It might seem crazy

The pandemic has changed the shape of global happiness

The old have become happier and the young more miserable

The covid-19 pandemic has done nothing good for the mood of Park Ha-young, an undergraduate at Seoul National University. 

She spent much of last year worrying about the disease, and her chances of spreading it: “I was terrified of becoming the person to cause a huge outbreak.” 

Her freedom has been drastically curtailed. 

The government determines whether she can see friends or attend classes, leaving her frustrated and unable to make plans. 

She is beginning to worry about finding a job after she graduates.

Politicians and officials frequently talk about how covid-19 affects public health and the economy. 

But for most people those are abstract considerations. 

What they experience each day are moods—the sense of being anxious and sad, or, if they are lucky, cheerful and optimistic. 

To mark World Happiness Day on March 20th, researchers linked to the un Sustainable Development Solutions Network have tried to pin down these moods and examine how the pandemic has changed them.

Gallup, a pollster, asks the same questions in scores of countries. 

The most revealing one tells people to imagine a ladder, with steps numbered nought to ten. 

The top rung represents the best life you could have, the bottom rung represents the worst. 

What rung are you on now?

People’s responses to that question, known as a Cantril ladder, suggest (rather surprisingly) that the world was about as happy in the teeth of an awful pandemic as it was before the coronavirus struck. 

The average score across 95 countries, not population-weighted, crept up insignificantly from 5.81 in 2017-19 to 5.85 in 2020. 

But the pattern of life satisfaction has changed. 

Covid-19 has made old people more cheerful. 

A few countries have had some of the happiness squeezed out of them; others have amassed more of it.

Covid-19 threatens the old far more than the young, with the risk of death after contracting the disease doubling for every eight years of life. 

Yet the old have cheered up. Globally, between 2017-19 and 2020 happiness was boosted by 0.22 points on the Cantril ladder among people over the age of 60. 

Celina Beatriz Gazeti dos Santos, a 64-year-old psychologist in São Paulo, ticks off a list of things that might dampen her mood—the pandemic, widespread corruption, a dislikeable government, others’ misery. 

Yet she proclaims herself increasingly happy and optimistic all the same.

In Britain, a country with excellent happiness data, everyone has slipped, but some more than others (see chart 1). 

There, and in other rich countries, the age profile of happiness before the pandemic struck was roughly U-shaped when plotted on a graph. 

People began their adult lives in a cheerful state. 

They became glummer in middle age. 

Then, after about the age of 50, they started to became happier again. 

If they made it to a very advanced age, however, they fell back into the doldrums.

Today the pattern is an upward slope. 

The young are less satisfied than the middle-aged, who are less satisfied than the old. 

That might be put down to Britain’s vaccination programme, which has targeted the old first. 

But the pattern has barely changed over the past year. 

Months before Britons became familiar with what some call “the Pfizer” and “the AstraZeneca”, something had shifted.

Video-conferencing software has enabled many old people to stay in touch with their families—sometimes better than before the pandemic. 

In countries that locked down, they have the pleasure of knowing that society made sacrifices to protect them. 

And as John Helliwell, an economist at the University of British Columbia who wrote part of the World Happiness Report points out, the old feel healthier. 

Globally, 36% of men over the age of 60 said they had a health problem last year, down from an average of 46% in the three years before. 

Among women, the share with health problems fell from 51% to 42%. 

Old people probably are not actually healthier. 

Rather, covid-19 has changed the yardstick. 

They feel healthier because they have dodged a disease that could kill them.

Meanwhile the young have had a rough year. 

Many lost their jobs—in America the unemployment rate for people aged 20 to 24 shot up from 6.3% in February 2020 to 25.6% two months later (it fell back to 9.6% last month). 

In some rich countries young women have had a particularly hard time. 

They often work in sectors, such as hospitality, which have been shut down. 

When schools close, many are lumbered with more than their fair share of child care.

They also have busy social lives. 

Having lots of friends seems, counter-intuitively, to have made the pandemic harder. 

One study of Britain by Ben Etheridge and Lisa Spantig, both at the University of Essex, found that women with at least four close friends slumped more than anyone during the spring 2020 lockdown. 

“People who are used to seeing lots of friends really suffered—and women and younger people have more friends,” says Xiaowei Xu of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Some countries have fared better than others (see chart 2). 

Whereas Britons’ happiness slumped in 2020, Germany rose from being the 15th happiest country in the world to the seventh happiest. 

Britain has endured long lockdowns and an excess-death rate of 190 per 100,000 people since the start of the pandemic. 

Germany’s excess-death rate is just 77 per 100,000. 

For most of last year Germany fought covid-19 much better than most of Europe, although it has gone on to fluff the vaccination endgame—leading Bild, a tabloid newspaper, to declare in February: “Liebe Briten, we beneiden you” (dear Britain, we envy you).

Strikingly, the countries that were at the top of the happiness chart before the pandemic remain there. 

The three highest-ranking countries in 2020—Finland, Iceland and Denmark—were among the top four in 2017-19. 

All three have dealt well with covid-19, and have excess-death rates below 21 per 100,000. 

Iceland has a negative rate. 

It helps to be a remote island.

The most intriguing suggestion in the World Happiness Report is that some links between covid-19 and happiness operate in both directions. 

The authors do not suggest that happiness helps countries resist covid-19. 

Rather, they argue that one of the things that sustains national happiness also makes places better at dealing with pandemics. 

That thing is trust. Polls by Gallup show that many of the places that have coped best with covid-19, such as the Nordic countries and New Zealand, have widespread faith in institutions and strangers. 

Large majorities of their inhabitants believe that a neighbour would return a wallet if they found it.

Countries have failed to see off covid-19 for many obvious reasons. 

Some are poor; others are poorly led. 

They lack recent experience with diseases such as sars. 

They cannot police their borders. 

But Jeffrey Sachs, an economist at Columbia University, suggests another reason: politicians and officials in many rich European and American countries decided they could not ask too much of the public. 

A combination of individualism and less-than-solid institutional trust meant they felt unable to insist on quarantines or mask-wearing until the situation grew desperate.

People who don’t need people

If that is right, it might help explain a broad regional change: the falling happiness of Latin America and the rising happiness of East Asia. 

Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico all became less happy in 2020; China, Japan and Taiwan became happier, although South Korea slipped a bit. 

It is as though Latin American countries had the wrong kind of happiness before 2020, says Mr Helliwell—a happiness sustained by people’s close social connections, not by high levels of social trust. 

A global poll in 2019 found that only 52% of people in Latin America and the Caribbean thought a neighbour would return a wallet; just 41% thought a cop would. 

That is the lowest share of any region.

The pervasive lack of trust made it harder for Latin American countries to tackle covid-19 in a comprehensive way. 

People can and do keep their distance from each other, but that is emotionally tough in countries where people are normally so sociable. 

Mexicans have been deprived of their leisurely Friday lunches and Sunday family gatherings (though some carry on anyway). 

“The pandemic has changed a lot,” laments Edmilson de Souza Santos, a builder in Barueri, a São Paulo suburb. 

“You have to stop living your life.”

There remains a big national puzzle. 

America responded poorly to covid-19 and has suffered more than 500,000 excess deaths. 

Yet the Gallup poll detects a slight rise in Americans’ happiness level in 2020. 

A panel survey by the University of Southern California shows that mental stress and anxiety shot up in America last March and April, but then subsided. 

Two subsequent waves of infection and death appeared not to disturb them further.

Many American states have had rather lackadaisical lockdowns, at least for adults—for schoolchildren restrictions can seem unbending. 

That could have kept people’s spirits up. 

Abi Adams-Prassl of Oxford University and other researchers found that the first wave of lockdowns, last spring, lowered women’s moods. 

It could also be that extreme partisanship helps. 

Many Americans have spent the past year in an alternate information universe in which covid-19 is just like flu. 

It is hard to get too worked up about fake news.

Despite Chile’s Speedy Covid-19 Vaccination Drive, Cases Soar

Experts say Chile’s government eased restrictions on travel, business and schools much too early, creating a false sense of confidence that the worst of the pandemic was over.

By Pascale Bonnefoy and Ernesto Londoño

A nearly empty highway during a quarantine order in Santiago, Chile, last weekend.Credit...Cristobal Olivares for The New York Times

SANTIAGO, Chile — Having negotiated early access to tens of millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines, Chile has been inoculating its residents faster than any other country in the Americas and appears poised to be among the first in the world to reach herd immunity.

But experts say the country’s speedy and efficient vaccination drive — only Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Seychelles have vaccinated a larger share of their populations — gave Chileans a false sense of security and contributed to a sharp spike in new infections and deaths that is overloading the health care system.

The surge in cases, even as more than one-third of Chile’s population has received at least the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, serves as a cautionary tale for other nations looking to vaccination drives to quickly put an end to the era of beleaguered economies, closed borders and social distancing. 

The rise in cases prompted a new set of strict lockdown measures that have restricted mobility for much of the country, affecting nearly 14 million people.

“When transmission rates are high, the vaccine does not rein in new infections right away,” said Dr. Denise Garrett, an epidemiologist at the Sabin Vaccine Institute in Washington. 

“And with the new variants, which are more contagious, we’re not likely to see a big impact until the vast majority of the population is vaccinated.”

     Police officers operating vehicle checkpoints to limit movement during the latest lockdown.Credit...Cristobal Olivares for The New York Times

The severity of the crisis in Chile became clear Sunday as President Sebastián Piñera asked Congress to delay by six weeks a vote scheduled for early April to elect the representatives who will draft a new Constitution and other officials.

“Protecting the health of our compatriots has always been our first priority,” Mr. Piñera said in a statement on Sunday, arguing that the current state of the pandemic was not conducive to holding a vote that was “democratic, inclusive and safe.”

While more than six million of the country’s 18 million people have been vaccinated, a surge in infections has left intensive-care units operating with few beds to spare and the system at a breaking point.

Last week Chile recorded 7,626 new Covid-19 cases in a single day, a record, and the pace of new infections has doubled in the past month. 

The main hospital in the coastal city of Valparaíso had to create an overflow morgue over the weekend. 

Health officials in Chile have identified cases of new variants that were first identified in Brazil and Britain.

A lone commuter on a subway platform. Credit...Cristobal Olivares for The New York Times

Dr. Francisca Crispi, a regional president of Chile’s medical association, said that 20 to 30 percent of medical professionals in the country had gone on leave because they are so exhausted. Many are experiencing mental health problems and suicidal ideation, she added.

“No one questions that the vaccination campaign is a success story,” she said. 

“But it conveyed a false sense of security to people, who felt that since we’re all being vaccinated the pandemic is over.”

The government moved too quickly as it reopened its borders in November and eased restrictions on businesses, said Dr. Crispi. 

In January, after tightly restricting the flow of people across provincial borders, the country created a permit system for Chileans to go on summer vacation.

A closed restaurant in Santiago. Credit...Cristobal Olivares for The New York Times

“There was no control or traceability of the people who arrived in the country and many people traveled abroad on vacation,” Dr. Crispi said. 

She called the vacation permits a “seriously misguided measure.”

Soon, Chile also allowed gyms, churches, malls, restaurants and casinos to reopen. 

Even as experts urged caution, the government stuck to its plan to reopen schools on March 1.

As people began moving and consuming with greater ease, doctors grew concerned, especially because the government did not have an effective contact tracing system in place.

“The situation we’re in is one we saw coming,” said Dr. Claudia Cortés, an infectious disease specialist who teaches at the University of Chile and has been treating Covid-19 patients at a private clinic in Santiago. 

“More than four million people traveled around the country. 

That led the virus, which had been largely contained to some major areas, to spread across the country.”

    A subway station in Santiago. Credit...Cristobal Olivares for The New York Times

Health Minister Enrique Paris has defended the vacation permits system, but acknowledged that the government should have been more emphatic about conveying that the virus remained a big threat as Chileans became more lackadaisical about mask wearing and gatherings.

“The mistake was perhaps to not have communicated the evident risk so the people who obtained those permits could have had the necessary instructions,” he said in early March.

Several other countries in the region are struggling to rein in contagion. 

In Brazil, hospitals in several states have waiting lists of gravely ill patients. 

Doctors in Paraguay say they are facing shortages of basic drugs as the virus spreads briskly.

Chile is better equipped than any of its neighbors to get the virus under control.

Rodrigo Yáñez, a senior foreign ministry official who oversaw the vaccine procurement program, said Chile had successful been in securing a large quantity of doses soon after manufacturing began by acting decisively and early.

An almost empty Plaza de la Ciudadanía square near La Moneda Palace.Credit...Cristobal Olivares for The New York Times

The government has relied mainly on the Chinese-made CoronaVac and on Pfizer’s shot, but it has also placed orders from other suppliers to ramp up the pace.

Mr. Yáñez said the government’s campaign to encourage Chileans to get vaccinated had been effective at reducing the percentage of people who have expressed reservations about the vaccines in public opinion polls.

“We expect that the effect of the vaccines will be felt by mid-April,” he said in an interview.

Pascale Bonnefoy reported from Santiago, and Ernesto Londoño from Rio de Janeiro.


By Matthew Piepenburg

We certainly live in interesting times. 

Yet be you bear or bull, left or right, optimist, cynic or pessimist, one would be hard pressed to pretend that anything is, well, normal.

The Controversially Insane

Many are questioning why a virus with a death rate of less than .4% has shut down the global economy for a year and counting.

Despite extremely legitimate moments of silence for those who died with (or of) COVID, others are questioning policy makers who ignored protecting the most at risk profiles while remaining largely silent for the self-inflicted death for the rest of Main Street economies shut-down across the world.

As millions of Americans await a check from Uncle Sam to the tune of $1400, some are wondering why SEC-sanctioned liars and tweet-happy front runners like Elon Musk and other C-suite tech giants are amassing fortunes.

Incidentally, that $1400 check is ¼ the cost of the dress worn by Meghan Markle in her recent attempt to convince Oprah and the rest of the world to sympathize with her unique struggles while more than 50% of U.S. children are living in welfare-assisted homes.

Again, is this normal?

It certainly is “interesting.”

Central banks, printing trillions per year to buy otherwise unwanted sovereign IOU’s are keeping bonds so over-supported and over-valued that the bulk of the nominal and real yields on government debt are negative—something never seen in 5000 years of recorded market history.

Meanwhile, more than 20% of US corporate bonds are literally zombies—i.e. dead men walking on new debt to pay interest on old debt with no chance of ever repaying principal as the vast majority of US corporate credits (well over 65%) are either levered loans or just one eyelash above junk status.

Slowly rising yields, still openly repressed by central bank intervention, are now being telegraphed to the world as a sign of “economic growth” by Wall Street Pinocchio’s paid to sell hope rather than facts.

At the same time, the media now has the masses convinced that a magical vaccine will solve everything, despite reams of Congressionally-ignored evidence that the specific antibodies within these vaccines attack non-specific antibodies so critical to our immune systems for later illnesses.

In sum, when it comes to central bank accommodation, lock-down measures, yield manipulations or rapid-fire vaccines, it’s at least plausible to wonder if certain policy cures are indeed worse than the global diseases.

That said, I’m certainly no virologist nor an expert on Oprah’s ratings or Elon’s Twitter account, so these are just rants and questions rather than dispositive conclusions, but I am, like so many of you, starting to question the “interesting” world around me.

The Openly Insane

What is less open for debate, however, is the otherwise obvious yet media-ignored disaster otherwise known as the global financial system and the distortions (i.e. lies) that govern them, as evidenced, for example, in the comical CPI measure of inflation.

The very fact that markets reached all-time highs while global economies, GDP’s, employment rates and social conditions reached new lows in the backdrop of a world-wide shutdown, for example, ought to have everyone, including those who know nothing about free market capitalism, scratching their heads.

The Death of Free Markets

This is because there is no such thing as free market capitalism in a world where central banks, eight key commercial banks, and one or two global “institutions” (hint: IMF and World Bank) have effectively and completely taken over, as well as distorted, almost every aspect of the natural supply & demand forces to which we and Adam Smith once swooned.

In case you think such statements are meant to create drama rather then perspective, let’s consider objective facts rather than controversial adjectives and nouns.

It would (and has) taken hundreds of pages to delineate the myriad ways in which fiscal and monetary policy from global law-makers and bankers have hijacked, distorted and then destroyed free market price discovery and natural, true capitalism.

Rather than break such a word count here, let us briefly examine just one corner of this twisted world order and illustrate how rigged the current playing field otherwise known as free-market capitalism and free market “price discovery” truly is.

In short, let’s draw back the curtains to that corrupted stage otherwise known as the COMEX futures market for precious metals and see for ourselves.

Buckle up.

The COMEX Futures Market –Making the Complex (and Rotten) Simple

For many, the COMEX future’s market is a very scary, mysterious and almost foreign universe.

And yes, it’s also complex in all its trading paper, players, strategies and layers—too complex, indeed, to fully unpack here.

At its most basic level, however, the COMEX futures market is a place where paper contracts representing actual hard assets (from soybeans to gold) are traded.

In a normal world, for example, a contract to buy a bundle of grain at a fixed price can be traded on the COMEX market to ensure fixed (i.e. contractual) pricing against market price swings.

Once such a contract (be it for grains, metal, or pork-bellies) nears its expiration date, the holder of the contract can either take delivery of the contracted-for commodity, or rollover (i.e. extend) that contract for a longer period, thereby delaying actual delivery.

Pretty simple, right?

From Simple to Manipulated

Such simplicity, however, gets more complex when that same exchange (thanks to creative young bucks like Leo Melamed and Alan Greenspan) allows those simple contracts to be traded with leverage, anywhere from 100:1 to even 300:1.

In short: Far more contracts than the actual assets within them.

The simplicity gets even more complicated when participants are allowed to go long AND short those contracts via the use of admittedly complex derivative instruments.

Finally, the simplicity gets fully distorted, and complex, when a small minority of extremely deep-pocked participants control the vast majority of the buying and selling of those contracts, and hence their pricing.

In short, the COMEX futures market is not a simple place for the buying and selling of paper contracts, but rather a highly corrupted place for the manipulation, leverage and manipulation of those paper contracts and hence the pricing of the assets they represent.

Worthless Paper…

But paper, as we know, is ordinarily just a flimsy thing. Paper is also where we get to hold and touch fiat currencies, which like most paper products, are not terribly valuable. As Voltaire famously said: “All paper money eventually returns to its intrinsic value—zero.”

Yet this ever-weakening paper money, ever since Nixon robbed it of its gold-backing in 1971, is what makes the ever-mad financial world go ever-round in this new, ever-“interesting” era.

Central banks, and broke nations, therefore need to make otherwise weak paper appear valuable, and will do all kinds of complex market gymnastics to keep the illusion that paper is actual wealth.

Toward this end, it is therefore very, very, very important for those powerful players to make true stores of wealth—i.e. gold and silver—look far less valuable than what the natural market would otherwise dictate.

In short, key market manipulators (described below) like to use paper products to make gold and silver products look less sexy, for if gold and silver where to be priced according to genuine supply and demand forces, then the entire (and embarrassingly broken) paper scheme of global fiat currencies and markets would fall like a house of cheap (paper) cards.

Hard to believe?

Let me show you.

Gold & Silver’s Fictional “Paper” Price

Take my two favorite, misunderstood, yet historically-confirmed stores of genuine rather than paper (or even crypto) value: Gold & silver.

Popular demand for these assets is in fact massive, which means their price power should be openly and equally so.

After all, true, free-market capitalism rewards those assets which enjoy high demand but relatively low supply, right? That, after all, is Econ 101.

Let’s look, then, at the example of rising demand for silver in 2021 as measured by ETF flows:

And let’s do the same for flows into gold ETF’s, just to make the natural demand visually clear:

With such rising demand for ETF gold and silver (allegedly backed by actual physical gold and silver held by the custodians of these funds), shouldn’t gold and silver prices therefore be skyrocketing in the paper markets that represent them?

Well, as alluded above, paper is a funny thing, and for the policy makers (i.e. central banks, major commercial –or “bullion”—banks and all dollar dependent politicians) who are deeply threatened by rising gold and silver prices, paper can be easily manipulated, which means so can the price of gold and silver.

How the Hateful-8 Kill Free Market Price Discovery

And to make this obvious, objective and undeniable as opposed to just theoretical or dramatic, let’s see how the big players, rather than the natural supply and demand forces, artificially, legally and yet dishonestly fix the gold and silver prices, and thus mock any vestige of respect for that bygone ghost otherwise known as free market price action.

Specifically, let’s see how just eight major commercial banks are able to overpower the natural price power of thousands of other contract buyers on the COMEX futures market to artificially suppress the natural pricing of these two precious metals.

Believe it or not, nearly every contract (and I’m talking thousands of them) for gold and silver in the COMEX futures market trade net long—meaning they are buyers. 

That should make their prices quite high.

Yet all it takes to defeat the demand power (and rising price) of those contracts and metals is for just  four to eight of the largest traders (mainly bullion banks) in the futures market to perpetually short (i.e. bet against) those other contracts to keep their prices suppressed.

Hard to believe? 

Then see for yourself:

In sum, what we see in the COMEX futures markets are eight players essentially betting against the rest of the world in order to control the price of precious metals. 

Alas, this tiny handful of eight (the “Hateful-8”?) are and were short more than 50% of the entire futures market, and by going this deep and this short they literally (and artificially) control the paper price of precious metals, for without such intervention, the price of gold and silver would literally be skyrocketing.

Do you now see how terrified the big boys are of rising gold and silver? Recently, they were 112% short silver to the tune of over 412 million ounces.

Of course, we already know what they are afraid of: Rising gold and silver would be the ultimate and absolute confirmation of the otherwise open failure of unlimited money printing and fiat currencies in a post-Nixon world.

How Long Can Natural Price Forces be Repressed?

But the next question is equally obvious: How long can this scam/manipulation continue?

That is, if four to eight big boys are colluding to the tunes of billions and billions and billions of dollars in short contracts on the COMEX, how long can this game continue without a wrench in their plans?

Key to the survival of this open scam and price suppression (in play since 1973) is to keep the short contracts on these precious metals perpetually rolling over rather than expiring, for if the contracts were to ever expire, an actual physical delivery of the underlying metals would be legally required.

But that would immediately spell party over for the Hateful-8 as well as the COMEX itself.

That’s because these same big boys would default on actual delivery for the simple reason that they don’t actually own enough gold and silver to honor their levered contracts. Not even close.

That is also why the current cost spread on the COMEX for rolling over (rather than delivering) these contracts in gold and silver are so cheap—in fact, almost free.

In simple terms, these market manipulators (or the COMEX itself) wouldn’t survive without such manipulation and perpetual contract roll-overs.

Alternatively, if they couldn’t make actual delivery of the metals (and they can’t), the Hateful-8 would be forced to cover their own COMEX shorts and go net long once gold and silver prices climbed (i.e. “squeezed” them) beyond their control.

This short-covering would cause the price of precious metals to skyrocket.

But even the big boy’s pockets aren’t deep enough to ever afford going net long to cover their own sins and shorts—this would require trillions, not billions.

Not even a bailout from Exchange Stabilization Fund could help these TBTF (Too Big to Fail) bullion banks at that point.

In short, this small handful of big boys shorting the gold and silver contracts on the COMMEX are playing with gasoline and matches.

All of the big boys, that is, but one…

Enter JP Morgan—No Honor Among Thieves

When JP Morgan inherited the post-08 books of that other headline failure, Bear Sterns, this included 30,000 to 40,000 short contract positions in gold and silver.

For all the reasons (and risks) stated above, JP Morgan knew it was dangerous to be net short gold and silver (because as metal custodians for other funds, Morgan knows better than anyone that there simply isn’t enough physical gold and silver to meet the delivery demands of the grossly levered contracts traded on that over-levered COMEX).

Stated otherwise, Morgan needed to dump (and cover) those shorts (by going long) at just the right moment, i.e. when prices were low.

Thus, after spoofing the market in early 2020, Morgan artificially manipulated the prices down before going net long to cover their shorts last March.

As of now, JP Morgan has closed its short positions and is market neutral rather than net short gold and silver.

In fact, they are stacking their physical gold and silver bars in London warehouses as I type this, controlling over 1B ounces of Silver and over 25M ounces of gold.


Very simple, they plan to front run the inevitable gold and silver bull market of which we’ve been writing for years.

And as for the COMEX futures market in paper gold? 

Well, its days are numbered and the fallout from its failure will be more than “interesting,” but nothing less than a disaster. 

How Close Are China and Germany? Consider ‘Little Swabia.’

The city of Taicang illustrates the tight ties between the countries — and how difficult it could be for President Biden to win allies in his campaign to isolate Beijing.

By Keith Bradsher and Jack Ewing

Lunchtime at Schindlers Tankstelle, a German restaurant in Taicang, / China.Lorenz Huber for The New York Times

TAICANG, China — German and Chinese flags flutter along tree-lined avenues. Workers are erecting a shopping-and-hotel project with the half-timbered style of architecture more typically found in places like Bavaria or the Black Forest. 

A nearby restaurant serves Thuringia grilled sausages, fried pork sausages and lots of sauerkraut.

And in Erwin Gerber’s bakery nearby in Taicang, an industrial city a little more than an hour’s drive northwest of Shanghai, hungry customers can buy a loaf of country sourdough bread or a pretzel baked the way they are made in Baden-Württemberg.

“Everything you find in Germany,” Mr. Gerber said, “you will find in my bakery.”

Taicang epitomizes the deep ties between the world’s second- and fourth-largest economies. The Chinese city is so tightly knit with Germany’s industrial machine that some people call it “Little Swabia,” after the German region that the owners of many of its factories call home.

But the relationship has also raised concerns that Germany has become overly dependent on China. That could be a particularly thorny problem for President Biden, who has made isolating Beijing on trade and geopolitical issues a major part of his overall China strategy.

The Schaeffler factory in Taicang. Schaeffler is a German company that makes rolling element bearings for the auto industry, aerospace and for industrial uses.Credit...Lorenz Huber for The New York Times

In December, Germany played a dominant role in hammering out an initial European Union investment protection deal with China, despite objections from the incoming Biden administration. 

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has defended the agreement as necessary to help European companies make further gains in China. 

She signaled in January that she does not want Germany to take sides in a new Cold War, telling the World Economic Forum, “I’m not in favor of the formation of blocs.”

Her stance could have broad sway throughout Europe, given Germany’s position as its largest economy. “It’s a swing state in terms of influence,” said Theresa Fallon, director of the Center for Russia Europe Asia Studies in Brussels.

Germany will be under growing pressure in the months ahead to pick a side. The deal with China still requires approval from the European Parliament, where many are hostile to it.

Erwin Gerber in his bakery in Taicang. “Everything you find in Germany,” he said, “you will find in my bakery.”Credit...Lorenz Huber for The New York Times

It could also face pressure during the early June summit of the Group of 7 industrialized nations, which also includes France, Italy, the United States, Canada, Britain and Japan. 

Mr. Biden wants to strengthen that institution after Donald J. Trump, the former president, gave it short shrift over the past four years.

Some European politicians, voters and rights groups want Germany to take a tougher stance on human rights abuses. 

They cite China’s crackdown on the democracy movement in Hong Kong and its detention of as many as a million members of predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, in China’s far west.

“We are not happy about vague promises made in regard to the brutal suppression of the minorities,” said Reinhard Bütikofer, a member of the European Parliament who is the Green Party’s spokesman on foreign policy issues.

Mr. Gerber packing pastries. The vast majority of his customers are Chinese. Lorenz Huber for The New York Times

Even Germany’s leading business groups, while generally backing Ms. Merkel’s stance, have called on China to answer the criticism.

“The human rights situation in Xinjiang, as well as the political situation in Hong Kong, strain our political and economic relations,” said Joachim Lang, the director general of the powerful German Federation of Industries. 

“It should be in China’s own best interest to provide greater clarity to the international community regarding conditions on the ground and respond to the allegations.”

China rejects the criticisms as interference in its internal affairs. European companies in China have said they avoid the use of forced labor in Xinjiang.

Germany has benefited from its ties with China, particularly during the pandemic. China has overtaken the United States as Germany’s biggest trading partner and become the major market for many of its companies. 

Mercedes-Benz sold three times as many cars in China last year as it did in the United States.

Employees in the heart of Mr. Gerber’s bakery. Lorenz Huber for The New York Times

Yet some in Germany fear that the Chinese bonanza is coming to an end. 

China has stepped up its efforts to compete with German companies in precision machinery or acquire them outright. Executives at some German companies in Taicang said local managers they trained had left to form competitors.

German-owned factories make the precision machinery that many Chinese manufacturers need to keep running. 

If Beijing succeeds in its bid for industrial self-reliance, a recent study by the Bertelsmann Foundation warned, China will no longer need them.

“It won’t be a win-win situation anymore,” said Ulrich Ackermann, director of foreign markets for the Mechanical Engineering Industry Association, known by its German initials, V.D.M.A., which financed the study by the foundation.

Most of the German companies in Taicang are small and midsize manufacturers that make niche industrial products, or the “Mittelstand” companies that underpin the German economy.

Materials for a shopping and hotel project being built in Taicang. The project will imitate an architectural style found in Germany. Lorenz Huber for The New York Times

Germany’s first roots in Taicang were planted in 1985, when Hans-Jochem Steim, the managing director of a German manufacturer of wire springs, went looking for a place to build a factory. 

Taicang, little more than a collection of villages then, was a short drive north from Shanghai’s only commercial airport at the time and had a small-town atmosphere that reminded him of the company’s hometown, Schramberg in Swabia.

Kern-Liebers, Mr. Steim’s manufacturer, was the first of what turned out to be over 350 German companies that set up operations in Taicang, drawn by cheap real estate, a nearby airport and cooperative local officials. Mr. Steim encouraged his longtime suppliers to follow him.

“The first 20 German investors were more or less his friends,” said Richard Zhang, the chief executive of Kern-Liebers’s China operations.

Richard Zhang is the chief executive of the China operations of Kern-Liebers, the first of over 350 German companies that set up operations in Taicang.Credit...Lorenz Huber for The New York Times

Among those early investors was TOX Pressotechnik, which makes machines that join pieces of metal and are used to construct car roofs, chassis and other components. 

While big companies tended to set up in major population centers, “as a small company, you went to Taicang,” said Susanne Eberhardt, a member of the family that owns the company, which is based in Weingarten in southern Germany.

Chinese employees hired by TOX meshed well with the Germans. 

“The Chinese people exuded energy and optimism,” Ms. Eberhardt said. “You could feel that China was on the verge of a breakthrough, and they were unbelievably proud to be part of it.”

The Germans taught local managers so well that, these days, Taicang has everything German except a large number of Germans themselves. 

The vast majority of the customers at Mr. Gerber’s bakery are Chinese. The few expatriates tend to live in Shanghai, which has a German-language school for their children.

German companies in Taicang were usually not big enough to attract a lot of attention from the central government. 

Several said they did not feel pressure to share technology and trade secrets, a common complaint by larger foreign investors.

Locals eating a German-style sausage platter for lunch at Schindlers.Credit...Lorenz Huber for The New York Times

“If you don’t touch politically sensitive issues, it’s a very friendly environment,” said Matthias Müller, the managing director of the German Center for Industry and Trade in Taicang.

German investors helped transform Taicang into a city with almost one million people. Workers who once rode bicycles now drive cars.

In 2004, when Klaus Gerlach was setting up operations for Krones, a German maker of machinery for the food and beverage industry, “we had one car in the parking lot, and it was mine,” he said. “Today, the parking lot is full of cars.”

The downside of that growth is that Taicang, like factory towns all over China, is suffering from a shortage of blue-collar labor. Workers tend to job hop frequently unless they receive pay raises and other benefits.

“If you don’t touch politically sensitive issues, it’s a very friendly environment,” said Matthias Müller, the managing director of the German Center for Industry and Trade in Taicang.Credit...Lorenz Huber for The New York Times

Kern-Liebers has set 5,000 renminbi, or $775, as the monthly pay for entry-level workers, a more than sixteenfold increase from the 1990s. “At that time,” Mr. Zhang said, “we paid 300 and everyone was very happy. Now we pay 5,000 and they are not so happy.”

German companies say they still see room for growth in China. They say the government is not targeting them, because they produce in China and employ predominantly Chinese people.

Vanessa Hellwing, chief financial officer of Chiron, a maker of machine tools used by automakers and the aerospace industry that has a factory in Taicang, said the Chinese economy’s fast recovery from the pandemic had helped compensate for declining sales elsewhere.

Europe remains Chiron’s biggest market, Ms. Hellwing said, but “the most important growth market is China.”

Can We Learn Anything From Horses?

Equus offers life-changing “attunement” through the medium of horses. But how?

By Caity Weaver
Ramsay de Give for The New York Times

SANTA FE, N.M. — The 11 acres of Thunderbird Ridge: the Equus Experiential Discovery and Learning Campus were virtually empty.

Raven, a horse, had been paid — or more correctly, her gentle caretakers had been paid — over $1,000, including New Mexico state sales tax, on the understanding that she would lift the veil on my mortal existence and thus improve it in some way. Two hours had been allotted for this purpose. Time was running thin.

What Is Equus?

Apprehending the business of Equus from the Equus website is either simple or impossible.

A caliginous floating video of a glassy black horse eye blinks perpetually on the home page. 

Scrolling down, we encounter, close-up, a human hand and horsehair in intimate caress. On the “Animal Partners” section of the “Team” page — a kind of employee ID gallery for Equus horses — each horse at the property is rendered an artistic fraction of itself: Artemis’s eye. Dante’s eye. Most of Cisco’s mandible, viewed from below.

This disorienting horse portraiture is intentionally fragmentary, said Kelly Wendorf, an executive and personal development coach, who in 2016 founded Equus with her business and romantic partner J. Scott Strachan, who is also an executive and personal development coach.

“If you see a picture of somebody, let’s say, running with a horse during their two-hour experience, and you don’t end up running with a horse …” said Ms. Wendorf, 56, reflecting on a hypothetical client’s expectations and the dearth of visual exposition on her website. She trailed off.

Mr. Strachan, 63, jumped in. “We don’t want to put anything in the space that limits the possibilities,” he said. “We don’t want to create expectations. The more curious you show up here, the more can happen.”

Dante, Cisco and Aedin represent a collective 168 million years of wisdom at home on their Santa Fe ranch.Credit...Ramsay de Give for The New York Times

In short, “The Equus Experience,” is tailored to each client individually. 

Participants may engage with one or more horses from the company’s private herd. 

They may or may not be asked to lead horses in tasks. No riding of the horses is allowed.

The possible effects, opportunities, outcomes, fruits, impacts, ramifications and surprises of Equus, according to the company’s website, include: “literally changing your brain to be wired toward presence, attunement and wisdom,” “creating the life you really deserve,” learning “in a joyful, memorable, yet powerful way that is sustained over time,” mastering “nonverbal skills,” sensing “‘emergent’ futures” and “much more.”

The program is derived from what the founders frequently refer to as “56 million years of wisdom” — an allusion to the debut in the fossil record of the equid ancestor of the modern domesticated horse Equus ferus caballus. 

This wisdom, said Ms. Wendorf “is in all the work that we do, whether the horse is physically there or not.” (In addition to in-person interactions, Equus also offers remote and off-site coaching options with no horses present; all activities are “horse-inspired.”)

The horse’s herd system of living, Ms. Wendorf and Mr. Strachan assert in website copy, enabled it to become “one of the most successful mammals” on the planet. (Technically, yes, one could argue that domesticated horses are comparably “successful” to humans, given that both evolved from the same Cretaceous period placental mammal. Humans have done bigger numbers.)

The Equus business plan also proposes that the schema around which horse herds instinctively organize, when adopted by humans, can transform people into better, more successful beings.

For clients who never visit the New Mexico property, the most compelling element of Equus may be the becalming force of Scott Strachan and Kelly Wendorf, the founders.Credit...Ramsay de Give for The New York Times

What Is Equus?

If the afternoon of my visit — radiating brilliant Santa Fe sunshine, exhilarated by its own tremendous wind velocity, grateful and excited to be a fine March day — were two people, it would definitely be Kelly and Scott.

But I was having trouble, under the calm supervision of Mr. Strachan standing some yards away, gleaning from the horse Raven not only “what she wants you to know about her” but also “what she tells you about yourself.”

I was, as instructed, deeply listening, my hand on her warm back, my eyes shut. 

Uncertain about the mechanics of information flow, I attuned my senses to perceive a message from Raven in any medium, such as the sudden existence of new certainty within myself, or an image popping into my head like an AirDropped file. 

Very still minutes began to pile up. “What are you telling me?” I asked her, finally, at which point Raven did nothing, and then walked away.

Had it gone like this for “Bette Midler,” “Margaret Atwood” or “Sally Jewell” — all listed on the Equus website as previous clients, identified respectively as “(actor),” “(author)” and “(Secretary of the Interior)”? 

Had “Jeff Bezos and family,” “Red Bull” and “Cici’s Pizza,” following their human coach’s direction to the letter, listened with their hearts to their horse teachers, and heard, in reply, only the sounds of light vehicle traffic to the nearby Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe carried on the wind?

It seemed unlikely — why would they be on the website? 

Perhaps they hadn’t done the in-person activity I was failing to execute; maybe it had been enough for them to receive 56 million years of wisdom through Equus’s remote executive coaching options. I was jealous, though I knew not of what. I wanted whatever Bette Midler had.

“In our experience, the process begins the moment you commit and book your date for your time with the horses,” read an email I received upon booking my Equus Experience. 

“So watch for synchronicities and other events that will invariably conspire to assist you between now and when you arrive.”

The Equus coach on hand posed questions and offered light guidance during sessions with clients. Ramsay de Give for The New York Times

While a session is occurring, the Equus coach on hand poses questions and offers light guidance on how to spend time with the horses. 

The horses themselves might participate in two or three single-client sessions each week, and face one group of clients a month.

“They’re not going to show up and provide their greatest gifts if they’re being forced to work an eight-hour workday,” Mr. Strachan said. 

“And it’s also the same thing for us.” (“We’ve said no before to some very large dollar amounts,” he said. “It’s not about the money.”)

The bill for two hours of in-person horse interactions, plus a follow-up phone call, is $1,044.47.

“If somebody calls and is ready to invest in themselves, they don’t even ask,” Mr. Strachan said. “If somebody calls up and they say ‘This is too expensive,’ they’re looking for a reason not to invest in themselves. It’s not necessarily about the money.”

Asked how Equus arrives at its prices, Ms. Wendorf estimated that the average cost to support the horses is about $750 per month. She and Mr. Strachan also emphasized the time and effort expended customizing each participant’s encounter. 

For the in-person experience, this can include deciding beforehand whether to read a poem — and which poem — from a book of several hundred poems, at some point during a session.

Considerations such as possible poetry pertinence are made based on responses to an intake questionnaire emailed after booking. (One item asks respondents to describe their lives as if they were “in a balcony looking down at all the aspects and players.”)

“How much does it cost to free yourself from limiting beliefs?” Ms. Wendorf said.

Brio and Molly enjoy unfiltered face time with Ms. Wendorf — access celebrity clients and international corporations pay for. Ramsay de Give for The New York Times

What Is Equus?

Tim Hamilton, 50, the head of global creative design at the North Face, first learned of Equus in December 2019, when he saw a brochure featuring avant-garde horse photography at a Santa Fe hotel.

“I didn’t really know what Equus was,” he said. But on vacation with his partner and a friend from work, he booked an in-person Equus Experience. In the arena, he was drawn immediately to Artemis, the oldest mare and the leader of the herd.

“You think, like, ‘Oh, come on, that there can’t be that much connectivity,’” he said. “But there is, and there’s this charge.”

Mr. Hamilton, who manages a team of about 60 apparel designers, credited the experience of observing Artemis with “empowering my intuition” — particularly about “the importance of having open communication.”

After his session, he signed up for biweekly coaching calls with Ms. Wendorf. Last year, when the pandemic left him with an unused portion of his corporate travel and entertainment budget, he hired her to host a remote office session to help his team reconnect. (There were no Zoom calls with horses; instead, employees performed tasks like telling their co-workers what they admired about them as colleagues and individuals.)

Another client, Kathy Fiander, 61, a director at Microsoft charged with devising learning experiences for employees, said the Equus corporate team-building exercises are “not even close” to the strangest leadership activities she’s participated in since joining the company in 1989.

“In the old days,” Ms. Fiander said, “the ways they had you build trust were through physical things, like standing on the edge of something and falling backward and trusting people will catch you.”

Before meeting Mr. Strachan, she was skeptical about the potential impact of Equus. “I’ve been around corporate environments a while,” she said. “I’ve done all of the personality tests, and all of that stuff. I tend to look at it with a little bit of a jaded viewpoint, perhaps.” Still, she enlisted Mr. Strachan to lead a daylong session — and found it, to her surprise, “very successful.”

Mr. Strachan, she said, created an atmosphere of trust — and tables “covered with” Play-Doh — where people could “share what they felt they needed to” in “a way that people didn’t feel defensive about it.”

Horses at Thunderbird Ridge are generally free to do as they please. Aedin may share the arena with two or three individual clients a week, along with one client group a month.Credit...Ramsay de Give for The New York Times

“And there were people in that room who — we really didn’t especially love being with each other,” Ms. Fiander said.

Encouraged by employees’ feedback, she continued to book Mr. Strachan’s corporate services. Her team recently committed to participating in a two-hour remote “Wisdom Circle” with him every other week, for four months. “It has not been a hard sell for me at all,” she said, of the expense.

Although Ms. Wendorf and Mr. Strachan kick off workplace coaching sessions by explaining the foundations of Equus, Ms. Fiander and Mr. Hamilton both said horses did not play an explicit role in any of the subsequent activities. 

For clients who never visit the New Mexico property, the most compelling element of Equus may not be the horses, but the becalming force of its leaders’ personalities. “I’m not a phone person at all — I hate when people call me,” said Mr. Hamilton, who expressed mild disbelief at his decision to sign up for regular hourlong phone chats.

“Kelly,” he said, “just, as a personality and person — she’s so joyous.”

What Is Equus?

“What they are going to do,” Mr. Strachan had said when he and I first entered the outdoor arena, “is reflect back to you everything that you are, except the story you tell yourself.”

The horses, he’d explained, were mirrors for “what’s true inside you.”

From start to finish, my Equus Experience — which consisted mainly of cautiously approaching horses and petting them until they walked away, resting my head on one horse’s withers, and journaling about my experience — was refreshed continuously from a stream of such enigmatic information. While perhaps whimsical in premise, it was not an exercise in mollycoddling.

“Are you OK with receiving?” Mr. Strachan had asked at the start of my session. I was — I thought I was. Some people, he’d cautioned, merely think they are.

When I later admitted to not having received what felt like a single dispatch from Raven, Mr. Strachan suggested that perhaps I was not allowing myself to receive her messages — or that I had received them, but was unwilling to acknowledge them.

“Maybe what it is that she’s saying about you is you need to give yourself more permission to receive,” he said. At that moment, Raven began walking toward us, which Mr. Strachan accepted as validation of his interpretation.

Serenity in the golden hour with Blue. Ramsay de Give for The New York Times

Bearing in mind that I may be afflicted with what Mr. Strachan diagnosed as a possible “small problem with receiving,” his methods of drawing connections between the horses’ behavior and aspects of my life or character felt, at times, like someone picking out new constellations in the sky. 

A horse walking away from me was a sign I was welcome. A horse standing still was “so loving” being with me. Multiple horses lying down, as they did toward the end of my session, was evidence of my leadership “superpower” — of “something that you bring to others so that they can relax.”

“I hope that you take away from that how powerful you are,” Mr. Strachan whispered, “because they don’t do that for everybody. They don’t. They don’t.”

“That is a normal, natural behavior, especially based on the time of day that you’ve expressed,” said Chloe Wires, a research assistant at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, when I asked her, over Zoom, if it was unusual for horses to lie down outside on a warm, sunny afternoon. 

“I’m sorry to say, it doesn’t have anything to do with your leadership.”

Candace Croney, a professor of animal behavior and well-being at Purdue, said, “Just out of human compassion, I feel like I need to say: Even if things didn’t go well for you with this group of horses, or it wasn’t the outcome you were hoping for, that doesn’t say that you’re a poor leader.”

“A paper bag could have blown by,” Dr. Croney said, “and I shudder to think what that would have said about your leadership — because they probably would have bolted.”

Having no prior horse history, I had contacted Ms. Wires and Dr. Croney after my session to run Equus’s interpretations by them. (Of the Equus founders, Ms. Wendorf has by far more experience with horses; she previously worked as a trainer and operated a riding school. Mr. Strachan, in addition to coaching, was a sailor and scuba diving instructor.)

Based on my account, Ms. Wires and Dr. Croney agreed that some of the Equus elucidations of equine conduct aligned neatly with animal behavior science. But, they cautioned, there could be grounds for confusion based on the additional layers of meaning ascribed to certain horse actions.

For instance, a person might wonder why a horse would bother to impart to random humans secret knowledge that will enable them to create the lives they truly deserve. 

For Mr. Strachan, the knowledge transmission is a byproduct of something practical: When a human enters a herd’s space, such as the arena at Thunderbird Ridge, he said, horses immediately interpret that person as “a herd member.”

“That’s how they’ve survived for 56 million years,” he said. “It’s incumbent upon them to make sure that you know how to work within the herd.”

“No,” said Dr. Croney over Zoom, “That doesn’t — that’s not a thing.”

“If you’re a prey species, you are designed by nature to scan the environment, make sure it’s safe for you to be in. If you’re not sure it’s safe, get out of there,” she said. 

“That’s it. That’s all you’re designed as a horse to do.”

Equus clients may interact directly with horses in the company’s herd, but not ride them.Credit...Ramsay de Give for The New York Times

Another Equus maxim is that horses recoil from what the founders term “incongruence” — for instance, a person who is emotionally distraught presenting a placid facade.

If horses, Mr. Strachan said, are “out there going completely nuts and they’re unsettled, then we like to lean in and find out what’s really deeply unsettled for you, because they don’t lie.”

“This person stated how calm she was, how grounded she felt, and she was lying,” he said, of one recent client. “Because inside she had a Force 5 hurricane going, over some professional and personal things in her life. And she wasn’t owning it. So they read that.”

Dr. Croney said that there was “probably” some accuracy “in that the horses can detect and respond to cues we are giving off, that we ourselves may not be aware of.”

For example, horses, which thrive on consistency and predictability, could be disturbed by a human displaying erratic breathing or movement patterns induced by stress.

But, Ms. Wires added, a horse perceiving signals outside the field of human awareness is not necessarily discerning “incongruence.” Because, to the horse, the signals are not hidden, there is no incongruence: It’s merely a human exhibiting stress.

“They’re only picking up on the internal actual physical metrics that your body is exuding,” Ms. Wires said. “They just know that you’re not right, so they’re going to be cautious toward you.”

Dr. Croney, who was not previously familiar with Equus, added, “We don’t want to bash what they’re doing.”

Humans “certainly can influence” horses’ behavior, she said. “But it doesn’t reflect some sort of inherent characteristic in us, is what I’m saying.”

Still, it is possible, Dr. Croney said, even outside the formal trappings of, say, leadership exercises, for people to obtain benefits just from spending time in the presence of animals. This is one premise of “the biophilia hypothesis,” which holds that people are inherently attracted to nature.

“My animal behavior work has made me a far better teacher,” she said.

Working with sheep, Dr. Croney said — “everything scares sheep” — requires her to be still and calm; to notice what the sheep are doing; to take stock of the environment they’re in and even to look at what they’re looking at “so I understand what’s going to impact them.”

“As long as the animals are comfortable, they’re in an environment where they feel safe and protected, and you have the ability to sit and watch them — or even better yet, interact with them safely — all of those are fantastic opportunities,” she said.

When asked what, exactly, Equus does, Ms. Wendorf’s answer was typically starry-eyed and expansive: “We create conditions for people to have breakthrough learning so they can have the lives that they’ve always dreamed of,” she said.

But the flourishing value for herself and Mr. Strachan may be that, in creating a business reliant on contemplative horse observation, they have found a way to perpetually hone skills that make them better than the average person at dealing with all unpredictable, skittish animals — including humans eager to improve themselves at any price.