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May. 12, 2020

Should We Shout ‘Hooray!’ Or Be Sad?

 
 

Some industries are suffering worse than others due to the lockdown. Advertising is hard hit. Most businesses cut their marketing and advertising budgets when the cost-cutters take over from the growth junkies.

Tourism, airlines, live entertainment, real estate, and their supply industries are well-publicized examples of those hard hit by the pandemic and panic. For them, the question is whether the recently impoverished masses will want, or be able to afford, a return to past excesses. And how long that might take.

Pre pandemic, the newspaper industry was in a steady decline. Press circulation in all major economies was falling, due to the availability of faster, and often free, on-line news. Much advertising migrated to the more fragmented on-line media, slashing an important revenue stream for the papers.

- paying the bills -The pandemic has dramatically accelerated this trend. Papers are reporting between 40% and 80% recent falls in advertising revenue. Their other major income stream was from sales at kiosks and other outlets. That has collapsed. Sales outlets are in lockdown.

There are fewer commuters. Many, who once enjoyed reading the news on the train or bus, are either working from home or unemployed. The home office has turbo-charged the computer skills of many former readers, speeding the domination of online sources.

So, we can feel sorry for the printers, newsstand staff, and professional journalists, in an already declining industry. They join the long list of those displaced by change, from coal miners to small farmers. They will have to adapt, reskill or face hardship. The virus has caused widespread hardship, especially for those at the bottom.

On the other hand, who owns the news industry? Ownership is highly concentrated in the hands of very wealthy and often ruthless media moguls, keen to manipulate public opinion. Sadly, they also control the online media. Maybe we will be no better off.
Trust in the veracity of newspapers is low in many countries.

The plethora of competing on-line media increases opportunities for fake news and manipulation. It also allows for faster access to alternative views and information.

Chris Clarkehttp://www.penmanhouse.com/413894516

Chris Clarke writes thrillers under the name Aaron Aalborg and has retired to Costa Rica from New York and bought a house here 9 years ago. His career included international banking. He has degrees in economics and management. In earlier lives he was a Catholic trainee monk; a radical student activist, a Royal Marine Commando, a businessman, a partner in a consulting firm, a professor at a UK business school, an Investment banker and the CEO of a global executive search firm. He has lived in Europe, Asia, New York and Latin America.
Feb. 22, 2020

 

I always seem to see the most dismal future. They used to call economics the dismal science. Maybe they were right.

At business school in the early 1970s they taught us that manufacturing would inexorably move towards globalization. The reasons seemed obvious:

  • It made sense to buy the production of both finished items and components from countries that could produce them at a lower cost.
  • International shipping was becoming faster and less expensive due to ever bigger ships, containerization and air transport.
  • In many countries, strikes disrupted local production. Imports might help avoid such issues.
  • The revolution in IT and communications offered instantaneous transmission of designs, orders and shipping information.
  • Interest rates were high, so it made sense to reduce stock holding at every point in the production and shipping process. The concepts of ‘lean manufacturing’ and ‘lean logistics’ were learned from the then-dominant emerging economy, Japan.
  • International consumer tastes seemed to be converging and global brands were becoming dominant.
  • Economists, free-market politicians, and the World Trade Organization were pushing for ever-lower trade and tariff barriers.
  • Outsourcing services, telemarketing and the emergence of the dotcoms speeded all this up.

A seamless, ever-growing paradise of low-cost efficiency beckoned.

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I became a partner in a global consulting firm that helped multinationals around the world to realize this dream. We made hundreds of millions and clients saved billions by globalizing supply chains.

Fast forward to the chaos we face today. Everything has gone into reverse.

  • Interest rates are persistently close to or below zero when inflation is taken out. The cost of holding stocks of raw materials and finished goods is much reduced.
  • Populist politicians play to those demanding protection for local jobs. The military arms race has moved towards interference in free trade, through embargos, subsidizing local production and protective trade barriers. Cyberwarfare causes further disruption.
  • Supply chains suffer from wars, pandemics and computer hacking. Carrying no inventory has become a recipe for corporate suicide.
  • Shipping costs are under pressure from fuel prices, environmental concerns and even piracy.
  • The spread of robotics and artificial intelligence, coupled with new manufacturing technologies like 3D printing, mean that small batches of anything can be made less expensively, closer to end markets.
  • Mass tourism is under threat from environmental and transportation disruptions
    The great trend to globalization will never be totally reversed, but we have entered a new age. Uncertainties remain. What might be different?
  • Traditionally economists have argued that labor released by more efficient production will be redeployed in growth industries. That may not be the case given the shortages of high tech skills and the threats to lower-tech jobs from things such as driverless transport, GMO, agricultural robotics and the like. Persistent low wage levels for less killed work support this argument.
  • Do those who own most of the world’s wealth need consumers in the long term? Their tastes and lifestyles may not require keeping the lower-skilled employed. We are already seeing cutbacks in keeping the masses healthy in the USA. Many ex-pats coming to Costa Rica cite lower healthcare costs as a reason.

Here are some issues facing Costa Rica in this emerging new order.

  • The economy here is inflexible. This is due to the burden of high wages, super pensions, and inefficiency in the dominant state sector. The tendency to strike and disrupt any attempt at reform and the vested interests of those in all branches of government mean that adaptation to new conditions will be slow and painful. High debt burdens at both the state and personal levels expose Costa Rica to the risk of any global recession.
  • If remittances from the US and elsewhere and the ability of Ticos to work in the US are diminished, there will be less cash flowing into our economy.
  • Mass tourism has been an important driver for growth and employment for some years. It runs counter to Costa Rica’s image as an ecologically friendly country. There are ecological, virus and recessionary threats to this sector.
  • There are lower cost agricultural producers around the world of everything grown here. This threatens the profitability and employment in this important sector.
  • Any trends towards less outsourcing to developing countries like ours and high costs of employment might cause further unemployment.
  • Trade agreements and promises of support from the US and elsewhere can no longer be relied on.
  • Given the above and the increasing security threats from narcos and addicts, expats may increasingly feel exposed. This could impact the economy in multiple ways, from falling property prices, lower employment of those working for expats and less hard currency remittances from the US and elsewhere.
Jun. 8, 2019

June 6, 2019

 
If you like murderous mayhem mixed with an intricate and intriguing plot these two books are just the thing. Book 2 continues the story of Alex, a haunted man of many talents. He is always trying to do the right thing but sometimes it's just not possible. From Hero to Serial Killer is a better subtitle for the book than I was thinking throughout the book. But when I finished, it all came together and made perfect sense.

When I tried to think of the best description for how I felt at the end, all I could think was "thought provoking" which isn't very original, but is an apt observation. I find myself thinking about what it was about Alex that made him so good and so conflicted and, sometimes, so efficient at being vicious. Besides being a haunted human, he is a haunting character who is still stuck in my head. He may not leave willingly.

I am not a Budhhist and have never practiced Budhhist meditation, but I found the techniques in the book fitting for the character. The corporate intrigue and corruption that started in Book I intensifies in Book II. The murderous characters and ingenious plot are sure to keep readers interested throughout. I found it to be a compelling story, and the twists and turns at the end were exciting and, for the most part, led to a satisfying end to the tale.
Jun. 4, 2019

From the Slums to the Falklands war

 

June 2, 2019

The subtitle is "The Making of a Serial Killer". After reading my share of thrillers and serial killer books as well as watching TV shows like "Criminal Minds" and "Dexter", I had an expectation of a story about the development of a psychopath, or at least a sociopath. I presupposed it would entail descriptions of a boy (of course) that starts out nasty and progressively gets more heinous with age. Not so in Terminated I.

Alex is raised in very poor conditions and overcomes it all with intelligence and grace, even humility. He is very empathetic toward his fellow humans, in fact. Not my idea of what makes a psychopathic serial killer. However, the title doesn't say, "The Making of a Psychopathic Serial Killer" now does it? The first scene, in which Alex is 10-years-old, he witnesses older boys cause the deaths of two innocent bystanders. He was acting as a lookout as they committed a robbery. His reaction was that of any genuinely decent person when he was horrified. He made the decision not to notify the authorities or get help, which was plain self-preservation and would have been useless anyway. He was definitely hanging out with the wrong crowd for which he suffers some consequences.

Alex's ability to adapt to his environment and to get along with people in different walks of life, indicate his intelligence as much as how well he does in school and military training. However, he can't completely overcome his upbringing when dealing with his marriage. He doesn't beat his wife, as was common in his neighborhood, but he selfishly neglects his family as he betters himself. I think some of his behavior can be justified by the untimely bursting of his condom resulting in a forced marriage and an unwanted "bairn" when he was very young. If they'd had better birth control, if an abortion had been possible, if he hadn't gotten married so young.....everyone experiences these forks in the road where things take an unexpected turn that shapes their futures for better or worse.

Interwoven with Alex's perspective are the memories of his wife as she lies on her deathbed. She's hooked up to life support after suffering a stroke. This gives the reader more empathy for what she went through and more insight into Alex from another point of view. I don't know if I quite believe that doctors would conclude she's "brain dead" with all that activity going on inside her head, but it's a scary scenario and a creative vehicle for the story. Would you want to be unplugged? I still say, yes!

The rampant corruption in the business world as well as politics is well laid out and reads like a true story, although the author assures us it is all fictional. This book doesn't allow a fictional possibility for what is happening in real life -- a corrupt businessman taking over leadership of a major country, thereby melding political turpitude with business corruption. Real life is even more horrifying than fiction these days!

I am old enough to remember when Margaret Thatcher took Britain to war in the Falklands. Reading this book provides deeper insight (especially for an American) into the why and whatfor of those events. At the conclusion of book 1 there is a section of historical facts and definitions that lend more depth to the events of that era.

I have learned that my preconceived notions of what to expect from this author are generally surpassed by each of his yarns. I highly recommend this book as I look forward to finding out where the second book will take Alex.

 

May. 24, 2019

Whatever ideas you generate to write novels about, there is always someone out there doing it. 
From the Times, (UK) May 24th letters column. 
One Judy Breese wrote in response to an article the day before in which Sir Mathew Paris revealed his desire to 'release' his bonsai tree. Judy Breese related how her father gave her a bonsai oak. On his death 20 years ago, she planted it and it is now 50 feet tall. 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5WNOGLH1_c&t=28s