Tuesday, August 12, 2014

German Lessons


Not so long ago Germany served as a cautionary example for the Anglo-American economies. After the success of the post-war economic miracle (the Wirtschaftswunder), by the 1980s Germany was best known for its generous welfare state, chronically high unemployment rates, and slow growth. Donald Rumsfeld's dismissive quip about "Old Europe" was meant to invoke all these ills and an accompanying political malaise. 

But following the 2008 financial crisis, Germany emerged as a political-economic role model for the world. Policies to cushion workers from layoffs kept unemployment low and consumer demand steady, and the country's long-standing fiscal austerity allowed it to keep its southern neighbors afloat during the debt crisis.  The 12 July Schumpeter column in The Economist reports that businesspeople and government officials from around the world are making the pilgrimage to Germany to learn from its Mittelstand (midsized manufacturers) sector.

In my new book, The Good Life: Aspiration, Dignity, and the Anthropology of Wellbeing,  I look at how the Mittelstand system inspires loyalty and promotes a sense of dignity and security among workers.   

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Brazil's Middle Class and the Price of Coffee in New York

It looks like Brazil will surpass the U.S. this year as the world's biggest consumer of coffee. The Wall Street Journal reports that this is driving up global prices. Coffee futures (the "C price" as it is known in the trade) reached $1.95 a pound last Thursday, its highest since the price collapse in 2011. This is good news for the smallholding Maya farmers in Guatemala who produce high-altitude, high-quality coffees. (I have previously discussed high-end coffee and Maya farmers and the research carried out with Bart Victor.

It also reflects a change in global political and economic relations (as discussed here in more detail)--the rise of Brazil as a foreign aid donor, middle class consumer, and politically self-confident country.No longer just a supplier of the raw materials we need for our consumer goods, but a competitor driving up prices of consumer goods (coffee as well as Miami real estate), an emerging world power whose positions we need to engage and not assume we can dictate.