I wanted to devote a post to the economy. I noticed that there hasn't been much talk about the crisis. Someone should really address this.
Seriously, though, there is a certain quality lacking in coverage, and it's partially responsible for the quicksand, car-wreck-in-slow-motion effect that I'm experienced and frustrated by. For one thing, the lack of authoritative English-language local coverage of the economy.
Even in Estonian, I find myself turning to the comments section in the newspapers to get the "inside scoop", the conventional wisdom, the popular take... Even a well-reported story is not always enough -- I want to know: what does Smartass or Pimplebrain think? But are the comments truly useful? I learn things, but much may be self-delusion.
A symptom of the lack of good English writing on the economy is that the Estonian English-language commentarium's centre of gravity is shifting to the unlikeliest of places -- Baltic Business News. (The articles themselves are written in bad English -- has anybody noticed that?)
A number of relatively lucid and articulate fingers, even native-English-thinking minds congregate there, and hash out what is going on.
My head starts to spin after about 20 comments. No one is necessarily a crank or particularly off-base, yet they come up with completely divergent explanations.
Not only do I not know whether devaluation is a serious possibility in Estonia, I don't even know if my local USD account is safe. I have it on good (though anonymous) authority that it could be either way.
No one agrees on whether the Baltic bubble is separate from the worldwide bubble, or is it the local version of the same thing.
To me, the situation is a writ-small of the whole fragmented media space. In short, too many blogs, and too many anonymous comments.
Maybe everyone brings enough street smarts and connectivity to the table so that reality begins taking shape, mosaic-style, like a crowd painting at the Olympic opening ceremonies, or the picture of James Blunt's face on the Tallinn tour poster. (I hope that reality does not turn out to be James Blunt.) But it's hard to know. And how would one person know -- they would only know their little part of the mosaic.
What I miss most is a smart, slick and slim independent business weekly on the Baltics.
Yeah, who doesn't miss the 20th century sometimes? That publication's probably not going to happen (the economy is down!) but something that would be incredibly useful is Intrade-like, local prediction markets -- to help quantify the situation, instead of just anonymous comments or polls.
I don't know how governments would view such metamarkets...certainly it would be nearly impossible to keep from it being overrun by outside speculators. But even that might be useful, if it brings things to a real head (a true crisis, as opposed to the current interminable "crisis", which is just sloppy use of language) and helps resolve things faster.
Common sense says the recession will be just a recession, and everything will average out to about a 5-10% drop in output. Then again, old habits, overpopulation, too many young males in some places in the world, a rickety environment all make me wonder whether the end of the recession will only come by another means. So there's the dark view.
Everywhere there is the spectre of chain reaction, that already makes everything scarier and more protracted than it should be.
Look at what Ukraine and Russia got up to, over a relatively uncomplex supply contract issue. Electronic dispatches move at light speed, but it takes 48 hours for gas to reach Europe after a valve is turned. Gas was supposedly restored about 5 times before it actually was.
With other goods, the lag time is worse. We know how recycled waste is still piling up in US ports because China doesn't need it, and how unsold new Toyotas are accumulating in lots.
We know all the starting positions. We know that China is the Great Hoarder, that Eastern Europe and the US, among others are the profligate Spenders. That the price of oil is the big question mark. That no one wants to give up their traditional Roles.
So what will happen?
I think that one thing is fairly sure -- some sort of small deus ex machina that no one was expecting will make the difference and tip things a certain way.
Prediction markets might not be that, but they would be another kind of god, a vox dei.