domingo, mayo 10, 2015

VACACIONES MAYO 2015 / GRL

|

VACACIONES MAYO 2015


Jueves 30 de Abril del 2014

Queridos amigos,

Les escribo estas líneas con motivo de mi próximo viaje que me tendrá ausente de la oficina y de nuestras lecturas cotidianas, desde el lunes 4 hasta el miércoles 20 de Mayo próximo.

Durante estos días no tendré acceso regular al Internet ni a mis correos.

Lamentablemente, en los últimos meses la situación internacional se ha seguido complicando tanto social, económica, financiera y geopolíticamente, de acuerdo a lo previsto en mi carta de Setiembre pasado y las anteriores, a pesar de todas las declaraciones y anuncios en contrario por parte de las autoridades de los bancos centrales y los representantes de los gobiernos.  

En realidad no podía ser de otra manera, si tenemos en cuenta que no se ha hecho nada en los últimos años para reparar los profundos desequilibrios estructurales en los fundamentos de la economía global, sino que mas bien, por el contrario, se ha seguido "maquillando" por parte de los bancos centrales la insostenible situación económica y financiera global, profundizando los desequilibrios y la inestabilidad vía el constante crecimiento de las deudas, aumentando las ineficiencias y dilatando el necesario ajuste. El crecimiento estructural de la economía global es cada vez mas frágil, dudoso e insostenible.

Hasta la crisis del 2000 y luego de la del 2008, ahora así llamada la Gran Recesión, la demanda global había sido “subvencionada” por un sistema financiero manipulado e intervenido, creando una demanda y una economía global ficticia, una recuperación así llamada "subprime", liderada por la FED mediante un crecimiento desproporcionado de las deudas, imposible de auto-sustentarse en un crecimiento de la economía real en el largo plazo. 

Deuda, deuda y mas deuda, parece ser el mantra de la FED.

Desde entonces, la FED y el resto los bancos centrales de todos los países más importantes del mundo se han negado y se siguen negando a reconocer esta realidad, aceptando el inicio de un ajuste inevitable y estructural, regresando a un nivel real de la economía global de alguna manera manejable. Aun siguen abocados al esfuerzo de una gran represión financiera, manipulando e inflando irresponsablemente los mercados financieros vía una política monetaria de emisiones inorgánicas de papel moneda sin respaldo y muy bajas tasas de interés.

Las deudas de consumidores, empresas y gobiernos, eran y son insostenibles.

Por ello creemos que los bancos centrales no aumentarán de "motu propio" las tasas de interés de manera importante a corto plazo, salvo que este aumento provenga final y sorpresivamente de una crisis generada por la desaparición de la confianza de los inversionistas globales en los mercados financieros.

Inmediatamente sus deudas se volverían obviamente impagables y la crisis que tanto han tratado de evitar reconocer, sobrevendría inevitable.

Solo para mencionar al país con la economía mas importante, la deuda de los Estados Unidos de Norteamerica ha crecido por encima de los 18 trillones de dólares, a mas del 100% de su PBI. Y si incluimos las deudas contingentes internas, como el Seguro Social y los Fondos de Pensiones, algunos analistas calculan que la deuda norteamericana podría llegar a sumar entre los 80 a 120 trillones de dólares, es decir, entre 5 a 7 veces el producto bruto anual.

Para un análisis detallado del desarrollo de esta problemática y la verdadera situación actual, ver los artículos del blog, aquí, aquí y aquí.

Esta situación se ha seguido agravando en los últimos años y es insostenible en el mediano y largo plazo.  (ver articulo)

Para evitarlo, es que los bancos centrales han tenido que esforzarse en mantener ficticiamente una apariencia de normalidad en el "statu quo", inyectando cantidades innombrables de papel moneda sin respaldo a los mercados financieros y reducido las tasas de interés a niveles nunca vistos por largo tiempo, desde que la historia económica recuerda. (QE1, QE2, QE3, Q4, Abenomics, China, etc….)

Todo ello nos hace presumir que todo ello se lleva a cabo por el fundamentado temor a perder el control del esquema Ponzi mundial, que es lo que son ahora la economía global y los mercados financieros, y por ende se derrumbe el castillo de naipes enfrentando de golpe un ajuste económico enorme y hasta la posibilidad de una revolución social incontenible, guerras, etc.

¿Porqué un ahorrista o un inversionista estaría dispuesto a depositar su dinero en un banco o comprar un bono de un gobierno, que no solamente no le paga ningún interés sino que más bien ahora le cobra por mantener su deposito, o si se lo paga, es un interés muy reducido y hasta negativo?

Ello sucede solo cuando el ahorrista y/o el inversionista esperan una deflación en la economía, i.e. que los precios mañana serán mas bajos que los de hoy, la que sería mayor que el costo de ese depósito, y/o una ganancia potencial en el fortalecimiento de esa moneda, es decir, en ambos casos, a pesar de todo, un aumento del poder adquisitivo de sus inversiones. Y también, cuando además, existe una enorme aversión al riesgo en los mercados financieros "tradicionales". Solo así se puede justificar racionalmente esta realidad por un ahorrista o inversionista que desea mantener su poder de compra, sin tener que enfrentar riesgos desconocidos e incalculables, pero claramente presumibles en los mercados financieros globales. (ver articulo)

El hecho es que el esfuerzo de política monetaria intervencionista llevada a cabo por la mayoría de los bancos centrales del mundo, en los últimos 15 años, más intensa y desproporcionadamente desde los últimos siete años, además, ha producido la transferencia más importante de riqueza que se recuerda en la historia, de manos de los pensionistas y los ahorristas, hacia las clases privilegiadas. 

Mas importante todavía, se ha distorsionado y manipulado fundamentalmente las reglas de la economía del libre mercado con consecuencias funestas y aun impredecibles en el mediano y largo plazo para los consumidores e inversionistas del mundo, incrementando la alocación  ineficiente de los recursos de inversión, además de multiplicar el costo de la inevitable implosión de los mercados financieros, tanto de las acciones, como de los bonos y otros instrumentos de inversión financiera.

Todo esto para no mencionar a los derivados financieros, estimados por algunos analistas en mas de 1 cuadrillón de dólares (1000 trillones de dólares),  que se ciernen como una espada de Damocles, sobre todo el sistema financiero y económico internacional.

Recientemente el FMI ha advertido de la posibilidad que la economía global esta entrando a un periodo de "stagnación" y a una probable nueva recesión, con las consecuencias que ello implicaría. (ver articulo)

El reconocido economista y analista Ricardo Lago hace recientemente en un diario local un excelente resumen de la ultima reunión del FMI y el Banco Mundial en Washington, sus conclusiones e implicancias. (ver articulo

Obviamente estos organismos no pueden decirnos toda la verdad. Ello sería propiciar ellos mismos el adelanto inevitable del descalabro global, el caos y el ajuste sin anestesia, con resultados imprevisibles. 

La pregunta de fondo es ¿hasta cuando se podrá o podrán mantener esta realidad bizarra?
Y eso nadie lo puede responder con seguridad. La confianza de los inversionistas en los mercados financieros es la verdadera incógnita.

¿Existen aun los inversionistas? 

Observan algunos críticos y analistas que los pequeños y medianos inversionistas se han retirado del mercado y todo el movimiento que observamos en los índices, es solo en volúmenes reducidos. Piensan que ello se debe solo a la actuación de unos cuantos brokers y/o "high frequency traders"de los grandes bancos globales que se siguen "alimentando" de las manipulaciones y ventajas, coordinadas y producidas por los bancos centrales.

Hace alrededor de 100 años el asesinato del archiduque Francisco Fernando y su esposa Sofía Chotek en Sarajevo fue el detonante de la primera guerra mundial. Y nadie pensó en ese momento que ese acontecimiento, aparentemente sin importancia global, traería la primera guerra mundial.

Por ello ahora tenemos que preguntarnos seriamente, ¿cuál de todos los potenciales "cisnes negros", conocidos o no, que hoy se ciernen sobre la economía global ,y que son muchos, económicos, sociales y geopolíticos, podrían ser el detonante de la nueva catástrofe?

Solo la historia nos responderá a esta crucial pregunta. No hay cuerda para mucho. Y evidentemente, toda situación que es insostenible, finalmente se caerá.

Tenemos que insistir mas que nunca que la experiencia y la prudencia, el análisis y la inteligencia, la vigilancia y la paciencia, son los socios más importantes en las decisiones de políticas y estrategias de inversión a corto y mediano plazo.

En un cambio importante de ciclos como en el que pensamos que estamos envueltos hoy día, y en el que mas allá de lo circunstancial, el pasado y el futuro se bifurcan y se oponen,  los riesgos para los inversionistas son profundos. (ver articulo)

Con estas  anotaciones y advertencias que espero les sean de utilidad, me despido de Uds. con un cordial abrazo hasta el regreso a mis actividades, Dios mediante, a inicios de la semana del lunes 23 de Mayo próximo, cuando estaré nuevamente a su gentil disposición.

Gonzalo

PD. Algunos días durante mis vacaciones en la medida de lo posible y excepcionalmente publicaré artículos en el blog que podrán leer entrando directamente y/o subscribiéndose al blog:  www.gonzaloraffoinfonews.com

The economics of low wages

When what comes down doesn’t go up

Salaries in rich countries are stagnating even as growth returns, and politicians are paying heed. They may struggle to improve things—and could make them worse

May 2nd 2015
.      



ACCORDING to the rich world’s politicians, economics has a new villain. The modish scoundrel of the past seven years—the immoral banker outwitting inept regulators—has been edged out by a returning blackguard: the tight-fisted boss crushing the hopes of honest workers with miserly pay. In America workers have been demonstrating for higher pay and stronger union rights in the profitable but poorly paying food industry. Hillary Clinton has blasted CEOs who earn 300 times what the average worker does, pledging that her run for the presidency will champion the “everyday Americans” who have the “deck stacked” against them. In Britain Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labour Party, has told the electorate that he plans to punish “predatory” capitalists that exploit the low-paid; his electoral rival David Cameron retorts that his Conservatives are the “party of working people”. In Japan Shinzo Abe has sworn to lift salaries, and cajoles and threatens Japanese bosses to deliver on his promise.

The facts give such rhetoric resonance. In most places the recession that followed the financial crisis had dire effects on wages. Despite five years of growth American real wages are still 1.2% below what they were at the beginning of 2009. In Britain, real wages fell every year between 2009 and 2014, the longest decline since the mid-1800s. In 2014 median pay was 10% below its 2008 high. Germany, a haven during the euro-zone crisis, has done better, but wages are still 2.4% below their 2008 level. While there are exceptions—median pay has risen since 2008 in Canada and France—these have generally been bad years for wages.

Sin of wages
 
Flat and falling pay does not just matter to the people afflicted and to those who worry generally about growing inequality (a linked problem, but not quite the same one). Workers are also shoppers. Across the G7 group of rich countries household consumption ranges from 55% (France) to 68% (America) of GDP. While it makes sense for an individual boss to hold down pay, low pay across the economy as a whole threatens to put a lid on the growth that one would otherwise expect after a recession. If it does not there’s a chance it will be because households are again borrowing to spend in an unsustainable way.

But if there is good reason to be worried about wages, the political heat also has a concerning side. To design sound policies it is vital to understand why wages have stopped rising, what the implications of a flat-wage world would be, and the likely impact of pay-propelling policies. But economics is still only just getting to grips with these questions.

Part of the problem is that, even before the recession, wages had not been improving as straightforward economics might suggest—which is to say, in line with productivity. The two moved in tandem following the second world war (between 1947 and 1960 both rose by 51% in America) but have been drifting apart since the 1960s: since 1960 productivity in America has risen by almost 220%, but real wages by less than 100%. Many other advanced economies have seen the same sort of trend. The result is that labour’s share of GDP has fallen. And of the share that goes to labour, more and more has been going to the people who earn the highest salaries, exacerbating the problem for the rest.

Scholars seeking to explain this decline in the labour share reckon a number of big forces are at work. One is that the income from capital—especially from housing—has been increasing more than the income from labour. Another is that, in many industries, capital goods have become a lot cheaper and/or better. Bosses can choose whether to spend money on machinery or people, and declines in the price of the kit required for a given amount of output—which can come about either because existing machines get cheaper or because new ones can do more—reduce demand for labour.

Globalisation can reduce the demand for rich-country labour, too. Michael Elsby of the University of Edinburgh and Bart Hobijn and Aysegul Sahin of the Federal Reserve have shown that in industries where imports became a more important part of the supply chain between 1993 and 2010 the labour share fell the most. And the decline of trade unions reduces labour’s bargaining power. The share of the American workforce unions represent has fallen in every decade since the 1960s, and similar declines have been seen across the G7 (see chart 1).
.

The new part of the puzzle—the bit that makes the lack of wage growth after the recession perplexing—concerns the other factor that, in the past, economists have seen as crucial in the setting of wages: unemployment. The usual assumption is that once unemployment gets below a certain rate, idle labour becomes scarce and competition to hire already employed workers heats up. As firms outbid each other for talent, new workers get better starter salaries and valued staff secure juicy raises. Estimating the unemployment rate at which wage-driven inflation kicks in the NAIRU (non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment)—is part of the core business of central banks.

Matching quandaries
 
Following a major recession, the NAIRU often goes up. Periods of unemployment have lingering effects on workers, from a loss of vim to clinical depression. Time out of work can mean skills dwindle or become mismatched to the needs of the market; the skills needed by industries that flourish in the recovery may differ from those central to the industries which laid people off in the slump. All this means some unemployed workers will find it harder to get back into the workforce—indeed, some may stay unemployed until they reach pensionable age—and their presence on the unemployment rolls thus does little to hold down wages. So after a big crisis the NAIRU rises; inflation should kick in sooner rather than later.

In the wake of the current recession, though, this rule of thumb has been broken in a number of countries (see chart 2). In 2013 the OECD, a rich-country think-tank, thought wage-driven inflation would kick in in Britain if unemployment got back below 6.9%. But joblessness was well below that throughout 2014 and average real wages still declined by 0.6%. In a 2013 paper Federal Reserve economists estimated a stable unemployment-wage rule for America: every percentage-point reduction in unemployment should lift inflation by 0.3% over the next year.

But despite the fact that joblessness has fallen by more than two percentage points since then, median hourly wages were the same in the first quarter of 2015 as a year earlier. In Japan, unemployment averaged 3.6% in 2014, well below its pre-crisis average, but real pay fell by 2.5%.
.

Odd, but if temporary perhaps not too troubling. And there is evidence that real-terms wages might now be shaking off their sloth. In late February IG Metall, Germany’s largest union, brokered a 3.4% raise for its members, well above the current inflation rate, 0.3%. The latest British data show average salaries up by 1.7% in a year; with inflation close to zero this is a decent real-terms rise. In America, average real pay is up by 2.2% over the past year. If this continues as unemployment falls it would mean a return to pre-crash normality, with sustained wage inflation eventually triggering central-bank interest-rate hikes.

There is, though, another possibility; that the recent hints of a wages bump are largely an artefact of unexpectedly low inflation, and that the underlying wage stagnation continues.

Average pay data in America and Britain may be hiding the continuing plight of the median worker behind the success of the most sought after. It may be that the damage this recession did to the labour market—the loss of skills and the mismatch between industries where workers have experience and those where there are vacancies—is being expressed not in the form of long-term unemployment but as lasting low pay. If that is true, and low pay locks in, sustained inflation might not return even with low rates of unemployment. That labour-market shift would chart a very different course for central banks, which would keep rates low. It would also mean the politics of low pay could be here to last.

What might account for a change of this sort? One likely factor is that, in many places, more flexible labour contracts make it easier to fill posts without raising wages. In Germany “mini jobs”—positions with pay under €400 ($440) per month—are rocketing. In Britain, “zero hours” contracts, in which neither employer nor employee commits to a fixed number of hours, have been becoming more common. By making it easier to fire workers these contracts aim to take the worry out of hiring. By making workers’ positions more fragile they cut bargaining power.

Not for the long haul
 
The ever larger “staffing industry” may be having a similar effect. It is important across a much wider swathe of the economy than is often realised; having started out in the 1960s supplying office temps, today temping companies like Kelly Services, Adecco and Randstad mainly supply light manufacturing and industrial workers. In 2013 Kelly Services was America’s second-largest private-sector employer, after Walmart, with 750,000 staff. America’s 2.9m temps account for 2% of its jobs.

Temping is flourishing across the G7. In Japan, once the land of the shûshin koyô, or job for life, transient employment is ever more common; in 2014 Recruit, the country’s largest temp agency, listed for $19 billion on the Tokyo stock exchange. In Britain everything from the Olympics on down comes with temporary security guards supplied by G4S and temporary caterers provided by Compass, the country’s largest and third-largest private employers, respectively.

The industry provides flexibility for both workers and firms, and its ability to match workers on its databases to jobs may be very helpful: the 2010 Nobel prize was awarded for work showing how better job search and matching could lower unemployment. But labour aggregators that compete for business on the basis of helping lower clients’ staff costs have an incentive to keep pay low. In 2014 a report by Rebecca Smith and Claire McKenna of the National Employment Law Project, an American lobby group, claims that staffing agencies cut temps’ bargaining power.

Across the G7 politicians are mulling three ways to overcome the problems low pay poses. The first and least appealing is re-regulating the labour market so as to limit flexibility. In Germany trade unions are critical of mini jobs, arguing that they cannibalise higher-paying ones. The evidence suggests that this is not the case; mini jobs are growing fastest in industries where full-time jobs are up strongly too, according to the IAB, a government research institute. In Britain, the Labour Party is promising voters it will outlaw zero-hours contracts.

Credit where it’s due
 
This push will not make workers better off. For one thing many workers like the two-way flexibility temping provides. Temping is popular with some Japanese workers, allowing women with young children and retired workers seeking a pension top-up to enter the workforce. And making the market less flexible raises the risk that an economic downturn will cause mass lay-offs. France has the G7’s least flexible labour market, and a 10% unemployment rate. Since 2010 the French economy has created around 140,000 new posts. Ultra-flexible Britain has created 1.6m. Although politicians are right to ensure that work pays, the hard truth is that in a wounded economy a low-paying job is better than none at all.

The second approach to low pay is tax cuts. Britain provides a good example of how they can help. In 2010 a worker in Britain earning the minimum wage—then £5.93 per hour—was liable for tax on £5,900 of the £12,300 he would have earned that year. Today the equivalent total is £13,520 ($20,870), but increases in the tax-free allowance mean only £2,920 is taxable.

The problem is that such tax cuts are untargeted, so the better- and indeed best-off gain too. This makes them popular, but expensive. To focus low tax on the poorest, instead, many countries use tax “credits”, like the Working Tax Credit in Britain or the Earned Income Tax Credit in America, which provide refunds to those on the lowest pay. In Britain, for example, someone earning £13,100 or less receives a top-up of £1,960. Since there is no cost to the employer any urge to hire remains robust.
.

But there are concerns here too. Some worry that stingy bosses are able to rely on tax credits rather than raise pay. Low-paid workers flipping burgers at McDonald’s, Burger King or Wendy’s, America’s largest fast-food chains, or those pulling pints at JD Wetherspoon, Britain’s biggest pub group, will be getting substantial tax credits. Yet critics point out that these outfits are profitable and returning cash to their shareholders. Other companies find higher pay affordable: Walmart plans to raise its minimum wage from $7.25 to $9, a step which should be easily manageable given profits of $27 billion and dividends of $6 billion in 2014.

Indeed it may pay for itself through reduced churn and better motivation; studies of Britain’s economy find that higher pay helps firms retain workers.

And even though targeted tax credits are cheaper than across-the-board cuts their costs add up: the British exchequer spent £30 billion boosting low pay like this in 2013-14, more than twice what it paid a decade earlier. A recent report from the Centre for Labour Research and Education at the University of California, Berkeley, calculates that between 2009 and 2011 America spent $227 billion (around 6% of the annual federal budget) on top-ups for low-paid workers. Two major outlays—tax credits ($67 billion) and food stamps ($71 billion)—aim to pep up purchasing power directly. The other—Medicaid ($83 billion)—offsets the fact that companies provide less health insurance than they did, with coverage falling from 67% to 59% of workers between 2003 and 2013.

A third approach—higher minimum wages—would shift the burden back to firms. The legal floor to pay varies a lot across the G7: Italy has no minimum; France tops the pack at €9.61 (see chart 3). Many on the left would like to see higher rates. In America, Barack Obama wants the minimum wage boosted by nearly 40% to $10.10. In Britain, the Scottish National Party wants to hike the minimum to £8.70; the Living Wage Foundation, a think-tank, reckons workers outside London need £7.85 an hour and those in London £9.15—41% above the current minimum.
.


In general, setting floors and caps to prices is risky. Energy-price caps can stop firms investing in power stations, wage floors can stop them from hiring workers. France’s lofty minimum wage comes with high unemployment. Yet most studies suggest that at moderate levels they do little to worsen unemployment. A study focusing on employment and wages during Britain’s sharp recession of 2009, carried out in 2012 by Mark Bryan, Andrea Salvatori and Mark Taylor of the University of Essex, found no evidence that the minimum wage prevented firms hiring. Left-leaning think-tanks reckon politicians should go further: American cities, free to set their own pay floors, often demand wages well above the federal minimum, and a 2011 study of San Francisco, Santa Fe and Washington, DC, by John Schmitt and David Rosnick of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research found that this had no impact on employment.

Work must be a route out of poverty, not a way to stay stuck in it. To that extent new political interest in stagnant and falling pay is welcome if it really boosts what poorly paid workers take home while not deterring job creation. But although the new world of ultra-flexible labour markets has its flaws, those on the left looking for a restored rigidity are playing a dangerous game: the unemployment that could result would help neither those rendered jobless nor those scraping by.

The Future of Sex: It Gets Better

Therapist Laura Berman sees greater fulfillment and less focus on gender and orientation

By Laura Berman

April 26, 2015 11:10 p.m. ET
.

When I was 10 years old, my friend Sarah and I found a newly minted copy of “The Joy of Sex” under her parents’ bed. Like many other young people at the time, we pored through the pages. We were luckier than Sarah’s parents, who—like mine—had grown up making do with National Geographic magazine.

Today, couples don’t have to struggle in the dark as they try to learn how to pleasure their partner. The Internet has demystified sex for millions of people, and it has put love and intimacy at our fingertips. Technology is only going to continue to take sex to a whole new level in the future.

Currently sex aids are widely available, but the future is going to hold some truly edgy products.

Futurists are predicting that—in just 10 to 15 years—there will be robots that will look and feel incredibly lifelike, robots with which you can cuddle and have sex. You will be able to design your perfect mate, complete with the right voice and the artificial intelligence to whisper those sweet nothings at exactly the right time.

Virtual romantic partners like Samantha in the movie “Her” will be a reality. In fact, a new app called Invisible Boyfriend is already out, sending you loving texts like a real boyfriend might.

We will be able to have robust sexual experiences without touching. Talk about disease prevention! Imagine engaging in anything from targeted foreplay to exploring your wildest fantasies by stimulating your partner with a click of a mouse, even when you are across town or in another country.




Meanwhile, our understanding of the neurobiology of sex will lead to a new ability to stimulate the brain directly to simulate mind-blowing sex regardless of physical contact. This will not only have endless recreational implications, but will significantly improve the sex lives of people with disabilities, as well.
Distance will matter less
Along those lines, long-distance relationships will be much more prevalent. As the world gets smaller and technology improves, we will find soul mates in distant places and stay in close virtual contact.

If we want, we’ll even be able to procreate without meeting in person. Reproductive technology is rapidly evolving, and soon we will be facing the ethical dilemmas around babies with more than two parents, or from parents who have already died, leaving genetic material behind, or from two parents who have never met in person but sent their genetic material to a laboratory.

As medical research continues to advance, female sexual dysfunction will finally get the attention it deserves. The Food and Drug Administration has approved 20 medications for men to help treat sexual dysfunction. The number approved for women? Zero. I believe that our male-centric and limited attitude toward female sexual health will expand over the coming decades as women advocate for themselves more. We (and the FDA) will embrace better loving through chemistry, while making sense of the plethora of medical interventions coming down the pike to create bigger orgasms; make you skinnier, tanner and more libidinous all at once; and expand the size of the G spot.

Further, labeling our sexual orientation will be a thing of the past. A new tide of young men and women are embracing a range of sexual expression, describing themselves as “mostly straight” but open to same-sex love if it occurs. In addition to gay marriage becoming legal everywhere in the U.S., I have no doubt the transgender community will make amazing strides when it comes to civil rights and being understood and celebrated.

Ten years ago, most people wouldn’t even know the correct terminology for a transgender person. Now Amazon’s “Transparent” is an award-winning hit TV show, and Laverne Cox, an openly trans actress, recently made a splash with an Emmy nomination for her role in Netflix NFLX -0.03 % ’s “Orange Is the New Black.” Definitions of gender in the future will be as fluid as sexual orientation is becoming.
Different but the same
I suspect for the next decade or so we will be riding a wave, seeking more stimulation in less time, quick transitory couplings, and the next big thing to make sex more exciting. The good news is that sex will be safer and more exploratory than ever, given the virtual capabilities. The bad news is that we will likely see an uptick in sexual addiction and a decrease in emotional connection with partners. People struggle with the existential depression and loneliness that comes from a lack of rich, authentic connections. Eventually, there may be a conservative movement of sex-technology Luddites who shun the technological advances. The inevitable social struggle will last for a while, but in the future, freedom will be the winning mantra.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how lifelike the sex robots are or how comforting an Invisible Boyfriend is. The year 2050 won’t be any different than year 1050. We might all be flying around in eco-friendly spaceships, but we will still be looking for THE one and winking at the cute guy or girl (or transgender person) in the spaceship next to us.

Call me an optimist, but I believe the natural readjustment will always lead us back to soul-to-soul connection. When I look to the future of sex and relationships, that’s what I see: an abundance of love and a community of people not afraid to open their hearts to all the possibilities.


Dr. Berman is a sex and relationship therapist and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and obstetrics gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago

Bello

Latin America’s rural dream

Farming is part of the region’s future as well as of its past

May 2nd 2015
.



“I THINK everyone in this country…has a dream hidden away in their heads, the secret dream of land, a small plot of land that makes them feel secure, a hidden reserve against the thousand misfortunes that might happen.” So says Pilar Ángel, one of three siblings who are the narrators of “La Oculta”, a new novel by Héctor Abad Faciolince, one of Colombia’s leading writers.

La Oculta (“The Hideaway”) is the Ángels’ 150-year-old family farm in Antoquia, Colombia’s most entrepreneurial and conservative province. Mr Abad’s finely crafted novel not only expounds its narrators’ contrasting attitudes towards sex, rural life and tradition in a modernising country, but also tells in fictional form the true story of an attempt to create a rural middle class in Colombia. In doing so, it throws an evocative light on the enduring pull of the land in Latin America—and the undercurrent of violence that has gone with it.

Conflict over land is the region’s oldest story, dating to before the Iberian conquest. This installed a uniquely unequal pattern of landholding, sustained by serfdom and slavery. That lies at the root of the region’s inequality, and it made land reform one of the big ideological battles of the 20th century. When it came, reform too often destroyed efficient farms without creating a workable alternative—and was too late to stop poor peasants from flooding into the cities.

But there were exceptions. Mr Abad relates the colonisation of south-western Antioquia, then a remote mountainous tract of nothing but “trees, wild beasts, birds, torrents, thickets, snakes, butterflies, ravines and mosquitoes.” In the 1850s two merchants to whom the government had granted the area in repayment of bonds gathered together young families and offered them plots in return for communal labour. Their pioneering vision was of “a free society of landed proprietors, comfortably off and happy.”

Thanks to the arrival of coffee, it worked. Unlike in Central America or Brazil, most of Colombia’s coffee has been grown by small and medium-sized proprietors. The hills of Antioquia and the provinces to the south are studded with flower-decked, brightly painted farmhouses.

But Arcadia was lost. For the past seven decades rural Colombia has seen persistent violence, partly a battle for land but mainly for plunder and ideology. FARC guerrillas and kidnappers come to La Oculta, and then paramilitaries using chainsaws as murder weapons. Since the 1980s some 5m Colombians have fled the land to escape threats or violence.

It is family disunity that dooms La Oculta. Jon, a black New Yorker who is the partner of Antonio, Pilar’s gay brother, does not share or understand the antioqueño “madness for farms”, “this ancestral, anachronistic attachment to a peasant past”. But most Latin Americans do. For centuries, they drew their identity and only hope of economic security from the land, the still-venerated pachamama (mother earth) of the Incas. If they moved to the cities, it was because they wanted more than subsistence. Many migrants retain ties to their ancestral villages. They keep their family plots and dream of returning to them. One reason for Latin America’s low rate of saving is its people’s preference for land, bricks and mortar.

Farming is rooted in Latin America’s past but it is also part of its future. The region is somewhat less urbanised than is often thought. Although officially 76% of Latin Americans are urbanites, a study by the World Bank in 2005 found that 42% live outside big cities in what could be classed as the countryside.

Blessed with abundant land, Latin America can help feed the world. Many countries have enjoyed agricultural revolutions in the past two decades, applying technology to commercial export farming. There is scope for this to benefit smaller-scale farmers as well as agribusiness.

The main things missing are good transport, public services and security in the countryside.

In Peru a burst of rural roadbuilding and the spread of mobile phones are transforming poorer parts of the country. Rural incomes rose by more than 7% a year between 1994 and 2011, according to a study by Richard Webb, a former president of the country’s Central Bank.

Connectivity will itself help to make the countryside more secure. That is also the biggest potential prize from peace talks between Colombia’s government and the FARC. “La Oculta” ends with Pilar clinging on in the farmhouse, having sold the land for weekend homes that take advantage of a planned motorway link to Medellín. One way or another, the rural dream remains alive in Latin America.