Economic indicators from all the other continents : The Indicator from Planet Money The Indicator brings listeners economic indicators from the other six continents.
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The Indicator World Tour

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The Indicator World Tour

The Indicator World Tour

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON, BYLINE: NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

CARDIFF GARCIA, HOST:

Hey, everyone. It's Stacey and Cardiff. This is THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:

The global tourism industry has been decimated by the COVID pandemic for obvious reasons. It is just really hard to travel right now, so a lot of travel companies have adapted by offering virtual trips and tours that you can take on your computer.

GARCIA: Now, THE INDICATOR is obviously not a travel company.

VANEK SMITH: No.

GARCIA: But we do miss travel.

VANEK SMITH: Yes.

GARCIA: So on today's show, Stacey and I are going to take you, our listeners, on a little economics-themed audio trip around the whole world. You can stay right in your living room just like technically we're staying in ours. You know, use your imagination.

VANEK SMITH: We're going to drop into one city on each of the six continents, have a look around and most importantly, we will share some surprising economic indicators from each place. So move your seats into the upright position. Stow away your carry-on luggage, and fasten your seatbelts.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

VANEK SMITH: It's going to be a ride.

GARCIA: Yup - THE INDICATOR private jet. Hey, why not? It's our freaking audio tour.

VANEK SMITH: That's right.

GARCIA: We can take a private jet. It takes off right after the break.

VANEK SMITH: I'm going to need extra peanuts.

GARCIA: OK. We have just touched down in the first continent of our trip - Africa. We are in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, a city way above sea level of up to 5 million people. And we're starting here because Africa has one of the strongest claims to having the best response to the coronavirus pandemic out of any continent. It's a story that maybe does not get enough attention. But just one example - once you take into account the size of their populations, the United States has 22 times more COVID cases each day than here in Ethiopia.

VANEK SMITH: So how has Africa done it? - lots of testing, early lockdowns, contact tracing. Here in Ethiopia, for example, there was a door-to-door survey of all of Addis Ababa. People were asked where they traveled, and then they were tested for COVID if they had any symptoms or had gone anywhere that might have expose them to COVID-19.

GARCIA: And at a time when the rest of the world has been embroiled in trade wars, the countries of Africa have collaborated to make it easier for their governments to trade the necessary equipment, things like masks and testing kits, with each other. Still, COVID has had an understandably damaging effect on African economies. Last year, Africa had four of the five fastest growing economies in the world, including Ethiopia. This year, those economies are struggling with slower growth. Some of them are struggling with high inflation and other obstacles. OK, onto the next continent - Antarctica.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLANE FLYING)

GARCIA: OK. Well, we are near the South Pole Station. It's negative 70 degrees Fahrenheit, so we are not going to stay long.

VANEK SMITH: Yeah. We should just mention that Antarctica is still the only continent with zero COVID cases. Of course, there are only a few thousand scientists and researchers here, and most are just conducting experiments about things like global warming, the ozone layer, meteorites.

GARCIA: Yeah. And also, tourism to Antarctica, which you can do on cruise ships from South America, has become more popular in recent years. More than 50,000 people visited the continent on these ships the last couple of years, enough that there are concerns about accidents and the environmental effects of all these tourists. But, Stacey, you and I are not cold weather people, so let's get out of here. Next stop - Asia.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLANE FLYING)

VANEK SMITH: And we have just landed in the gloriously sprawling Beijing, China - population 20 million. So we're taking a stroll down the street. And that sound you hear is a nearby cement truck, which makes sense because we recently came across some incredible statistics.

GARCIA: Yeah, China has so many people and it constructs so many buildings that the country uses more cement in three years than the United States used in the entire 20th century, which is shocking. And it's happened largely because of urbanization because such a big share of China's 1.4 billion people have moved from rural areas into big cities over the past few decades.

VANEK SMITH: So it has been a really brief trip so far, but we are only three contents in. And time is a wastin' (ph), so let's keep going. Next continent - Europe.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLANE FLYING)

GARCIA: And here we are in Berlin, the capital of Germany, whose economy collapsed by even more than the U.S. economy collapsed in response to COVID. But in Germany, there was this one big baffling difference.

VANEK SMITH: Germany's unemployment rate is only 4.4%. That is roughly half the U.S. unemployment rate. Germany has managed to keep its workers employed throughout the pandemic, even though its economy has been doing so badly.

GARCIA: And Germany has managed to keep workers in their jobs because of a system known as Kurzarbeit. Basically, the way the system works is that instead of German companies laying off their employees, the companies can just reduce the hours that the employees have to work. So the companies obviously save money by not paying workers for those hours that were cut, and then the German government pays the employees itself for some of the wages that they lost because they are now working fewer hours.

VANEK SMITH: This way, German companies can save money, and German workers keep their jobs and most of their salaries. All right. Let's keep moving.

GARCIA: Yeah. This trip is making me kind of peckish, so I am just going to pick up a brat, Stacey, real quick on the way to the airport if that's cool.

VANEK SMITH: That sounds good. I'm in.

GARCIA: Next continent - Oceania. Now, some people, by the way, say that technically, Oceania is a continental region that includes the continent of Australia and then adds on New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. In terms of categorizing these things, we don't want to get in a fight with the geographers or the geologists or whoever, so we're just telling you where we are and moving on.

VANEK SMITH: So specifically, we are in Sydney, the biggest city in Australia. And we are on a beach pouring one out for the end of a truly spectacular economic achievement. Until the COVID pandemic, Australia had not experienced a recession since September of 1991.

GARCIA: Yeah. To put that another way, the last month Australia was in a recession was the same month that Nirvana released "Smells Like Teen Spirit" as the lead single on its album "Nevermind." But the streak is over now sadly. The pandemic has ended it.

VANEK SMITH: And as far as how Australia was able to pull off this incredible streak, economists put it down to two things. First - the government's aggressive economic stimulus whenever a recession looked like it was about to start. And second - a few lucky breaks through the decades.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

VANEK SMITH: OK, two more flights to go. Next continent - South America.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GARCIA: And here we are now in the famous Punta del Este beachside resort in the country of Uruguay. Uruguay is a total outlier within Latin America. It has managed to keep COVID cases way down in a region that has been devastated by periods of surging COVID cases. And a big reason for Uruguay's success is that it developed its own COVID test produced inside the country. And so it has been able to test a much higher number of people who might be at risk of getting COVID.

VANEK SMITH: Yeah, Uruguay has done such a good job that more and more people in neighboring countries like Argentina want to move there. And Uruguay wants them. It wants to grow. The country even offers a deal where you can become a resident of Uruguay if you buy property inside the country that is worth a certain amount - used to be $1.7 million, but the government just lowered the price to $380,000.

GARCIA: So probably still not me and you, Stacey.

VANEK SMITH: No.

GARCIA: But hey, it's getting cheaper. Maybe NPR can set up THE INDICATOR foreign bureau there. I don't know. Anyways, that's it. That's our trip around the world. Time to head back home to New York City.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLANE FLYING)

GARCIA: And here we are. God, we missed this place. We missed everyone sounding like that guy in the movie "Midnight Cowboy."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MIDNIGHT COWBOY")

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: (As Ratso Rizzo) I'm walking here. I'm walking here.

GARCIA: I don't know if that's really how everybody sounds, but, you know - anyways, thank you all so much for flying with us. And if you have a suggestion for where we should go on our next trip round the world, especially if it's a place with some funky economic indicators, send it to indicator@npr.org. The captains and crew of this flight were producers Jamila Huxtable and Darian Woods, fact-checker Sean Saldana and editor Paddy Hirsch. THE INDICATOR is a production of NPR, so we are sending them the bill.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

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