Issue 03: 2011/1

Cover artist: Danful Yang

Editor's letter

2011 heralds a decade of economic austerity in Europe and North America. A fairly grim and dreary blanket of counter-anticipation has descended upon the stalwarts of civilization and “First world” developed countries of the world. In stark contrast, the developing countries of decades past are consolidating their position as the global power brokers.

The universe masters of old keep baring their teeth only to realize they have very few of them left.

China is not just sitting at the top table, it gets to dictate how to carve up the pie. The fact that it owns half of the US debt is only a part of it – China’s cultural relevance has grown imperceptibly yet exponentially in the last decade.

Meantime, and elsewhere in the world, the pecking order is revised in just about every area of influence. Russia and Qatar won the bids to host the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup respectively. The Brits responded with uncharacteristic sour grapes commentary, suggesting sinister goings on involving brown envelopes.

India, Malaysia and Brazil are firmly in the radar of all service industries, especially those catering to the new breed of UHNW individuals. Asset and wealth managers are upping the commission ante all over the place by offering ever increasing incentives to social insiders who can open the right doors (although commissions are often subject to closing the deal too).

Singapore’s real estate must be soaring, what with hordes of financiers who have closed down (or at least reduced their presence) in Europe, hastily setting up shop there. Its more vibrant Asian counterpart, Hong Kong, is positively bursting with renewed vigour. My bet is heavily on the “new territories” there – the outer islands that are within sailing distance of the metropolis, yet offer better quality of life and more affordable real estate.

Back in Europe, a spade of Royal weddings (House of Windsor, House of Grimaldi – preceded by the House of Bernadotte in 2010) have been announced, with the customary whipping up of national fervor and public jubilation.

Monaco’s status as a rock of opulence and glamour remains unchallenged – in addition to its breathtaking geographical position the tiny principality punches above its weight when it comes to culture, and the covetable Monegasque passport = no more income tax.

England, on the other hand, is bracing itself for the most unpopular cuts in decades. The planned festivities may sadly be overshadowed by dissenters who would argue that this is not so much a case of “let them eat cake” as “give them bread and spectacles”.

Panem et circenses is hardly a new concept. The Romans coined the phrase and practised it with alacrity. They did not, of course, have the highly developed spin machine of today’s politicians, nor the finely tuned and optimized news distribution channels offered by the worldwide web.
Economic volatility has always produced prejudice-whipping rhetoric that obliterates any philanthropic leanings among the middle classes.

The upper and lower classes, in fact, have always met at the extremes – it is the vast middle class (lower to truly middle) that tends to become less philanthropically or, rather, less magnanimously minded in trying times.

Thatcher had a powerful line which encapsulates realpolitik: “the facts of life are conservative”. Nothing in life is fair and especially so, the distribution of wealth.

The fairly comfortable off, however, should do well to remember that the dividing line between them and the have nots is often just a few pay cheques away. “There but for the grace of God go I” is a very English – and extremely apt for the times we live in – expression.

The much paraphrased Samuel Johnson quote holds true both in times of prosperity and hardship – but is put to the test in hardship more than in prosperity:

‘A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.’

and one of its most quoted re-interpretations:

‘A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.’
(Mahatma Gandhi)

The Rulers of the Universe should do well to remember this too – because, in the privately spoken words of a contemporary Wall Street legend, “Hubris has its consequences”.