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Belmont Club

Ode to Cheese

May 6th, 2012 - 3:39 pm

European readers were amused and not a little frightened to read of pastoralism’s return to Italy. “As Italy’s unemployment rate topped 10pc this week, it emerged that young people are flocking to become shepherds.” With dreams of a white collar career rapidly diminishing, a life on the land now seems preferable to “starving in an Armani suit”, as one commenter put it.

Election results in Greece, France and Germany have made it clear that the European electorate is unwilling to continue paying off their rising debt by raising taxes and tightening their belts. “With Europe’s economies plunging further into recession and as unemployment in the eurozone breaks record levels, voters demands for a new approach had finally become to great to ignore.”

“Athenians are deserting the city for the countryside in search of a simpler and cheaper life,” says the Telegraph. There at least are olives, vegetables, grain and yes — sheep.

Amid the rage against the European machine and their own politicians, there is a however awareness among ordinary Greeks that they tolerated a paternalistic and eventually unaffordable system of government largesse …

The major parties and the public operated a bargain which has proved disastrous in the long run, he added.

“There is a huge black economy which the politicians turned a blind eye to as long as we voted for them. This election is just a temporary solution.”

The Economist describes the life of a real-life European “Julia”. ‘Julia’ is the Obama campaign’s symbolic woman voter who lives a life of perpetual gratitude that she has voted for Obama, whose administration will provide for her, rather than the Other Brand, which has sold her into indentured servitude. The problem is that life for the real Julias is nothing like that. They are not only leaving home. They are leaving their countries.

Maria Gil Ulldemolins … has one degree from Britain and is about to conclude another in her native Spain. And she feels that she has no future.

… Before the financial crisis Spanish unemployment, a perennial problem, was pushed down by credit-fuelled growth and a prolonged construction boom: in 2007 it was just 8%. Today it is 21.2%, and among the young a staggering 46.2%. “I trained for a world that doesn’t exist,” says Ms Ulldemolins.

Nor is Ulldemolins alone. The Economist says that “in Portugal … some 40% of 18- to 30-year-olds say they would consider emigrating for employment reasons. In some countries, such as Italy, a constant brain-drain is one more depressing symptom of a stagnant economy. In Ireland, where discouragement among young workers has shot up since 2005 (see chart 2), migration doubled over the same period, with most of the departed between 20 and 35.”

The depths to which European job prospects have fallen was highlighted by the appearance of Spanish job-seekers in Mexico.  The Financial Times describes the efforts of Marta Fernandez whose low-paying job at a Madrid media company epitomizes “starving in an Armani suit”. Her “new job, working full time for €300 a month, will barely cover her rent.” Laura Frieyro is so sick starvation wages that she is going for the big enchilada in Mexico.

Laura Frieyro, a theatre set designer, is moving to Mexico, where she says there is not only more work, but also the chance to escape a “crisis attitude” that is sucking motivation from her peers.

“You go out on the street here and everyone is talking about the crisis, about politics. In Mexico they are used to having problems, the attitude is completely different,” she says. “People in Mexico are shocked when I tell them there is no work here in Spain. It is a complete change of roles.”

This may herald a shift in roles in the structure of the remittance corridors of the world. For decades workers attempting to escape from dysfunctional economies have been emigrating to greener pastures and sending their money back home. But the appeal of the Western world has been declining.

When the Euro and Dollar Were Kings

American greenbacks and euros are no longer sought after in those African countries where currencies have appreciated sharply in real terms thanks to demand for the commodities they export. “When you send dollars back to a family in Angola, they don’t feel as rich as before,” says Marcelo Giugale of the World Bank. Working in Europe for five years no longer buys a house back home.

People are now seeking their fortune where they can using the underground economy, what labor mobility is left to them and their own enterprise. If shepherding is the ticket, then go for it.

Despite President Obama’s assurances that Hope and Change are just around the corner, there are disturbing signs that the welfare state ship he had hoped to sail into a rosy future has just hit an iceberg. Calculated Risk presents a jobs trend chart which suggests that something is different about this recession. It is not just a cyclical perturbation within the status quo. It may be a crisis in the status quo itself. It looks increasingly likely that the swallows are not just late in returning to Capistrano but that something has happened to the swallows themselves.

Where Have All the Paychecks Gone, Long Time Passing?

The old model isn’t working. Many people have simply stopped looking for a job, a fact that keeps the Administration’s “rising employment” statistics artificially inflated.

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

When people stop believing that Hope and Change will eventually — with application and unlimited patience — work, it may not be long before the pastoral and entrepreneurial lifestyle makes a comeback, not just in Italy, but all over what was formerly called the Developed World. There will be people moving around to find an economic opportunity with the regulators in hot pursuit.

That may not necessarily be bad. Some commenters who complained that the resurgence of shepherding in Italy meant that instead of becoming “Internet entrepreneurs” the Italian youth were reverting to Third World agriculture neglected to consider that not everyone can be an Internet entrepreneur, despite President Obama’s claims that government spending made Google and Facebook possible.

For some people, their highest and best use of time is to raise sheep for wool (and pecorino cheese).  And that is better than “starving in an Armani suit”. What the world may be witnessing in Europe and the United States is the revenge of reality over fantasy, the burn-through of economics through the narrative veil. Which shall prevail? The matter has been in dispute for hundreds of years.

YouTube Preview Image
The Passionate Policy Wonk to His Love
Come live with me and be my wonk,
And all the Rightists we will conk.
With Faceook, Twitter, contraceptive shields
That Obamacare and Headstart yields
And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the SEIU feed their flocks
By shallow rivers to whose falls
The suicide sing madrigals.
And I will play thee “Beds of Roses”
From my sound systems Bang and Boses,
A cap of flower, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;
A gown made of the finest wool
Which over voter’s eyes we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold
Which we have taken from the selfish old;
A belt of straw and ivy buds,
Patchouli oil and amber studs;
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my love.
The Occupy swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each Wall Street morning:
If these delights thy mind may zonk,
Then live with me and be my wonk.
The Love’s Reply to the Policy Wonk
If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every activist’s tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with thee and be thy love.
Time degrades the tents as they grow old,
When rains rage and snow grows cold;
And Bill Ayers was always dumb;
About the shape of things to come.
The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
To wayward winter reckoning yields;
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancy’s spring, but sorrow’s fall.
Thy drums, borrowed shoes, thy Olaffson and Boses,
Thy shades, thy words, thy cheesy poses,
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten,
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.
Thy celebrity friends and best cool buds,
Thy facial jewelry and tatooed studs,
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee and be thy love.
But could youth last and love still breed,
Had joys no date nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might conk
And I’ll live with thee and be thy wonk.

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