Tokyo, April 1996. The problem is money. It dematerializes in multiples of 10,000-yen bills. There’s even a word for ten thousand: man. Anything less is change. You pay two man yen for dinner and drinks, plus one man yen for a love hotel, plus one man yen for breakfast, lunch, and miscellaneous expenses. You’ve blown four man yen, or about $400, without having done anything fancy.
After an endless stream of horrid reports on the tragedy of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and the subsequent nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima, we’re ready for something … lighter. This has been circulating in the Japanese internet community for months, has garnered countless comments, and a lot of nodding, agreement, and knowing smiles because it represents, in the eyes of many Japanese, a larger tongue-in-cheek truth.
In Greece, three-quarters of the independent doctors, lawyers, and engineers declare taxable income below the existential minimum. Tax fraud amounts to €20 billion per year (8.5% of GDP). And tax dodgers owe €63 billion in unpaid taxes (27% of GDP). The country is bankrupt and has been kept afloat by the Troika (EU, ECB, and IMF), of which Germany is by far the largest contributor. But there is a plan. And it’s not an endless bailout.
The EU filed a laundry list of complaints against Chinese dumping, from shoes to fasteners. Take ceramics. Household ceramics got hit last week; in 2011, building ceramics; in 2010, ceramic tiles—led to a punitive tax of 69.7%. Now, it has another target: Chinese steel. But the industry is the bully on the block. And it flexed its pumped-up muscles—and put at stake the very manna that European officials have been praying for.
Bailout queen Dexia, the mega-bank that was bailed out twice in three years, turns into a nightmare for the tiny Kingdom of Belgium, which guaranteed a pile of debt, nationalized local subsidiaries, and bailed out the rest of the financial sector. Exposure: €162 billion—41% of GDP! And now Dexia announces monumental losses. But finally there is resistance.
Between 2002 and 2011, Boeing reported to its investors that it earned $31.8 billion. But it reported something entirely different to the IRS and didn’t pay income taxes. Instead, it received tax benefits of $2.06 billion. Other companies were similarly agile. So Geithner is ballyhooing President Obama’s latest election-year ploy: putting some fresh lipstick on that ugly tax code though it has a fundamental flaw that turns it into an absurdity.
Germans are euphoric these days—compared to the dour mood that prevailed for nearly two decades when real wages declined in a stagnating economy with high unemployment. This new optimism is joyriding the powerful German export machine and appears to be impervious to the nightmarish scenarios playing out at the periphery of the Eurozone. And now, Germans have something else to be euphoric about: a housing bubble.
While all eyes are on the Greek farce, a much bigger fiasco on the other side of the globe is advancing at an inexorable pace. All Japanese prime ministers since Koizumi slither down a steep slope that lasts between 8 and 15 months. When approval ratings drop into the low twenties, they’re replaced by a new sacrificial lamb. And Prime Minister Noda is on a straight line down to replacement hell—while economic fundamentals are falling apart.
Hullabaloo broke out after the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that a surprisingly robust 243,000 jobs were created in January, and that the unemployment rate was 8.3%. Cynics, academics, BLS heretics, hype mongers, and politicians waged a media battle over these numbers that President Obama serenely trotted out as validation of his policies. Even Rush Limbaugh jumped into the fray. Alas, suddenly, there is a sharp deterioration.
There never was that “giant sucking sound” that Ross Perot had warned about during his quixotic presidential campaign in 1992—the sound that manufacturing jobs would make as they head south to Mexico. Turns out, he was wrong. The jobs went south silently. However, yesterday in San Francisco, there was that sound. From money going east. Lots of it. From fundraisers.