Wednesday. 29/4/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Expert analysis

Sitting at home in London, I’m staring a little forlornly out of my window – at a rainy sky – while monitoring the news that other countries with lower death tolls than that of the UK are slowly emerging from lockdown. It’s tempting to ask a simple question with a tricky answer: did we get this wrong? I look at Austria, where smaller shops have now reopened, and think: did we get this wrong by not closing shops quickly enough? I look at Sweden, where shops never really closed, and think the opposite: did we get this wrong by being too draconian and not trusting citizens to keep their distance? I look at Germany or South Korea and think: did we get this wrong by not relying more on testing?

What is equally frustrating is that most countries, despite taking different paths, have relied on their own experts to guide the way; people who are prone to change their minds but who offer their newfound wisdom as gospel. And then there are the different types: some countries might have relied too much on their medical experts and not enough on economic or behavioural specialists. For others, it might be the other way around. The funny thing is that we all seem to trust our own and forget their fallibility. “You’re not wearing masks over there?” my perplexed father asked me from Vienna last week, as though the necessity of doing so had been clear all along. “The experts here still say that it won’t necessarily help,” I said, equally convinced in my righteousness. (Now I’m starting to change my mind).

Depending where you are, it’s become extremely tempting to look at other countries faring better and ask: did we get this wrong? Some initial evidence suggests that, yes, plenty of us did. Maybe Sweden actually has it right: so far its death toll is comparable to elsewhere but with far less economic cost. But does that mean that we shouldn’t trust the experts? Should we ignore our own government’s advice? Probably not. After all, if we don’t trust the experts then who can we trust. Still, if there is one lesson from this pandemic, it’s that our so-called experts need to do a better job of getting on the same page.

Retail / China

An eye on the outgoings

China is preparing for its annual Labour Day celebrations on Friday. It’s the first major national holiday since the coronavirus outbreak, which overshadowed Chinese New Year at the end of January and placed the country into lockdown. Tourism chiefs, hoteliers and retailers around the world will be eagerly watching for signs of a return to the type of Chinese consumer spending that has kept tills from Bangkok to Paris ringing for most of the past decade. But early indications suggest that many consumers are “revenge saving” rather than revenge buying; a slew of workers have only just returned to their desks or are looking for new jobs. Domestic travel could be one bright spot but foreign businesses should read what’s in the tea leaves and focus efforts on their own country’s consumers as they celebrate the end of the lockdown, rather than relying solely on the renminbi – at least for this year.

Aviation / USA

Waiting to land

Boeing releases its first-quarter financial results today and the aviation industry will be watching with bated breath to see just how bad things are at the world’s second-biggest aircraft manufacturer. In such a globalised business, everyone from airlines and airports to parts suppliers will suffer if the Chicago-based company is in real trouble – and affected firms will be looking for guidance on how long it will take to return to normal.

Things aren’t looking good: the US firm was already struggling with the fallout of its grounded 737Max planes; last year it recorded its first loss since 1997. CEO Dave Calhoun warned shareholders on Monday that the company would have to borrow heavily to get through the coming months, with “several thousand” layoffs expected and dividend payments suspended. Calhoun’s team – and any company that depends on them – must prepare for serious turbulence ahead.

Tourism / Europe

Absence of leave

EU and Swiss ministers held a video conference on Tuesday to consider what the summer holiday season might look like. Will it be open borders within Schengen or case by case between countries? And how will it all work from a hygiene perspective? But a larger topic was missing from the discussion: should there be holidays at all? To be clear, everyone deserves a break. But given that the world might well be facing its biggest slump in modern history, shouldn't we be thinking about keeping factories, restaurants and law firms open? It’s hard to square government grants and unemployment benefits with Europe suddenly taking a month off after many have been remarking that life during the pandemic has been like “one big working holiday”. The tourism industry should benefit from domestic traffic but this summer is the time to get back around conference tables with colleagues, meet clients, ramp up assembly lines and kick things into gear.

Arts / Global

Creative employment

International art gallery Hauser & Wirth has unveiled a new initiative to support not the artists it represents but its employees – many of whom also happen to be artists. Homegrown is a new biweekly online exhibition series that will display and sell artworks created by Hauser & Wirth staff and their immediate family members, and freelancers. According to the gallery, the selected artworks – which span painting, drawing, photography, sculpture and video works – will represent employees from all of its global locations, from Los Angeles to Zürich, and almost all of the company’s internal departments. Artwork prices will range from $100 (€90) to $20,000 (€18,000). The proceeds will directly support participating artists while 10 per cent of all profits will be donated to the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund. Keep your eyes peeled for the inaugural exhibition, slated to begin on 9 May. You just might find the work of an unknown master.



M24 / The Urbanist

Tall Stories 204: The balcony

Chiara Rimella laments the absence of a house feature that’s common in her native Italy but sadly missing from many of the UK’s architectural plans.

Monocle Films / Switzerland

Property Prospectus: Kreis 4

Once a seedy neighbourhood with an air of debauchery, Zürich’s Kreis 4 is now a shiny hub of creativity. Monocle Films pays a visit to the district to discover what all the fuss is about.

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