Economist 5/4/14

  1. THE epic films are back. So far this year, “300: Rise Of An Empire” and Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” have been released, and we can look forward to “Hercules”, starring Dwayne Johnson, and Ridley Scott’s “Exodus”, featuring Christian Bale as Moses. The recent boom of ancient-world epics can certainly be traced back to Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” (2000). However, although we recognise it as an important film now, its reception at the time was not all that warm.It wasn’t until the runaway success of things like “300” and “Kingdom of Heaven” that the floodgates seemed to open. So perhaps the new boom is a delayed response to that.
  2. Marseille, France’s second-biggest city, is trying to reinvent itself as a cosmopolitan place. It drew nearly 5m visitors last year as Europe’s “city of culture”.Yet away from the seafront, in heavily immigrant northern districts, talk of renewal seems otherworldly. In some quarters youth unemployment is more than 40%. In the third arrondissement, the poverty rate is 55%.Yet the two other northern districts, which backed François Hollande in 2012, rejected the mainstream left.Plenty of French towns without big Muslim minorities also evicted Socialists, and Mr Hollande is the most unpopular French president in modern times. Mr Dahmani, whose Algerian-born father is an imam in Marseille, is troubled by the growing allure of hard-talking, foreign-sponsored Salafists.
  3. IN 2007 China’s official Xinhua news agency published a commentary about women who were still unmarried at the age of 27 under the title, “Eight Simple Moves to Escape the Leftover Woman Trap”. The Communist Party had concluded that young Chinese women were becoming too picky and were over-focused on attaining the “three highs”: high education, professional status and income.Mao Zedong destroyed China, but he succeeded in raising the status of women. Almost the first legislation enacted by the Communist Party in 1950 was the Marriage Law under which women were given many new rights, including the right to divorce and the right to own property.  In 1990 urban Chinese women’s salaries were 78% of the level of men’s pay. In 2010, that had decreased to 67%. Government surveys on marriage and property are often sponsored by matchmaking agencies, and perpetuate the perception that being “leftover” is the worst thing that can happen to a woman.
  4. Delivery startups such as Instacart and Postmates are also working closely with retailers to avoid the fate of Webvan, which squandered a fortune building its own warehouses. Instacart, which focuses on groceries, relies on freelance “personal shoppers” who use their own vehicles to collect and deliver goods. In San Francisco and Los Angeles, Amazon offers a 30-day free trial of AmazonFresh, after which customers pay $299 for a year’s membership. Members get free shipping on orders of more than $35. In Seattle, there is no annual fee, but orders worth less than $100 incur charges. Google Shopping Express, which has a much smaller selection of wares, is offering a six-month free trial while it decides what to charge; and Instacart gives customers various options, including a $3.99 fee for delivery in less than two hours and an Amazon-like $99 annual membership.
  5. Indonesia has grown rapidly in recent years and living standards have improved.gross national income per head doubled during the decade to 2012, to $4,730. The proportion of the population living in poverty fell by half, from 24% in 1999 to 12% in 2012. Yet Indonesia’s growth has been uneven. But for the poorest 40% of households it grew by only 1.3%. In contrast, consumption by the richest 20% grew by 5.9%.Over 3m migrants from the countryside arrive each year in Jakarta and other cities.They are part of a vast informal economy, which accounts for some 70% of GDP. They rarely earn the official minimum wage and receive few government benefits.In other words, poverty falls as people leave rice fields to work in low-end services, but it would fall much faster if they were to find jobs in factories instead.About 20% of the central government’s budget, or 282 trillion rupiah ($24.5 billion) this year, goes on energy subsidies. Cheap petrol benefits the rich, who are the biggest consumers,
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