Friday 19 May 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 19/5/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

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Joe Biden’s mind will inevitably be on problems at home when he meets his fellow G7 leaders in Japan today. The US remains in danger of a debt default, thanks to a spat over whether to raise an artificial limit imposed by Congress. The political crisis has already forced Biden (pictured) to cut short his foreign trip, cancelling a Quad meeting in Australia and what would have been the first-ever visit to Papua New Guinea by a sitting US president. All of this uncertainty is damaging the country’s image abroad and yet the financial markets don’t seem to care.

Markets and politics are funny things. I remember covering the Eurozone’s debt crisis a decade ago: interest rates on borrowing costs for countries such as Greece and Italy surged because investors didn’t believe that politicians could hold the euro currency bloc together. In the end the markets got it wrong: Greece was bailed out and remains part of the euro today. Similarly, the US could default on its debts as soon as 1 June. But instead of focusing on that, investors are busy punishing various developing countries that have overspent since the pandemic began.

Economists will tell you that this is about track record: the US has never defaulted and the country’s politicians have always pulled it back from the brink. In this case, markets believe that there will be a last-minute agreement with Republicans, who demand spending cuts in exchange for a debt-ceiling increase, or Biden will simply declare that the debt limit is unconstitutional and ignore it. Such market complacency isn’t that different from how we view our democracy; many simply refuse to believe that we would be dumb enough to seriously undermine it, even when there’s mounting evidence to the contrary. But everything seems impossible until it actually happens. Even if politicians avoid a debt default this time, the US is inching closer to a scary precipice.

Christopher Cermak is Monocle’s Washington correspondent. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Getty Images

Geopolitics / JAPAN & UKRAINE

Healing words

Yesterday, Japan announced that it will start accepting injured Ukrainian soldiers for medical treatment next month in an effort to highlight its support amid criticism that the country is not doing enough. The news comes as G7 leaders gather in Hiroshima today for a summit at which sanctions against Russia will be high on the agenda. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Japan’s aid has included non-lethal support (such as bulletproof vests, helmets and other aid supplies) but the Asian country is the only G7 member that has yet to provide any weapons. While Japan refuses to revise its non-lethal defence-support guidelines, the latest move is symbolic. Only two Ukrainian soldiers have been approved for treatment at Tokyo’s Self-Defense Force Central Hospital and the nation claims that it only has the capacity to treat between 10 and 20 wounded soldiers a year. If Japan wants to be closer in line with its G7 peers, it needs to show that it’s serious about opposing Russia.

Image: Getty Images


Better late than never

This week, Bahrain’s civil aviation authority announced its resumption of flights to Qatar, beginning on 25 May. The news follows last year’s rapprochement between the nations after a diplomatic spat in 2017 in which Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of harbouring terrorists (which the country denied).

According to analysts, Bahrain’s delay in restoring relations compared to other nations caused it to miss out on economic opportunities. “Bahrain really dragged its feet in getting over its feud with Qatar, given that the blockade-ending agreement happened more than two years ago,” Bill Law, editor of Arab Digest tells The Monocle Minute. “Restoring direct air links now, only after the World Cup – when Bahrain’s limping economy would have benefited from bringing fans into hotels, and back and forth into Doha – is a measure of how badly the Bahrainis have managed the whole affair. Qatar has come out the clear winner in a dispute sparked by resentments and jealousies.”

Image: Joe Kramm


Bright lights, big city

Ten years since its first outing, NYCxDesign, New York’s design week, still knows how to throw a party. Yesterday it kicked off eight days of collection launches and one-off furniture shows all over the city. UK lighting designer Lee Broom will open the doors of his Tribeca pad to show off his new Divine Inspiration collection; meanwhile, Furnishing Utopia, a collective of 12 design studios, has taken over the base of arts organisation HeadHi and the public park in Brooklyn Navy Yard to showcase 37 rising stars exploring how design can inspire communal acts of sharing, from sociable seating to rainwater collectors.

Artist duo Adam Frezza and Terri Chiao (pictured), collaboratively known as Chiaozza, will discuss their newest paintings and sculptures at Uprise Art gallery, while on the Lower East Side, New York design magazine Sight Unseen is presenting work by emerging and mid-career talent, including Brooklyn-based ceramicist Danny Kaplan. “New York’s design week does have a commercial element but it’s also very representative of the talent in this city, especially its independent studios,” Sight Unseen’s co-founder Monica Khemsurov tells The Monocle Minute. “You get a real sense of the American scene.”

Image: Andrea Pugiotto


Building the future

The Venice Biennale’s international architecture exhibition opens to the public tomorrow. At the pavilions of the Giardini and in the halls of the Arsenale, participating designers, including David Adjaye, Mariam Issoufou Kamara and Theaster Gates, will present their responses to curator Lesley Lokko’s “The Laboratory of the Future” theme. The Ghanaian-Scottish architect’s brief encourages designers to create installations that explore architectural concepts rather than simply present models of built work.

This approach aims to encourage a dialogue between architects and the public about how to build a more inclusive and sustainable world (visitor numbers at last year’s art biennale were up 35 per cent to more than 800,000 people and there are hopes for a similar boost for this year’s architecture iteration). “I don't know if, at the biennale’s end in six months’ time, we will have a sense of what the laboratory has produced,” Lokko tells The Monocle Minute. “But I’m hoping that participants and spectators will have a strong sense of what it was like to have taken part in the experiment.”

For more from the public opening of the Venice Biennale’s international architecture exhibition, tune in to this week’s episode of ‘Monocle on Sunday’ at 09.00 UK time.

Image: Alamy

Monocle Radio / The Urbanist

Verkehrskanzel, Berlin

Paige Reynolds visits a relic of Berlin’s infrastructure that speaks to our cities’ less automated histories.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: May issue, 2023

Monocle’s third annual Design Awards honour the top 50 objects, places and designers that have popped onto our radar over the past year. Expect stunning buildings, cosy furniture and saké in cans. Elsewhere in Issue 163, we find out how Russia recruits spies (and why it needs to), set up home at the world’s premier property fair and step out in spring fashion.


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