Friday, August 31, 2007

More on Petersburg (and economics, incidentally)

So, while in Petersburg, after my trip to Pavlovsk, I met up with Polly Gannon at Cafe Zoom (where else?). We chatted for a while, obviously about my travels, and also her imminent plans to visit Helsinki, at whicih I mentioned the group on the train from Arkhangelsk. I also talked about how I watched the news much more while I was away in Murmansk, and said I'd also tried to watch it in Russian a bit, and remarked about some of the differences in coverage, for example about a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (group including Russia, China, and several other former Soviet bloc countries) meeting in Bishkek - the western news mentioned some joint military exercises, whereas, as far as I could tell, the Russian news didn't. I also talked about how nice it had been to be divorced from all the trivialities of the west that pollute the news, which had resurfaced again when watching, say CNN.

One thing that was especially nice to be away from was all the market crap. I was in Murmansk just as the "US mortgage crisis" began tumbling the markets around the world. I was bemused at all the finger pointing, and all-around pompous crap, with analysts going on about this and that. All of this хрен has always annoyed me, with rich executives suffering no fallout for any bad decisions, even when they're quite evident to everyone else who doesn't have a golden parachute - the constant sacrifice of long-term opportunities in favor of short-term gains that the market loves, followed by inevitable pain later on is something that constantly repeats itself. Layoffs of thousands solely to boost the stock price for a while, etc. I raised the example of Daimler-Chrysler - when they merged, there were serious questions raised, but hey, who cares, parties were thrown, the execs made truckloads of cash, and certainly they are not paying for the fallout. They're almost always not only insulated from these bad decisions, but practically rewarded for them. It seems to me like just a constant plundering, where people cash in on these short-term gains, and the unlucky end up holding the bag when it all collapses. Then the cycle begins again with something else.

Honestly, I saw this housing bubble coming a mile away; once I heard about home prices leveling off (and some other things), I figured it was all going to come crashing down, since people were buying houses they couldn't afford, waiting for the value to go up so they could sell it and make a profit. And somehow this constituted an economy. Banks were giving absurd mortgages to people with bad credit, no assets, little income, etc, and what do you know, housing prices didn't go up forever, and then things all went to hell, and now everyone's looking for someone to blame. Let's see, I, a simple student with little to no interest or training in economics, saw this coming a mile away from scattered bits of news in passing, as did many others - I read in the Times about an investor who somehow bet/hedged/however that works much of his company on this happening, and now is raking in the dough even as everyone else tries to figure out how this could have happened and who's to blame. How indeed. Where was all the money being made actually coming from? Thin air? Eventually you were going to have people buying houses and not being able to sell them at a profit - obviously that couldn't go on forever (there's a skit on the Simpson's with Disco Stu showing a graph of disco investing that ends at the 1970s, and he says, "if these trends continue...hey!"). But the problem was that the houses were now being sold to people who couldn't afford to keep them, and kaboom. The collapse came from zeal, and not ensuring that people could actually afford what they were getting in to. But of course in the US, nay-sayers are unpatriotic/terrorists/pessimists/hurting America/etc and just otherwise personae non-grata (help me out with the latin?). It was all like the internet bubble; it was all based on thin-air economics, and sure enough, it eventually dried up. It's like a pyramid scheme on a giant scale, and eventually you run out of new people for the bottom and it all comes crashing down. I wonder about Google as well, with its sky-high stock price, seemingly based solely on hype. Who knows.

Anyway, afterwards I met up with Lena, one of Katya's friends from the philological faculty, and we met at some Indian-esque with someone named Oleg who sells shoes, drives a black Land Rover, and flies to Moscow from time to time. Вот. He ordered us a bunch of things, most of which I tried and ate.

The next day, I met up with Julia Vorobiova (one of the staff, who took care of lots of stuff) at Ням Ням, the bliny place next to the dorms. We chatted about things, mostly languages, and then said our farewells, and later on that evening did I meet up with Katya and Tanya, again at Cafe Zoom, then went to Fidel and said our покаs. Until, hopefully, next year!

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