared to the drivers of other transportation companies, Uber workers are granted better freedom and flexibility. Also, the quality of their services is daily rated by their customers, and this system allows Uber to effectively filter out unprofessional drivers, who might lower its brand image. According to the Wall Street Journal, Uber company’s value reached $51 billion dollars on July 31st, 2015. While Facebook took seven years to accomplish this feat, Uber took about five years; such achievement is unprecedented.

However, not everyone appreciates Uber. Numerous licensed taxi drivers now hold deep contempt towards it. For those whose main income sources are driving cabs, Uber is nothing but a giant parasite. As Uber grows, their earnings gradually decrease due to the increase in supply of transporters and thus, competition. This will continue to result in mental distress and insecurity on taxi drivers, forcing them to work longer hours to at least earn as much as they did before Uber entered the market. Moreover, there are rumours, in which Uber drivers’ average earnings are higher than those of licensed taxi drivers by 6 US dollars. Although their credibility still have not been substantiated, they are creating high tension among rival transportation companies and their labourers. Although many of us had been aware of this shaky situation, nobody was able to anticipate the outrageous conflicts it would brew in 2015.

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The scale of protests against Uber drivers went out of control in 2015, when Uber broke Facebook’s $50 billion record. Worldwide, the number of taxi wars dramatically shot up. In September 2015, the black cab union in London brought London to a standstill, blocking roads from Waterloo Bridge, the Strand, Fleet Street and to Piccadilly Circus by congesting the road with approximately 1500 black cabs; in October 2015, a group of furious local taxi drivers in Malaysia ambushed the Uber driver’s vehicle and threatened to destroy it. Another famous protest is local French drivers’ aggressive physical ambush on Uber drivers, including a man who was driving for Courtney Love— a 50-year-old actress and singer. According to her, the protesters vandalized Uber cars with metal bats, took drivers as hostages and even flipped some of their cars. Fortunately, she was able to escape with the help of two motorists; later on, she tweeted, “This is France?? I’m safer in Baghdad.”

The astounding number of crime cases, in which Uber drivers either kidnapped or robbed and sexually assaulted their customers, is certainly not ameliorating the problem. In India, there even have been incidents, in which the Uber drivers deliberately exposed his genitals or masturbated in front of their customers. If this conflict does not end soon, Uber, Uber’s competitors, their workers, and countries’ economies will all suffer severely.

Fearing the previously mentioned outcome, several countries, such as China, and Berlin, have banned Uber to prevent anymore protest, crime or increase in unemployment of taxi drivers. Although Uber has the potential to become useful as an appropriate competition among transportation industries with government’s appropriate regulation, many do not do so as Uber is a ‘double-edged sword’. However, is such action a right decision? The answer is unclear, like Uber’s future…

 

 

Vice and Virtue of Guns

“A weapon does not decide whether or not to kill. A weapon

is a manifestation of  a decision that has already been made.”

Steven Galloway, The Cellist of Sarajevo

 

Producing railgunsweapons that are capable of repetitively shooting destructive projectiles at more than 5000MPHsounded like an idea from a sci-fiction story just decades ago. Now, the US navy is planning to test its railgun in 2016 and repeat it in 2018; by 2020s, the navy will have decided how to use it, while several countries will hesitate on constructing their own railguns, which each require approximately 22 billion US dollars. Their uncertainty is understandable, as the opportunity cost is extremely high; they could spend 22 billion US dollars on other aspects, such as healthcare and public transportation. Yet, this fact does not seem very apparent to the US government, which is already globally unrivaled in terms of firearms.

 

Annually, US’s average expenditure on defense is equivalent to $610 Billion, rivalling that of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, UK, India and Germany combined. $610 Billion! This amount of money could have gone to several alternative uses, such as public health care, unemployment benefits or subsidies for education, yet the US government spends it on weapons production. This shows how the weapons industries are a prominent sector in US economy and explains why numerous US politicians are reluctant to ban guns, despite the occurrences of countless gun crimes.

 

A famous paradigm would be the tragedy at historic black church in Charleston S.C, where nine black individuals were shot to death by a white supremacist on June 18, 2015. Another paradigm is an 11 year-old boy used a shotgun to shoot his 8 year-old neighbor on Oct 7th, 2015 because she refused to let him see her dog. The previously mentioned two cases only depict a tiny shred of suffering that guns have caused. Indubitably, there were much more, more and more cases, in which people used guns to victimise other vulnerable citizens.

 

The detrimental effect of guns on US community is ,no doubt, substantial. According to the FBI, more preschoolers are killed in firearm cases than police officers who are killed in action. Moreover, as if this revelation is not appalling enough, statistics show that 1.45 million gun deaths have occurred since 1970, while there have been 1.4 million war deaths since 1775 in America. Yet, several politicians, such as Lindsey Graham and Ben Carson, still refuse to place bans on the sales of guns to civilians, claiming that the citizens have the right to own measures of self-protection.

 

Ironically, these ‘measures of self-protection’ have been used more for murders rather than for their intended purpose. However, these mavericks still insist that banning guns will not ameliorate the issue; instead, it will worsen the matter, just as how handgun ban in England in January 1997 drastically increased homicide cases. Although their arguments might seem resounding, their stance is not necessarily the best choice for the welfare of the Americans.

 

US politicians should utilise the system of Iceland, which is well-known for its low crime rate. In 2009, its homicide count was one, while it was 15,241 in US. What can possibly cause this stark contrast, when Icelanders also possess guns? Firstly, in Iceland, the consumers are required to undergo much more complex procedures, medical examinations and written tests to procure guns. Secondly, unlike US policemen, those in Iceland are unarmed; only a unit named ‘Viking Force’ is permitted to carry guns, and it is rarely summoned. Lastly, unlike in US, there are only few illegal drugs in Iceland; due to the government’s regulation, Iceland’s citizens do not seek illegal suppliers’ services and break laws to satisfy their demands as much as those in US. If the government genuinely wants to solve the gun crime issues, following the mentioned steps would be a prerequisite.

 

George Santayanathe Italian philosopheronce said, “Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors are destined to repeat them.” As he claimed, the US government should learn from its tragedies and put its utmost efforts into prohibition of guns, regardless of the negative impact on the nation’s economy. Otherwise, the US will continue to indulge in its unsustainable economic growths through the blood of its own people.

 

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