Education is the biggest driver of social mobility in modern societies, especially as the returns to higher education have increased sharply since the 1970s, coincident with a widening in income inequality, increased market deregulation and augmented international capital mobility — the former, it is argued by some, is a consequence …

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Multiculturalism and integration: Political borders are increasingly becoming irrelevant through globalisation and mass migration. This has led to many benefits as well as challenges to our society. Some countries are struggling to integrate immigrants into the mainstream society and this has sparked an intense debate throughout western democracies, which have …

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Income inequality

The economics and politics of income distribution: How society divides its wealth amongst its members is at the core of economics (and politics).  It is generally taken for granted that more equal distributions are, ceteris paribus, more desirable for society.  (This is also a natural corollary given dimishing marginal utility …

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Monetary policy

What is monetary policy? Monetary policy is the means by which a state’s monetary authority (typically a central bank) controls the supply of money (often by means of being the monopoly supplier of fiat money and also by its ability to influence or enforce how financial institutions (e.g. banks) extend …

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Kai L. Chan

Welcome / Bienvenue / 歡迎 / Willkommen / Приветствие:

Thank you for visiting my site. I am an economics/finance/policy professional currently based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I grew up in Toronto, Canada and was educated at the University of Toronto (BSc) and Princeton University (MA, PhD). Before moving to Dubai, I worked in New York City (finance) and Singapore (consulting). Although my background may sound prima facie like that of many Ivy League graduates, until recently my life experiences were solidly humble and spartan.

Business Report for the University of Toronto.  Photo courtesy of Dave Chan (

About me and this site:

I was literally born on the streets of rural Guangdong province to peasant parents in communist China. My family moved to Canada when I was four years old with little more than the clothes on our back and an electric rice cooker. I spent the next 20 years in Toronto, which were formidable as my family was poor and we had little cultural capital to guide us in our new country. (Neither of my parents studied beyond primary school and were mostly absent from my upbringing.) Before my eighteenth birthday I was arrested twice and had dropped out of high school. Nevertheless, I eventually gained admission into one of Canada’s elite universities (University of Toronto (Trinity College)) and then went on to receive a PhD in economics from Princeton University, where my supervisor was (future Nobel laureate) Paul Krugman.

My path from poverty to a Princeton PhD is an almost unreal story about luck, talent and unusual circumstances. ((1) I graduated from a high school where earlier in my teenage years I was told by the vice principal responsible for my file upon trying to re-enrol: “The day you get back inside this school is the day I quit!”… He was on sick leave the year I returned. (2) My entire preparation for the GRE graduate school admission test consisted of $30 spent on a used copy of a GRE study guide and one week’s time of studying.) At the nadir of my life (young adult) I ate rotten vegetables tossed away by local food wholesalers and discarded chicken bones that I collected from a fried chicken shop. I am now an economics/finance/policy professional having lived and worked in East Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America, and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle where I mingle with the Ivy League crowd. My life has thus been one of contrasts, breaking stereotypes about education, ethnicity/race and socioeconomic status. (See: “From poverty to Princeton PhD.“)

My values and perspective on life have been profoundly shaped by my experiences; my background allows me to view the world through a unique lens that enables me to inject fresh insights into the complex debates about the economy, education, immigration and politics. I hope to thus be a catalyst for frank discussions about matters important to our society.

This site is a repository of all the formal writings and media from me, as well as a place for me to provide brief notes on some topics dear to me for which I wish to share my thoughts and educate the public.

Contact me:

I would love to hear from you if you have thoughts, opinions, critiques or general feedback on any of the content on this website.

To send me an e-mail:

Kai L. Chan
Dubai,  2015




Letters: Germans are too ‘timid’ to state the obvious

Re: This Is Rape Culture, Robyn Urback, Jan. 8. A popular expression defines insanity as “doing something over and over again and expecting different results.” So it has been with the migrant crisis in Europe. I lived adjacent to the Cologne train station when I was a summer intern at …

A cabinet that reflects Canada

Letter to the Toronto Star Published November 7, 2015 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to be lauded for his commitment to a diverse cabinet, but gender is only one dimension of diversity. Although the minority share of cabinet posts (23 per cent) closely mirrors their share of Canada’s population (26 per cent), …

Expats’ right to vote

Letter to the Globe & Mail Published August 1, 2015 Many of those who left Canada did so for professional reasons in a labour market that is increasingly globalized. They still hold deep ties to Canada; indeed, each expat is an unofficial diplomat for the country in their (temporarily) adopted …

Short End of the Stick

Letter to the PAW in response to: Undergraduate Yield Up, Grad Yield Down Published on October 8, 2014 Students of Asian descent at Princeton (and elsewhere in the United States) seem to get the short end of the stick on campus, as highlighted by two articles in the June 4 issue. With …

Canadian politics

Letter to the Economist (Oct 4th 2014) SIR – Stephen Harper and his Conservative party will have a hard time staying in power after the next federal election in 2015. This is not because of scandals and voter fatigue with the current government, or of intrinsic liberal values of Canadians, …

It starts at home

Letter to the Globe & Mail (September 18, 2014) It starts at home Twenty-plus years ago I would have been one of Hieu Ngo’s interview subjects (Young Gang Members: Their Numbers Are Increasing, But Why?– Sept. 16). The gangs described in the report are reminiscent of the groups I associated …

Preserving his Canadian-ness

Letter to the Toronto Star (June 27, 2014) Preserving his Canadian-ness Re: Suppressing vote of expats latest Conservative court battle, June 24 Suppressing vote of expats latest Conservative court battle, June 24 The attempt by Minister of State Pierre Poilievre to deny long-term expats the right to vote shows a …

A Fairer Pay System?

Letter to the New York Times (April 5, 2014) To the Editor: Re “Can We Close the Pay Gap?,” by Deborah Hargreaves (“The Great Divide” series, Sunday Review, March 30): One of the problems of tying the pay of chief executives (or other senior management) to that of the typical or …

Learning poor

Letter to the Globe & Mail (November 19, 2013) Reading this essay (What I learned in law school:  The poor need not apply (Nov 17, 2013)) made me think of my own story of escaping poverty and the challenges that are common for those of lesser means to overcome institutional hurdles. …

More thoughts on diversity

Letter to the Princeton Alumni Weekly (October 9, 2013 edition) In response to: Seek only the best, brightest Why are Asian-Americans always singled out in the conversation about over-representation in higher education compared with their national number (e.g. letters in the July 10 issue)? Jewish Americans form an even smaller percentage …

Fed watchers seem to have a blind spot

Letter to the Financial Times (May 29, 2013) From Mr Kai L. Chan. Sir, In the game of forecasting the next chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Edward Luce and the usual Fed watchers are overlooking one obvious choice: Alan Blinder (“Summers has an edge in the race to head …

Student life

Letter to the Economist (December 15, 2012) SIR – Although online courses in higher education are a mostly positive development, real learning in universities does not come just from course content (“Not what it used to be”, December 1st). Interaction on academic and non-academic topics with fellow students matters in …