Posts Tagged ‘Europe


Antwerp’s diamond district and the lure

Antwerp’s Diamond District is a three block area that holds eighty percent of the worlds diamonds. On top of that imagine an industry where three-quarters of everyday business is under the table and your bound to have some action. That’s why our love for a good  hiest story has played the setting in countless novels, movies, and TV shows.  So read here for the World’s Biggest Heist.

In 2003 Leonardo Notarbatolo was accused of organizing a ring of Italian thieves to break into a vault two floors beneath the Diamond Center.  Notabatolo was released from prison this week after serving some six years behind bars.

They had executed the plan perfectly: no alarms, no police, no problems. The heist wouldn’t be discovered until guards checked the vault on Monday morning. The rest of the team was already driving back to Italy with the gems. They’d rendezvous outside Milan to divvy it all up. There was no reason to worry.


untouched east german flat discovered

A flat apparently untouched since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 has been uncovered in the German town of Leipzig. An architect apparently renovating flats stumbled upon the East German time-warp, with the calender reading “August 1988.” Previous residents seemed to have left the flat in a rush. Leaving rolls, Vita Cola, Marella margarine, Juwel cigarettes and a bottle of Kristall vodka strewn about the kitchen.

It appears the inhabitant of the humble flat fled in a hurry and shrivelled bread rolls still lay in a string bag. The only foreign product to be found was a West German bottle of deodorant.

Read on here, via BBC.


Migration controls are the new apartheid

As technologies advance and more efficient transportation methods develop, we can only assume migration controls would only begin to weaken. The idea of abolishing national boarders isn’t as far-fetched as one may believe. Europe’s Schengen Agreement, which allows residents of participating countries to travel more easily through their borders, is just one example of how free-market forces have begun to dissolve national boundaries.

It has always struck me as odd that we are so keen to allow the flow of cash and goods across borders without let or hindrance, but try so hard to deny the same rights to people. That is both unfair and a denial of the free-market theories on which much of the world’s economy is built. Surely if free trade and the free movement of capital is so good for an efficient global economy, then the same should apply to the free movement of labour?

Continue reading Fred Pearce’s article Migration controls are the new apartheid, via New Scientist.


demographic inversion

This is the generation that grew up watching “Seinfeld,” “Friends,” and “Sex and the City,” mostly from the comfort of suburban sofas. We have gone from a sitcom world defined by “Leave It to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best” to one that offers a whole range of urban experiences and enticements.

They are drawn to the densely packed urban life that they saw on television and found vastly more interesting than the cul-de-sac world they grew up in. And, by and large, I believe central cities will give it to them.

We will never return–nor would most of us want to return–to the close-knit but frequently constricting form of community life that prevailed 50 years ago. But, as we rearrange ourselves in and around many of our big cities, we are groping toward the new communities of the twenty-first century.

Deindustrialization, lower crime rates, higher gas prices, and a young population adopting different lifestyles than their parents have contributed to the general flight from today’s car-dependent surbia and into urban environments. Very similar comparisons can be made today that parallel the demographic inversion of European cities of the mid-19th century. Continue reading Alan Ehrenhalt’s piece on Urban Inversion.

Alan Ehrenhalt is executive editor of Governing Magazine and author of The United States of Ambition and The Lost City.


Paradox of thrift

Barely a year ago cash was considered dangerous to accumulate: investors urging board members for returns in dividends or reinvestment. We have thus seen a reversal of public opinion in recent months as companies are off in a mad scramble for any available operating cash.

No longer. For many big American companies, the day of reckoning came two months ago when the deepening financial crisis brought about the abrupt closure of the overnight commercial-paper market. This briefly sent even the most solid companies into a desperate scramble to find money to meet such basic obligations as paying their staff. Since then, the guiding principle for managers everywhere has been to gather up whatever cash they can find, and then do their damnedest to keep as much of it as possible for as long as possible.

This cash squeeze is a huge problem for the world economy, because as firms cut discretionary spending wherever they can, the result is likely to be a corporate version of what John Maynard Keynes called the “paradox of thrift”. Every firm does what is prudent for itself, but by cutting its spending it slows down the economy still further and thus hurts everybody, including itself. This will only reinforce the need for expansionary monetary and fiscal policy (see article) to boost demand; and also for more direct support in credit markets, such as the Federal Reserve’s prop for the commercial-paper market (already tapped by some large American firms).

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Read the article in its entirety via Economist.


Ancestors Go Green

In Santa Coloma de Gramenet, a sun-bleached working class town outside Barcelona, residents have placed 462 solar panels atop mausoleums. This creates enough power for roughly 60 homes annually.

“The best tribute we can pay to our ancestors, whatever your religion may be, is to generate clean energy for new generations. That is our leitmotif,” said Esteve Serret, director Conste-Live Energy.

The cemetery hold the remains of about 57,000 people and the solar panels cover less than 5 percent of the total surface area. They cost 720,000 euros ($900,000) to install and each year will keep about 62 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, Serret said.

Read the entire artlicle here.


The Medici Meltdown

The 15th century Medici banking collapse may seem more relevant in today’s financial meltdown, opposed to the 1929 collapse. Many journalist have the idea that capitalism has no historical roots–but Harvard historian, Raymond De Roover, knows better, as his paper, The Rise and Decline of the Medici Bank (1397-1494), highlights how modern capitalism, based on private ownership, was invented by Italian merchants and bankers. At the height of the Florentine banking empire it was the largest in Europe with branches in Geneva, Avignon, Bruges, and London as well as in Rome, Naples, Venice and Milan. As troubles at home found their way on the Medici’s doorstep, we begin to see irregularities and rash uncoordinated lending throughout European banks.  Sound familiar?

The fear of being annihilated by foreign powers, combined with the lack of transparency, allowed the ruler of the Republic to turn it into an effective tyranny. With the declared purpose of defending Florentine freedom and its way of life, Lorenzo raised taxes for the war and embezzled banking funds with the result (does this sound familiar, anyone?) of creating a huge credit crunch.

The enlightened policies of public artistic patronage like those of Cosimo and Lorenzo were a magnificent facade for their political success and survival–and ultimately for their financial failure.

Read the entire article here.


The Panic of 1873

A more apt comparison to the current economic crisis, rather than the Depression of 1929. Easy credit financed a real estate boom in Europe, combined with cheap American food imports undermined global prices, ultimately sparking a mortgage crisis. Banks begin to horde money, short-term loans dried up, and day-to-day operations came to a screeching halt.

Scott Reynolds Nelson is a professor of history at the College of William and Mary. His article is here.


Laissez-faire (hey, a French word)

Admit it, mes amis, the rugged individualism and cutthroat capitalism that made America the land of unlimited opportunity has been shrink-wrapped by a half dozen short sellers in Greenwich, Conn. and FedExed to Washington D.C. to be spoon-fed back to life by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson

It only gets better..

All Mitterrand did was nationalize France’s big banks and insurance companies in 1982; he didn’t have to deal with bankers who didn’t want to lend money, as Paulson does. When the state runs the banks, they are merely cows to be milked in the service of la patrie.

The article is here.


Bandes dessinées

This is a great article highlighting some of Europe’s most interesting graphic novelist working today. Bandes dessinées literally translates to “drawn strip,” and is synonymous with Franco-Belgian graphic artist.

Read the WSJ article here.

August 2020
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