Monday. 23/5/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / David Hodari

Balancing act

The global economy is being hammered – that’s the message from Swiss bankers as the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos gets under way in earnest today. “I’ve never seen so many cross-currents at work,” Guy Miller, Zurich Insurance’s chief market strategist, tells me. On the menu for delegates: the effect of the pandemic, supply-chain problems made worse by China’s persistence with strict lockdowns, the war in Ukraine, inflation and the prospect of a recession.

Even before Russia invaded Ukraine, the global economy was feeling the strain with supply chains, the shift away from fossil fuels and pent-up pandemic demand all pushing prices higher and forcing central banks to try to incentivise saving. “We thought that inflation would be peaking around now,” says Miller. Instead, the war in Ukraine and sanctions placed on Russia – a major source of oil, metals and food – have exacerbated an already confusing situation.

Inflation is spreading from energy to areas such as food and retail, says Gero Jung, chief economist at Mirabaud Asset Management. For businesses, this means nothing good; Jung points to Switzerland’s index for small and medium-sized companies dropping by half. And last week US retailers, normally resilient during fraught times, warned about reduced profits. “There is no place to hide within any asset class at this stage,” says Yves Bonzon, chief investment officer at Julius Bär.

The bankers I spoke to disagree over how much worse inflation will get but there’s one area of consensus: if central banks push too hard in their efforts to cool off the economy, there’s a significant and growing risk of a recession. Few expect concrete decisions at WEF but it’s crucial to start building a global consensus. From coronavirus and climate change to Russian aggression, Miller says, “we have seen the power of acting in a cohesive manner”.

Image: Andrej Vasilenko

Media / Russia

Pressing matters

The media industry in Russia has taken a hit since the invasion of Ukraine but independent news outlet Meduza is working hard to keep Russians informed. “There is no media industry in Russia any more; the Kremlin has destroyed everything,” says Galina Timchenko (pictured), who founded the site in 2014, in an interview from Monocle’s June issue. Meduza’s funding model was all but decimated last year when it was labelled as a “foreign agent” and Russian advertisers dried up. Then, a week after the war in Ukraine began, the Kremlin blocked access to the site. Still, Meduza’s journalism has continued to reach millions of Russian users thanks to crowd-funding, VPNs and a mobile app. It recently included a Q&A with Volodymyr Zelensky and its importance only grows by the day as the conflict endures. “We think that, fundamentally, this is the end of Vladimir Putin’s regime,” says editor in chief Ivan Kolpakov. “But the end can last a really long time.”

Image: Getty Images

Travel / Indonesia

Shore thing

President Joko Widodo has announced that Indonesia is dropping coronavirus-testing requirements for inbound vaccinated travellers and people no longer have to wear masks outdoors. With daily new cases dropping from a February peak, the country is joining a growing group of Asian nations that are transitioning to living with the virus; Malaysia and Singapore both dropped testing requirements in recent weeks.

Hotel and tour operators in tourism-dependent parts of Indonesia, such as Bali (pictured) and Bintan Island, have welcomed the move, seeing testing as the last pandemic-era rule that might have been discouraging tourists from returning. Before the pandemic, Indonesia’s government was preparing a “10 New Balis” project to make a clutch of other places as popular as the archipelago’s number-one destination. Now that Indonesia’s borders are fully open once again, those plans can begin to take shape.

Image: Getty Images

Society / Algeria

Voicing dissent

There’s a strong argument to be made that Algeria’s stoking of tensions with Morocco – principally over the Western Sahara, which Algeria recognises as independent and Morocco claims as part of its territory – is a distraction from ongoing domestic issues. Civil-society groups in the North African nation are now openly challenging a clampdown on fundamental liberties.

A new campaign signed by 38 organisations – Algerian, regional and international – claims that since the pro-democracy Hirak movement was quashed more than a year ago, Algeria’s judiciary has been used to silence dissenting voices, from human-rights groups to media outlets. According to one campaigner, more than 300 people have been arrested since the start of the year in a crackdown on freedom of expression. Pas Un Crime (Not A Crime), a digital campaign to raise awareness launched on 19 May and is running until Saturday. It calls for authorities to change course. Here’s hoping that they listen.

Image: Peter Vanderwarker/Harvard Graduate School of Design

Urbanism / USA

Key skills

Does anyone influence our lives quite like estate agents and property developers? They build the neighbourhoods we live, work and socialise in; they can reshape our sense of reality by suggesting that a small apartment is actually “cosy”. Most people would say that there’s no great science to the business itself but Harvard Graduate School of Design (pictured), which is launching a new masters programme in real estate, begs to differ.

“Harvard is all in on the idea that real estate is something more than an investment opportunity,” says Jerold S Kayden, professor of urban planning and design, who is leading the programme. The idea is to “sharpen core skills” for prospective property developers, while offering a grounding in how the business intersects with politics, design, “urban economics” and ethics. Teaching real estate is not entirely a new thing but many of the descriptions for existing courses tend to sound pretty mercantile. Harvard’s broader-minded offering is to be welcomed.

Monocle 24 / On Design Extra

NYC x Design

Mary Holland takes us on a tour of exhibitors at the 10th edition of New York City’s flagship annual design festival.

Monocle Films / Turin

The new urban rowers

We wake up bright and early to meet creative director Luca Ballarini at the Circolo Canottieri Caprera, a rowing club on the banks of the river Po in Turin. We follow his slender boat and glide along the river beside charming palazzi, castles and bridges, while the rest of the city comes to life.

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