Thursday, June 22, 2017

Economy: Do We Need An Universal Basic Income?

(Drivebycuriosity) - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls for an universal basic income as a solution for inequality: "We should explore ideas like universal basic income to give everyone a cushion to try new things" he said recently during a speech @ Harvard University (fortune). The idea of an universal basic income—in which the government unconditionally pays all citizens a small amount of money to cover basic needs— isn`t new. In the 1960s Milton Friedman recommended a negative tax rate (nytimes). People who earn less than a certain amount should get money from the state, he proposed.

I find the idea very charming. I would be happy if the government would pay me a nice monthly income for doing nothing. It reminds me of the German fairy tale from the "Schlaraffenland", about a country where everything is for free and milk & honey flow in abundance. I think an universal income will make sense - and it will be realized - when the economy is (mostly) run by robots and there are not many jobs for humans. But we are still far away.

Today an universal income would cause too many problems. Some people might stay poor because they spend this money quickly for alcohol, drugs, gambling and other purposes. Some people may stop working because they don´t need that anymore. Economists call this a disincentive to work.

The biggest problem is the question, how to finance this generosity. In 2013 the Swiss had to decide about an universal basic income in a poll - and they rejected it. A group of political activists had proposed an income for everyone by the government (businessinsider). The organizers wanted that every citizen should get 2,500 Swiss francs (then $2,800) per month from the state. This would have made $33,600 per capita and year and would have cost the government in Bern around $270 billion per year, around a third of the whole Gross National Product (GNP). The activists suggested, that around 70 billion Swiss Franc could be taken out of the cash boxes of the social security (nzz). This would have been a gigantic theft, the largest robbery since the Russian revolution, because the extracted money would have reduced the benefits (health insurance, pensions) for the insured drastically who had trusted the social security system. The proposers recommended that the rest - about 130 billion Swiss Franc  - should be financed by raising consumer tax and other royalties. This would of have caused a price jump and damage the Swiss consumer industry, including retail. No wonder that the Swiss voters disapproved.

The US is less wealthy than Switzerland - the country has a per capita income of $56,115  (Switzerland $80,999  worldbank) - so the relative burden would be even greater. Sharply higher taxes and less incentives to work could cause a serve recession.

Billionaire Zuckerberg doesn´t need to care about such economic problems. His job is making Facebook great. Uttering popular claims is good marketing. And maybe some day he will want to run for President. 

PS For illustration I chose the painting "Das Schlaraffenland" by the medieval Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel der Ältere.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Culture: Impressions From Punk Island 2017

(Drivebycuriosity) - Punk is still alive and kicking. Yesterday my wife and I pilgrimed to Randall´s Island, an island east of Harlem, New York City. There we attended "Punk Island", a free of charge annual rock festival, which celebrated its 10th anniversary. We followed a beloved tradition. We have been going to these events for years and had always enjoyed them because they offered a broad spectrum of styles, even that all focused on the rough realm of punk.

Randall´s Island replaced the former venues, Governors Island & Staten Island, which also belong  to New York City. I think the change is a good idea. There were more green meadows and plenty of trees which provide shade against the torching sun.

About 100 bands played on 7 stages. We were overwhelmed by the sheer size of the festival and the summer heat. So we watched just a fraction of the performances, but we took pleasure in what we heard & saw. I apologize to all the bands we missed. Above images from "American Pinup", "Scarboro" & "The Jukebox Romantics".

"Punk Island 2017" was a very peaceful and friendly party as in the years before. Those who liked to let some steam off participated at the dynamic circle runs and jump dances before the stages.

Others enjoyed the concerts sitting in the green grass like attending a family picnic. 

Punk Island was a lot of fun again. Thanks to bands & organizers.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Movies: My Cousin Rachel

(Drivebycuriosity) - British novelist Daphne du Maurier has inspired a row of interesting movies, including 2 Hitchcock films - "Birds" & "Rebecca" and the sinister but fascinating "Don`t Look Now", directed by Nicolas Roeg. This drew my attention to another movie adaption of her novels: "My Cousin Rachel", which is now running in US cinema theaters (imdb).

The film is passable but doesn`t play in the league of the above mentioned movies. The plot, set in the 19th century England (Cornwall), is about a complicated relationship and about leeriness & jealousy. The story didn´t work for me, the plot is a bit too old fashioned for my taste and not really plausible. But the amazing cinematography overcompensated the flaws of the plot. Cinematographer Mike Eley worked almost like a painter and created amazing images. The cast is another plus. I enjoyed watching Rachel Weisz as the mysterious cousin, but I was even more impressed by the supporting actors who played as peasants & servants, especially by Tim Barlow (born 1936) in the role of the butler & administrator.

"My Cousin Rachel" may work for movie lovers who have a taste in beautiful shot historical mysteries.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Contemporary Art: Robert Rauschenberg @ MoMa New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - Robert Rauschenberg belonged to the most influential artists of 20th century. New York´s Musem of Modern Art (MoMa) has now a show called "Robert Rauschenberg Among Friends "(through september 17 2017  moma ). Rauschenberg belonged to these artists who used then innovative new materials like silkscreen-ink print. According to the press release the American had "an egalitarian approach to materials, bringing the stuff of the everyday world into his art". Some of the results you can see below.  I guess that he was very provocative & innovative in his times. Some of his works hid my taste button, they look funny & entertaining to me, some don´t.

Here are my favorites from the show, a very subjective selection as usual. On top of this post you can see "Persimmon" (1964, oil and silkscreen-ink print on canvas) followed by "Tracer" (1963,  oil and silkscreen-ink print on canvas).

Above "Retroactive I" followed by "Kite"; "Estat" & "Press" (all: oil and silkscreen-ink print on canvas).

                                                              Taxidermied Eagle


Above some of his wild compositions: The wall filling "Ace" (1962, oil, paper, cardboard, paint-can label, umbrella, doorknob, fabric, wood, nails, and metal on canvas, five panels) followed by "Rhyme" (1956, oil enamel, and spray paint, pencil, paper, fabric, and necktie on a repurposed canvas); "Canyon" (1968, oil, pencil, paper, photograph of the artist`s son, manufacturer´s tag, postcard, printed reproductions, flattened industrial metal canister, fragments of a man`s shirt, fabric-covered mirror, paint tube, wooden knob, cardboard box, and other materials on canvas, with oil on taxidermied bold eagle, wood beam, and pillow suspended by fabric) & "Winter Pool" (1959, oil, paper, fabric, wood, metal, sandpaper, tape,printed paper, printed reproductions, fragments of a man`s shirt, handkerchief, handheld wood bellows, and found painting on two canvases joined by wood ladder).

Above you can see "Sue" followed by "Female Figure" (both 1950, exposed blueprint paper)

Some of Rauschenberg´s friends`works caught my eyes as well. Above you can see "Marylin Monroe I" by James Rosenquist (1962, oil and spray enamel on canvas). At seems they had influenced each other.

Andy Warhol belonged also to Rauschenberg´s friends. Above "Gold Marilyn Monroe" (1962, silkscreen ink on synthetic polymer paint on canvas).


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Economy: Inflation R.I.P.?

(Drivebycuriosity) - It looks like that inflation is dead and buried - at least for a while. In May the US inflation rates went down (inflation). Consumer Prices rose 1.9% (April 2.2% ), the core inflation rate - without energy & food prices - dropped to 1.7% from 1.9%.

It seems that the technological progress is keeping inflation at bay.  Computers and other electronics have been getting cheaper all the time. In many industries are rising labor costs compensated by automation - at least partly. And many consumer goods are kept cheap because Amazon and other E-Commerce companies are getting more & more efficient which translates into cost savings and lower prices. 

Yesterday´s Fed decision to hike interest rates another 1/4 percent point to a range of 1% - 1.25% is also restricting the scope for prices in the near future. The rate hike is a sign that the monetary authority is aware of the inflation risks and ready to work against them.

Inflation is also suppressed by shrinking prices for oil & other commodities. The technological progress is stimulating oil production (for instance by fracking) and curbing oil demand (rising energy efficiency).  Today crude oil costs 8% less than a month ago and average US gasoline prices dropped 5 Cents since last year same time ( I think that the ongoing technological progress will keep oil prices at bay and that oil will stay cheap for a long time.  Cheap energy is curbing transportation costs which influences prices of many goods, including food. So the inflation numbers for June could fall again and should stay low for months to come.

I believe that cheap commodities, E-Commerce & other technologies in combination with a prudent monetary policy will prevent a comeback of inflation for years to come. This is good news for the economy because low inflation rates translate into moderate costs for companies and will leave more money in the wallets of the consumers.  

R.I.P. Inflation

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Photography: The Faces Of Manhattan

(Drivebycuriosity) - Manhattan has thousands of faces. It`s a paradise for amateur photographers like me because the are ubiquitous motifs. Naturally there is not enough space to display all of them here. In this post I show recent favorite Manhattan pics, all shot in the last 30 days.

Above you can see Jeff Koon`s "Seasted Ballerina" @ Rockefeller Center. 

On Washington Square I spotted this exercise class.

People are crossing the Brooklyn Bridge or watching Cruise Ships on Hudson River. There are jogging along the East River or having a photo session there.

Some kids are flying their kites (also along East River).

There is hustle & bustle in Midtown, Chinatown & on East Houston Street.

Manhattan has a lot of pretty sceneries.

                                                     Witches On Ludlow

and I indulge into the diversity of Manhattan`s architecture.

Even the plenty construction sites are fine motifs.

Are there witches conspiring on Ludlow Street?