April 24, 2012

Lonely Planet

The  Playwright Arthur Miller once observed, “An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted.” Most of the illusions that defined the last decade — the notion that global growth had moved to a permanently higher plane, the hope that the Fed (or any central bank) could iron out the highs and lows of the business cycle — are indeed spent.
After a decade of rapid growth, the world’s most celebrated emerging markets are poised to slow down. Which countries will rise to challenge them?
To identify the economic stars of the future we should abandon the habit of extrapolating from the recent past and lumping wildly diverse countries together. We need to remember that sustained economic success is a rare phenomenon.
As an era of easy money and easy growth comes to a close, China in particular will cool down. Other major players including Brazil, Russia, and India face their own daunting challenges and inflated expectations. The new Breakout Nations will probably spring from the margins, even from the shadows.
Ruchir Sharma here identifies which are most likely to leap ahead and why.

April 13, 2012

just between cousins - a voice from Old New York

If there was to be a Proust of New York, it ought to have been Louis Auchincloss. He made a career out of documenting the professional arrangements, private derangement's and social displays of New York’s old elite. The author of more than 60 books, Auchincloss described in his fiction the privileged, Protestant society that had dominated New York for centuries and the forces that encroached upon that society as he grew older. The basic contours of his charmed life are well known–his Upper East Side childhood; his school years at Groton, Yale and the University of Virginia; his work as a lawyer at a prestigious Wall Street firm–but Auchincloss brings to them new detail and great seriousness in the posthumous memoir A Voice From Old New York.

It is perhaps the blind spots in Auchincloss’ vision that clarify for the reader certain facts about the city where he lived. What he reveals, however accidentally, is how one’s own physical and financial security can seduce one into believing that this world is the best world. Insurance becomes assurance, an easy, trusting take on life.

April 2, 2012

The Paradox of Human Nature.

“The Paradox of Love,” reveals that French men are far from being the world's best swordsmen.  So much for an accent being a sexual aphrodisiac. It turns out that consuming large quantities of red wine and cheese at 10 p.m. does not have the same impact as consuming several jars of Viagra. On the contrary, it makes men want to go to straight to sleep. 

“The Paradox of Love,” by Pascal Bruckner, is an urbane but unsparing portrait of the way the French love and suggests that sophistication has as many pitfalls as naiveté.  Among the many subjects of Bruckner’s highly readable meditation is a section titled “Europe, the United States: Different Taboos,” in which he marvels at the parade of American sex scandals — Clarence Thomas, Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer. All this “strikes French people as grotesque,” Bruckner writes. “On the moral level…one can only urge Americans to learn from the Old World how to be temperate.” Yet Bruckner also suggests that all is not entirely well with the French libido, either. It is not a coincidence that the most famous living French writer, Michel Houellebecq, got that way by writing novels full of sexual despair, in which unattractive men, edged out of sexual competition, patronize prostitutes or succumb to sheer nihilism. Bruckner confirms that there is indeed a “paradox” about today’s laissez-faire sexual mores in Europe: The freedom it offers is exactly the freedom of the market, in which there are always winners and losers. “Rejection is so terrible in democratic countries because it cannot be blamed on the wickedness of the state or ukases issued by a church. If I am not received with open arms, I have only myself to blame; I may be dying of desire, but it is my being as such that leaves the other person cold. The judgment is as final as one handed down by a court: no thanks, not you.”

What’s more, even as Bruckner embraces the ideology of romantic love — “a whole erotics, love that makes us as much as we make it” — he shows how the lifelong pursuit of passion exacts an awful toll on relationships. “In some Western European countries marriage has become pointless,” he writes. “Instead of the conjugal straitjacket,” people prefer “a light coat that one can change at will.” After all, if the delight of new love is the highest of human experiences, then a relationship of more than a year or two is simply a kind of martyrdom: “Our romances have never had such short lives.” This is a romantic “poverty that is more insidious than any other, because it arises from satiation, not from lack.”

Pascal Bruckner is the award-winning author of many books of fiction and nonfiction, including the novel Bitter Moon, which was made into a film by Roman Polanski. Bruckner's nonfiction books include Perpetual Euphoria (Princeton) and The Tyranny of Guilt.

I am reading...

  • scribble, scribble, scribble, Simon Schama
  • Julia's Cats, Patricia Barey and Therese Burson
  • London, Edward Rutherfurd
  • I'll Drink to That, Betty Halbreich