Monday. 7/9/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Tomos Lewis

Labour force

Today is Labor Day in the US and Canada; the final day of a long weekend that, traditionally, marks summer’s last hurrah. But as bread is broken, barbecues stoked and glasses raised to the season’s long farewell, the holiday’s founding idea – the commemoration of labour and work and a celebration of its value to the life of the nation – might have a quietly sharper significance for many in the US this year.

On Friday the US Department of Labor stated that 1.4 million jobs had been added to the economy in August and that the unemployment rate fell from 10.2 per cent in July to 8.4 per cent in August, another sign that employees furloughed during coronavirus lockdowns are being brought back to work (albeit at a slower pace than in previous months). Those figures will be at the centre of the presidential election campaign as it moves ahead in earnest, as it historically does, after the Labor Day holiday. One thing that both candidates should embrace is a pattern that has emerged from past recessions in the US: when the national economy slows, entrepreneurship tends to flourish.

“There’s tremendous opportunity,” Ryan Wilson, CEO of The Gathering Spot – an Atlanta members’ club that he co-founded in 2016 – told Monocle’s The Entrepreneurs magazine, which arrives on newsstands this Thursday. “This is a reshuffling of the deck in ways that you very rarely see in a lifetime. And small businesses and entrepreneurs will be a part of crafting what that new world [will] be,” he said. It’s time for entrepreneurship and its importance to a meaningful economic recovery to be harnessed the world over, not only during the US election campaign. We will certainly raise our glasses to that on this Labor Day.

Health / Africa

Carrying the cost

How do you confront a pandemic when you have limited resources? To seek answers, a four-day virtual conference, hosted by Columbia University in New York and Wits University in Johannesburg, took a deep dive into some of the unique challenges that African countries face in balancing the health challenge of coronavirus with the risks of restricting already-weak economic activity. Governments across the continent have done a decent job of providing relief for businesses: almost 85 per cent of respondents to a survey across 19 African Union countries said that they had received some form of aid. However, the same survey found that seven in 10 respondents were struggling with access to food. Amanda McClelland from Resolve to Save Lives, a global health initiative that helped conduct the survey, warned that “copied and pasted” physical-distancing measures were putting a strain on health and economic systems. Last week’s virtual conference marked the latest effort to develop more tailored solutions.

Politics / Canada

Closing argument

It’s been less than a month since Justin Trudeau prorogued the Canadian parliament. Although the move conveniently halted committee investigations into an ongoing ethics scandal, the prime minister defended the prorogation by pointing out that restarting parliament requires a throne speech to lay out the government’s priorities. According to his recent interview with the country’s Global News TV network, those priorities include an “ambitious green agenda”.

In a country that’s historically reliant on oil, Trudeau (pictured) sees the current economic crisis as an opportunity to address climate change and create jobs by investing in renewable energy. But it’s a fiscal gamble, because doing so will require adding to what is already projected to be the largest federal deficit in Canadian history. The upcoming throne speech could prompt a no-confidence vote in Trudeau’s minority government. But with opposition parties unlikely to seek new elections during a pandemic, he is likely to get the support that he needs to move forwards with his new agenda – and another chance to finally put the ethics scandals behind him.

Transport / Switzerland

No train, no gain

After 14 years of construction, the 15.4km Ceneri tunnel in the Swiss canton of Ticino was finally inaugurated on Friday. It heralded a new railway link, known as the NRLA, that runs north-south through the Swiss Alps, drastically shortening travel times from Zürich to Milan. It marks the start of an even broader European vision: a 1,500km high-capacity rail freight corridor from Rotterdam to Genoa. The Italian upgrades that would provide access to Genoa and the Mediterranean aren’t expected to open until 2023 while the expansion of a northern 182km-long route between Basel and Karlsruhe (approved back in 1996) isn’t on track for completion until approximately 2040. The latter delay has prompted Switzerland to push for an alternative route to Rotterdam via France and Belgium. The Swiss Federal Council has even offered to co-finance the alternative line; that’s because Switzerland stands to profit more than most countries from a Rotterdam-Genoa corridor with the NRLA at its core.

Arts / Russia

In from the cold

A New York City residency featuring Russian artists is to begin this autumn after initially being delayed by the pandemic. The participating artists, sponsored by Russia-based collective AES+F, will be working out of a studio in Brooklyn. The residency is designed to offer emerging Russian creatives, including Ustina Yakovleva (“Untitled 2019”, pictured), access to a western art world that’s starting to feel worryingly remote. The project’s aims speak to a somewhat fragile intercultural exchange, imperilled further by the increasingly frosty relations between Russia and the US that hark back to a cold-war era when even culture was used as a weapon of influence (the CIA was an early patron of America’s abstract expressionist painters, for example). In an age when populist leaders push increasingly isolationist agendas, it’s worth remembering that although art’s soft power might once have been an effective weapon, it’s an even more useful tool in building connections across widening geopolitical divides.

M24 / Eureka

Meander

Jill and Steve Henry are the founders of Meander, an Edinburgh-based outerwear brand. The idea for their minimalist and multifunctional pieces came after a charity ride from London to Paris, which inspired their mission to design a performance jacket to look good in the bar afterwards.

Monocle Films / Turkey

Building a place for culture

We visit a Kengo Kuma-designed art museum in Eskisehir that’s set to become Turkey’s new cultural hotspot.

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