vendredi, décembre 05, 2008

Anything is possible (Ode to optimism)

I am following a Theatre Class. So-called Therapeutical Theatre. At least it is very entertaining and a breath of fresh air after a hard working day.

The last time I went, we had two improvisation plays, which both were very intense, emotionally speaking. I also found it very inspirational, because, with the two simple headlines given to the "actors", anything could have happen in these plays, which eventually gives me some Hope.

Why? Well, to some extent, it really shows that we are actively shaping the world and the relationships with the people around us. I would not have played the same way as the other actors, which would have led to another ending.

Besides, the feedback we get after each play, each exercise is particularly mind-boggling. This helps us realize that the perception people have of ourselves, our acts rarely correspond to what we expect. This can be good and bad. But we ought to keep that in mind. Often we prevent ourselves from acting in some ways because we think others would not help us or would simply disapprove our choice. Sometimes, they would, but sometimes they would not. It is hard to anticipate and guess, still, this means that sometimes we are the ones limiting our perspectives. Hence, some optimism would help, we have to play our game, bet and try.

mardi, novembre 11, 2008

Haïti, Pays Hanté (Haunted Haïti)

Haïti, Caribbean island, 8m inhabitants. Known for being crippled with civil wars and poverty or for the Haitian Voodoo. Lately, the island made the headlines after the hurricanes that devastated the area, in August or September.

What is so fascinating and also so sad with this Caribbean island is the fact that Haïti was actually the second country of the Americas (geographically speaking) that obtained its independence after the United States. It happened in 1804 and look where the country is now... Yesterday's enlightment has aborted. The way I read history makes me think that the island successively generated, somehow, two leaders and then, nothing. The first one was Toussaint Louverture who led the slave riot against Napoleon. The second was Jean-Jacques Dessalines who took up the leadership of the Haitian people after Toussaint Louverture's death. Dessalines defeated Napoleon and eventually gave independence to the Haïtian people. It seems that ever since, nobody has born and stood up to bring this spark of leadership the country needed to give Haïti the opportunity to come back to life. As if the spring that created enlightened leaders had dried up after the Dessalines' assassination by his own peers.

I recall the election of the priest Jean-Baptiste Aristide at the head of Haïti in 1990. I was still very young at that time but was marked by the hope that the election of this single men, a priest above all, brought to the Haïtian people. Or at least it is what I saw with my childish eyes. Aristide did not succeed in instilling this something that Haïti needed (either by personal greed or other external circumstances) and the country fell again in its doomed decay, after Coups and civil riots.

In every reputed Western Business school (Note that I actually make a generality our of my experience of the French Business school which mimics the anglo-saxon world), being a leader, thinking as a leader, or at least acting as a leader, is presented as the panacea. This is what we are taught on the business side. But how do you truely become a leader? Same question for what I will call an "enlightened leader" in the positive assertion. For business, politics and social life alike, the question remains the same. The will of one person is not enough. Succeeding in being elected/chosen by others does not make the trick either, it is just a first (and of course significant) step. The challenge is not merely staying in place but effectively and continually bringing this so-much needed new life - not only hope- into the system, the society.

If one finds how to turn a so-and-so into a true leader. Well, let me know.

mardi, novembre 04, 2008

Democracy in the USA - Nov 4th 2008

A lot of ink has been used to discuss about Democracy in Africa, in Russia (see Courrier International "Et pourtant elle avance" ). Where does it stand? is it making any progress? We spend time discussing about how Russian Authorities have welcomed and given sufficient leeway to foreign observers, about the transparency of the vote counting or the existence of multipartite political system.


What about the USA? The States have been preaching democracy in Irak but what is happening in their own backyard? Well, since the 2000 elections and the runoff between Al Gore and Bush that ended with a decision of the Supreme Court while people were still recounting votes! 8 years ago, we can hear some unprobable and surrealistic testimonies (on BBC podcasts for instance or on Spanish TV) that the machines that counted votes in 2000 had not been changed, or that people that decided to vote earlier has encountered some problems with their votes recorded for other candidates or that a voting ticket is made of 7 pages and that voting for your specific candidate is a puzzle. Apparently people queue up during hours to be able to vote during a working day and some people just give up voting as they'd rather go to work. Who can we believe? Is it Democracy?

Tonight, we'll know who will run the USA, still a great power in this world. For weeks, Obama was given winner with 8 points ahead of Mc Cain in polls. Who will win this election? I can't help thinking of the French election in 2002, when Lionel Jospin, the left-wing candidate was given as the winner in polls... That year, Jacques Chirac (right-wing) won against Jean-Marie Le Pen, the right-wing extremist! Had people been too lazy to go and vote? Did people think before the election that everything was sorted and that they did not need to go and vote, was there a sort of conspiration to male the right-wing win?... I don't know although I think there must be some kind of combination of various factors of that kind.

So, is that what we will experience today/tonight? Well, although I'd wish Obama could win not only because he gave me the impression of having a presidential stature (at least more than Mc Cain) but also somehow for what his election would simbolize for Black people in the States, I truly fear that the "a priori" and fears of so-called Average American people might weight more than all of this. That's what this little video from the Guardian suggests, when a manager of an ethanol plant (supposed to be favoured by Obama's plan) compared the Democrat candidate to the Antichrist.

We'll see...

lundi, novembre 03, 2008

Rendez-vous with History (Hysteresis 2)

Regarding the Credit Crunch, I first though : "Well, this should be sorted out by next March-June'08, once the Audited Accounts of the Banks will be released, everybody will see that Banks are sound and Safe and that all this fear was not grounded." How naïve was I! Months after months, Banks were announcing huge levels of write-downs and unrest was never calmed down.

Instead of the calm down I expected by March 08, we heard about the collapse and rescue of Bear Stearn, a major actor in the investment bankin system. More unrest. Things were worsening somehow. We heard about Sovereign founds from emergent countries (China, Emirates) that were willing to or merely capable of hailing the Western financial system with the huge amounts of liquidity they had at their disposal. There were many talks about the Chinese Sovereign fund taking a 10% share of one of Blackstone' funds. Americans fearing to see the jewells of their economy swollen by foreign and powerful foreign investors. However, little by little the financial crisis no longer made the headlines, although experts were pointing out a risk of contamination of the so-called "real economy". Subjects such as the Spanish elections, the US' presidential elections, Sarkozy's first year in power, the narcotrafic in Mexico, the liberation of Ingrid Betancourt or Microsoft'entry in Facebook's share capital, the war between Georgia and Russia were more and more apparent in the news while people were becoming to think that the crisis was about to be overcome. Until Sep'08 and its lot of banks' collapses and nationalizations: Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac, Lehman Brothers, Merryl Lynch, Dexia, Fortis, HBOS, RBS, the Icelandic banks, the insurer AIG and so on. Surprises after surprises, we saw the Western governments taking unprecedented measures one month later. In the US, a $700bn pool was voted, the Paulson plan to save the financial system and buy toxic assets. In Europe, following Gordon Brown's (Bristish Prime Minister) or Angela Merkel's (German Chancellor) plan, Governments guaranteed people's deposits and banks' credit lines.

What will happen next? Will these solutions be effective? It seems that nobody really knows when these rescue plans will be effective nor what will be the consequences. What is for sure, is that, the market effervescence following the announcement of these rescue plans did not last more than one day. Apparently, Stock-exchanges accross the West but also Asia, Latin America and Russia are in turmoil and have experienced the worst fall in their existence. Billions of $ have vanished with the shrinkening of companies' market capitalisation. Somebody said that last Friday, Volkswagen, the car company, was by itself worth more than the IBEX 35, the 35 most important companies in the Spanish Stock Exchange!! Recession has touched the UK, the States and the UK. Spain is certainly next. Everywhere around me, people talk about how they are affected by the crisis. Real economy is already contaminated. Can it be cured quickly?

Well, once again, I can only give another rendez-vous with History. I'd say that in Sep'10 we will have a better idea on whether we are near to see the light of the tunnel. Between Sep'07- Sep'08, experts have scrutinized the Financial Statements of Banks. Now, I'd say Sep'08-Sep'09, it is the turn of industry & service companies to be examined in depth. Corrective measures will certainly be implemented by both industries and banks during 2009 with certainly many job cuts and more or less success. The outcome of these drastic policies will be monitored althrough 2009 but they will be more obvious during the year 2010 and by Sep'10, new conclusions will be made. If people deeply believe that politics have appropriately handled the crisis, that the measures undertaken were becoming to be effective, well, it might be the moment when trust will come back and consumption will boost again the economy. I hardly know how the unemployment issue will actually hamper the recovery of the economy and it will certainly have an adverse effect that will slowdown the recovery process. We'll see. Some said that the Japanese economy did take a decade to recover the Asian financial crisis. Will we follow the same scenario? The 1929 crisis, the Argentinian Crisis, the Asian crisis so many subjects, is there a common denominator? Have we learnt of these crisis?... Rendez-vous in Sep'10.

mercredi, octobre 29, 2008

Hysteresis

Nov'08, we have seen the effect of the subprime crisis on banks collapses and now on the so-called real economy, and now, we are trying to undertake correcting measures (governmental of which we do not know the final effect, in the meanwhile, the systems seems to go on, as irregular as before... If we see the financial system and the economy as an eco-system, I suppose we can say that there is hysteresis in the system.

Hysteresis is a technical term that I discovered in my electronic classes at High School or maybe during my first years of university. Hysteresis describes an electronic system for which the output signal does not follow in a continuous function the input signal.

Basically, unless you know the inner mechanics of the system, you cannot contemplate in advance what will be the effect of a variation of the input signal. One can also consider that there is a delay between a cause (input signal) and the effect (output signal).

When I first heard about the Subprimes, it was in March 07. I was having lunch with a colleague, Alex, on a spare sunny day in a small square nearby St Paul church in London. Alex was following the economic & financial news thoroughly and he had heard about what was happening in the States. The burst of the real estate bubble, the beginning of some kind of crisis there, accross the Atlantic. I was there, having my slice of pizza, listening to him, both amazed by his awareness and ashamed of my lack of outlook and background. I was working in the financial sector, specifically in the Oil & Gas sector. I was beginning to get grips on the geopolitics underlying the mechanics of the oil prices and new oil projects but I was unaware of the rest of the financial system. Like a prophet, Alex told me: "You'll see, what is happening in the States now, will arrive in Europe in 6-months' time...".

In fact, it arrived even earlier. The first news about the Credit Crunch, liquidity crisis and the stock-exchange fall were announced during the summer 07. End of July- early August, the UK was rocked by the Northern Rock demise and the ultraliberal moto of Great America began to be shaken with the nationalization of Indymac, an institution specialised in real estate mortgage in the USA. Observers and experts then said that investors no longer trusted each other as they could not know who held toxic assets or not. Liquidity was scarced and banks no longer lended to each other. In an effort to pour liquidity in the system, Central banks cut interest rates on a regular basis... So,when will all of this end and everything be right again...?

mardi, octobre 21, 2008

Spending lavishly or saving up?

Well, now it's crisis time.

People are saving up every single euro cent or dollar. There is no little saving. Why? Because of the Crisis. Eventhough politicians try anything to convince us that it is not the case, people see it, feel it. Fear to lose one's job, mainly and no longer be able to join the two ends. Well basically, that's a good reason why. But is it so wise?

Been thinking for some time, not really in depth, that if my bank goes bankrupt (relatively unlikely scenario), the savings of my life (not that much since I only began working just two-years ago or a bit more, and I include my internship period - well-known for not being the source of money for extra-savings) would be lost (more or less, given governmental guarantees and the potential difficulties to enforce them). So, why not using this money now in useful or simply desirable items that I can enjoy during hard times, instead of whining because I have lost everything. This would at least give me the opportunity to enjoy the fruit of my savings and it would have the positive spillover of not stopping the economy because of savings. Let's say that it is quite a tentative way attitude, although I find it quite hard to follow (fear of the worst What If scenarios and reason too).

So, it came to me as a surprise when I saw this article in the NY Times: Some Purchases may still be worth the Price! Ok, the tone is different, doesn't envisage the bankrupcy scenario, but still, it contemplates the option of chosing to spend money instead of saving it. All is about considering spending as an Investment. Not an investment that would be profitble in terms of money, but in terms of well-being, social relationship, memories and so on. All these little things that make up what we are and that make it so special.

Well, before reading the NYTime's article, despite the financial crisis ghost that haunted me, To and I had decided to buy a TVset... I am sure we'll find out a way to make it "profitable".