NEAL CONAN, host:
This is Talk of the World. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Real estate values are way, way down in California, Arizona and Florida and in Ireland, Spain and South Africa. The agonies of car manufacturers in Detroit directly affect workers in Canada, Mexico and Germany.
The economic slowdown in China hits iron miners in Minnesota, coal miners in Australia and the trains, longshoremen and the shippers who used to send all that stuff to Shanghai.
The global economic crisis affects your town and your life. Today we want you to be our reporters. Tell us what's changed for your family, your friends and neighbors, your co-workers. We hope to hear some good news amongst the bad. Call us here in Washington, D.C., and we will call you back.
Again, we ask our U.S. listeners to put down the phone this hour as we continue our series where we invite listeners around the world to talk about issues that affect us all. The phone number, country code 1-202-513-2008. Again, that's country code 1-202-513-2008. You can also tell us what's changed on e-mail. That address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can join the conversation on our Web site. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Later on, we'll hear from a reporter in South Africa and an economist who covers Latin America, but we begin with Thomas Mucha, who's a managing editor in charge of correspondents for the online news site GlobalPost.com, and he joins us today from the studios of member station WBUR in Boston, Massachusetts. And thanks very much for taking the time today.
Mr. THOMAS MUCHA (Managing Editor, GlobalPost.com): Hi Neal, great to be here.
CONAN: And this economic crisis started here in the United States, so you'd think that the countries most directly affected would be those most closely tied to the United States.
Mr. MUCHA: Well that's true, Neal, and one of the things that really surprised us as we started looking at this problem - and we sent 20 correspondents out in 20 different countries to examine the ground truth of what's happening here and to really get the human stories behind this global economic crisis - and what really jumps out is the geographic spread and the speed of the crisis.
It's quite astounding. I mean, we've all heard for years about globalization, how the world is getting smaller, how financial markets are connected, how everything is more integrated, and of course that's true.
But in this particular global crisis, when you line it all up and look carefully at what's happening in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, you begin to see all these interconnections playing out right now across the world from the ground up.
You know, taken together, Neal, it makes a real dramatic impact. I mean, these are no longer just the economic theories of Adam smith or David Ricardo that you hear at the University of Chicago or the London School of Economics.
These are real people in real situations who are going through some very difficult and very human dramas.
CONAN: And for many of us, something the likes of which we have never seen in our lifetimes. But we think of it in economic terms, but one of the things that your correspondents have reported is that it has political and social effects, as well.
Mr. MUCHA: Absolutely, and that's one of the things that we've been following closely. We're starting to see some fissures in the global economic order.
The U.S. image, even with President Obama being so popular around the world, has clearly taken a major hit. It's quite clear to most people around the world that yes, the crisis did start here. You had the U.S. housing bubble. You had the lax regulation on Wall Street. You had the villains of Bernie Madoff and the people at AIG with the bonus situation.
So that clearly makes it harder for America to lead, and it complicates the search for a global solution to this problem.
CONAN: But also as people's situations becomes, well, more dire in a lot of places - you report, for example, the rise of the Communist Party in Japan and the Nazi Party in Mongolia.
Mr. MUCHA: Yes, that's true. I mean, it's - the potential for unrest, unfortunately, is rising. There's a key argument or theory of political science that was developed in the 1950s. It's called the Davies' J-curve, and it's one that's been proven to be accurate or largely accurate.
It's when people's expectations about the future fail to meet the realities. That's when unrest is most likely to occur. But here's the problem. We've just gone through the longest expansion of the global economy since World War II.
Hundreds of millions of people have seen increases in their standards of living, but they've now had that rug pulled out from under them. So their expectations suddenly are not being met by their realities, and that could be a recipe for trouble.
CONAN: And they're also aware through the Internet, through television, through other media that, well, there are lots of things in the world that they would really like to have.
Nevertheless, we're hoping that you can tell us what the effect of this global crisis is politically, socially, economically where you live, in your town, with your family, your friends, your coworkers.
Give us a call please. The country code is 1. The area code is 202-513-2008. The e-mail address, you can file your reports on e-mail, as well. That is email@example.com, and there's a conversation under way at our Web site, as well. The address, well go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Our guest again is Thomas Mucha, who's the managing editor in charge of correspondents for the online news Web site GlobalPost.com. And as you look at the, well, the situation in a lot of different places around the world, Thomas, what are your correspondents, for example, telling you? What is going on in China, a country that is very closely economically tied to the United States?
Mr. MUCHA: Yeah, that's true, Neal. The worst-off countries are those that do have the closest economic ties to the U.S. That's been very clear in our coverage. And as the factory of the world, the Chinese, of course, make a lot of the stuff that Americans buy - from toys to washing machines, computers, auto parts, chemicals, clothes. You name it, they make it.
So when Americans stop spending, like we've done, there's a direct consequence for China. Sixty-five thousand factories closed last year. I mean, that's an astonishing number, and it probably underplays the actual problem.
But if you look deeper, it gets even more troubling. As a result of this downturn, some 20 million migrant workers are now jobless in China, and they're now roaming the country in search of work. So this is obviously an incredibly challenging time for China, and it's probably the most severe test that the leadership has faced in its 60 year history.
CONAN: And in the 20 years since Tiananmen Square.
Mr. MUCHA: Indeed.
CONAN: That's an interesting number. In any case, as you look at the world's second largest economy, that's Japan, you would think, well, the Japanese, they've just come out of a decade-long struggle with their own economy. They might be in good shape with the United States struggling itself. Not the case.
Mr. MUCHA: Unfortunately, they're not in good shape because again, they're so connected. And again, here's the actions of the American consumers that are having a dramatic effect.
For example, exports dropped 50 percent in Japan last month. That's a huge number. And remember just a year ago, a lot of these Japanese companies - Toyota, Honda, Nissan - were posting record profits. So that's a quick turnaround in a very important country.
CONAN: Interesting, Toyota said it lost money this past year for the first year in 70 years. That meant it rode out the Second World War and the post-war years in Japan making a profit but not this time around.
Mr. MUCHA: Well Neal, the auto industry is actually a very interesting and telling window on this whole global crisis because as you drill farther down into it, you see that countries with a strong connection to Detroit are especially hurting.
We've seen industrial production, you know, led by auto factories, it's collapsed in Mexico, Brazil, Poland, the Czech Republic, and, you know, in other countries where these auto companies and their suppliers have set up shop in recent years.
So because of this global decline in one industry, you've got thousands of workers on just about every continent feeling the pain, and those economies in these disparate and very distant countries are suffering. So this isn't just a story about Dearborn, Michigan or Toledo, Ohio.
CONAN: We're talking with Thomas Mucha of GlobalPost.com. We're asking our listeners around the world today to be our reporters, tell us how the global economic crisis is changing things economically, politically and culturally where you live. 1-202-513-2008, and let's get Liz(ph) on the line, and Liz is calling us from Frankfurt in Germany.
LIZ (Caller): Yes, hello.
LIZ: Thank you for taking my call. I love your show.
CONAN: Thank you.
LIZ: I just wanted to say that because of having less money available, I've started buying things that are less expensive. I don't look so much for quality anymore. I get things that I can afford, and so I buy things that come into this country maybe cheaply from other countries, like China. That's the big example.
And on the one hand, I have to see, you know, that I can make it, and on the other hand, I feel really bad because I know that for one thing, what I'm doing is not so good for people that are producing maybe higher quality goods or producing them here that are being better paid.
You know, you kind of - I feel kind of bad to because, you know, the people who are making these things aren't being paid very well.
CONAN: Mm hmm.
LIZ: You know, the cheaper something is that I buy, the less somebody else is making in order to produce it.
CONAN: I wonder, is there in Germany, has there been a feeling of we should buy things that are made here, because there's certainly some of that in the United States.
LIZ: Yeah, but I think it's not so much that, you know, like the feeling of like buy America. There's more of a conscience attached to it. You know, like you think about what does it mean when I buy something that's cheaply made from another country? Maybe it's made by child labor or somebody who's not being treated very well. You understand what I mean?
CONAN: I do understand what you mean. And your neighbors, are they doing the same thing?
Mr. MUCHA: Yeah, yeah my friends, my co-workers, when I found out what this show was going to be about, I started talking to them about it, you know. And like I buy my coffee in the third world shop, you know, to support poor farmers in Ecuador, or whatever.
But at the same time, you know, I buy my cheap blankets somewhere at a place like Wal-Mart or something like that.
CONAN: Thomas Mucha, I just wanted to bring you in momentarily here. This sounds a lot like one of your correspondents reported from India involving tea.
Mr. MUCHA: Absolutely. And Liz, you shouldn't feel bad because you are certainly not alone. I mean, we've seen this trend pretty much everywhere, and the big point is consumers, they're spending less. I mean, people are worried, like you are, so they're cutting back either because they've lost their jobs, or they've worried about the future.
And it's really showing up, as Neal points out, in some eating and drinking habits. The Spanish, for example, are eating more of lesser meats - the innards, the organs, the pigs' feet - and as you say, Neal, Indians are what is calling cutting chai. They're dividing a single tea between two or three people or ordering these buy-two coffees, which is one coffee shared by two people.
And even in Japan, sales at McDonald's hit $4.4 billion last year. That's a record, as more Japanese are turning to cheaper fast food. So we're seeing this all over the world in all different places.
CONAN: It used to be romantic to order one milkshake, two straws.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Now it's a sign of the times, Liz.
LIZ: Yeah, "Lady and the Tramp," yeah.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the phone call. We appreciate it.
LIZ: Oh yeah. Thank you very much.
CONAN: Again, we're asking listeners around the world to be our reporters today to tell us what is happening financially, culturally and politically as a result of the global economic crisis. Call country code 1-202-513-2008. Don't worry, we'll call you back. Or zap us an e-mail. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to the Talk of the World from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is Talk of the World. I'm Neal Conan in Washington, D.C. Today, an issue we all share, a global economy in crisis. A bit later in the hour, we'll focus on Latin America and how the economy affects people who live there, but we want you to be our eyes and ears where you live today. Be our reporters.
Tell us what's changed for your family, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, and we hope some of you will have good news to report along with the bad.
Call us here in Washington, D.C. We'll call you back. Again, just for today, we ask our U.S. listeners to put the phone down and listen to these dispatches from around the world. Our phone number is country code 1-202-513-2008. You can also tell us what's changed on e-mail. That address is email@example.com.
Our guest is Thomas Mucha, managing editor in charge of correspondents for GlobalPost.com, and we want to bring Janice Roberts into the conversation now.
Earlier this year, Africa's strongest economy began showing signs of trouble. It recorded its first negative numbers in a decade. Janice Roberts is finance reporter with the South African Press Association, the only national independent news agency in Africa. She joins us from her home in Johannesburg. Nice to have you on the program today.
Ms. JANICE ROBERTS (Finance Reporter, South African Press Association): Hello, Neal, and hello to all your listeners.
CONAN: Can you tell us what's changed in South Africa in this past year to the economy?
Ms. ROBERTS: Well, at the very beginning of last year, commentators in the press were talking about subprime loans in the U.S., and they said it would all end in tears, and we brushed aside these arguments. Then the crisis came, and we thought South Africa might escape it, but it hasn't.
And I think one of the problems is we're a commodity-based economy, and we've seen falling commodity prices. Platinum is a case in point. As you know, it's used in auto catalysts, and when the global car market fell under pressure, well, there was no need for auto catalysts made out of platinum anymore, and the platinum mines started retrenching workers, and that has been one of our main problems.
Our exports have declined because most of the countries we export to, they're either in recession or close to it. And also foreign investors, they've pulled a lot of money out of South Africa because during the global financial crisis, no one wants to invest in what they think has become a risky emerging market.
So all these factors have hit our economic growth, and in some sectors like manufacturing, we have a recession, although our economy isn't technically in a recession yet.
CONAN: Not technically in recession yet. You mentioned…
Ms. ROBERTS: Not technically.
CONAN: You mentioned platinum. We were a long ways - many months down the road of arguing whether we were or not until we found out boy, were we. Anyway, you mentioned platinum. Yet South Africa also was an important gold mining country, and the price of gold has been skyrocketing.
Ms. ROBERTS: Well, that is the good news. Gold is being seen as a safe haven by the smart money, and maybe gold will prop us up. Currently, there is a shortage of gold coins in the country, and I believe there's a shortage across the world of gold coins because people are investing in something tangible, something they can see.
And also gold-exchange-traded funds, people are buying up those because they think this is a safe haven. So gold we're not too worried about, but diamonds are - the diamond market is dreadful. We've had diamond mines close not only in South Africa but in neighboring Namibia, in Botswana. There's just no market for diamonds.
CONAN: Also, you referred to the fact that South Africa is not only the biggest economy in the southern part of Africa, but it's the engine, the economic engine, of southern Africa.
Ms. ROBERTS: It is. It definitely is, and I think our worry is that the miners that are being retrenched, they're not all from South Africa. They are from neighboring countries - Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland -and in some cases, a miner can be the sole breadwinner, and he has a family of six to feed.
CONAN: That raises the question - let me just pause you there just for a moment, Janice. Those are remittances that the miner would send back to his family in Mozambique or whatever.
Ms. ROBERTS: Correct.
CONAN: And indeed, Thomas Mucha, remittances are an important factor for many economies around the world - from the Philippines, clearly Mexico. Remittances, well they're way down, aren't they?
Mr. MUCHA: It's one of the surprising things…
Ms. ROBERTS: They are indeed.
CONAN: I'm sorry, we were asking Thomas Mucha that, go ahead.
Mr. MUCHA: Excuse me. Sorry, Janice. It is one the surprising things that we've noticed and really underscores this idea of the interconnections of the global economy. And particularly in the United States, you have all of these immigrants from all parts of the world who are in the U.S. sending money back every month to countries all around the world.
And as they're making less money in the U.S., of course that means less money is going back to these countries. So you have an indirect effect on these countries all around the world that's based in the weakness in the United States.
Ms. ROBERTS: Interesting you should say that. I read today that in some instances, relatives in Mexico are sending money back to the relatives in the U.S.
Mr. MUCHA: Yes. The shoe is on the other foot.
Ms. ROBERTS: Absolutely.
CONAN: And Janice, what is morale like in South Africa. Do people feel this is a little bump, we'll get through it, we should be fine, or are people worried?
Ms. ROBERTS: Well, they're very worried about losing their job. They're extremely worried about job losses, and because of this, they're not spending money. They buy the basics. They buy foodstuffs. They spend on gas for their cars. But a lot of South Africans I know have eliminated the so-called luxuries from their lives like eating out, having pay television and going on vacation.
In fact, during the last Christmas holiday period, there was a noticeable decline in people leaving for the coast. Usually, people go away from Johannesburg, where I'm based, and they go to the coast for their December vacations, but Johannesburg remained full.
And they're not splashing out for anything like new motor vehicles in spite of all the great promotions. I had to laugh the other day. There was a television advertisement, and the dealer said buy a car from me, and I will give you a guarantee that if you lose your job, I'll buy your car back.
But I don't think that people are even falling for that kind of promotion. Consumers are battling to pay their credit bills. We had statistics out yesterday that supports this, and quite honestly, South Africans are having to live within their means for the first time in quite a few years.
CONAN: Janice Roberts, thank you so much for your time today.
Ms. ROBERTS: Thank you.
CONAN: Janice Roberts, finance reporter for the South African Press Association, with us from her home in Johannesburg in South Africa.
Again, we're asking our listeners in the U.S. to bear with us today. We want listeners around the world to call and be our reporters, to tell us what's happening in their towns with their families, their friends, their co-workers.
Give us a call, please. Our number here in Washington, D.C., 1-202-513-2008. Again, that's country code 1-202-513-2008. We'll call you back. Or you can send us your story by e-mail. That address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thomas Mucha is still with us. Let's get Enrique(ph) on the phone. Enrique's calling us from Acarigua in Venezuela.
ENRIQUE (Caller): How are you doing?
CONAN: Very well, thank you.
ENRIQUE: Well, the economy crisis affects me, and I think all worldwide, and here in Venezuela, we have kind of - we have problems with the president and a bunch of - I think 80 percent or 95 percent of the companies from another country has already left.
CONAN: And what do you do for a living, Enrique?
ENRIQUE: Sales and do maintenance and air conditioners for residential and commercial.
CONAN: Oh, air conditioning maintenance and sales. And how's that business doing?
ENRIQUE: Fifty percent less.
CONAN: Fifty percent down. The price of oil, of course, extremely important to Venezuela, and well, a little while ago, people in this country were complaining where it was more than $4 a gallon. It's about half of that now, and I assume that's being felt in Venezuela.
ENRIQUE: Well, it's really bad. The gas - I think the gas is the cheapest in the whole world. It's like 12 cents of the dollar a gallon, and it's really cheap. That's the only cheap stuff, but if you want to buy a car, it costs twice the price. It's twice what it costs in the United States, and I mean, the jobs don't pay good.
I mean, it's really bad. The only people that have money is the ones that are in the political with the president. And like everybody else, pretty much, he wants to own the whole country, the whole, all the companies, all the utility services, and he wants to own the whole country just like Cuba, I think.
CONAN: I think Enrique's making a political point about President Hugo Chavez, but Thomas Mucha, centralization is an issue not just in Venezuela.
Mr. MUCHA: Indeed, it is not just an issue there. It's an issue everywhere, and I think it gets back to this larger point, Neal, of how are we going to manage this crisis on a global scale?
And the key point that we all should be looking for is going to happen a week from today, and that's the G-20 summit in London. And the world is really looking for clarity and leadership. And so, you know, the eye is what's the plan for getting the U.S. and everyone else out of this mess?
And we've seen a lot of jockeying ahead of this between Washington and Europe, and you know, who's - Washington is pushing for more stimulus spending. Europe is pushing for more regulation.
But to me the more interesting development has been the comments and actions coming out of China, as well as these other so-called BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India, China.
In recent days, we've heard China making noise about profligate spending and borrowing in the U.S.,. And as America's biggest banker, Beijing is worried, and so are the other BRICs. So, again, you know, politics is the issue here.
CONAN: Enrique, it's certainly the issue in Venezuela.
ENRIQUE: Yeah. It's - I mean, it's truly kind of big issue and scary in a way. And I mean, mostly, everybody is getting out of this country just because of what's happening and because the economy - whatever happen in USA - if it would have a crisis in USA, they're ready for the worse, even worse. It's even worse because USA control the whole economy in the whole worldwide.
CONAN: Enrique, thanks very much for the call. And we wish you good luck.
ENRIQUE: All right. Thank you very much.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's get a call from - this is another oil-rich nation, Iran. Amir(ph) is calling us from Tehran.
AMIR (Caller): Hi, Neal.
CONAN: Hi, Amir. How are you today?
AMIR: Very good. And nice to be on the show and nice to have you back.
CONAN: Thank you very much. How are things - what's your report? What are your friends and neighbors telling you there in Tehran?
AMIR: Well, as you know, Iran is financially detached from the rest of the world. And on the face of it, one might come to the conclusion that the current economic slump cannot exacerbate the status quo. For example - partly because of the policies of the government and partly because of the sanctions against Iran.
Iranians are not allowed to have credit cards, use PayPal accounts or purchase from Amazon. However, given the dependence of Iran's economy on (unintelligible) dollars, the plummeting price of oil has forced the government to stop many structural projects, which in return has made many Iranians jobless.
And here are many people, including longtime regime supporters, tend to break the government for butchering the economy by not saving for these excruciating days, and the price of oil was about $148 per barrel.
CONAN: And Amir is obviously making a political point about his government, too, but these are questions being asked about a lot of governments in a lot of different ways around the world.
Amir, can you put this in terms of a story that you've heard from a friend or a co-worker?
AMIR: Yeah. For example, here I teach English, but I know a taxi driver who used to work for eight hours a day. But now, the same guy, the very same guy, has to work for 15 to 16 hours per day to just make ends meet. And as I said, that can be very excruciating.
CONAN: Twelve cents a gallon, Enrique told us, gasoline goes for in Venezuela. What's the cost there in Tehran?
AMIR: I can say it is roughly the same because the price of oil or the price of gas doesn't change based on the current price of the market.
CONAN: Amir, thanks very much for the call.
AMIR: It's a pleasure.
CONAN: And always, good luck to you. Amir called us from Tehran in Iran.
You're listening to Talk of the World from NPR News.
And let me re-introduce our guest, Thomas Mucha, who's the managing editor in charge of correspondents for the online news Web site, GlobalPost.com, which sent, Thomas, 23 reporters around the world?
Mr. MUCHA: Well, we have about 50 - excuse me - 60 correspondents in more than 50 countries. And we're covering the global economy on a week by week basis. This special report we did, "A World of Trouble," was 20 countries that we sort of dissected and had our people try to find the truth from the ground up.
CONAN: And as - these are - we talk about these macroeconomic issues and the amount of American debt held by the Chinese, and the difficulties of Japan, and the different approaches between Europe and the United States, but this, inevitably, comes down to individual stories about individual people's lives.
Mr. MUCHA: Absolutely. And the key point to keep in mind here is confidence. That is really the crucial ingredient in any economic situation. Consumers need confidence to spend. Businesses need confidence to invest and to hire workers. And this is what we've had a lack of since the fall. And this is the root problem. And this is why the government responses in this forward-looking meeting, the G20 Summit, is going to be so important because how people perceive the management of this crisis is going to matter.
CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Arthur(ph). Arthur calling us from Toronto in Canada.
Arthur, are you there?
ARTHUR (Caller): Hello?
CONAN: Hold on a second, please. Let's go to Arthur. Excuse me. Arthur is now on the line with us from Toronto. We apologize.
ARTHUR: Okay. Hi, Neal. Thanks for taking my call.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
ARTHUR: Okay. I just wanted to say, here in Toronto, I'm 33 and recently, we had a party, about 15 people attended, same as our family, mostly in the 30s. And all the talk was about the crisis, oh, this and that, doom and gloom, but nobody has lost his or her job. And some people just bought a house, some people just bought a new car. And we - our family, my wife is an investor account. I have a small business -we're taking our first vacation in three years this year. We're going, you know, to Europe. So…
CONAN: So there's a little undue pessimism is what I'm hearing from you.
ARTHUR: That's right. And I mean, in my wife's work, they had to close the - she works for the big cement manufacturer - so they had to close two plants because of the dropping demand in cement. But I mean most of her co-workers kept their jobs, and she kept her job, and I keep doing what I'm doing.
So I mean, a lot of psychological effect, you know, keeps people from spending, keeps people from upholding their lifestyle, even though they can still afford to do it and there is no reason to, you know, to, you know, drop anything.
CONAN: That confidence factor, Thomas Mucha, that you were talking about just a moment ago.
Mr. MUCHA: Absolutely. That is the key ingredient.
CONAN: Thank you very much for the call, Arthur. And good luck to you and your family.
ARTHUR: And thanks very much.
CONAN: And we hope that you will give us a call from wherever in the world it is you're listening to us. Our country code is 1, the area code is 202-513-2008. Call and be our reporter. Tell us what the economic, cultural, political situation is and how it has changed as a result of the economic crisis. Our guest, just mentioned, Thomas Mucha, managing editor in charge of correspondents for the online news Web site, GlobalPost.com.
When we come back, we'll talk about the situation in South America. A country - an area that is close to the United States, but they're relatively isolated, at least economically, or at least so far. Stay with us.
I'm Neal Conan. This is the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.
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This is Talk of the World. I'm Neal Conan in Washington, D.C.
One sign of how bad this economic slowdown has gotten, the IMF, the International Monetary Fund, said this month that the worldwide economy will contract for the first time in 60 years. And they say recovery is not expected until 2010.
The global crisis affects your town and your life, so be our reporters today. Tell us what's changed for your family, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers. Call us here in Washington, D.C. We'll call you back. The phone number is country code 1-202-513-2008. You can also tell us what's changed on e-mail. That address is email@example.com.
Thomas Mucha is with us. He's the managing editor in charge of correspondents for the online news Web site, GlobalPost.com. And also, with us now is Walter Molano, an economist who focuses on Latin America. He's managing partner and the head of research at BCP Securities. He's with us today from NPR's bureau in New York. Nice to have you on the program.
Dr. WALTER MOLANO (Managing Partner and Head of Research, BCP Securities; Economist): Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: And again, Latin America close to the United States, close economically in some cases, but relatively unaffected at least thus far.
Dr. MOLANO: Yes, it has been. And it's been a bit of surprise because it seems like the region would always be basically contaminated by any kind of downturn and global sentiment. And this time, the region held up very well. But I think that it was really due to its relative isolation or insulation from global trade.
CONAN: And insulation from global trade, does that mean that you're going to ride this out?
Dr. MOLANO: No. In fact, a lot of Latin American leaders and some investors think they're going to ride it out. But it's one of timing. I think that the effects are going to be delayed, but it's definitely going to impact the region. And that's going to be bad because, I think, this confidence is going to shatter. And when confidence shatters in Latin America, it goes from extreme optimism to sometimes suicidal pessimism.
CONAN: Well, give us an example of what you mean.
Dr. MOLANO: Well, we've seen that before in, for example, in Brazil. Brazil is a country that always has, you know, the two extremes. In the late 1990s, when they were going through their privatization programs, they were extremely optimism and thought that Brazil was going to rise to being one of the top 10 countries in the world. Then at the end of the 1990s, in 1999, they had a currency crisis and massive capital flight. And, in fact, a lot of firms then failed. So we do get these extremes.
But I do think that the effects with the global downturn is going to affect the region as international capital flows slow down, as commodity prices continue to decline, then a lot of the countries - or all of the countries are going to be affected.
CONAN: Let's get a call. This is Angelo(ph). Angelo with us from Portland, Oregon, though his family is from Brazil. Is that right?
ANGELO (Caller): Yes.
CONAN: And what are you hearing from them?
ANGELO: I just came back from Brazil two months ago, and I was surprised how they handle this economy crisis there. I was leaving Brazil in 2001 and moved to U.S. with my wife who's American. And right now, in Brazil, like he said, the economy is just not affect that much. The political party just say, you know, we're not going to be affect. But I was surprised how they handle right now.
You know, Brazil has been doing their homework - be dependent on oil since 1970. They start the program with the cane alcohol and for car in 1970.
CONAN: Ethanol, which they use, their local sugarcane for, which it's very good for.
ANGELO: Yeah, exactly. It's worked really well. So basically, the majority cars who was driving Brazil is from their sugarcane alcohol. And also, if you're looking for commercial car, they use a natural gas. I was impressed, you know, how big is natural gas with taxis, trucks, you know, and any kind of minivan or van for delivery, the commercial trucks use natural gas, just like half a price the alcohol is as lower. So like a dollar, be like, you know, 54 cents a gallon for the natural gas.
And also, the government is working a lot of (unintelligible) to be in expensive electronic, like computers and TV. I'd give a good example. My mom was, you know, a retire person in Brazil living, you know, middle class in Brazil. For the first time in 64 years, she can buy LCD 32 inch of screen for less than $1,000.
CONAN: And, Walter Molano, as Angelo has been telling us, anecdotally -but he's right, the economy in Brazil has been one of the great global success stories these past few years.
Dr. MOLANO: It definitely has been a big success story. And I think that the success is largely been due to the rising commodity prices, by the fact that the government, the leftist government of Lula didn't really alter the economic policies that have been put in place during the 1990s. And I think that was something that really boosted investor confidence.
And when we look at the numbers, we do see an incredible slowdown that's taking place. Industrial production in Brazil drops 12.5 percent. In January, we had the biggest increase in unemployment that we've had in the whole history of the series of unemployment numbers. The trade numbers also went from being in a surplus to being a deficit. We saw automobile production or export production plunged 40 percent in the beginning of the year. So all of these factors show that the Brazilian economy is slowing down.
The good thing, as your listener said, is that consumer confidence still remains very high. There's still been some consumer credit that's being provided, especially to retirees and retirees from the public sector that basically use their retiree benefits as a security in order to receive credits at a lower interest rate. But nevertheless, the effects are starting to register.
CONAN: Angelo, we hope they will never touch your family.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ANGELO: Thank you very much. Have a good day.
CONAN: Bye-bye. This email from Nicole in Santiago, Chile. I didn't see the effects here in Santiago, to Chile until recently. I have seen friends lose job in several sectors and friends who do freelance work, production and design are now looking for full-time positions for security. I was in Buenos Aires in February and the resounding reaction was we are used to economic crisis.
I teach English. Usually classes begin in March. Many of my colleagues and myself are waiting for confirmation from businesses. The owners aren't sure how many employees will be in these classes. Well, that has what been - that's what's been related to me, so we're having an even slower beginning to the school year than usual.
And we have this email from Sergio in Mexico City. The situation in Mexico is a bit awkward and I am pretty scared. We have not seen a huge spike in layoffs, but some have already occurred. My father, who owns his own business, has only had 25 percent of the original budgeted work that he should've had as of this point. If he continues, he might have to shut down the family business, which has been open for over 90 years. Mexico, much more so than the rest of Latin America, Walter Molano, very closely tied to the U.S. economy.
Dr. MOLANO: Very much so. I mean, Mexico shares a very large contiguous border with the United States. It depends enormously on trade with the United States. About 90 percent of Mexican trade is with the United States. It also depends very heavily on remittances. There's more remittances that Mexico receives every year than foreign and direct investment.
And as Mexicans in the United States lose their jobs, lose opportunities to work, and in some cases, are forced to immigrate back to Mexico because there's very little prospects for future jobs in the U.S., then remittances decline. We've had a heavy decline in remittances. And often that hits the lower segments of the population, the poor segments of the population, and therefore, that affects the level of consumption.
So we have seen Mexico suffer probably the most. We saw a very large move in the Mexican peso, which I think was reflected due to the decline in capital flows and the decline in remittances. Meanwhile, further -countries that are farther afield, such as Argentina and Chile, more so Argentina - and that's for other factors - have been less affected.
CONAN: Walter Molano, we thank you for your time today. We appreciate it.
Dr. MOLANO: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: Walter Molano, managing partner and the head of research at BCP Securities, with us today from our bureau in New York. Thomas Mucha is still with us. And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Steve. And Steve's calling us from New Brunswick in Canada.
STEVE (Caller): Hi.
STEVE: How has it affected me?
CONAN: How has it affected you?
STEVE: Well, I run a wood products business, and I make mostly a lot of wooden fences and a lot of vinyl fences and a lot of aluminum fences all for - 90 percent of my customers are in the northeast United States.
STEVE: It's had a tremendous effect, what's taken place in the economy. And it's been mirrored here exactly. We were, of course, under a lot of pressure from the weakening U.S. dollar prior to this. So when the credit crisis really came, I guess I could say we had two or three years to get ready for it.
CONAN: The dollar has strengthened quite a bit of late.
STEVE: As of late, it's strengthened and that helps business tremendously.
CONAN: Your products, are they used for new construction around new houses or…
STEVE: They're used in both, for new and remodeling. We make a lot of cedar fences. So you can see them mostly residential-type fences for backyards and privacy.
CONAN: And these are, well, I guess, discretionary spending is…
STEVE: Absolutely, discretionary. And of course it had some effect - the housing crisis affected it also. And in Canada, obviously, our full economy is based a lot on commodity prices and energy. So, while parts of the economy are in true dilemma and crisis, other parts of the economy were rolling along like Canada was never going to run out of money.
CONAN: And Thomas Mucha, that's a pattern you see in places other than Canada, there are bright spots in economies around the world as well as big dark spots, too.
Mr. MUCHA: There are bright spots and there are some rays of hope. They're few and far between, and they're difficult to find. But we did mention gold exports in South Africa, but that's also - that's a boon to gold producers like Ghana, as well, which is another bright spot in Africa. And the rise in gold has also been helpful on a smaller scale to gold sellers in places like Bangkok and other parts of Southeast Asia.
Another interesting development was what Chile did with copper prices. In past years, when copper prices were high, the Chilean government set aside some $20 billion to put into a fund to be used in times of crisis. So, here's the crisis and Chile at least has a little bit of money to throw at the problem.
CONAN: Steve, have you got any money in your rainy day fund there in New Brunswick?
STEVE: Well, I tell you, what I did have in my rainy day fund - my bank got most of it.
CONAN: I bet they - are you…
STEVE: In order to keep everything afloat.
CONAN: And as you look at this situation, obviously most of your customers at the moment are in the United States, a lot of people say it's going to be quite some time before the real estate situation here rebounds to any large extent. Are you looking for customers elsewhere?
STEVE: Well, we've - yes, absolutely. I've merged my sales and marketing with a much larger company in the U.S. And so I've spread my wings afield. We've also added some more product lines to give more choices. And we've really designed to be able to deliver small orders for custom jobs. And that's starting to really add up. So I guess, you know, you have to really - to think outside the box. You got to get out there. And that's what we've done, because, you know, we're fully dedicated to making sure this business survives all this.
CONAN: Steve, thanks very much.
STEVE: Thank you. Bye-bye.
CONAN: Bye-bye. We're talking about the economic situation around the world and how it's affecting, well, people's jobs, their lives, culture and politics. If you'd like to join us, give us a call, 1 is the country code, 202-513-2008. We'll call you back. I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's the Talk of the World from NPR News.
And let's go to Leonard. And Leonard is with us from Angeles City. Is that in the Philippines?
LEONARD (Caller): Yes, it is. How you doing?
CONAN: I'm very well. Yourself?
LEONARD: I'm okay. I know you're short on time, so I'll make it kind of quick. I retired in 2006. I'm a blind black-American. And I cashed out my 401K, and I'm glad I did that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: You bet you are.
LEONARD: And I moved over here and the cost of living, you know, is so inexpensive over here in terms of food, entertainment, housing. And so it really has impacted Americans - a lot of Americans live here now. What has happened, probably, is that a lot of Filipino citizens rely on - Filipinos living in United States for remittance. Sort of like what the guy was talking about just a few minutes ago…
LEONARD: …in Mexico. And so that probably has slowed down a lot. But because of the strong dollar, which means the peso is - Filipino peso is weaker. It really has been a great move for me. So I think I'm very happy about that. And I do have empathy for those in the United States who are suffering, but I think I'm very happy about moving here.
CONAN: And Thomas Mucha, there is a whole class of people like Leonard who moved to places like the Philippines, like Costa Rica, like parts of Mexico, made similar decisions that he did. A couple of years ago, this maybe looked a little shaky, right now it's look pretty wise.
Mr. MUCHA: Well, Leonard makes a pretty interesting point and that's the movement of people, which is a key part of globalization. Unfortunately, we've seen a lot of people who are moving because they're being forced to move. And, you know, we discussed the 20 million migrant workers that are wandering through China right now. But you also have an army of Bangladeshis and Indians working in Dubai.
And now that the Dubai boom is over, a lot of these people are being forced back. And in another example is Ireland, where Ireland had a fantastic economy for the past 10 years or so. That has turned sharply to the negative. And you have a lot of young Irish people now looking to move out of Ireland.
CONAN: And indeed we mentioned that earlier in the program. And curious, we usually get a lot of calls from Ireland. Leonard, good luck to you. Thanks very much for the phone call.
LEONARD: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go now to - this is Robert. Robert with us from Jacksonville in Florida, though, just returned from Guyana in South America.
ROBERT (Caller): Yes, sir. Good afternoon. Thanks for taking my call.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
ROBERT: Yeah, down there, it's - the economy here is really affecting the people back in Guyana because - in terms of gasoline. Gasoline is about 1,000 Guyana dollars, which about five U.S. dollars a gallon. I mean, you know, I mean, that is really, really, really tough on them. I've got a lot of friends that were doing carpentry business.
They have - they need to put their (unintelligible) job and go to find jobs on the outside, which, again, is still kind of rough. And then you have people in U.S. say that (unintelligible). That has been (unintelligible) really, really, really, really, really, really, a whole lot.
CONAN: That's an interesting point, Robert. And Thomas Mucha, as we talk, we were getting calls from Germany and from Iran, relatively more developed places, places like Guyana and even the Philippines, well, their economies are not so developed.
Mr. MUCHA: They're not developed. And one of the interesting things is these large economies that are able to diversify are the ones that are generally best able to handle an economic crisis. But a country that is dependent on a single commodity like oil, and Iran is a good example of that, in those countries that fail to diversify their economies put their citizens in a much higher risk situation.
CONAN: Robert, as you think about the situation there in Guyana, are you sending money back there?
ROBERT: Well, for the longest - I haven't - I wasn't able to send any money back because of what's going on here. You know, I've got my family, I have my wife and I got two kids there. It's kind of tough here on me, you know, but in terms of getting (unintelligible) back to Guyana, which even makes it even worse for me.
But all I got here is I got my mom and I got my sister here. So, you know, it's kind of rough all over. And then, in Guyana we got (unintelligible). They probably make about 13 U.S. dollars a day, which is about $6,000, 6,000 Guyana dollars a day, which that is really, really tough.
CONAN: That's - Robert, again, we wish you and your family the best of luck.
ROBERT: Thank you so much, sir.
CONAN: Thank you very much for the phone call. And Thomas Mucha, thank you so much for your time today.
Mr. MUCHA: Thank you, Neal. It was a pleasure to be here.
CONAN: Thomas Mucha, managing editor in charge of correspondents to the online news Web site globalpost.com, with us today from member station WBUR in Boston, Massachusetts. We'd like to thank everyone who called and emailed their stories. We heard from far too many of you to get everybody on the air. We'd like to thank our international partners for their help with today's broadcast, RTE Choice in Ireland, YLE Mondo in Finland and World Radio, Switzerland. Thanks also to all of our member stations here in the U.S. And thanks to you all for listening.
This is Talk of the World from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington, D.C.
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