Thursday 9 May 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 9/5/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Christopher Cermak

Counting the cost

Emmanuel Macron faced open revolt last year when he raised France’s retirement age from 62 to 64. While that says a lot about attitudes to work in the country, the French electorate is hardly alone: in March, Swiss voters rejected a referendum that would have raised their retirement age from 65 to 66 and paid themselves an extra month of pension benefits instead. In the US, keeping pension provisions untouched is one of the few things on which Joe Biden and Donald Trump agree, even though a report published this week predicts that Social Security will face insolvency in the next 10 years if nothing is done.

Social Security has long been known as the “third rail” of US politics – not to be touched for fear of political suicide. Yet both Democrats and Republicans will privately acknowledge that things are coming to a head. Regardless of who wins November’s election, next year will see a renewed political fight over raising the country’s debt ceiling, cutting government spending and finally tackling the pension programme’s problems before it’s too late.

Cutting services is unpopular everywhere, no matter your political ideology. And that is precisely why it can’t be left to the discretion of the electorate. Direct democracy is all well and good until voters are faced with making decisions that none of them likes. Macron should be applauded for forcing reforms through despite the backlash he faced, using every political trick in the book to do so.

The US Congress is deeply polarised and fixing Social Security and Medicare, the health-insurance programme for Americans aged 65 and older, is an almighty challenge. It will be the truest test yet of the country’s administrative system: will it spiral into decline or dig itself out of a political and financial hole of its own making? Other nations facing similar fiscal fights should take note.

Christopher Cermak is Monocle’s senior news editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

The Briefings

Infrastructure / Brazil

In deep water

The flooding in Brazil’s southern Rio Grande do Sul is already being considered the worst climate disaster in the wealthy state’s history. Newspapers are comparing it to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and the surrounding area in 2005. Some 80 per cent of Rio Grande do Sul has been affected and the state’s capital, Porto Alegre, is likely to remain underwater until next week. The city’s airport, meanwhile, will be closed until June.

Submerged city: The centre of Porto Alegre

Image: Reuters

Against the current: A resident caught in the flood

Image: Reuters

The Katrina comparison is partly a response to criticism about the lack of investment in anti-flooding measures. Porto Alegre didn’t put a single cent into preventive measures in 2023. With severe storms becoming more common in the region, it’s time for politicians and citizens to rethink their approach to dealing with natural disasters and put a premium on efficient prevention policies, from the preservation of green areas to the prohibition of construction in the regions most at risk.

To read more about flood protection in cities, pick up a copy of ‘The Monocle Companion: Fifty Ideas for Building Better Cities’, which includes an essay from a Bangkok-based landscape architect about the city’s prevention measures.

Public plea: Yoon Suk Yeol

Image: Alamy

Politics / South Korea

Open appeal

South Korea’s president, Yoon Suk Yeol, is hoping to draw a line under his administration’s dismal two years in office with some fresh faces and a renewed approach to the media. The former prosecutor recently appointed a new chief of staff, Chung Jin-suk, after taking responsibility for his People Power Party’s defeat in last month’s parliamentary elections. Yoon will face questions about the result, as well as other political and personal scandals, when he appears at an official press conference today – only the second of his presidency.

Yoon is attempting to address mounting criticism of his communication style and build bridges with the opposition, which controls the national assembly. But the chances of a fresh start already look slim. Chung hasn’t shied away from insulting his critics, prompting the opposition to liken Yoon’s choice to a friendly handshake followed by a “slap in the face”.

Society / Global

Will of the people

The latest Democracy Perception Index shows that faith in democracy and the countries that practise it remains high across the globe. While people in almost all nations surveyed have positive perceptions of the EU, UN and US, the last of these has tumbled in the ranking. It also stands out as the country with among the highest levels of perceived threats to democracy from the power of global corporations (70 per cent) and the sense that governments only serve a minority of citizens (57 per cent). The drop in positive attitudes towards the US is particularly stark in Muslim-majority countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Morocco, Egypt and Algeria among them) and some European nations (Switzerland, Ireland, Ukraine and Germany). The results are based on nationally representative surveys across 53 countries, providing an overall snapshot of attitudes towards democracy – and what needs to be done to strengthen them.

Beyond the Headlines

Image: Eurovision

Q&A / Marina Satti

Rolling the dice

Singer Marina Satti is representing Greece at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Here she discusses the meaning of “Zari”, the song that she will perform in tonight’s semi-final.

Your entry, ‘Zari’, has a very Greek flavour. What is it about?
Zari means “dice” and the song was inspired by all of the stereotypes about Greece that I discovered while I was travelling: clichés about ancient times, food and Mykonos. I thought that this could be a fun topic to play with in the music video. I can play a tour guide showing the audience the city, the ancient monuments, the food, the dance and the music.

Your music mixes so many genres, with Balkan, Arab and hip-hop elements. Is your taste in music this eclectic?
I love traditional Greek music. It started when I went to the US to study classical music and jazz. I had to discover my identity to find my place in such a multicultural environment. I grew up listening to hip-hop, rap and pop, and had to find a way to merge all of these elements. It has been an experiment to make this song sound Greek but it’s produced in such a way that people from other countries, speaking other languages, can connect to it.

Every country deals with Eurovision in a different way. What’s Greece’s relationship with the contest?
Eurovision becomes a national topic of conversation every year. When I was growing up I used to watch it with my friends but never imagined that I would be taking part in it. I didn’t think that I would be a singer, to be honest; it just happened. It has been a very interesting experience and I have learnt so many things in such a short period of time.

Hear the full interview on Thursday’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Ettinger

Monocle Radio / The Entrepreneurs

Ettinger and Wärtsilä

Ettinger’s managing director Robert Ettinger talks about the rich heritage of the family-run leather goods business, the challenges of preserving traditional manufacturing in a modern world, and selling its Britishness globally. He explains how the brand maintains its commitment to craftsmanship and quality, while embracing sustainability and innovation. Plus: We head to Vaasa, Finland where Wärtsilä is developing greener engines and other technologies of the future.


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