Economist 7/13/14

  1. People of Scotland will vote on independence in a referendum on September 18th.Opinion polls suggest the Scots will decide against leaving, but it is the nationalists who have fire in their bellies, and Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), is a strong finisher (see article). Even a narrow victory for the status quo would be the biggest blow to the United Kingdom since 1922, when the Irish Free State was born.On economics, the nationalists say that Scots will be £1,000 a year better-off per head if they go it alone. That number, however, is based on implausible assumptions about the oil price, Scotland’s debt burden, demography and productivity. The British government’s estimate that Scots would be £1,400 a year better off per head if they stay in is based on more realistic assumptions. Scotland’s population is older and sicker than the British average, and productivity 11% lower than that of the rest of Britain. North Sea oil could more or less cover those costs in the short term, but the oil is running out.Independence would also impose one-off costs: a new Scottish state would have to set up an army, a welfare system, a currency and much else. University education is free for Scottish students, but not English or Welsh ones; the state pays for a higher proportion of old people’s care in Scotland than it does in England and Wales; Scotland has not followed England in freeing schools from bureaucratic constraints.Edinburgh already has an independent legal system and its parliament has power over a wide range of policy areas, including health, education and housing. Its leaders have not exercised their right to vary income tax: that hardly suggests a Scottish administration straining at a leash held tight by Westminster.
  2.  THE FRENCH breathed a collective sigh of relief on July 1st when the European Court of Human Rights upheld the country’s 2010 ban on the wearing of full-faced veils in public places. It followed a separate ruling in June by a top French appeals court that a private day-care nursery was within its rights when it sacked an employee who refused to take off her Muslim headscarf at work. In France, such rules generate relatively little controversy. France adheres to a strict form of secularism, known as laïcité, which is designed to keep religion out of public life. This principle was entrenched by law in 1905, after fierce anti-clerical struggles with the Roman Catholic church. Today, the lines are in some ways blurred.. It would be unthinkable in France, for example, or for a president to be sworn in on a Bible.After a decade of legal uncertainty over the wearing of the headscarf in state schools, the French government in 2004 banned all “conspicuous” religious symbols, including the Muslim headscarf, from public institutions such as state schools or town halls.
  3. Smart cars are able to read e-mails and text messages to drivers on the move; smart fridges carefully manage the energy they use; smart medical devices allow doctors to monitor patients from afar.Many items, including mundane things like light bulbs and door locks, are being hooked up to the internet by putting tiny computers into them and adding wireless connectivity. The problem is that these computers do not have enough processing power to handle antivirus and other defences found on a PC. The margins on them are wafer-thin, so manufacturers have little scope for spending on security.Broadcom, a chipmaker, recently unveiled a microchip specially designed for web-connected devices that has encryption capabilities baked into it, and Cisco has launched a competition offering prizes for the best ideas for securing the internet of things.
  4. After a two-year lull, rockets fired from Gaza have rained down on Israel. The Israel Defence Forces have struck hundreds of sites in Gaza. The army is ready to mobilise up to 40,000 reserves. The talk is of a ground offensive against Hamas, which governs Gaza (see article). Palestinians, 70 of whom have already been killed, are sliding towards a third uprising, or intifaThe idea is that the occasional brutal show of force can buy a few more years of normality. Yet doing so is becoming harder. Even if Hamas’s rockets remain inaccurate and are rarely lethal, the latest have reached parts of northern Israel 125 kilometres (80 miles) from Gaza. In any case, the status quo on the Palestinian side looks untenable. Mr Abbas is tired and ineffectual.  Two states, one for Israelis and one for Palestinians, remains by far the greatest hope for peace. What is lacking is the conviction among reasonable people that such a settlement is needed now.
  5. In 2002 just 13% of German teenagers had never had an alcoholic drink; by 2012, that figure had risen to 30%. Among 18- to 25-year-olds, the proportion drinking at least once a week has fallen by a third since the early 1990s. America, the proportion of high-school students reporting “binge-drinking”—more than five drinks in a single session—has fallen by a third since the late 1990s. Cigarette smoking among the young has become so uncommon that more teenagers—some 23% of 17- to 18-year-olds—smoke cannabis than tobacco.Teenage kicks of other sorts also appear to be on the decline. “Teens are waiting longer to have sex than they did,” according to a report on young Americans from the Guttmacher Institute, a think-tank. America’s teenage pregnancy rate is half what it was two decades ago. What is behind this generation of hard-working, strait-laced kids? It is hard to pin down any single explanation.Today’s youth by contrast are few in number and are growing up in ever older societies. In Germany, for example, the median age is now 46.Growing equality between young men and women may also be having an effect.  The transfer of unskilled jobs to developing countries and of menial jobs to immigrants has put a new premium on education: today’s rich-world youth has far more schooling than previous generations.In America the share of people sharing their homes with their adult offspring is the highest it has been since the 1940s.Today, working mothers spend almost as much time on child care as stay-at-home mothers did a generation before.

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