Austerity measures are taking their daily toll on Greece. Suicides and attempted suicides have jumped by 22.5%. Unemployment rose to 18.2%. Pharmacies are having difficulties obtaining medications. More cuts are coming. If there is no agreement with the bailout Troika, Greece will default in March. But now, even the Troika is in disarray.
150 factory workers in China threatened to jump off the roof of an iPhone factory unless they received a raise. Similar stories are accumulating. To make ends meet, desperate workers sometimes take drastic measures. These anecdotes underscore a major trend in China: skyrocketing cost of labor. But in the US, it’s the opposite—and now part of the official White House strategy.
Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, told the South African Business Day that the Eurozone might avoid a recession in 2012, an inexplicable bout of optimism in light of some ugly trends. Germany, economic superstar with unemployment at a 20-year low and exports at an all-time high, produces 34% of the Eurozone’s GDP—and it has smacked into a wall.
It’s the kind of Medicare fraud that makes your skin crawl. And it’s part of a vast scheme. After investigative reporters detailed the case, the FBI finally got serious. But no insurance company would have fallen prey to it. Only Medicare cannot defend itself. It doesn’t even know when it’s happening because, inexplicably, it doesn’t analyze the bills. And so an industry has sprung up.
Tokyo, April 1996. 4:45 a.m. Daylight shines through the opaque windows. I slide one open. My new neighborhood: sheds pieced together from rusting corrugated iron, green corrugated plastic, and weathered wood; tiny yards cluttered with junk; and concrete buildings finished with brown tiles. Windows are opaque for a reason. You don’t want to be confronted with this on a daily basis.
During the financial crisis, Germany’s export orders fell off a cliff. GDP plunged 2.1% in the 4th quarter of 2008 and a horrid 3.8% in the 1st quarter of 2009. The worst quarters in the history of the Federal Republic. But the recovery was enormous. So it’s natural that the German media would gloat over the “German success recipe.” But now the first shadows have appeared.
Just how bad is the real economy in Greece after five years of recession, countless strikes, and 17.7% unemployment? Registrations of vehicles plunged 30% in 2011, after having plunged 37% in 2010. They’re now at the lowest level in over 20 years. Troika inspectors are on their way … to demand yet more cuts. And the Prime Minister puts the nuclear option on the table.
For medium distances, high-speed rail is faster than flying. It’s hassle-free and comfortable. And it benefits the economy. But not the way California is doing it. The hullabaloo about funding the skyrocketing costs of linking LA and the Bay Area ignores a huge economic problem: once again, taxpayers are asked to create jobs overseas. Contenders: Germany, Japan, France, and China.
Among the “good” economic news today was private residential construction, up 2%, confirming trends in building permits and housing starts. Construction creates lots of jobs and contributes significantly to GDP. Everyone, from the President down to local politicians, wants it to grow. It gets them reelected. But for homeowners, banks, and tax payers, these trends are costly.
Vibrating with irrational post-flight euphoria, I place my feet on size 24 yellow footprints painted on the floor at immigration and wait. Travel lore has it that Tokyo Narita is a congested and problematic airport. But at 8:25 a.m. I see no congestion and no problems—until an immigration officer waves me over. He studies my ticket, doesn’t like it.