Friday, October 26, 2007

European Economies

While perusing a stack of somewhat dated newspapers, I noticed a few bits that might help you understand the economies of some of our neighbors across the pond.

Did I really see a blurb that said that organized crime was the largest segment of the Italian economy? Yep. Didn't dream that. Dutifully reported in The New York Times.

I also saw a couple of stories about Germany. One was reporting on the way the Germans like to save money. So much so that perfectly affluent people furnish their apartments from stuff from the street or dump. Dampens retail sales does this tendency to save for a rainy day. Give those Germans some U.S.-style consumers to buy a bunch 'o bedroom suites, flat screen TVs and kiddy toys from China with dubious paint. Fact is the Germans make some quality toys with no lead paint and high enough prices. Playmobil. Fact is I've seen Germans doing lots of upscale shopping. But maybe judiciously. Said in the article that German ebay is second largest after U.S. They love a bargain, I guess. Saw another article about German booksellers. In German, book prices can't be discounted so all the little stores co-exist with the giants. This has actually resulted in lower suggested retail prices. Somehow. Whole system is now threatened by the Swiss allowing discounting of German language books.

And finally, the French. I love France by the way. (And Italy. And Germany.) But the French are being told that their lack of trust of one another is so extreme that it is affecting their economy adversely and adding much unemployment.

It all sort of makes me go 'hmmm' in a Journal of Unintended Consequences kind of way. Especially the worry about consumers in Germany because it always seems that the U.S. economy is dependent on all of us spending like fools.

Monday, October 22, 2007

When Unintended Consequences Collide

I was reading about how some Japanese clothing designers, feeding on people's fears of personal attack crimes were making clothing and bags that quickly converted into something inanimate that you'd expect on the street. One dress turned into a soda machine. I'm not kidding. Follow the link. A kid's backpack became a fire hydrant.

Then I thought how vulnerable you'd be standing there pretending to be these things. Then I remembered that people are sometimes injured by trying to tip soda machines to rob them or make them work. Not to mention what dogs do to fire hydrants.

Maybe this is what life is all about: unintended consequences colliding.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

This may sound corny...

I can't believe I haven't mentioned how the rush to make corn into fuel (and subsidizing same) has roiled the world with UC. Poor Mexicans can't get cheap tortillas. Somehow milk and egg prices are affected. Yes, well, those animals that we take from eat something. How surprising. And now with corn (it's SUV fuel!) prices rising there is a shortage so ethanol plants don't have raw materials. None of this should have been unexpected. But someone folks feign surprise.

So when you are standing at the pump filling your SUV with fuel and you see that the fuel might be 10% Ethanol, remember: that's someone's tortilla.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Low Hanging Fruit

Having a Journal of Unintended Consequences when the subprime loans crisis comes due is sort of embarrassing. Yep, if you take out a loan with the certainty that prices will go up and interest rates stay down, you will get burned. If you call 'losing' a house you never even made much of a down payment on losing something you owned, I guess these people are victims. (Ask an elderly couple about paying the exorbitant taxes in Austin on a home they own outright. That, my friends, is criminal.) And if you make these loans or buy packages of them? Well, shame on you, too. Because getting these houses back in foreclosure won't be fun.

Nope. This journal's topic is just too easy. I was thinking maybe of starting the Digest of Unremarkable Headlines. (DUH) for things like "Happy People Found to Live Longer" but then who needs another journal. I'm not keeping up as it is with The Visible Woman and Austin, Texas Daily Photo. And I'm threatening to start a WEB page for all the Baby Boomers and elderly people moving to downtown Austin. (How does The DOWNTOWN AUSTIN BOOMer sound?)

Anyway, two other headlines have caught my eye while I was wearing my Journal of Unintended Consequences hat. In one (The New York Times, Saturday October 6, 2007) entitled "Save the Gnostics" it is brought to our attention that a group called the Mandeans are being wiped out by the war in Iraq. The group is small and pacifist and in spite of surviving in a delicate balance with the conquerers and dictators of the past, the situation now is scattering the group and they are landing in places in small numbers where continuing their culture is not encouraged.

In other news, there is a polio outbreak in Nigeria. Due to cost and training requirements, they use a live oral vaccine. But not enough people get it (some think it is a Western plot to sterilize Muslims). People who do excrete the weak virus and people who aren't inoculated can actually get the disease.

Yeah, life is teeming with UCs (unintended consequences) but I'm clearly not paying enough attention. Being caught up in the vortex of downsizing will do that to a person.