Friday, August 09, 2002

Places&Culture File
As a journalist and cultural critic, to me economic news is at its best when it is about people, places and culture and is not just a dry listing of stock prices and earnings reports. A classic example is this piece by Mark Lewis in Slate from earlier this summer that dug into the colorful cultural context of a little-noticed news item: the de-listing of Bethlehem Steel from the NYSE. The little town of Bethlehem (Penn.) produced the guts of Rockefeller Center, the Golden Gate Bridge, Chicago's Merchandise Mart, the U.S. Supreme Court Building, and Madison Square Garden, and that's just where the story begins. Worth another look:
more cultural economics from Slate: Adam Smith and stock options:

more Places&Culture from
NY Times

Old-timers here still arrive by pickup truck to have their coffee and biscuits at Marty's, a plain-looking restaurant that has been a fixture for decades. Nouveau Bentonville, on the other hand, gravitates to a soaring space called the Market at Pinnacle Point, which appeared out of nowhere two years ago just down the highway in Rogers, surrounded by an office-and-shopping complex filled with Fortune 500 companies.

Dr. Donald E. Nemer does not like to make people in pain wait. So when the patient of a vacationing dentist called with a toothache one recent afternoon, Dr. Nemer squeezed him into a full schedule already made fuller by a walk-in denture readjustment, an emergency filling and an unscheduled root canal. Yet Dr. Nemer himself has been waiting for four years to retire, as a shortage of dentists in rural stretches of the upper Midwest reaches crisis proportions.

For countless tourists over two and a half centuries, the Trevi Fountain has been a source of awe and a wellspring of hope, promising another visit to the Eternal City, and a wish fulfilled, to anyone who tosses coins into its gurgling waters. For Roberto Cercelletta, it has been a lucrative pool of clandestine profit. What tourists gave, Mr. Cercelletta took away — six days a week, under the cover of early-morning darkness, with a rake or magnet or his own hands, as he splashed through the late Baroque masterpiece like Anita Ekberg in "La Dolce Vita," albeit less cinematically. Early this morning, when he took his usual dip under Neptune's feet, police officers were watching, and arrested him.

On its face, it sounded like the perfect share-the-wealth plan. Amid the sugarcane fields here on the island of Negros, one of the Philippines' most powerful tycoons, Eduardo M. Cojuangco Jr., the chairman of the beer and food conglomerate San Miguel, offered nearly 1,800 peasants who worked about 10,000 acres of land under his control a free stake in a plantation venture he would run. A "corporative," he dubbed it. But ever since that deal five years ago, the "shareholders" have not received their share of the plantation's profits, nor seen a statement of what those profits are. Instead, they have been paid an annual dividend of roughly $200, a sum critics denounce as a pay-off to discourage the peasants from asserting their rights to the land.

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