Nuclear power is galvanizing Japan, stirring up public discussions and outright dissent with demonstrations and all, a rare occurrence in Japan. It has divided the country in two: those who want nuclear power generation to resume so that a stranglehold can be lifted from the economy, and those who want a “nuclear-free” Japan. But there is no quick way out, even if everyone wanted it.
No one likes paying taxes. You’d think. And it’s not just income taxes but a slew of other taxes. In San Francisco, we already have an 8.5% sales tax—but propositions to increase the state portion are worming their way onto the November ballot. And if it passes, it’s our own @#%& fault. In Japan, efforts to raise the national consumption tax have led to a groundswell of opposition and a nasty political fight. But what the heck happened in Europe?
They’d wanted to “blockupy” Frankfurt, Germany’s money capital, for four days with concerts, marches, and speeches to protest against the power of banks and austerity policies. But the city issued a blanket prohibition—highly controversial in a democratic nation. And on Saturday, when demonstrations were allowed, they became the background to the G-8 meeting at Camp David: a three-pronged attack on reason—with President’s Obama’s reelection at stake.
Greece suffered in 2011. The economy tanked. Unemployment jumped. The government, up to the gills in debt and cut off from the capital markets, went begging, and in return had to implement painful economic reforms. With their livelihood threatened, people demonstrated, and strikes paralyzed Athens, and street battles were fought with batons, teargas, and Molotov cocktails—horrific absurdities captured in an awesome and shocking video.
While the G-8 leaders are schmoozing with President Obama during their slumber party at Camp David, and while the NATO summit, protests, and rallies are wreaking havoc on the streets in Chicago, Europe is re-descending into rumor hell—where good rumors, as we found out last summer and fall, are head fakes that cause huge rallies in the markets, and where bad rumors, though passionately denied by all sides, turn out to be true.
Newly appointed French Minister of Economy, Finance, and Trade, Pierre Moscovici surprised the world: “A country that indebts itself is a country that impoverishes itself,” he said and proclaimed that the government would cut the deficit because “public debt is an enemy for the country.” Powerful words, reasonable and refreshing. What a difference from what we’re getting dished up in the America.
A sad incident got picked up by the German national media, made even sadder by the very fact that it got picked up: in the tourist town Monemvasia in Greece, some local guys accosted a 78-year old Dutchman who has lived there since the 1990s. They thought he was German. So he corrected them. “German or Dutch, it’s the same thing,” they told him and broke his jaw and nose. While the financial noose around Greece tightened.
When inflation isn’t particularly hot, it’s praised as something desirable…. Alas: “Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the capitalist system was to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily.” John Maynard Keynes.
The horse-trading sessions in Greece will most likely lead to new elections, and the inevitable: Greece’s exit from the Eurozone. The uncertain consequences for Greece and the rest of Europe will confound jittery financial markets. And while all eyes are fixed on Greece, a tiny economy on the worldwide scale, a much larger economy is heading deeper into fiscal disaster: California.
Tokyo, June 1996. Satoru-san is already at the izakaya near Mita Station when I get there, and I’m early. Despite the swelter, he’s unflinchingly dapper in his charcoal blazer, gray shirt, and silver tie. “I’m sorry I’m early,” he says, perhaps his standard greeting when he isn’t late, which he probably never is. “I benefit from my freedom. My wife doesn’t allow me to drink. Like many Japanese, I lack the enzyme that breaks down alcohol.”