Jan

3

 1. Every store in London was having a sale of 50% or more except for the Bates one I went to to buy a hat, and all the big stores like Harrods had queues of at least 2 hours. In Paris, no stores had sales and business seemed quite slow except for the health food stores that substitutes quinoa for rice and hummus. Why is there so much better retailing in London than Paris? Does it have to do with the service rate or National Character? The marginal utility for consumers to buy goods in London and Europe rather than property seems to be a function of the much larger ratio of space to population in US versus Europe. When you have 100 square feet to a person, goods seem very attractive and the Holidays with all their bargains, bring out in London "50% of the population". By the end of a week, people are willing to spend a lot more to buy things than at the beginning when they're still testing the waters and looking for bargains. Can this be quantified in markets?

2. The drop and close below 1200 on Dec 19, 2011 is right out of the playbook of the Trojan War. Time and time again a day before the death of one hero or another, in this case Hector as he firebrands the Greek ships and kills and wounds one Greek defender after another, including Ajax, Menelaus, and Odysseus, the Gods look down, especially Zeus, and say, "look he's going to die tomorrow, let him have a blaze of victory today before he goes to Hades as he's put up a good fight and is the favorite of a few mistresses and daughters." One receives a pretrial settlement letter from Dan about a HP executive's harassment of a party planner, including his showing her his million dollar balance at the ATM. And it gets him in trouble because there is an obvious attempt to cover up through his assistant who might not be buyable off now that he is no longer top guy. It's right out of the Trojan war where all the problems arise from romance and the fate of the war hinges on who can seduce Zeus the last, and which Goddess is consumed by revenge the most because Paris chose Aphrodite and how they can use their wiles to turn the tides of war.

3. A trip to the British Museum starts with a building cramming exhibit of Russian Architecture right after the Revolution to show the Russian's spirit and intelligence, and the love and egalitarianism of Russia by the British right now. But at the British Museum a room is devoted to Roman everyday life then compared to England today, and the conclusion is that it's pretty much the same with the soldiers being able to retire to a nice plot of land after 20 years of service then and now. But on looking closer one sees that most of the wealthy in Greek times were the freed slaves who were able to fill the everyday jobs of merchants, doctors, and financiers since they were not tarnished by striving for money and didn't possess extensive land holdings.

 4. Throughout Europe the opportunity cost of time is close to zero. Queues are everywhere because free admission is given to all the attractions. One can only get into the Louvre through a back entrance as the lines at the front are 3 hours long, but when you do get in, you have to walk through 10 miles of religious paintings depicting sacrificial and revengeful scenes from the Bible. No such luck at a the Musee D'Orsay where one would have to wait 5 hours to get in, even after purchasing a ticket at the only billetiere open in Paris.

5. London is the theater capital of the world, and it's nice to see the common man at all the events, enjoying his ice cream between acts at 1/4 the price of US events. I have to walk out of Crazy for You and Matilda, two of the hits there, because the music is terrible, and the plots totally contrived and hateful to the business person. The Crazy For You plot is exactly the plot of the current Muppets movie with their depiction of the heartless business man who wishes to close down the theater and the decent poor folk who must stage a show to earn enough to buy out the theater from the evil profit mongers. I enjoyed Three Days in May which shows men as they should be with compromises between Churchill, Chamberlain, and the Hunting Saint that led to the British refusing to surrender as it becomes clear that France was going to capitulate in a week. "Neville, can I chat with you for a half hour before the meeting tomorrow. Without your support, I'll have to resign because I don't believe we should give up," Churchill said. How many times one has been in that position as every man was for himself as in this case the estimate that came back from the front was that 2000 men would be returned from the Dardanelles rather than the 250,000 that came back. Worst of all as Churchill pointed out to his cabinet dissenters, is a show of uncertainty and disharmony as the public would leap on the weakness and the whole battle would be lost. One finds the courage and diplomacy of Churchill inspiring in this case, and one did have it in his rackets career.

 6. A highlight of the trip is a visit to Ile de la Cite to see the prisons where the upper class and producers were kept before being guillotined. But instead one lands at the Sainte Chappelle where one is seated in the first row of this 14th century church, to hear a medley of Renaissance music with harpsichord, viola, various flutes and a singer. The highlight as always is a Couperin and Bach piece which is invariably ingenious and beautiful compared to the predecessors. One was mistakenly given a VIP seat here as the reservation made from a fancy hotel and I am reminded of the most valuable thing I got from Soros other than the two tennis can thing. Once I had pneumonia and the hospital mistakenly heard that I was a partner of Soros and they gave me the best room in the hospital, about 2500 square feet with a beautiful view of the park. I did meet a great Dr. there, Dr. Lou Depalo, who I would recommend to anyone with a respiratory problem of any kind, who bought me a Barrons, and I bonded with when it turned out that he had a total love of the Master and Commander canon and unlike me was a nautical personage.

Gary Rogan comments: 

I was in Paris with my wife and daughters over the week preceding and including Christmas. We didn't do much shopping since it was mostly about taking the kids to the main museums, and they all know how much I hate "shopping" but we did spend a couple of ours at Galerie Laffayette, their main shopping mall, on Christmas Eve and the level of energy seemed pretty good to me, but I don't have too many comparison points. I also didn't see any sales signs, but could that be a sign of strength?

The outdoor shopping area at the lower end of Champs Elysees was so crowded in the evening it was almost impossible to walk, and this is definitely not the height of the tourist season. The faces of people on the metro which we used a lot seemed somewhat grim, but that's also hard to interpret without recent comparison points.

Rocky Humbert comments: 

 1. Back when I lived in the UK in the 1980's, there were semi-annual sales (post-Christmas and July). This was a tradition at the likes of Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, and the other serious London department stores. Prices were generally not discounted except during these sales. No self-respecting Londoner would shop at Harrods (except at the food court) — as it was mobbed with foreign tourists, and the prices were exorbitant. Perhaps a current Londoner can share whether the semi-annual sale pattern still exists.

2. In comparing London and Paris, one recalls Adam Smith's (and Napoleon's) observation that England is a Nation of Shopkeepers.

3. The Chair asks, "Why is there so much better retailing in London than Paris?" As Perry Mason would say, "Question assumes facts not in evidence." 

Bruno Ombreux comments:

1. About the traditional semi-annual sales (post-Christmas and July), it is the same in France, but the Winter sales are starting only next Wednesday. Which explains why there were sales in London and not in Paris. Different calendars.

2. About the English nation of Shopkeepers, it can be explained by different cultures too. Sales are widely attended in both countries, but from my anecdotal experience living both in London and in Paris, they are really a sacred institution in London compared to Paris.

Steve Ellison adds:

Kathryn Schulz, in Being Wrong, one of the books on the Chair's recommended reading list, wrote:

In short, we are wrong about love routinely. There’s even a case to be made that love is error, or at least is likely to lead us there. Sherlock Holmes, that literary embodiment of our … ideal thinker, 'never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer.' Love, for him, was 'grit in a sensitive instrument' that would inevitably lead into error.


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