Economist 7/2/14

  1. Kauffman Foundation, a think-tank, asks thousands of small businesses annually about local requirements for hiring, regulations, zoning, licences, health insurance and training.One surprising finding is how little local tax rates matter.To be sure, low-tax states such as Texas generally score well, while high-tax states such as California and Illinois flunk their tests.  Minnesota, a high-tax state, earns a respectable “B” for business climate, partly because it is easy to start a business there. Washington and Florida, both low-tax states, earn a “C” and a “C+”. Too often, state websites are confusing and bureaucrats unhelpful.Licensing rules are a headache. In theory, they protect the public from incompetence, which is useful if you are hiring a doctor. But increasingly they protect incumbents from competition—the requirement to have a licence raises an occupation’s wages by 18%.State licensing regimes vary widely. Louisiana requires licences for 70% of low-wage occupations, according to IJ, including barber, bartender and cosmetologist.Lowering barriers to entry for new businesses gives consumers more choice and cheaper prices. A gourmet-food-truck fad began in Los Angeles with $2 Korean tacos in 2008, and has thrived because the city is flexible about where such trucks can park.
  2. The Denisovans are a mysterious branch of Homo. They were identified in 2010 by an analysis of the DNA of a bone discovered in a cave (occupied in the 18th century by a hermit called Denis) in the Altai Mountains in Russia. This bone was thought, when found, to be either Neanderthal or modern human, but the analysis showed it was neither. In the wake of that finding, a small percentage of Denisovan DNA has been discovered in various groups of people in Asia and the Pacific islands, Tibetans among them.The gene Dr Nielsen has been investigating is a version of EPAS-1. Everybody has some version of EPAS-1, and so everybody can acclimatise to high altitude. But such acclimatisation comes at a price: the extra red cells make blood stickier and more likely to clot, which increases the risk of thrombosis. Except, curiously, in Tibetans. They are well acclimatised without having noticeably raised red-cell counts. 
  3. . No language has anything like a chance of displacing English.Interestingly, about two-thirds of English-speakers are not first-language speakers of English. For example, a 2010 study by Gary Lupyan and Rick Dale found that bigger languages are simpler. In more precise terms, languages with many speakers and many neighbours have simpler systems of inflectional morphology, the grammatical prefixes and suffixes (and sometimes “infixes”) that make languages like Latin, Russian and Ancient Greek hard for the foreign learner.s. All languages have their complexities, but Mr McWhorter believes that Mandarin, English, Persian, Malay and Arabic dialects are all clearly simpler than they used to be.
  4. No federal law bars public nudity in USA, but plenty of state and local rules do. Last summer, for example, New York began enforcing a state law banning public nudity.Of the more than 250 nudist and clothing-optional resorts and clubs sprinkled around the country, the small mom-and-pop operations are folding, while the survivors are going upmarket, says Susan Weaver of AANR.One reason for the rise in luxury nudist travel is that customers are ageing. Nudists tend to be older, richer and whiter (OK, pinker) than the national average, and they travel mostly in romantic pairs.Many are not full-time naturists but think a clothing-optional holiday sounds fun.
  5. A THOUSAND years ago, the great cities of Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo took turns to race ahead of the Western world.Syria and Iraq can nowadays barely be called countries at all. This week a brutal band of jihadists declared their boundaries void, heralding instead a new Islamic caliphate to embrace Iraq and Greater Syria (including Israel-Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and bits of Turkey) and—in due course—the whole world. Its leaders seek to kill non-Muslims not just in the Middle East but also in the streets of New York, London and Paris. Egypt is back under military rule. Libya, following the violent demise of Muammar Qaddafi, is at the mercy of unruly militias. Yemen is beset by insurrection, infighting and al-Qaeda. Palestine is still far from true statehood and peace. Even countries such as Saudi Arabia and Algeria, whose regimes are cushioned by wealth from oil and gas and propped up by an iron-fisted apparatus of state security, are more fragile than they look. Only Tunisia, which opened the Arabs’ bid for freedom three years ago, has the makings of a real democracy.Islam, or at least modern reinterpretations of it, is at the core of some of the Arabs’ deep troubles. The faith’s claim, promoted by many of its leading lights, to combine spiritual and earthly authority, with no separation of mosque and state, has stunted the development of independent political institutions.

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