Tag Archives: United States
One of the largely-unheralded casualties of the most recent property bubble in both the United Kingdom and the United States is a group whose relative lack of access to the corridors of power often sees it ignored by policymakers: young adults. With prices for housing – whether rented or purchased – long in parodic territory in metropolises such as London and New York, the lack of posited solutions for such an obvious problem is one of the genuine intellectual disappointments of the twenty-first century. Well-intended proposals such as microflats – tiny apartments that seem designed for large rodents rather than anything approaching a humanoid – have only served to highlight the lack of imagination evident in addressing this crisis; many young professionals have turned to internal or external migration as the only viable exit.
It was with this in mind that our CSO was struck by a novel form of housing being formulated at the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (‘MIT Media Lab’). The CityHome is an 840ft² property the main room of which – via the use of robotic walls, appliances and furniture – can transform into any number of large rooms at the flick of a switch. One minute it can be a large dining room with space for up to fourteen people; the next, a home gym; the next, a large kitchen. While the project is still very much under development and its limitations for anything other than one-person occupancy are clear, the massive corporate underwriting of the MIT Media Lab means that should the construction industry find this idea a winner, CityHomes could soon be making their way into a newly-constructed apartment block near you.
As brilliant an idea as it is, however, the CityHome does not address the ultimate question of its own perceived necessity. Would there be any need for such electronic ingenuity in the event of a simple rise in interest rates which would end subsidised money and rebalance the housing market? As red ink soaks the balance sheets of financial institutions in both the great financial centres of the last century, it seems almost churlish to ask.
Throughout much of the 1990s and 2000s, Mediolana’s CSO had to blag his way through a whole series of pop culture conversations, but none so often as the one about Friends; he still hasn’t got round to seeing a single complete episode of the 236 that were made over the ten years of the iconic NBC sitcom’s original run. However, such was the total penetration of that programme’s cultural impact that our CSO could more or less survive a Friends-themed interaction, winging it via references to the popular ladies’ haircut the series inspired, observations on the similarity between names of Lisa Kudrow and Barcelona striker Meho Kodro, and ironic musings about whether life in New York City was really that glamorous for most people, most of the time.
Fast forward to the 2010s and an epoch when Asad Yawar has finally carved out forty-four minutes in his weekly schedule to watch an American sitcom, and the scene could not be more different: indeed, the café-based situation comedy of the zeitgeist is not Friends or even the seemingly ageless Seinfeld, but Two Broke Girls, a bleak take on life in post-developed Brooklyn. The promising premise sees underclass waitress Max Black (Kat Dennings) joined in an Asian-owned establishment by Caroline Wesbox Channing (Beth Behrs), a dethroned socialite and alumnus of Pennsylvania business school Wharton whose fortune (along with those of much of the city’s wealthier denizens) has disappeared in her father’s ponzi-scheme.
But Two Broke Girls is about much more than two obviously-contrasting personalities and the rich opportunities for comedic material that this presents. Indeed, in its scripts there is more than a hint or two of a mirror to American society and the direction in which is has travelled:
1. From the Waited-on to the Waiting-on. Of course, Central Perk was a Starbucksesque environment where customers are at least encouraged to – using the technical term – bus their own trash, but there was no mistaking the awe with which the collective global audience was meant to behold the shiny-haired mob that constituted the ‘gang’ of Friends. Conversely, in the Williamsburg Diner, restaurant patrons have an at best ambivalent status, with the ‘stars’ of the show being the overworked, behind-schedule and regularly victimised entry-level staff.
2. Cynicism. Friends was not a series to which the ‘postmodern’ tag applied, at least until the main protagonists became so ludicrously famous that every episode ended up breaking the fourth wall whether it wanted to or not. The NYC of 2 Broke Girls, however, is a conurbation that has been chewed up and spat out by a decade more of dizzying and still-increasing inequality and societal breakdown – Max’s comment that sleeping with a knife in her hand is the best home security system she can afford is barely ironic.
3. Post-Dream. The intrepid pair of waitresses create meaning in their lives by dreaming of, and eventually working towards, opening their own cupcake shop, but well into season 2 it is apparent that if this is going to happen at all it will happen on credit. In the interim, the title characters are left to inhabit a world of predatory men, linguistic vulgarity and emotional distance – with the American Dream having exited stage left while no one, seemingly, was looking.
A bit like Russia Today, Press TV is an international news network whose rather obviously selective coverage of certain topics – particularly those directly concerning its purported backers – all too often obscures the fact that it puts out some genuinely superb content. A recent edition of Epilogue (16th December 2012), a book review programme hosted by the avuncular former Conservative Party MP Derek Conway and featuring Shabbir Razvi – the Founder and Managing Director of International Finance Solutions Associates – and the legendary Santoro Projects Limited head honcho Alessio Rastani.
Rastani, a man famous for telling us as much about the global economy in four minutes as most analysts manage in a lifetime of television interviews, pulled no punches as the presenter and panel discussed the 2010 John Lanchester classic Whoops!: Why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay. But one contribution in particular lingers in the memory as Rastani explained his fatigue with much of the media’s insistence on collective guilt for the ongoing global financial crisis: ‘The average person…will not sit down and go through the equations [that will lead to a crash]…I would say if there is a collective [element to the] fault, it is…95%…the banks’ responsibility, and the rest with the people.’
On many levels, Rastani’s statement is more than persuasive, and a reminder of why nearly 18 months after his fateful BBC interview he remains one of the most authoritative and cogent financial analysts anywhere in the world. However, we do wonder whether the people at large should – despite the indubitably incredible conduct of many of the globe’s financial institutions, and the governments that were meant to be regulating them – shoulder a slightly higher share of the burden:
1. No Questions Asked. Particularly in certain now familiar crisis-ridden polities – the tier-two eurozone economies, as well as the United States and the United Kingdom – many members of the public were all too happy to rejoice in the ‘good news’ of an artificial credit boom, lapping up endless programmes about property speculation and wolfing down both government and private sector Kool-Aid about how the ‘new economy’ meant that economic busts were the stuff of history books and funny-looking monochrome film from another era.
2. We’re All Bankers Now. As pondered over by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz in another excellent 2010 tome, Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy, recent cohorts of the best and brightest students – particularly in countries hosting the major financial hubs of New York and London – have felt no higher calling than investment banking, with surreal power trips and telephone number salaries trumping any temptation to contribute to the commonweal.
3. Living High on the Hog. With financialised economies having squandered any pretence of moral authority in their quest to gorge ever-more stuff without so much as paying indulgences to the state, an ironically self-certified economic crash of gargantuan proportions was guaranteed. To make lots of money and fast – this was the only salient criterion that most people really cared about. But over five years on from the tangible beginnings of what may yet be the greatest financial crisis ever, has anything really changed?