Community Gardening

Gardening brings people together. Not only in the countryside, but also in the middle of cities. Brussels is a nice example of this. The city district called “forest” has a community gardening project that has an astonishing amount of followers. The results of the joint activity are visible from the the park nearby and in the far distance the tower of the “Palais de Justice” can still be seen. In years with above average amounts of rain the watering of the community garden is much less of a concern. Neighbors respect the initiative and even dogs are kept off the area. It is not graffitis or rubbish left behind that discourages the gardening enthusiasts there. Such projects can work even in the vicinity of less wealthy areas. Mixing different communities in inner cities is day-to-day experience. Gardening and the beauty of nature is there free to enjoy for everyone. The seeds, fruit and small young trees are then planted in other public spaces. This is a marvelous effort to stem the tide of delinquent behavior all too often spoiling the inner city environments. They might still be only a few, but the community gardeners have impact.

Betting vice

Betting is considered a vice. The industry has moved from the local bookmakers to the internet and is spread across countries and continents. Some legal advisers have classified betting as the fastest growing vice industry and it is about time to launch a wake up call for more oversight of what is going on in the sector. As betting like gambling seems to be working in conjunction with other addictions the potential of cumulative risks is quite high. Our brains tend to wire things together which frequently occur jointly. It is difficult to disentangle these co-occurrences later again. The major angle of attack is prevention.
Health journals start warnings of the detrimental effects persons and observe that the industry follows similar strategies as the tobacco industry to address as many people as possible. And this is very successful and profitable for them. Hence, prevention strategies should also follow what has been applied to smoking like the ban from restaurants and bars as well as the restrictions on advertising. We will have to accept that betting and gambling should not be as easily accessible as it is currently. Age restrictions have to be applied stringently. I bet this will take quite a long time until Europe and elsewhere the regulations will change. Some of the young get interested in even more stimulating activities like exploring arts (image below class at Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin 2024-6) rather than betting on who is going to win the Euro 2024 football matches.

Smoke Gamble

Smoking is like a gamble. Your input is your health and money. This is not including those who might rely on you or family relationships that might suffer one way or another. The other link has gambling at its source and smoking goes along with the continuous risk taking or the belief to be able to master the risks involved with both forms of potential addictions. Research has accumulated evidence that in fact both smoking and gambling occur frequently in combination with each other. Taking risks against the odds of suffering losses, maybe only in the medium or longer run perspectives like for health seems acceptable for those people. Society has put rather high taxes on both activities to discourage people and invests in prevention of addictions. However, it does not have substantial effects on people as smoking remains around the same level and gambling (poker online) or betting on sports (Euro 2024) are rising rapidly. Vaping and internet gaming have broadened the spectrum of addictive behaviors mostly for younger persons and young adults. The risks are manifold and increasing in their addictive potential since the smartphone is always in some pocket just like the smoking device. The behavioral turn in the social sciences has been well understood by the industries as well. The stakes for human development are high in this endeavor to offer young people equal opportunities at entry into adulthood.

Cannabis Alcohol

The use of cannabis and/or alcohol is yet another question where we are used to ask questions in the form of: either the or the other? Over generations we have gotten used to no longer ask for each do you or don’t you. With the controlled liberalization or legalization of cannabis in some Western European states the framing of the question is more like you do the one or the other, particularly for many younger persons.
Decriminalization of both drugs in small quantities is apparently reducing crimes link to drug use and drug dealing. On the other hand, the thresholds for doing drugs are lower than they used to be. In inner cities it is therefore no longer a surprise to find both kinds of drugs with addictive potential next to each other (see image below). We know that it is a slippery road from regular drug use to uncontrolled dependency and personal disaster. For cannabis a study published in the Lancet (Petrilli et al. 2022) added the importance of the potency of tetrahydrocannabinol to the estimate of risks. This is similar to the studies that differentiate the level of alcohol in drinks consumed. The higher the concentration, the higher the risks. A simple proportional relationship prevails in both drugs. The cumulative effects of consuming both together might have quite surprising non-linear effects.
The big issue is the risks of mental health related to these drugs. However, the causal direction is not easy to detect. Drugs induce mental health problems, but also mental health issues lead to drug abuse. This remains quite a puzzle for scientists to disentangle.
Additionally, the link to smoking and addiction to nicotine is a frequently observed corollary. Studying just one single source of health problems and addiction might be too restrictive to learn about the whole set of causal effects and casualties. For the time being we seem to jump from one field of attention to the next one ignoring the multiple interrelated factors at hand.

EURO 2024

Before the EURO 2024, (European soccer championship) has even started, the host country Germany and the DFB- foundation for culture joined forces for a remarkable exhibition. In the “National Gallery of Contemporary Art” and next to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof a provocative video installation is mounted that uses the imagery of soccer (football) to portray the life and atmosphere associated with soccer. Injuries on the playing field, but even more so injuries caused by violent groups among the spectators create an emotionally charged representation before, during and after the match. The role of the umpire is central in the match and in the cultural project. Shattered dreams are part of the game for players as well as spectators. Visual impressions have contributed enormously to spectacular success of football on television. The masses of viewers has created a big business of television rights and merchandising products as well. The DFB Kulturstiftung undertakes great efforts to open up the discussion about soccer in a critical way through art projects. The entry into the installation resembles the entry of players through a tunnel into the huge stadium. The world of soccer has multiple links to physical and psychic violence. The installation “Winner” signed by Marianna Simnett challenges the media’s largely beautiful videos about the world of football. In the ocean of enthusiasm this exhibition is just a tiny grain of salt, adding spice to life.

Winner by Marianna Simnett 2024 Berlin

Forecasting floods

As floods as becoming more frequent and more severe forecasting of such events is crucial. The recent example in Bavaria (Germany) of the Danube river (2nd longest in Europe) has demonstrated the role of forecasting to spur adequate behavior of people living in areas at risk of flooding. With the weather forecast announcing lots of rain for a large area the forecasting of floods needs to follow closely these trends. It is not only a question of expectations, but an issue of adaptive expectations for people to adopt appropriate precautions. In retrospect the early forecasts turned out to be fairly accurate in terms of the peak of flooding to be expected in June 2024. The Bavarian “Hochwassernachrichtendienst” (no joke, one word) forecasted on the 2nd of June about 7.50 as the peak to be reached in 2 days in the city of Kelheim. This was beyond the usual 4 warning levels based on an escalation scale. The forecast was beyond the frequent flooding levels established in the last decades. People and emergency services would have to adapt their expectations accordingly. Renewing forecasts is essential to guide people and services in their efforts to deal with emergencies and repair damages as flood levels recede. Management of crises critically depends on forecasting even if they are obviously prone to error margins which should usually be reported as well just like in weather forecasts. Adaptive expectations are key in combination with forecasts to ensure survival.

Hochwassernachrichtendienst Bayern 2024-6
Kelheim on Danube

Adaptive Expectations

In economics it is important to understand the concept of adaptive expectations. We all form expectations about prices and inflation, but there is more than just simple expectations. These expectations guide our behaviors in many domains. If we expect a drastic price change for goods and/or services we shall most likely modify our behavior in response. We might want to advance a purchase to take advantage of currently lower prices in the expectation of higher costs later on. Most people would follow the price changes on a regular basis and adapt their expectations according to the updated information. It is an important process as there are millions of people who do this and this process drives price levels in many countries. In Europe we would like to see not only inflation, but also expectations about inflation to be around the target level of 2% per year. After the high price rises of energy and food (Putin’s war) as well as the disrupted supply chains (Covid-19 crisis) we were unsure, whether we would have to adapt our expectations for the coming years. The credit crunch in the last few years forced people to adapt spending plans and expenditures. We seem to have overcome these major crises due to rapid adaptive expectations. The crucial mechanism to achieve this is a timely and open communication of changes. Media have a role to play to not only spread the information, but to explain underlying reasons. This contributes to a widespread understanding of basic economic principles that helps countries to navigate stormy weather. It is like players of chess who adapt their strategy after the other player has acted or not according to their expectations. It’s simple, isn‘t it?