As New Yorkers turn to summer play in the Hamptons, the mood in the markets is decidedly less relaxed. Souring the outlook are debt crises across Europe, from Greece to Ireland, as well as a U.S. unemployment rate stuck at 9%. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is fighting with Congress over debt, budgets and taxation.
It is hard to see how this will end well. Since the beginning of the Great Recession, neither policymakers nor economists seem to have come to grips with the passing of the debt bomb. It is as if, in the last four years, debt has simply moved from over-leveraged homeowners in, say, Phoenix, to banks in New York, then to the U.S. government and now, Europe. Debt isn’t actually being paid down; it’s just being transferred from private to public hands. At the end of the day, someone will either have to pay it or everyone will have to take a write-down. Take Ireland, for example. The country has over $2 trillion in gross debt. This, in a place employing two million people with a population of some four and a half million and an unemployment rate close to 15 percent. Exactly how will the people of Ireland ever produce enough goods and services to pay off over $2 trillion of debt? Isn’t default unavoidable? The hope across the developed world, of course, is that strong economic growth will resume, making it easier to shoulder the debt burden. That outcome isn’t certain. In her first news conference, Christine Lagarde, the new managing director of the International Monetary Fund, noted that the global economy is still fragile and recovery uneven. Japan and the U.S. have debt concerns as well as countries in the European Union. “There are many issues that need to be addressed, those issues cannot wait for yet another summer holiday,” Lagarde told The Wall Street Journal.
Without growth, the increased debt burden, wherever it falls, is bound to lead to currency devaluations and eventually, inflation. That’s what’s already happened in the U.S. – inflation may be tamed for a while, but the dollar has weakened against the euro and British pound. As Europe and the U.S. struggle through a hot summer with their debt issues, it will be interesting to see, come Fall, where the buck stops.
Such macro worries, however, are beyond the day-to-day chatter in the city that never sleeps. If one wants to engage in pure fantasy beyond the realm of Greek finance, best to visit the Metropolitan Museum’s Alexander McQueen exhibit. The cultural icon has put together a magnificent tribute to the late McQueen, who committed suicide at the age of 40 in 2010.
This is far more than a fashion show. It’s probably the best performance art one could see. The show includes many creations that aren’t wearable, such as a dress made of balsa wood, as well as videos of his catwalks including the famous 2005 “It’s Only a Game,” in which the models play out a game of chess. The hologram of model Kate Moss in a flowing McQueen dress is also not to be missed.
The designs themselves push beyond mere dresses, skirts and jackets. They have a richness and quality closer to a combination of sculpture and oil painting. And although most aren’t practical, it’s easy to see how they could be. No wonder McQueen was considered a genius and earned four British Designer of the Year awards in 1996, 1997, 2001 and 2003 as well as the International Designer Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2003.The McQueen show, called “Savage Beauty,” is free to attend with the usual suggested admission donation at the museum. Because it’s so popular, however, there’s normally a line to get in. On a recent Sunday at 10 am, a half hour after the Met opened, folks still had to wait an hour to 45 minutes to be admitted. It’s best to go during the week, if possible, near opening time at 9:30 am. The museum is closed on Mondays.
The good news is, if you must wait, you’ll have lots of fun people watching. Many McQueen aficionados showed off their style by, well, wearing McQueen.So you don’t actually have to get into the show to see evidence of his flair.