Monday, May 31, 2010

ABCDE 2010 in Stockholm (Day 1)

The annual World Bank's conference on development economics (abbreviated as ABCDE) is currently held in Stockholm. I attended a couple of sessions and below is what I learned. Some are backed by solid evidence while others are speculation.

From Abhijit Banerjee's speech:

The failure of microfinance to have a large impact on firm creation and firm growth (Banerjee et al. 2009; Karlan and Zinman 2009; a summary by FT) may be due to its targeting of poor people and small-scale firms. It is medium to large scaled firms that are missing in less developed countries (LDCs) if the firm size distribution is compared to the one from developed countries (Hsieh and Klenow 2009), and that type of firms is probably the driver of economic growth. Governments in LDCs and development assistance agencies, however, have ignored these medium and large scaled firms.

The lack of evidence for the positive impact of education on economic growth may be due to the falling return to primary schooling relative to secondary schooling while education policies have been targeting primary school attendance in the past.

Evidence from conditional cash transfers shows just a small amount of cash incentives dramatically improve human capital investment. We do not have a good conceptual framework to explain this phenomenon.

The issue is how to get policy-makers to stop and think when we do not know at all how to change institutions as the fundamental cause of economic development.

From Geoffrey Heal's speech:

A solar panel power generator today costs 1.8 dollars per KW, cheaper than a diesel power generator. Like mobile phones which have revolutionized telecommunication in LDCs, solar panel may revolutionize power generation in LDCs in the near future.

From Keijiro Otsuka's speech:

Nigerians used to eat rice only on festivities like Christmas, wedding parties, and funerals. Now they eat rice every Sunday.

Back in the 1960s, rice yields were the same in Africa and in Asia. Now yields in Asia double while those in Africa stay the same.

The green revolution in Asia was initiated purely due to technological reasons, not driven by policy or institutions. Then the market and policy responds to promote the use of high-yielding varieties by selling fertilizer or by installing irrigation. In Africa, this didn't happen because of the price control imposed by the government.

Rice yield can be higher in some parts of Africa (Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda) than in Asia. But rice farmers in Africa do not know even simple ways to increase yields such as creating bunds between fields and leveling fields (which are the norm in Asia).

From Sabine Bruntrup-Seidemann's speech:

In Benin in the 1990s, many civil servants were fired due to the structural adjustment programme. University students were no longer guaranteed government jobs upon graduation. These skilled, but unemployed people formed NGOs because it was when the international development assistance community started putting money to NGOs rather than the governments of LDCs.

From Tomoya Matsumoto's speech:

In a randomized experiment in Uganda (a joint work by Matsumoto and Takashi Yamano from GRIPS), giving fertilizer for free to maize farmers (and one-off 2 hour training of how to use fertilizer) increases the amount of fertilizer purchase in the following growing season. There was a similar intervention in Uganda several years ago. At that time, farmers didn't respond. What has changed in Uganda since then is the scarcity of land due to the rapid population growth and the opportunity to sell maize produce for good prices (merchants now come to rural areas to purchase produce). Maize farmers in Uganda, therefore, do care about how to maximize the amount of yields now.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Jackmaster - In The Mix For Lower End Spasm

While packing my stuff to move to a new apartment, I was listening to Sonar Radio. And this DJ mix was played. (Click "JACKMASTER - mix for Lower End Spasm" to listen.) Excellent stuff.

Freakonomics Blog on May 18, 2010 ...

is quite well written.

And a follow-up post is thought-provoking.

A Nigerian newspaper

Monocle magazine is a good source of information on the reality faced by journalists in developing countries. In its inaugural issue back in 2007, they reported the most popular radio DJ in Afghanistan (the video version of the article is here).

The latest issue (Issue 34, page 61) features Next, a Nigerian daily newspaper, launched by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dele Olojede, who "claims rivals have tried to sabotage his distribution network, forcing him to organise direct sales and subscriptions." That's Nigeria...

According to Monocle, Mr Olojede plans to turn Next into a pan-African international newspaper by 2011, targeting metropolitan middle class people on the continent.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Friday, May 21, 2010

Laundry room surveillance

And another news article that can become news only in Sweden.

If you just stop the practice of sharing washing machines among apartment residents, this problem will go away.

Gender equality in Sweden

I'm rather surprised to learn that Church is the one to promote gender equality in this country.

But if a woman prefers to be "given away by her father" at the wedding, why should we discourage her from doing that? Yet another paternalistic attitude of the Swedish authority...

But this is the country where women are denied entrance to university because men are underrepresented (and these women sued)...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Flat-hunting in Stockholm ends, but continues...

I found an apartment!

In the morning, I finally managed to receive a reply from one of the landlords whom I sent a message to show my interest. He suggested viewing his flat at 7 pm. I agreed. The ad of his flat was one of those appearing around noon yesterday, and I contacted him by 1pm. It seems checking Bostad Direkt very frequently and contacting immediately after finding an apartment of interest is the key to success in viewing a flat.

But this flat is available from 1 July. I have to find a place to stay in June. What's worse, I'll be away from Stockholm between late June and early July. I may need a storage space for my belongings while I'm being away.

Asking around in my workplace reveals that Shurgard is the storage space provider of the city and that finding a weekly apartment in June may be difficult given that the Royal Wedding over the weekend of 19-20 June attracts lots of Swedes to the capital city.

Most apartments on Bostad Direkt is available from early June to late August. Finding one only for June seems difficult.

Then suddenly my cell phone rang. I thought it was someone whom I contacted. But no, she found my own ad on Bostad Direkt. Her flat was not yet advertised on Bostad Direkt. Some landlords seem to prefer contacting on their own to potential tenants rather than waiting for them to contact.

Her flat is in Södermalm, a relatively more bohemian district of Stockholm, and available from 1 June to 30 September. That's what I was looking for as the second best option. During July and August, Swedes leave Stockholm for their summer house in the country side. Rental apartment markets get even thinner. If I can stay until the end of September, I can search in September.

I decided to view her flat at 5:30 pm by canceling my schedule in the last minute.

The Södermalm apartment is located in a residential area planned rather well with lots of green space and playground for children with architectural design reminiscent of the last days of modernism (lots of geometric motif including circles). There are several supermarkets nearby. The landlady wants to rent this apartment as she stays in a summer house during the summer. She leaves quite a lot of her stuff in the apartment. So storage would be an issue. Of course no washing machine, although she told me many tenants in this apartment building own their own washing machine, making it easy to book your laundry time slot according to your own needs rather than to everybody else's needs. It's got a nice balcony. I thought I wouldn't live in this kind of modernism apartment in the middle of city center in my life if I passed this opportunity. Also the landlady speaks English very well and is a nice person. A metro line from the station 6 minutes walk away directly takes me to the workplace.

Then I went to see the other apartment at 7 pm. It's located in an area called Gullmarsplan. Compared to other suburbs, there are quite a few stores in this area although most of them are of a nondescript kind. A nine minutes walk from the metro station (which will be a bit too long during cold winter) took me to the apartment which is rather contemporary unlike others in the same area.

When I rang the door bell, a young couple came out with one more girl who turned out to be another prospective tenant viewing the flat. This couple invited all the potential tenants around the same time. A few more arrived while I was viewing. They want to lease this apartment because they bought their own and will move in early July. Since renting an apartment directly from the owner (usually the government) is very hard in Stockholm (usually you have to wait at least 2 years), many people are unwilling to give it up even if they don't need it. Thus they come into the subletting market, which is a good thing for foreigners in Stockholm. But this sounds like something really wrong.

Anyway, their idea is that the contact will end at the end of December, but if both parties agree, it will be extended. The apartment is spacious, build only 3 years ago, and very pleasant. No washing machine, of course, but since the apartment is on the ground floor, a few steps take you to the laundry room. But all the evening slots for the next 7 days were booked when I saw it.

If this apartment were available from 1 June, I would probably take it. But given the expected hassle to find a way to survive June (so I cannot focus on my job), a rather long distance to the nearest station (which matters a lot during sub-zero temperature winter), a rather depressing neighborhood, and most importantly no assurance of getting this apartment due to many competitors (whom I actually saw in my eyes), choosing this apartment over the one I saw before today seems to me too risky.

So I decided to take the apartment in Södermalm. And the landlady happily take me as her tenant.

My flat-hunting in Stockholm resumes this September...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Finding an apartment in Tokyo back in 2001

I found a blog post (by an American?) on finding an apartment in Tokyo in 2001. It seems foreigners find it difficult to rent an apartment in Tokyo. But they have a chance to view various apartments, if it takes a month to find a place to move in. I don't even have a chance to view many apartments...

Flat-hunting in Stockholm continues... (3)

Morning: Find two new apartments. But one of them is available only until the end of August. It turns out that finding an apartment in Stockholm is much more unpleasant than I expected (I expected the worst, but it's even worse than the expected worst level). I'm not sure if I want to continue doing this during the whole summer. The other one, available until the end of May next year, has no telephone number uploaded. So I email them. So far I haven't received any reply when I emailed. Writing in English may scare them off. Perhaps I should write, "You can reply in Swedish." I can use Google Translate.

Bostad Direkt is not very user friendly. I cannot hide those apartments I have no interest. It's hard to spot which ad is new since the last time I saw. Plus, even if an apartment is already taken (which I can tell by looking at the "Personal Tray" in which all the apartments I have checked the contact are listed), the search result still shows it. 

Then I get a call from the person whose apartment I'm going to visit tomorrow's morning. She tells me it's just taken...

Lunchtime: Find one new apartment. I immediately email him, after which I realize that the apartment is available from 1 July and I'll be away from Stockholm from 28 June until mid-July (I already booked the flight tickets, expecting that I should be done with the flat-hunting by the end of this month).

Evening: No new apartment found in the list. In total, there are 13 new apartments newly appearing in the list today for areas reachable by the metro in Stockholm. Nine of them, however, are available only during the summer.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Flat-hunting in Stockholm continues... (2)

Before going to work, I checked Bostad Direkt to see if any new apartment is listed.

I found two. Both in the city center. One is small but no specified date for contract termination. The other is slightly larger and quite expensive with 1 August as the termination date. I called both of them. No answer.

Around 5:30 pm, I checked Bostad Direkt again. A few more new apartments of my interest in suburbs. I called one which will be available from 1 July until 31 December. (So I would need to find a place to live in June as I have to leave my current apartment by the end of this month...) I was told there were already a few people coming to view the apartment. So I was waitlisted. Unbelievable. The ad was uploaded sometime during the day today. So I have to keep watching on Bostad Direkt even during my working hours?

I called another one which is available from 1 June to 31 August. I managed to get an appointment to view the flat on Wednesday morning. The idea is just to secure where to live during the summer and to continue searching for another apartment from Sepember or even from August, as the rent of this apartment is not very expensive.

Coming home and eating dinner, I checked Bostad Direkt again. One more apartment of my interest in a suburb available from 1 June to 31 June next year (but without washing machines, of course). No telephone number is uploaded as a contact. So I sent email.

I will keep you updated about my flat-hunting in Stockholm, to show you how difficult it is. Watch this space.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Flat-hunting in Stockholm continues...

I haven't found any apartment of my interest on Bostad Direkt since the last post. I guess it's about time to compromise.

Forget about using my own washing machine.

Forget about living in my favorite area of Stockholm.

Forget about staying in the same apartment for next 12 months.

As long as I can stay at least for next 4 months and I can go to work with just one change of trains, I should be happy.

This yields two apartments of my interest.

I called one place. It's already taken. The other one didn't pick up the phone.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Is the club music scene in Stockholm essentially dead?

Kalendarium.se is supposed to be the best source of information on what's on in terms of the club music scene in Stockholm.

Today I discovered the site is dead. I can't believe this.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cherry blossoms in Stockholm today

Kungsträgården (top); Stockholm University Frescati campus (middle); Lumaparken (bottom)

Flat-hunting in Stockholm

The worst thing about living in Stockholm is to rent an apartment. I'm currently renting an apartment from a Swede who was abroad for a year. He's back in the city now, and about two months ago, he asked me to leave by the end of this month.

I really don't want to move out from my current neighborhood called Hammarby sjöstad. Apartments in the city center are expensive and small. Other Stockholm suburbs are unpleasantly purely residential (no street life at all). But the only apartment listing website for non-Swedish speakers, Bostad Direkt, shows only a couple of apartments in this area during the last 1 month and a half. When I called them up, they were already taken.

Accepting the reality that I have to leave this neighborhood, I started searching for apartments in other areas by struggling with a poorly-designed search function of Bostad Direkt (it's de facto a monopoly, no incentive to improve their website). I want to stay at a new apartment at least for a year. But most apartments are only available during the summer time when apparently Swedish owners go abroad for summer vacations. Even if it's available for 12 months or longer, they usually come without washing machines due to the stupid norm of using the laundry room collectively in an apartment building, which is really unacceptable to me (and no Swede sympathizes with me on this). 

I found a couple of places. One is actually a house in Nacka, an eastern suburb. I called the owner up and he told me the address of the place. I searched it on the online map. It was in the middle of a forest. I also searched it on the public transport journey planner. The nearest bus stop is 1km away. No way.

Another place is in Älvsjö (pronounced "elf-ho"). I went to see it yesterday. Älvsjö is located 10 minutes away from Stockholm Central station by the commuter train. Once I got off the train, I realized this area is a countryside. A small supermarket, a couple of depressing newsstands, a couple of depressing pizzeria, a Chinese restaurant serving sushi (which very often happens in Stockholm), and a barber. (This set of urban amenity is actually better than other suburbs.) Otherwise, they are houses with lots of green. No apartment building here. If you love nature, maybe this is an ideal place to live given the proximity to the city center. But I don't really appreciate nature.

The apartment was actually a set of rooms in one of these rural houses. The owner of the house seems to mis-classify it on Bostad Direkt. It's the basement with small windows and with worn-out furniture. I have to pass this opportunity. Otherwise I will kill myself.

Another place is in Bromma, a western suburb of Stockholm. This place is available only until the end of October. But I have to compromise. I can search again in autumn. I called the owner, and she asked me to call her back in the morning today. I did. She told me she would call me back in 10 minutes. one hour has passed by now. She didn't call me back. I checked Bostad Direct again. Her advertisement disappeared. Why doesn't she just tell me it's already taken?

Another place is in Vällingby (pronounced ve-ling-bu), another western suburb which is actually rather attractive the last time I visited there for the Massagotti cafe. I called the owner up. She didn't speak English at all.

Now I exhausted the list of apartments of my interest. I'm not sure if I find one until the end of this month.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010