Multinational Monitor

NOV/DEC 2008
VOL 29 No. 3


The 10 Worst Corporations of 2008
by Robert Weissman

Carbon Market Fundamentalism
by Daphne Wysham

A Last Chance to Avert Disaster
testimony of James Hansen


Plunge: How Banks Aim to Obscure Their Losses
an interview with Lynn Turner

The Financial Crisis and the Developing World
an interview with Jomo K.S.

The Centralization of Financial Power
an interview with Bert Foer

“Everyone Needs to Rethink Everything”
an interview with Simon Johnson

Toxic Waste Build-Up
an interview with Lee Pickard

“Before That, They Made A Lot of Money”
an interview with Nomi Prins


Behind the Lines

Public Ownership, Public Control

The Front
Thirsty for Justice - Whitewashing Honda

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Greed At a Glance

Commercial Alert

Names In the News


Greed At a Glance

The End of Excess?

Neiman Marcus, the luxury retailer that owns Manhattan’s super swanky Bergdorf Goodman, is reporting quarterly losses up more than double. Vivre, a luxury catalog store that offers a $45 sterling silver ice cream spoon, says sales have gone “softer.” France, so far this year, has exported 76 million fewer bottles of champagne.

Does all this mean that the wealthy, amid global financial meltdown, are finally cutting back? The latest survey data from Elite Traveler magazine and Prince & Associates suggest yes — and no.

Only 1 percent of households worth between $1 million and $10 million, according to the new polling, plan to spend more on luxury in the months ahead, and 76 percent plan to spend less. But 71 percent of households worth more than $30 million say they plan no spending cutbacks at all. That may help explain why Ferrari has 6,000 customers lined up for its new $247,000 coupe-cabriolet.

Love ’Em and Stuff ’Em

In hard economic times, even hoteliers for the high and mighty have to work a little harder. The good folks at Miami’s five-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel, for instance, have added a luxury pet program. Any guest who checks in with a furry friend gets a souvenir golden collar tag. The pet gets a bone-shaped placemat, special treats and a plush bed complete with “first-class turn-down service.”

One-night stays at the Mandarin can run up to $1,629. A guest with a pet pays another $100 for “deep room cleaning.” Notes a hotel spokesperson: “We aim to provide all our guests with Mandarin Oriental’s legendary service — regardless of whether they arrive on two or four legs!”

Some of the world’s most financially favored love to pamper four-leggeds. Others love to turn them into accessories. That’s why Heng Long, a Singapore firm that specializes in turning crocodile and alligator hide into handbags, isn’t fretting about today’s global economic turmoil. Company profits, Reuters reports, have jumped 19 percent so far this year.

Explains top exec Koh Choon Heong: “The rich always spend money.”

Heng Long is currently processing 280,000 skins a year. A Hermes Birkin bag that retails for $45,000 will typically take three hides.

Making AIG Look Frugal

The new CEO of bailed-out insurance giant AIG is defending — against congressional critics — the $440,000 weekend bash his company hosted in September just days after taxpayers came to its rescue. The weekend’s festivities, says AIG top exec Edward Liddy, amounted to “accepted practice in the insurance business.”

About 100 “high-performing” insurance agents attended the “retreat,” held at a California resort overlooking the Pacific. Did AIG actually get a bargain? Maybe. The entire weekend room tab for the 100 guests only came to $139,375. In Manhattan’s Four Seasons Hotel, the most popular CEO accommodation — the Ty Warner Suite — rents for $30,000 per night.

Cruising with Sensitivity

If you haven’t yet placed an order for Aston-Martin’s new One-77 — the “most expensive road car in the world” — you’re probably out of luck. Aston-Martin is only producing 77 of the $2.1 million motorcars, and more than 100 people have already signed up. The new Aston-Martin can cruise at 200 mph.

Deep-pockets who’d rather cruise more environmentally may want to opt instead for the world’s first “hybrid” luxury yacht, a 75-foot three-decker from Ferretti, an Italian luxury shipyard.

Ocean-lovers who pick up one of the $4 million yachts, says Ferretti, will “enjoy the exclusive, unique experience of entering a bay, lying at anchor for several hours with full on-board functionality, then leaving, secure in the knowledge that the entire operation has been carried out in total silence and with zero emissions.”

Protecting Deep Pockets

The principality of Monaco has just edged out London as the “world’s most expensive location for luxury homes.” On average, luxury housing in Monaco now runs $6,916 per square foot. In other words, a Monaco apartment the size of a walk-in closet would cost $280,000.

The super rich, says realtor Roger Munns, feel secure in Monaco, where the ritziest neighborhoods have one law enforcement officer for every 100 residents. The wealthy, he adds, like to live in a “police state.”

CEOs in India may soon be demanding Monaco-style protection. In Delhi’s Noida suburb, an auto parts CEO died from head wounds after a meeting with downsized workers turned into a bloody melee. Authorities have arrested over 60 workers, but a spokesperson for India’s Chambers of Commerce federation fears that the murder will “sully India’s image among overseas investors.”

Oscar Fernandes, India’s labor minister, fears that top executives in his nation may not understand how angry Indian workers have become. The day after the killing, Fernandes called the bloodshed “a warning for the managements.” Added the minister: “Workers should not be pushed so hard that they resort to whatever happened in Noida.”               

— Sam Pizzigati,  editor of Too Much, an online weekly on excess and inequality


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