Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Barcelona housing market, as we've mentioned several times, is through the roof. Second-hand apartments in the city have gone up 25% in a year, and every square meter will cost you 2,658 euros to buy, meaning that your basic 100 m2 four-bedroom place will run you a cool 265,800 euros, something like three hundred grand.

God knows why. I'm no real-estate expert but I think it's got something to do with several factors: 1) Barcelona is a very pleasant and desirable place to live 2) there is basically nowhere left within the city to put up any new buildings 3) several older neighborhoods have been gentrified 4) zoning restrictions are tight, making it difficult to add to housing stock 5) most of the suburbs are crappy and people don't want to live there. What I would do is completely rezone the city and move everything that's non-commercial or -residential (warehouses especially but also workshops and small factories) to the crappy suburbs.

This is somewhat of a bubble. A lot of people made some big dough on the stock market and are looking for somewhere to put it. Also, it is said that if you have money obtained on the black market, which a lot of apparently respectable people have around here, real estate is one of the easiest ways to launder it. It's not all a bubble, though; prices are going to come down, I wouldn't buy now, but there's not going to be a massive drop in the market because apartments are tangible. If you overpay for one, you still have it and you can live there. If you overpay for a stock with a bad price-earnings ratio, though, and then it bottoms out, you've got nothing. This is why the standard stock-market advice in Spain is to buy into Bodegas Riojanas. If it goes up, you're smiling, and if it goes broke, you can have a hell of a party with the inventory.

The Weekly Standard has a piece on the four candidates' personal wealth. Bush is worth about $18 million, though of course the rest of his family is all wealthy and has been since time immemorial. Bush made his big strike when he sold his share of the Texas Rangers baseball team. John Edwards, who earned his money as an ambulance chaser, is worth about $50 million, and so is Dick Cheney, who also started out working-class and made his dough in corporate boardrooms. John Kerry, however, is worth more than $1 billion because his wife owns 4% of all the Heinz ketchup and baked beans in all the world. Kerry owns five multi-million dollar mansions and has a private jet, and his modus operandi seems to be marrying women much wealthier than he is; his first wife was also a richie. If he is elected, he will be the first mega-rich president in American history. (The Roosevelts, Kennedys, and Bushes are not mega-rich, though they are of course extremely well-off. Their status comes from much more than their money. Lyndon Johnson was probably the President who died the wealthiest.)

Spain wants to send troops to both Afghanistan and Haiti, I suppose to erase the stain of giving in to terrorist demands over Iraq. Fat lot of good that'll do. They want to send two hundred guys to Haiti, get this, in a joint force with Morocco. Most likely all they'll manage to do is get in the way. If you actually want to help, guys, send money and leave your now very demoralized troops at home.

The 3-11 parliamentary commission has been meeting for a while but hasn't decided anything yet and seems to be getting itself all tangled up in minor questions, especially when we already know who did it, how, and why. The Socialists seem to be just trying to embarrass the PP, as if there were anything more embarrassing than getting out of the kitchen because you can't stand the heat.

The National Institute of Statistics did a sex survey! Around 30% of Spanish men and 10 percent of Spanish women admit to sexual promiscuity with casual partners in the last year. The fun part is that only in 41% of, uh, casual contacts was a condom used. About six percent of adult Spaniards are virgins. Men lose their virginity, on average, at 18, and women at 19. (This has something to do with teenagers' lack of automobiles and the driving age of 18.) 3.9% of men and 2.7% of women have had same-sex, uh, contacts. 1.4% of men have had only homosexual sex. 27% of Spanish men have had sex with prostitutes.

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