Economist 4/20/14

  1. Queues, traffic jams, missed deadlines and other delays have been so ubiquitous for so long that “Brazilians have become anaesthetised to them”, says Regis Bonelli of Fundação Getulio Vargas, a business school.Apart from a brief spurt in the 1960s and 1970s, output per worker  in Brazil has either slipped or stagnated over the past half century, in contrast to most other big emerging economies (see chart). Total-factor productivity, which gauges the efficiency with which both capital and labour are used, is lower now than it was in 1960. Labour productivity accounted for 40% of Brazil’s GDP growth between 1990 and 2012, compared with 91% in China and 67% in India, according to McKinsey, a consultancy.Brazil invests just 2.2% of its GDP in infrastructure, well below the developing-world average of 5.1%. Of the 278,000 patents granted last year by the United States patent office, just 254 went to inventors from Brazil, which accounts for 3% of the world’s output and people.rotectionism weighs on productivity in other ways, too. Punitively high tariffs on imported technology—such as the whopping 80% cumulative tax slapped on foreign smartphones—make many productivity-enhancing gizmos prohibitively expensive.Agriculture was deregulated in 1990, allowed to consolidate and gain access to foreign machines, fertiliser and pesticides. A few years later, financial services enjoyed far-reaching institutional reforms to boost the supply of credit and bolster capital markets. Both were left in peace—and became roughly 4% more efficient each year in the decade that followed. Brazilian soyabean producers are now the envy of the world.
  2. AT A recent school careers fair, one stall stood apart. Its attendant touted a job that involves 60-hour weeks, including weekends, and pays £24,000 ($40,000) a year. God’s work is growing more difficult. Attendance on Sundays is falling; church coffers are emptying. Yet more young Britons are choosing to be priests.Cynics suggest the recession may have aided these efforts, by making other graduate jobs more difficult to get. And the prospect of free accommodation is not to be sniffed at. Yet youngsters say the work has become more appealing. One reason is that a steady exodus of middle-class churchgoers has left smaller but more committed and vibrant flocks.Urban ministry appeals particularly to the idealistic young. It may involve running projects for homeless people and giving advice to refugees.
  3.  Today it’s hard to avoid—and as a result, the digerati love to condemn Big Data. The backlash began in mid-March, prompted by an article in Science by David Lazer and others at Harvard and Northeastern University. It showed that a big-data poster-child—Google Flu Trends, a 2009 project which identified flu outbreaks from search queries alone—had overestimated the number of cases for four years running, compared with reported data from the Centres for Disease Control (CDC). This led to a wider attack on the idea of big data.First, there are biases inherent to data that must not be ignored. That is undeniably the case. Second, some proponents of big data have claimed that theory (ie, generalisable models about how the world works) is obsolete. In fact, subject-area knowledge remains necessary even when dealing with large data sets. Third, the problem of spurious correlations—associations that are statistically robust but only happen by chance—increases with more data.
  4.  Shortly before Russia annexed Crimea, the Bakhchisaray museum, north of Sevastopol, lent some valuable artefacts to an exhibition in the Netherlands. Who is the rightful owner? On legal grounds, Kiev has the upper hand because the Allard Pierson signed a loan agreement with the Ukrainian state. And as the Netherlands does not recognise Russia’s annexation, Ukraine still owns the property. Yet the Dutch also signed contracts directly with the lending museums.The Dutch foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, does not wish to meddle but he also wants to avoid being seen to accept a new form of art looting.
  5. Writing 25 years later, the Los Angeles 2020 Commission discloses a darker vision for America’s second city.In 2012 the official poverty rate for Los Angeles County was 19.1%; in 2011, on a broader measure that takes the cost of living and government benefits into account, it stood at 26.9%. In 2003 retirement costs accounted for 3% of the city’s general fund; now they gobble up 18%, a figure that will rise further without action. Los Angeles’s public schools, which mainly serve Latino children, perform poorly, raising fears of stratification along ethnic as well as economic lines. Rising house prices drive so many Angelenos out that the population of the metropolitan area grew by only 3.7% between 2000 and 2010, slower than every other big metro area bar New York. House prices in Los Angeles rose by 17% last year, and last October Trulia, a real-estate website, found that Los Angeles was the second-least affordable city for middle-class.

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