Archive for the ‘Living’ Category

Why Is Art So Damned Expensive?

A pile of stools for $575,000. A cabinet full of surgical instruments for a cool $2.5 million. The global economy’s in a tailspin, but among the world’s elite collectors, works are selling for record prices.

| December 5, 2011 12:00 AM EST

Walking around Miami Beach last weekend, taking in the 10th edition of its extravagant Art Basel art fair, you sensed something strange in the air. Patou’s “Joy” drifting off the pashmina? Polished walnut wafting out of the Bentleys? More basic than either: the ineffable aroma of money itself, rising from the art out for sale. By the end of the first day, a customer at Mary Boone’s booth had spent $575,000 for a pile of battered stools turned into a nest—by Ai Weiwei. A blue lozenge on a white rectangle—by Ellsworth Kelly, on view at Matthew Marks—had gone for $1.5 million. A glass cabinet full of surgical instruments, by Damien Hirst, had sold for nearly $2.5 million at White Cube’s stand. Despite the big names attached to these objects—and whatever their artistic worth—any normal observer would immediately wonder: Stools, for half a million dollars? Three times that for some plain paint on canvas? Why is art so damned expensive?
There is a pile of simple, and basically unsatisfying, explanations. There’s scamming: The veteran New York dealer Arne Glimcher speaks of the “scuzzy” people who keep the Warhol market hot by manipulating his auctions. Simon de Pury, chairman of Phillips de Pury auction house, has counted a dozen other price boosters. He says a bigger picture is always worth more than a small one. He notes that you pay a premium for a piece once owned by someone famous. And he points out that something that has been shown in a museum is worth extra. But such explanations only tell us why one object might sell for more than another. They don’t tell us why so many buyers in Miami spend more on a picture than the rest of us spend on a house.
Despite the flatlined economy, the art market has been roaring. In the first half of this year, total worldwide art sales hit a record of €4.3 billion ($5.8 billion), up 34 percent from 2010, according to the French Web site The same site reports that 663 works jumped past the million-euro mark during that period, 200 more than in the first six months of 2008, which once held the record.
The top art prices may have little to do with classic economics. Noah Horowitz, whose Art of the Deal is a crucial text on the subject, says in the long run your investment in art may only do about as well as your holdings in bonds—and comes with greater risk. (But, as one major New York collector put it, that’s not so bad, if you have nowhere else to store your income. And anyway, “bonds aren’t that good to look at.”) At this moment, when the 1 percent has the cash to burn, buying art is less about finance than about the cultural value of money, and of art. “A dollar is not a dollar is not a dollar,” says Viviana Zelizer, the great Princeton sociologist who wrote The Social Meaning of Money. The dollars spent in Miami are “cultural dollars,” Zelizer says, and that makes them obey their own rules. Below, five reasons why art defies economics:


“If I can’t sell something, I just double the price.” That’s what Ernst Beyeler, the great Swiss dealer who helped found Art Basel, reportedly said. Some people actually prefer to pay more than makes sense. Zelizer explains that, in all walks of life, we treat the biggest sums -differently, with special respect or even awe, than more-everyday money. “I think very often the price paid for a work is the trophy itself,” says Glimcher, the dealer.
In 2006, the crowds lining up to see a portrait by Gustav Klimt in the private Neue Galerie in New York weren’t there out of any fondness for the artist. They were there because they’d heard that the museum’s founder, cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder, had paid a record $135 million for it.
The sociologist Mitch Abolafia, who has made a study of Wall Street financiers, says that sometimes money speaks for itself. “A trader said to me one day, with glee in his eyes, ‘You can’t see it, but money is everywhere in this room. Money is flying around—millions and millions of dollars.’ It was a generalized excitement about money. Even I felt it.” That’s the excitement we all get from expensive art. One collector, who believes deeply that art should be bought for art’s sake, acknowledges basking in the “robust glow of prosperity” that his purchases give off once their value has soared.
The people who are spending record amounts on art buy more than just that glow. (And much more than the pleasure of contemplating pictures, which they could get for $20 at any museum.) They’ve purchased boasting rights. “It’s, ‘You bought the $100 million Picasso?!,’” says Glimcher. Abolafia explains that his financiers were “shameless” in declaring the price of their toys, because in their world, what you buy is less about the object than the cash you threw at it. The uselessness of art makes any spending on it especially potent: buying a yacht is a tiny bit like buying a rowboat, and so retains a taint of practicality, but buying a great Picasso is like no other spending. Olav Velthuis, a Dutch sociologist who wrote Talking Prices, the best study of what art spending means, compares the top of the art market to the potlatches performed by the American Indians of the Pacific Northwest, where the goal was to ostentatiously give away, even destroy, as much of your wealth as possible—to show that you could. In the art-market equivalent, he says, prices keep mounting as collectors compete for this “super-status effect.”
I asked the great New York collector Agnes Gund how she would feel about her artworks if their value suddenly halved. “I wouldn’t feel they would have changed,” she said, explaining that most of her pictures are promised to museums. Then I asked how she’d feel if their value doubled instead, and her story changed. “Obviously, it’s wonderful to see the price rise,” she said, since that’s confirmation of the object’s cultural worth.

Colby Katz for Newsweek

I’m convinced that most collectors spend their surplus millions on art because they have a genuine belief in its aesthetic value. “We don’t consider art an investment. We get a psychic reward—I love to come home and look at our walls,” says Eli Broad, a prominent collector from Los Angeles, taking a break from shopping with his art-loving wife at the fair in Miami. (They’d just bought some early Cindy Sherman photos, for sale at Metro Pictures for a modest $150,000.) Aesthetics are the bedrock the art market is built on. But, for want of any other reliable measure, they often get tallied in dollars. One of New York’s biggest dealers told Velthuis, the Dutch sociologist, that collectors “permanently have to explain to themselves why they spend so much money on art, sometimes up to 40 percent of their total net worth. So that they want to hear all day long that it makes sense what they do.” And the easiest way to gauge the aesthetic “sense” of an art purchase is to check out the “cents” the thing is selling for. When you’re looking for great art, you may spot it by its price tag.
The crowds lining up to see Lauder’s Klimt in 2006 must have figured that looking at the most expensive work in the world would also expose them to one of the greatest. They were wrong. Almost no one would say that Klimt is crucial to the history of art. As Glimcher, the dealer, put it, “all you need is two people to make a market”—and he doubts that, in another 50 years, we’ll find two more Klimt fans willing to break records for his art.
IN the art market, collectors are buying the pleasure of shopping as much as the art they get out of it. One art adviser who works at the top of the market says that a collector is “like a diseased human being … these people love to buy, and they love to buy art. The process is a very deep-seated urge. This idea of hunting and gathering—it’s not a new one.” And as de Pury, the auctioneer, explains, there’s no fun in hunting where there’s almost no game to be caught. That’s why the market for old masters has cooled down, he says, whereas certain later artists, such as Warhol and Picasso, produced so much art, in such a variety of styles and modes, that there’s still a thrill left in shopping for them. For these artists, says de Pury, you can become a one-of-each collector—one blue-period Picasso, one rose period, one cubist, one surrealist—and then you can imagine upgrading your works of each type. Gather 10 bidders having this same kind of “fun,” and you’ve got guaranteed price inflation.
If giant fairs like Miami Basel are lousy places to contemplate art—and they are—they continue to flourish because they are fabulous places for shopping. That, says Velthuis, may also account for why contemporary art has come to be the big-ticket item over the last five years or so: it’s simply way more fun to shop for works by artists you can still party with. Also, when you make headlines by spending vast sums on newcomers, you can become a tastemaker yourself, instead of having to wait for the art historians to sort matters out. Just by spending those sums—one of the least onerous tasks a 1 percenter can have—you can launch a bandwagon your friends will jump on, soon confirming both your eye and your investment.
AS money stacks up in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), their oligarchs are buying into the wealthy Western mainstream by forking out for its art, the way their poorer compatriots are buying into skinny jeans and Lady Gaga. Broad, a billionaire himself, says that for these new buyers “it seems money is no object.” It has come to the point where such “artigarchs” are pricing the normally rich out of the game. One veteran collector from the mid-Atlantic region says that he used to be able to buy a Gerhard Richter painting for “six figures, or in the low sevens.” But now, with so much new money pouring into that market (the Russians are crazy for Richter), you’d be lucky to pay 10 times such amounts. “I’m finding that the art that I love I can no longer afford, and the art I can afford I don’t know if I love.”
One colleague of his from New York explains that to get a new work by a popular artist such as Jeff Koons even most billionaires have to wait in line and jump through dealers’ hoops. Anyone out of time or out of favor—or just new to the whole system—will have to head to the auctions and spend whatever it takes. Doubling down on a piece others also want is about “a normal mammal need for success in a competitive environment,” the collector says, and dares any of his peers to deny it. “Eli Broad wants to get it ahead of [François] Pinault who wants to get it ahead of [Bernard] Arnault,” he says, rattling off the names of some of art’s megabuyers.
Top art collectors aren’t shoppers like anyone else. If they spend right, they can purchase the status of cultural patron. No one looks up to you for buying a fleet of Bentleys, but own a flock of Richard Serras, and you become a supporter of culture. Turning the filthy lucre of commerce into the “cultural money” that’s used to purchase art is one way to launder it, explains the Princeton sociologist Zelizer. Art-pricing expert Velthuis says that collectors speak of their purchases as a kind of gift to the artist, or even as a sacrifice they’ve made for the sake of the higher values of art. And there can be close to a taboo on undoing that sacrifice by selling what you’ve bought: Gund, a collector famous for her rectitude, insisted that she will only put works on the market to raise funds for her charities. Broad says that he also avoids selling art: “When it goes up in value, we just pay more in insurance.”
Like those American Indian potlatchers trying to use up as much wealth as possible, rich collectors have all kinds of incentives to “translate” as much spare cash as they can into culture. Spending on huge yachts is “despicable, I don’t understand it,” says the New York collector. “I have a lot more respect for the people who put their money in art.”

©2011 The Newsweek/Daily Beast Company LLC

Why Is Art So Damned Expensive? – The Daily Beast


In Piedmont, Seasons of Truffles and Barolo

A view over some of the Vietti vineyards in Castiglione Falletto.
ALBA, ITALY — This city in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy takes gastronomy very seriously.
Michelin-starred restaurants lurk around every street corner. The Slow Food movement, which champions the use of local produce and time-honored cooking techniques, has its headquarters in the nearby town of Bra. The aroma of toasted hazelnuts and chocolate, from a Ferrero Rocher plant on the edge of Alba, hangs over the region.

The interest in food grows especially intense in the fall, harvest season for the Alba white truffle. For a few weeks in October and November, these pungent-smelling tubers, unearthed from the forests around Alba by wizened hunters with specially trained dogs, are sold in a market in the old city center. There, the truffles are prodded, sniffed and haggled over before changing hands at breathtaking prices.

The fall is also the season of Barolo, the great wine produced in hillside vineyards from a cluster of villages southwest of Alba: La Morra, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba, Monforte d’Alba and Barolo itself. As truffle season arrives, so do the autumn mists that are said to have given the late-harvested Barolo grape variety, nebbiolo, its name. (“Nebbia” means fog in Italian.)

Like food, wine arouses passions here. For more than two decades, the so-called Barolo wars raged, pitting traditional producers of the wine against modernizing winemakers in what each side saw as a struggle for the soul of Barolo. Fortunately, a cease-fire finally seems to be taking hold.

What was there to fight over? Barolo is one of the most complex, aromatic and delicious red wines in the world. At its best, it has the delicate fruit of Burgundy, the age-worthiness of Bordeaux and a broad register of flavors, from cherries to dried flowers to eucalyptus to Darjeeling tea, that is entirely its own.

Yet Barolo is also one of the hardest wines to handle, for winemakers and consumers alike.
Traditionally, Barolos were made in a way that emphasized the tannins, the astringent, mouth-puckering substances that give serious red wines their structure, but that also make them difficult to enjoy before they have spent many years in a cellar. The problem with some old-school Barolos was that by the time the tannins softened, the fruit and the color had faded, robbing the drinker of any pleasure.

“People talk about all these great old Barolos from the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s,” said Fabio Fantino, the winemaker at the Conterno Fantino estate, which was founded by his father and a partner. “But in any of those decades there are only two or three vintages that you can still drink. We have only one life to drink wine.”

To try to make their wines more approachable, the so-called modernists imported new methods from France. They shortened the period of maceration, in which the skins from crushed grapes soak in the juice, as well as the fermentation. They encouraged the wines to undergo a second fermentation, which converts harsh malic acid to gentler lactic acid. And they started aging their wines in small oak barrels, known as barriques, bucking the local tradition that favored giant casks.

These and other changes produced wines that are softer, rounder and deeper in flavor and color. But some winemakers overdid things, producing wines that were virtually indistinguishable from other plush, oaky reds, like California cabernet sauvignon. A number of winemakers added grapes like cabernet or merlot to their nebbiolo; under Italian wine regulations, this cost them the right to call the resulting wines Barolo.


Eric Pfanner/International Herald Tribune
Testing the scent of tubers at the truffle market in Alba.
Eric Pfanner/International Herald Tribune
Looking toward Serralunga d’Alba, one of a cluster of hillside villages southwest of Alba that produce the great wine Barolo.
Eric Pfanner/International Herald Tribune
Chiara Boschis, shown here with a map showing the location of Barolo vineyards, was considered a modernist when she took over the E. Pira & Figli winery in Barolo a little more than two decades ago.
Eric Pfannner/International Herald Tribune
Fabio Fantino, the winemaker at the Conterno Fantino estate, which was founded by his father and a partner.

The new style impressed some wine critics, but didn’t always fare well with consumers. Barolo is a food wine, rather than one made for easy drinking, but traditional producers say modern methods sometimes compromised its ability to accompany fine cuisine.

“Restaurants tell me that when you have one bottle of traditional Barolo on the table, and one bottle of modern, the traditional bottle is empty first,” said Paola Rinaldi, who runs Francesco Rinaldi & Figli, a producer that stuck with older methods as others veered off in new directions. “Fifteen years ago it was harder to sell these wines, but at the moment, people are looking for something that is distinctive and different.”

She added, with a note of triumph, that many producers who embraced modern techniques are now backtracking a bit — for example, trading in their barriques for larger barrels, which impart less oak influence on the wine as it ages. At the same time, Ms. Rinaldi’s wines seem to reflect a bit of modernity in their richness and approachability — at least those of the newly released 2007 vintage, which produced unusually ripe nebbiolo grapes.

Indeed, across the region, a convergence of styles seems to be under way, which is good news for anyone who loves Barolo. A majority of the wines tasted on an autumn visit to the region defied easy categorization. They were full of fruit and energy, yet elegant and refined, with only subtle oak influences. Are these wines traditional or modern? Does it matter?

Some of my favorite producers of the wine, like Vietti in Castiglione Falletto, have long employed methods that blend the best of old and new. Vietti, for example, puts some of its Barolos into barriques for a few months, where the malolactic fermentation takes place, then transfers them into larger casks to age.
Chiara Boschis, who was considered a modernist when she took over the E. Pira & Figli winery in Barolo a little more than two decades ago, said labels like traditional and modern were never entirely accurate.
“A lot of people just didn’t understand these things,” she said. “They were calling us modernists. No! We were just a group of friends who wanted to make the best wine in the world.”

At the time, Ms. Boschis was one of only a handful of female vintners in Barolo. Some of the locals viewed her with suspicion, especially when she introduced progressive winemaking techniques like “green harvesting” — clipping unripe bunches from the vines early in the growing season in order to concentrate flavors in the remaining grapes.

“People were saying to my father, ‘What happened? Did she hit her head on the wall?’ ” said Ms. Boschis. “He was doing the calculations and saying, ‘This is how much money you are losing.’ The grapes that I cut off — I felt like I had to eat them off the floor.”

These days, Ms. Boschis is content to leave the discarded grapes where they fall. Her wines attract critical acclaim, and commensurate prices. Barolo is not cheap. (We’ll be looking at some less expensive alternatives from Piedmont in my next column, in two weeks.)

While producers like Ms. Boschis say the Barolo Wars are passé, the question of traditional versus modern production has not been resolved everywhere. One such place is the home of Virna Borgogno.
Ms. Borgogno is a proudly traditionalist winemaker, but she is married to a modern-style producer, Giovanni Abrigo, who makes Barbaresco, Barolo’s main rival for fame in Piedmont.
Ms. Borgogno’s winery, called Virna, and her husband’s estate, named Orlando Abrigo, share the same cellars.

“We taste together, we discuss the problems of vinification,” Ms. Borgogno said. “But the choice of style remains our own.”

In Piedmont, Seasons of Truffles and Barolo –

GOD bless America!

Trademark-Happy Couple Try to Cash In on Occupy Wall Street


What may go down as one of the most ironic trademarks in US patent history is currently in the process of review. Sure, we’ve seen shameless profiteering as recently as Disney’s bid (although later withdrawn) to seek the rights to brand the term “SEAL Team 6,” after the Navy unit that killed Osama bin Laden, in order to stamp it on its snow globes. But it’s a new level of travesty to capitalize on something that is, at its very core, anti-capitalist.  

According to The Smoking Gun, Long Island, New York couple Robert and Diane Maresca havefiled an application with the US Patent and Trademark Office to, essentially, occupy the Occupy Wall Street movement. While vendors have been cashing in on the demonstrations by peddling “Occupy Wall Street” merchandise at all corners of Zuccotti Park, the Marescas are the first to attempt to turn the movement into a “global brand.”

If the couple gets its way, sunbathing sympathizers will be carrying Occupy Wall Street™ beach bags on their next trip to the coast and popping open their Occupy Wall Street™ umbrellas if it rains.

An iron worker by trade, 44-year-old Robert Maresca proved he also has a “practical business side” with this potentially lucrative trademark. The $975 application fee could be the best investment he’s ever made.

If you’re thinking about picking up “We Are The 99%,” it’s already spoken for by a guy from Brooklyn. Rest assured, Maresca already checked.

As far as seeing an anti-occupy Occupy Wall Street protest materialize, well, let’s just say the movement already has its demonstration dance card filled. This trademark issue will have to get in line behind abolishing the death penalty and shutting down Fox News.

(See also: Capitalism Sprouts Around Occupy Wall Street)

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Why Airline Stewardesses Aren’t Hot Anymore

pan am

Glen Whitman asks why there are fewer startlingly beautiful flight attendants any more:

For an economist, the most fascinating aspect of Pan Am is the highly attractive flight attendants — or rather, stewardesses, since the show is set in the early 1960s. If you’re young enough, you might think that’s just TV. But I’m just old enough to remember flying in the 1970s, and I recall stewardesses who really were, in fact, hot. Okay, I was too young to understand the concept of “hot” — but I was definitely aware that I was being attended by some very pretty young women.

Not so anymore. Flight attendants aren’t necessarily unattractive now, but they’re no more fetching than people in any other service profession that doesn’t get tips. And what’s changed? In a word, deregulation.

Prior to airline deregulation, which was passed in 1978 and completed over the next few years, airfares had been set by the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). For many routes, those airfares were simply too high. As predicted by a simple supply-and-demand model, airlines were willing to offer more flights at these high prices than customers were willing to buy. Under normal market conditions, that would lead to falling prices. But since the airlines legally could not compete on price, they competed on quality instead. They offered better service, better food, and… wait for it… more attractive stewardesses.

When deregulation came along, however, it became apparent that as much as male customers might have enjoyed the eye candy, they weren’t willing to pay for it. Higher quality might seem like a good thing, but it’s really only good if the benefits exceeds the cost. More attractive staff can command higher wages. The airlines could have continued to pay them, if the higher quality had attracted more customers. But as it turns out, most people just wanted to get where they were going, fast and cheap. Deregulation fueled a democratization of air travel, making what once was a luxury item available to nearly everyone. The number of people who fly at least once a year has more than doubled since 1978, while the population has grown by about 40%. These new customers have flocked to the airlines with no-frills or low-frills service, a trend that continues to this day (JetBlue, anyone?).

As a libertarianish economics blogger, I would love if this story were true. But I’m skeptical. Stewardesses used to be subject to all sorts of extremely strict rules: they couldn’t be married, couldn’t gain weight, couldn’t get pregnant, couldn’t be much over 30. If you fire everyone who violates those rules, then yes, you will select for a much “hotter” group of women than the current crop.

You could probably still get a large group of young, hot women to take a job that involves free flights all around the world. But those jobs are no longer open, because airlines stopped firing all the old, fat parents. Thanks to a combination of feminist shaming, union demands, and anti-discrimination laws. Moreover, once they no longer fired people over a certain age, union seniority rules immediately started selecting for older workers, in two ways: layoffs are usually last hired first fired, and older people have a lot of sunk costs in terms of pension accrual and seniority, so they’re less likely to leave. If you fly a major airline, you’ll notice very few stewardesses in their twenties.

In the 1970s, these trends would have been playing out; most stewardesses were still young. Now they’re lifers. Any new airline can create a better looking workforce by hiring good-looking workers. But it can’t guarantee that they’ll stay hot. When the workforce is unionized and in it for the . . . pardon the pun . . . long haul, eventually you end up with what we’ve got: a workforce composed mostly of older and not particularly attractive people. Mirroring the larger American workforce.

You can argue that deregulation hastened this by making price discrimination fiercer, so that there were more layoffs, and airlines were less able to offer a wage premium that would attract better looking workers. But I suspect this played a minor role–less important than other trends, like the mass movement of women into the workforce. Fewer women were looking for a job that would let them travel for a few years before they got married, and there were better alternatives for a long-term career. Moreover, the changing workplace meant there were more female business travelers on expensive tickets–and they usually don’t care whether the stewardess has a nice rack.

If you look at the national airlines in countries where anti-discrimination rules and/or unions are less powerful, like Qatar or Asia, you’ll notice that they spend a lot of time here advertising . . . their hot stewardesses. (Also their lay-flat seats. But don’t forget the super-hot stewardesses). That’s not because they’re in an oligopoly. It’s because the domestic labor market lets them get away with it, and ours doesn’t.

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Why Airline Stewardesses Aren’t Hot Anymore

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The MasterFeeds

Manhattan Rents Jump as New Yorkers Stay Put


Manhattan apartment rents climbed 4.9 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier as tenants opted to renew leases in a tightening market, leaving home- seekers to compete for fewer vacancies.

The median effective rent, or what tenants pay after landlord-sponsored incentives, increased to $2,970 a month from $2,831 a year earlier, according to a report by appraiser Miller Samuel Inc.and broker Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate. New leases declined 6.9 percent to 7,998, and the number of listings on the market dropped 1.9 percent to 4,605.

Stricter mortgage-lending standards and weak consumer confidenceare limiting demand for home purchases, leading to increased competition for rentals, according to Jonathan Miller, president of New York-based Miller Samuel. Tenants are staying put as rents rise and a limited supply of three- and four- bedroom apartments prevents them from trading up, he said.

“Their options have become more limited,” Miller said in telephone interview. “You find more tightness as you move up in size, both in terms of what’s available and the jump in cost.”

Three-bedroom apartments commanded a median $6,295 a month before concessions, a 20 percent increase, and new rentals of units that size declined 35 percent to 327, the report showed.

Read the rest of the story here:

Where would you rather be?

Tyler Brule

A couple of days in Rio or São Paulo can work wonders for anyone feeling they’re about to lose their groove

f you reside in the northern hemisphere and feel you’re about to come down with a terrible case of the autumn blues mixed with an attack of the economic shakes then there’s a very simple, effective prescription – book a ticket to Brazil. Sunny personalities, fine hospitality and booming economyaside, a couple of days in Rio or São Paulo can work wonders for anyone feeling they’re about to lose their groove.

If you live in Perm or Chennai or Chengdu and are about to start rattling out an e-mail in defence of your motherland, save your energy. First, you’ll be waging an argument with a fierce Brazil fan and not a big booster of Russia, India, or China. Second, you’ll have to ask yourself – who is the strongest soft superpower? Third, you’ll have to be very honest with yourself and recognise that you may be embarking on a futile debate.

Without even trying I can list at least 20 brands, personalities, establishments and forces I love about Brazil. From the ground up I like the Made in Brazil pride of Havaianas flip-flops (they’ve now done Japanese-style socks so you can wear them like a good German or Kyotoite), neighbourhood street-markets on a Sunday, the kiosks along Ipanema, the simplicity of the sunga (the Brazilian version of a pair of Speedos), the functional style of the VW Brasilia, the architecture of modern talents Isay Weinfeld and Marcio Kogan, the restaurants and hotels of Rogerio Fasano, Livraria la Vila bookstores, Piaui magazine, the cool sounds of Barbara Mendes, Bebel Gilberto, Taryn Szpilman, Marcela Mangabeira, Marcelo Rezende and Liz Menezes, the D Dock News magazine store in São Paulo, the furniture of Sergio Rodrigues, Rio’s jolly mayor Eduardo Paes and the aircraft of Embraer.

With Russia, India and China combined I’m struggling to come up with three. I like Air India’s iconic maharajah mascot but I don’t want to fly the airline. I like Russian pickles but I have a suspicion that they probably all come from Georgia.

As for China? It’s tough, in part because I still haven’t been. While I keep trying to get there for business reasons, it’s yet to happen. Part of the problem is that I’m always alarmed by meetings (these take place in Hong Kong) and conference calls that suggest I’ll need to do things the “Chinese way”. When I ask what exactly a potential client means by the “Chinese way” I’m lectured about having to be sensitive to Chinese culture and that any work I might undertake in China has to have a serious appreciation of Chinese history and tradition. As these discussions frequently involve issues about design and architecture I’m often left wondering why I’ve even been contacted in the first place when the people sitting in Dalian know I’m in London, that Brûlé isn’t a name from Sichuan province and I’m not big on red lacquer, jade or snorting dragons.

Several months ago I decided it was time to make amends and open a Monocle shop in Beijing. I was quite excited about the concept until I was informed that we wouldn’t be able to sell our magazine in Beijing as it required a special licence. We still opened the shop, but visitors are only allowed to buy our other merchandise and are only permitted to browse through the magazine. Need I say more?

While I was in São Paulo last week, our magazine was selling briskly – for £22 ($35) a copy and no one was asking us to pay for a licence. When I asked a kiosk owner if we shouldn’t work on lowering the price he said Brazilian consumers didn’t really care about the price. “If they like it, they buy it. People are hungry to find out about opportunities around the world,” he explained. “That’s why we sell out of the FT, Monocle and The Economist. We’re on a shopping spree.”

While much is made of the Chinese shopping boom and high spending Russians, it’s the Brazilians that get hotel managers and managers of airline revenue excited. “I don’t really know where the rich Chinese stay as they don’t stay with us,” a hotel general manager in Milan recently told me. “The Brazilians are a whole other story. They check-in, they spend and they’re fun. They’re now the highest spenders per night across our entire group.”

While Brazilians are on a spending spree abroad, they’d be wise to invest a little more at home. Social issues and the associated security problems need to be tackled, creaking infrastructures in São Paulo and Rio need to be addressed urgently and then there are the logistical challenges that come with airports and public transport networks that are well past their sell-by dates. As Beijing breaks ground on a nine-runway airport, the federal and state governments in Brazil are still dithering about how to tackle the country’s growing aviation sector and what shape it should take.

Security and transport issues aside, if I was going to pack up and head for greener pastures it would most definitely involve a boarding pass with the airport designation GRU or GIG printed in bold.

Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine

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