Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Isnt life just funny like that...

So we have been waiting and waiting for months and months for our visa's to go through. Finally everything is approved, the millions of forms are finished, the hefty payments are complete and all we need are the plane tickets and one minor detail, my passport. When I was packing to leave home and head to Denver I had a lot of things that overstuffed my suitcase taking me out of carryon size. So I packed a box of clothes to mail to myself in Chicago and at the last minute I clearly remember throwing in a bag I just didn't feel I had room for. Well in that bag was my passport. My mom mailed the box as I suggested, "you dont need to rush it mom, its just clothes so keep it cheap." Yes well that means no tracking number and a lot of time. Its been a week and no box passport. I can't fill out my forms and submit them to the consulate until I have my passport. So Alex's company in Brazil is ready to buy our tickets, the consulate has our visas and every day I pace for the mail truck. I can't believe after all these months its come down to a box, floating out there in postal odyssey. Hopefully we will be on a plane early next week so we can finally begin our overdue Brazilian life. I just hope whenever I finally get that box that my passport is in deed in that bag because if it isn't well that will be another story that I hope I dont have to tell.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How Fake Money Saved Brazil

I had no idea????!!!!

Copied from NPR Planet Money

This is a story about how an economist and his buddies tricked the people of Brazil into saving the country from rampant inflation. They had a crazy, unlikely plan, and it worked.
Twenty years ago, Brazil's inflation rate hit 80 percent per month. At that rate,  if eggs cost $1 one day, they'll cost $2 a month later. If it keeps up for a year, they'll cost $1,000.
In practice, this meant stores had to change their prices every day. The guy in the grocery store would walk the aisles putting new price stickers on the food. Shoppers would run ahead of him, so they could buy their food at the previous day’s price.

The problem went back to the 1950s, when the government printed money to build a new capital in Brasilia.  By the 1980s, the inflation pattern was in place.
It went something like this:
1. New President comes in with a new plan.
2. President freezes prices and/or bank accounts.
3. President fails.
4. President gets voted out or impeached.
5. Repeat.
The plans succeeded at only one thing: Convincing every Brazilian the government was helpless to control inflation.
There was one more option that no one knew about.  It was dreamed up by four guys at the Catholic University in Rio. The only reason they enter the picture now  —  or ever — is because in 1992,  there happened to be a new finance minister who knew nothing about economics.  So the minister called Edmar Bacha, the economist who is the hero of our story.
"He said, 'Well, I've just been named the finance minister. You know I don’t know economics, so please come to meet me in Brasilia tomorrow,' " Bacha recalls. "I was terrified."
Bacha had been waiting for decades for this call.
He and three friends had been studying Brazilian inflation since they were graduate students — four guys at the campus bar complaining to each other about how no one else knew how to fix this.  And now they were being told "Fine, do it your way."
Bacha was invited to meet the president.
"I asked for an autograph for my kids," Bacha says. So the president wrote Bacha's kids a note that said, "Please tell your father to work fast for the benefit of the country."
The four friends set about explaining their idea.  You have to slow down the creation of money, they explained. But, just as important, you have to stabilize people's faith in money itself.  People have to be tricked into thinking money will hold its value.
The four economists wanted to create a new currency that was stable, dependable and trustworthy.  The only catch: This currency would not be real.  No coins, no bills.  It was fake.
"We called it a Unit of Real Value — URV," Bacha says. "It was virtual; it didn't exist in fact."
People would still have and use the existing currency, the cruzeiro.  But everything would be listed in URVs, the fake currency.   Their wages would be listed in URVs.  Taxes were in URVs.  All prices were listed in URVs.  And URVs were kept stable — what changed was how many cruzeiros each URV was worth.
Say, for example, that milk costs 1 URV. On a given day, 1 URV might be worth 10 cruzeiros. A month later, milk would still cost 1 URV. But that 1 URV might be worth 20 cruzeiros.
The idea was that people would start thinking in URVs — and stop expecting prices to always go up.
"We didn't understand what it was," says Maria Leopoldina Bierrenbach, a housewife from Sao Paulo. "I used to say it was a fantasy, because it was not real."
Still, people used URVs. And after a few months, they began to see that prices in URVs were stable. Once that happened, Bacha and his buddies could declare that the virtual currency would become the country’s actual currency. It would be called the real.
"Everyone is going to receive from now on their wages, and pay for all the prices, in the new currency, which is the real," Bacha says. "That is the trick."
The day they launched the real, Bacha says, a journalist friend asked him, "Professor, do you swear that inflation will end tomorrow?"
"Yes, I swear." Bacha said.
And, basically, inflation did end, and the country's economy turned around. In the years that followed, Brazil became a major exporter, and 20 million people rose out of poverty.
"We were in awe," Bierrenbach says. "Everybody was very happy."
For more: Listen to the Planet Money podcast, "How Four Drinking Buddies Saved Brazil."
Correction:  An earlier version of this story misspelled cruzeiro in two instances.  Thanks to the commenter who pointed out the error.

Monday, October 11, 2010

reflections on growing up

I think everyone has those moments. You are in the midst of doing something and it hits you. Your back hurts more while doing something you've always done painlessly. You run into someone you knew years ago. You hear a song or smell a fragrance that takes you back in time. You think, wow was that really ten years ago? I feel so old!

My room at my parents house was frozen in high school. Memorabilia from field trips, ticket stubs from concerts, pictures from dances and dried flowers from old boyfriends were scattered around my very blue and very dated room. There was comfort in knowing nothing tangible there ever changed while I was busy... changing. My mom recalled the year I decided blue was my favorite color. I loved the smurfs, owned a blue winter jacket, wanted blue curtains and walls while wearing blue socks and shoes. It was the mid nineties and I was declaring proudly my newly establishing preferences for dress and decor. I am lucky that my room got to stay mine. It wasn't converted to a study or a sowing room, it just collected dust on those defining elements of school days.

I came home last week with the furniture I had bought years ago when I moved out to Denver as there was just no space for it in Brazil. To make room, we sold my first bedroom set given to me by my grandmother when I was about 8. I think my mom shed a few quiet tears. Then I went about redecorating and painting over the memories. Goodbye Blue. I spent three days priming and painting one 'bright white' and three 'gravity gray' walls. Down went the giant poster of a Cala lilly, the 9th grade twin day pictures, the beads from sorority events and the collection of shot glasses I once thought showing off would be so cool. I was in love with stars and galaxies so my dad pasted a glow in the dark system all over the ceiling above my bed which took forever to peel off. I went through the love notes of middle school, a complex world where my friends and I wrote pages and pages to each other during class about all the boys we 'loved'. The 'Best Friends Forever' necklaces I seemed to have shared with different friends each month and the math papers filled with dream house floorplan drawings instead of formulas. The biggest room was always noted strictly for my dogs. Over the past week I relived a decade. The items were aged yet the conversations in the letters and the people behind the pictures felt so fresh. Where did all the time go? And what do you save? Will I really sit down with my own children and show them the 200 pictures I took on a field trip to the Arlington Cemetery when I was 12?

My new room was to be grown up, organized with visually diminished amounts of stuff. But here I am having gone through containers and drawers feeling like I recyled enough to start my own center and I am still swimming in pictures and journals. I didn't realize I've been documenting every feeling and every place I've been since I was 5. Somehow before I leave in the next few days I have to finish deciphering treasures from trash.

So my grown up moment was fragrant, rich with the smell of high school football games and the music of band class even new paint can't disguise. I guess the takeaway for me is that somewhere in the significant era of a color I made some fantastic friends, traveled many places, slept beneath stars, graduated a few times and found my real best friend forever. Its amazing what a little paint can do. Goodbye Blue.