A print publication that is just over 50 issues old and has spawned a global media business can be considered a minor miracle these days.
Not surprisingly, Monocle is no ordinary publication and it owes its success to the vision of its founder, Tyler Brulé, who also launched Wallpaper* – another success story.
That publication was sold to Time for $US1.6 million, which gave Mr Brulé the readies for another venture once his non-compete restriction passed (he had already fallen out with the suits at Time).
Monocle defies easy categorisation and has a view of the world that encompasses Mr Brulé’s three main obsessions: design, air travel and interesting businesses.
I last noted the magazine when it assessed soft power, giving New Zealand a strong boost (New Zealand features a lot in Monocle; issue 50 features the Herbsts’ architecturally-designed bach in Piha).
Over Easter, I was stranded, mediawise, in Timaru where the local dairy had only the Sunday News (a customer claimed the Sunday Star-Times hadn’t been published) and no longer sold out-of-town dailies.
Digital media was also out of the question, so Monocle was it, mainly because it shares my view that Japan is the most interesting country in the world.
In issue 50, Monocle rates the world on its Charming Index and as a bonus includes a handy pullout tourist guide to Japan. It’s an irresistible bargain.
The world’s top 10 charmers include a Swiss train, a London office, a street in Beirut, the city of Hamburg and Kagoshima airport in Japan.
An essay by Stephen Bayley defines charm as vulnerability rather than power, basing its meaning on the Greek notion of charisma.
“Charm alone will get you through,” he concludes.
World Bank gets second best
The World Bank is not an outfit you will find in Monocle. It is getting ready for a new boss and that means a world power play.
Plenty has already been written about the candidates put forward by countries who think the bank should be about them, while the Americans, who fund it, have other ideas.
Their choice, physician turned academic Jim Yong Kim, is the most criticised in years and, on paper, lacks the qualifications of his rivals, both of whom have international finance experience.
Although he now runs the Dartmouth business college, Mr Kim has been portrayed as a die-hard socialist. Take Commentary magazine’s backgrounder:
In 2000, Kim co-edited the subtly titled Dying for Growth: Global Inequality and the Health of the Poor. The Noam Chomsky inspired work seems to make the case that the World Bank is an evil capitalist tool and that economic growth in developing countries…kills:
“This book seeks to fill an important gap in knowledge by examining the documentable health effects of economic development policies and strategies promoted by the governments of wealthy countries and by international agencies such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organisation.”
And, Commentary goes on in further quote:
“Using Cuba as an example, Chapter Thirteen makes the case that when leaders prioritise social equity and the fundamental right of all citizens to health care, even economically strapped governments can achieve improved and more equitable health outcomes.”
As for the other candidates, Nigeria’s finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is a clear favourite in Africa, while former Colombian finance minister José Antonio Ocampo has strong backing from Brazil.
Tears for Argentina
The country that Labour should admire most is going to new lengths to build industry behind its fortress economy.
Customers of online booksellers such as Amazon were told that their imported books would be held up at airport customs until they went there personally and proved that the books contained less than 0.06% lead in the ink.
Meanwhile, closer to Labour’s heart, The Economist (which has dropped Argentina’s statistics on grounds they are unreliable) reports that the central bank has had its mission changed for the first time in 20 years.
It had a plaque that said its “primary and fundamental mission [was] to preserve the value of the currency.”
It now has a new mandate: “to promote, to the extent of its ability and in the framework of policies established by the national government, monetary stability, financial stability, jobs and economic growth with social fairness.”
Argentina is famous for its currency crises and its efforts to achieve stability. It ran a currency board from 1991-2002 to help overcome chronic inflation. It later defaulted on its overseas debt and then sharply depreciated after cutting its link with the US dollar.
Breaking up is hard to do
Now it’s the turn of the euro common currency to provide lessons for the future. While it’s too soon to know how this drama will unfold, you can bet it still has some way to go.
The most fascinating exercise has been the Wolfson Economics Prize challenge of how a country such as Greece can best exit the eurozone.
Top economists are competing for the £250,000 prize and those who reached the shortlist have been asked to go into more detail.
The eurozone is a much more daunting entity than the Soviet Union or the Austro-Hungarian empire when it comes to currency breakups.
Most agree an exit has to be fast and secret, with stamped banknotes and capital flight control. One entrant, Jonathan Tapper, explains:
Typically, before old notes and coins can be withdrawn, they are stamped in ink or a physical stamp is placed on them, and old unstamped notes are no longer legal tender. In the meantime, new notes are quickly printed. Capital controls are imposed at borders in order to prevent unstamped notes from leaving the country…
Once new notes are available, old stamped notes are de-monetized and are no longer legal tender. This entire process has typically been accomplished in a few months.