August 10th, 2009
01:40 PM GMT
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Nobel laureate Paul Krugman is a famous man and particularly in Malaysia's political circles.

During the Asian financial crisis a decade ago, the American economist stunned most Western observers when he suggested that capital controls could be a viable antidote to a financial meltdown.

But that is exactly what Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had concluded as well.  Mahathir slapped capital controls on his country's financial flows to stop international speculators dead in their tracks. 

His decision was controversial at the time, but many of his critics now concede that Mahathir's tactic helped bolster Malaysia's economy rather than hurt it.  Krugman gets a lot of kudos here in Kuala Lumpur, too.

So how does Krugman suggest you track this global financial crisis?

1. Keep an eye on jobs.  "We can have a technical recovery where GDP is growing or industrial production is growing."  He told me, "But that's not going to matter for most people."  He wants to see countries worldwide adding jobs before he's convinced the economy is recovering.

2. Be wary of banks and oil.  Oil prices are hovering around $70/barrel during an unprecedented economic downturn.  "That's telling you that we've got a lot of pressure on oil supplies," Krugman said.  "And if the world economy starts to come back, oil prices will probably come up a lot, and that's a big brake on the recovery."

3. Consider working in health care.  Banking... not so much.  "Everybody's got real second thoughts about whether what's good for the trading floor is good for the economy," he said.  Trading floors are going to get "simpler" and "a lot more boring."

Veteran policymakers in Malaysia might think that would be a good thing, too.

August 10th, 2009
03:53 AM GMT
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TOKYO, Japan - “Through repetition and practice, you can create a natural smile,” says Keikyu Railways representative Taichi Takahashi. Strange as it may sound, he has reasons to think so. In June, the company installed software for employees that grade their smiles from 0 to 100.

Keikyu Railways believes the smiles of their workers affect overall service.
Keikyu Railways believes the smiles of their workers affect overall service.

“In the beginning, everyone was confused,” says station attendant Kiyomi Ogiwara, “But now it has become a habit. In the morning, everyone lines up and practices smiling.”

A camera mounted on top of the computer captures the face of each employee as they sit down. Once the test, has begun, they have to hold their smile for 10 seconds before a buzzer goes off indicating the test has finished. They are then given their score, a percentage from 0 to 100, with 100 percent being their ideal smile.

Along the way, the program offers advice on improving one's smile, for example “Relax” or “breathe deeply.” Though the company hasn’t laid down firm rules for its use, one idea under consideration would have workers print out a photo of their 100 percent smile and carry it with them so they can consult it throughout the day.

Ogiwara, 21, is clearly the station champion, her scores hovering between 90 percent and 100 percent. Others at the station struggle to master their grins, with scores around 60 percent. But the test is not mandatory, and the company says workers’ smiles will not be used to determine promotions or demotions.

To those who say they would rather have good service than a smile, Takahashi replies, “Of course good service is the most important. But you can’t give good service with a scary face. The smile affects overall service.” That’s particularly important at the Haneda airport station.

“Haneda airport will start handling more international flights next year,” he says “There will be many foreign tourists using Japan’s trains for the first time and we wish them to have a safe trip.”

Ogiwara says her smile has improved dramatically since the first time she used the machine. “I got used to it, and I try to smile naturally. Now I know how to get a high score,” she says. That natural smile is clearly in evidence as she moves from customer to customer, helping them find the right train, or pay the right fare for their tickets.

“By having a smile on my face,” she says, “I make other people feel good, and they smile back at me.”

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