Monday 27 March 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Monday. 27/3/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Simon Bajada

Opinion / Liv Lewitschnik

Golden age

France’s pension-reform protests go to show how uncomfortable many people are with the idea of needing to work longer even as life expectancies creep up. Different countries have their own ideas about the issue too. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, only about 60 per cent of those aged between 55 and 64 in France are still in the workforce, compared to about 80 per cent in Iceland, New Zealand and Sweden.

Here in Sweden, people are approaching the problem from a different angle with some success. Entrepreneur Ingrid Erlandsson wants to get Swedish pensioners back to work. Since 2007 she has run Veteranpoolen, a company with chapters across the country and some 9,000 older people on its books, and the interest is growing. Members of the pool are called on to do odd jobs at flexible times and at their convenience. That might mean pruning apple trees, building a playhouse or painting a living room; it could also include short-term professional posts in fields ranging from finance and education to plumbing, carpentry and upholstery. The list is as long and varied as the skills of these pensioners.

Their work is partially tax-deductible for those who hire them. More importantly, however, many participants report feeling useful, relevant and grateful for the opportunity to share their wisdom. And that’s not to mention the benefits of staying fit and engaged.

Many elderly people in Sweden, as elsewhere, are unhappy. About 40 per cent of women and 30 per cent of men over the age of 85 say that they feel lonely and isolated. Veteranpoolen is a solution that could work beyond Sweden’s borders too. It’s a good thing to bring retirees back into society where they should be: visible, important and appreciated.

Liv Lewitschnik is Monocle’s Stockholm correspondent. For more ageless delights and time-tested wisdom, take out a subscription to Monocle magazine today.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Spain & China

Test of leadership

Since becoming Spain’s prime minister in 2018, Pedro Sánchez has sought to assert his country’s influence in Europe and beyond. His meeting with Xi Jinping (pictured, on right, with Sánchez) in Beijing this week, ostensibly to celebrate 50 years of formalised Hispano-Chinese relations, comes at a convenient time for both leaders. Spain will take over the EU’s rotating presidency in July and national elections will take place later this year. Sánchez is known for his tendency to parrot the consensus but his recent speech at Davos decrying economic inequality and corporate greed marked a shift in tone for a prime minister who has been slow to hit his stride on the international stage. Might we see the emboldened Spanish leader making inroads in the push for peace in Ukraine when he meets his Chinese counterpart? Or will he revert to form and merely reiterate his European allies’ talking points? Eager to strengthen his own global diplomatic influence, Xi will need to discern whether he is greeting Sánchez the leader or Sánchez the messenger.

Image: Shuttterstock / Getty Images / Alamy

Design / North Korea

Building influence

North Korea isn’t known for its soft-power credentials but state-owned firm Mansudae Overseas Projects has quietly cornered a very particular market in sub-Saharan Africa. Its chief export? Socialist-realist monuments. The company was established in 1959 during the rule of Kim Il-sung, who saw design as a powerful propaganda tool.

Following North Korea’s support of African liberation movements during the Cold War, many nations were drawn to its architectural style. North Korea has built at least 15 monuments in Africa since 2005, including Namibia’s Independence Memorial Museum in Windhoek, the African Renaissance Monument in Dakar (pictured, right) and the gargantuan mausoleum of Angolan president Dr Agostinho Neto in Luanda. While recent sanctions have stalled the work of Mansudae Overseas Projects, Kim Jong-un is still investing in the idea. “Pyongyang has shifted to a smaller, lesser-known studio called Paekho,” Benjamin Young, a North Korea analyst and professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, tells Monocle. “It continues to be active in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Image: Max Burkhalter

Society / Ireland

Cultural capital

The Irish government is trialling a creative scheme to provide artists with a guaranteed basic income and many nations are watching with interest. For the next three years, a test group of 2,000 people including musicians, novelists and, yes, circus performers will be paid €16,900 a year in weekly instalments of €325 – no strings attached, even for the contortionists.

Unlike other proposals that are under way in California and Minnesota, the idea is state-run and involves an analysis of the subjects’ economic outcomes against those of a control group who won’t receive this support. Opponents of the scheme have criticised policymakers for doling out money for nothing, how long it has taken to administer and other reasons but it might be best to wait and see how it performs. Launching a creative career is a little like walking a tightrope and all the harder since the pandemic. Support of this kind might make the difference between success and failure.

Image: Shutterstock

Design / New York

Heart problems

In an attempt to “cut through the divisiveness and negativity” of the pandemic years and demonstrate how the city has bounced back, New York’s mayor, Eric Adams, and the state governor, Kathy Hochul, unveiled a new take on Milton Glaser’s iconic 1976 “I Love NY” logo in Times Square last week. The updated version reads, “We Love NYC”; the words are now styled in Helvetica to match the typeface used on the subway, with an emoji-like heart and an added “C” to signify admiration for the city, rather than the state as a whole.

Most people seem to agree that the result is a daft, unnecessary redraft of one of the most iconic examples of city branding ever. (It was so effective that it has been adapted and used in cities from Singapore to San Francisco.) There has predictably been a backlash: New Yorkers have jeered at the custom emojis that accompany it, depicting yellow cabs, bagels, brownstones, apples and other well-worn clichés. If there is a bright side, it’s that Adams and Hochul have succeeded in their ambition to unite New Yorkers. Creating a logo that is almost universally derided by locals is certainly one way to do it.

Image: Alamy

Monocle 24 / The Urbanist

Fresh perspectives

We delve into the world of “meanwhile use”, stop by The Urban Room to see how the people of Auckland are enjoying a fresh look at their city and consider the public perceptions of an infamous figure’s place of birth.

Monocle Films / Paris

Swimming in the Seine

As Paris embarks on a project to clean up the Seine ahead of the 2024 Olympic Games, we look at the process of readying the city’s river for its water-seeking dwellers, explore how it could affect the city and meet the guerilla urban swimmers who welcome the move.


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