Thursday. 9/12/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Andrew Mueller

Big guns

For most industries the coronavirus pandemic has been somewhere between a challenge and a disaster – with, it emerges, one somewhat depressing exception. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), figures for 2020 show that the world’s 100 largest suppliers of weapons and associated military services found a way to increase their business by 1.3 per cent, year on year, even as global GDP took a 3.1 per cent hit and despite extraordinary disruptions to global supply chains.

Before one despairs too theatrically at what this might indicate vis-à-vis the human condition, it’s worth noting that a portion of this bump in defence-related spending was necessitated by coronavirus, as governments leant on their militaries for assistance dealing with the pandemic or ramped up purchases as part of economic stimulus packages. It nevertheless represents a sixth consecutive year in which sales by the world’s top 100 arms merchants have increased – to somewhere in the vicinity of $531bn (€470bn).

Such stupendous figures might soon appear on a fatuous meme or inane poster near you, alongside a chest-prodding rhetorical question about where the money might be less destructively spent. But if one sets aside the hectoring sanctimony of those who believe that all defence spending is bad (it isn’t), it is perhaps worth considering whether at least some of the colossal ingenuity attracting this vast expenditure might be redirected.

Sipri’s report notes an accelerating mutual interest between militaries and technology giants, for example; it is not unimaginable that the institute’s top 100 arms producers might one day include Microsoft, Google or Amazon. The period covered by the report has also seen a substantial rewiring of economies by major states. The foundations surely now exist, in the US and elsewhere, for a new Manhattan Project or Apollo programme, this time aimed at addressing the climate and energy issues that are likely to be the cause of future conflicts.

Image: Alamy

Diplomacy / USA & China

No-show of force?

The Biden administration is doing its best to rankle China this week; first by announcing a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics and, starting today, by hosting a digital Summit for Democracy that will include Taiwan but not China. The question now is whether US allies will follow suit. Australia and the UK announced their own diplomatic boycotts yesterday. Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida said this week that he would decide based on “national interests” after a group within his party called for the move. China’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, called the boycott a “blatant political provocation” but dismissed its effect, saying, “No one would care whether these people come or not.” Bluster aside, hosting the Olympics has always been intended to showcase a country’s best side to the world. The slew of possible boycotts, combined with seeing Taiwan treated as an equal on the global stage, is a PR headache for the PRC.

Image: Getty Images

Society / Chile & Japan

Equal merit

Same-sex marriage has been legalised in Chile (pictured) with a landslide senate vote of 21 in favour to eight against. The vote is linked to years of upheaval: after millions protested in 2019, Chile scrapped its Pinochet-era constitution and social change has continued to sweep the country since. But president Sebastián Piñera surprised many in June with his change of heart about marriage equality, which he previously opposed.

Chile is only the ninth country in the Americas to legalise same-sex marriage and the vote could prompt similar efforts in other Latin American nations. Meanwhile, Toyko’s city governor, Yuriko Koike, announced yesterday that a same-sex partnership system will be introduced early next year, allowing partners to rent homes together and gain hospital visitation rights. Japan is currently the only G7 country to not recognise same-sex marriage. And while the partnership system is an important first step, Japan should consider going further. It shouldn’t take social upheaval of the likes seen in Chile to grant such basic recognition.

Image: Kohei Take

Fashion / Japan

Soft leadership

Yesterday, a parliamentary session opened in a unique fashion (quite literally) in the town of Yamanobe, in Japan’s Yamagata prefecture. The gathering saw the mayor and all 11 town council members attend in colourful knitwear made in their respective hometowns. Yamagata has one of the largest knitting industries in Japan; a profile of one producer (pictured) features in the fashion section of our Winter Newspaper, which is on newsstands now. The small town of Yamanobe, which has a population of fewer than 15,000, is home to more than 10 knitwear companies alone. The chairman of the assembly, Kazuo Higuchi, is leading the way: yesterday he wore white knitwear to represent the region’s snowy climate. Public officials at the town hall are also following suit, working in Yamanobe-made sweaters and cardigans. It’s a soft-power play that’s anything but woolly, from a region that’s keen for the outside world to warm to its craft.

Image: Alamy

Urbanism / USA

Go to town

High rates of homelessness and woes surrounding transportation are perennial issues for US mayors. But now there might actually be the funds to do something about it, thanks to a federal pandemic relief package adopted earlier this year, including a hefty $65bn (€57bn) payment being awarded directly to US cities. A recent survey by the Boston University Initiative on Cities asked 126 US mayors how they would like to spend the money: some 21 per cent said that they would prioritise homelessness and 18 per cent focused on transportation improvements. Regardless of the focus, 78 per cent of mayors said that the extra pot of cash would be “transformative” in their jurisdictions. Some US cities have already ploughed ahead this year, most notably San Diego, which recently completed plans for a $160bn (€141bn) transportation overhaul. It’s a rare opportunity for major federal funding to be combined with regional political will; now is the time for city halls in the US to finally get moving on some far-sighted infrastructure projects.

Image: James Harris

M24 / Monocle On Design

Design Miami and Khruangbin

We meet the incoming curatorial director of this year’s Design Miami. Plus: musical trio Khruangbin give us some insight into the creation of their unique tour posters.

Monocle Films / Global

Tailoring’s youthful refit

They might not fit the archetype of the high-end tailor but a new generation of smart young outfitters are now at the cutting edge of bespoke menswear. We get the measure of four such craftsmen in London, Berlin, Hong Kong and Perugia.

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