Monday. 2/5/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / David Hodari

No pain, no gain

Businesses across Europe and North America are feeling the squeeze: supply-chain disruptions, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the relaxation of pandemic restrictions mean that demand for goods and services is rising faster than their supply.

Signs of inflation are popping up like a rash: consumer products behemoth Unilever said last week that it raised its prices by 8 per cent in the first three months of the year due to inflation. Germany has also dropped its opposition to an EU embargo on Russian oil, meaning that energy prices for Europeans will rise even further. The World Bank and the IMF predict that prices will continue to rise globally in the coming months.

Against this backdrop, the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England will do their best to ease these pressures without sparking a recession when they make their monthly interest-rate decisions this week. Some economists contend that central banks should focus on softening the effect of inflation, which is a certainty, rather than preventing a recession – that, for the moment at least, is only a possibility. Therefore the Fed and the Bank of England will raise interest rates further in the hope that businesses and consumers will cut back on spending – and by extension stop the prices of goods from increasing.

This leaves companies caught between a rock and a hard place. Deutsche Bank’s senior economist Sanjay Raja highlights the gloom hanging over entrepreneurs. “Consumer confidence has already tanked to recessionary levels and business confidence is slowly – but surely – softening in the middle of rising cost pressures,” he says. For businesses, small and large, it looks as though more pain is on the horizon.

Image: Getty Images

Travel / New Zealand

Ready for a bounceback

After a series of false starts, shifting deadlines and more than two years of waiting, New Zealand is once again saying haere mai (Māori for “welcome”) to foreign visitors. Starting today, vaccinated travellers who meet the requirements will no longer be subjected to two weeks of hotel quarantine upon arrival. The start of quarantine-free travel will bolster the confidence of airlines that ordinarily serviced the lengthy routes and will undoubtedly rally the spirits of the country’s tourism industry too. Expat New Zealanders have been clamouring for this move for months but back home, prime minister Jacinda Ardern (pictured) was sure to come in for criticism no matter what date she had set. For public-health officials, opening now is too much, too soon, and for those operating white-water rafting and bungee-jumping businesses, it’s far too late. Let’s just hope that the opening finally helps the country bounce back to normal.

Design / Ukraine

Set in stone

At the outbreak of war in Ukraine, organisations and communities set to work placing sandbags and hoardings around statues and sculptures in cities across the country. Despite their best efforts to safeguard the nation’s monuments, some 242 have been destroyed by Russian shelling – and those that have been covered for protection are looking particularly tired. To rectify this situation, a number of organisations, including the Kyiv City State Administration, called upon the architects at Balbek Bureau to propose an alternative.

Their solution: a smart-looking modular system of scaffolding, clad in fire-retardant bakelite plywood that allows barriers to be tailor-made to fit around the object they are protecting. Additionally, to improve appearances, there are details of the protected work printed onto the plywood – including name, year of installation and a brief historical reference. “The point is to develop temporary aesthetics,” say the designers at Balbek. “We still have to live with these monuments; we pass them every day.”

Image: Alamy

Business / EU

Power of good

Members of the European Parliament are voting this week on a common charger that will reduce electronic waste – and generally make life easier. The move would mean that consumers could use the same charger for all small-to-medium-sized gadgets, including mobile phones, tablets and headphones.

Every device – regardless of the manufacturer – would have to be equipped with a USB Type-C port with exceptions for smart watches and anything else that is too small to fit the port. Product sustainability has been a key topic within the EU in the past decade because e-waste is the fastest-growing waste stream in the bloc (less than 40 per cent is recycled). Manufacturers will complain but the proposal, which will have to be signed off by EU member states after the parliament’s vote, can only be good news. Not only will it reduce the EU’s ecological footprint, it will tidy up thousands of drawers across the continent.

Image: Daniel Roher

Cinema / Canada

Telling tales

Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary film festival, is underway in cinemas across downtown Toronto. The festival, which debuted in 1993, is back in theatres for the first time in two years and the line-up of 226 films from 63 countries reflects both the growing appetite among audiences for non-fiction films and the wide array of film-makers working on documentaries today. Among the highlights are the celebrated, CNN-produced profile of Russia’'s imprisoned opposition leader, Alexei Navalny (pictured); Fire of Love, which chronicles the life and work of the late French volcanologists Maurice and Katia Krafft; and Million Dollar Pigeons, a warm-hearted Irish documentary about the lucrative and sometimes treacherous world of pigeon racing. “It’s tremendous to be back,” Alan Black, the festival’s outgoing managing director, told Monocle. “Streaming services have increased the appetite for documentaries exponentially. People of all generations gravitate towards documentaries now, smitten by the same thing.” The festival runs until 8 May.

Image: CFJ

Monocle 24 / The Urbanist

Housing design

We look at the different ways in which cities are bringing innovative designs to their new housing stock to ensure that growing urban populations have a place that they can be proud to call home.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: May issue, 2022

Monocle’s latest issue sets out the benchmarks (and benches) for a better world as we put the 50 recipients of this year’s Monocle Design Awards in the spotlight. Elsewhere, we visit the rugged terrain of northern Norway to witness one of the biggest military drills in Nato’s history and George Town to explore how Malaysia’s tropical tech hub is booming. Order your copy today from The Monocle Shop.

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