Economist 1/19/15

  1. In 2013 Consumers Korea, a lobby group, surveyed how much 60 products cost in each of 15 rich countries. For more than half of them South Korea was in the top five priciest places.But most tellingly, all three South Korean products in the sample were more expensive in their home country than anywhere else.South Koreans have been paying over the odds, especially for local goods, for decades. In the 1960s Park Chung-hee, a military strongman who oversaw an industrial boom, encouraged the overpricing of local products to subsidise exports, partly by sealing off the country to foreign brands. In the past three years South Korea has implemented a series of trade-liberalisation deals with 50-odd other countries (including the European Union’s member states).As a result of these, Koreans now have more choices than ever.One in ten locals now owns a foreign car, up from about one in 100 a decade ago. South Koreans have discovered that they can save a fortune by shopping on foreign websites. They are clicking away merrily on Amazon and a Chinese counterpart, Taobao, buying clothes, toys and electronic gadgets, including “Made in Korea” ones. The value of direct buying from overseas doubled to 1.1 trillion won between 2011 and 2013. In 2014 the government doubled the maximum value of goods that can be shipped tax-free into the country from America, to $200, giving direct foreign purchasing a further boost.
  2. After the Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that Native American tribes, being sovereign, could not be barred from allowing gambling, casinos began popping up on reservations everywhere. Today, almost half of America’s 566 Native American tribes and villages operate casinos, which in 2013 took in $28 billion.During that time, casinos owned by those tribes doubled their total annual take in real terms, to $2.7 billion. Yet the tribes’ mean poverty rate rose from 25% to 29%.Experts offer several explanations. Drug and alcohol abuse are rampant on reservations, so many tribal members find it hard to hold down a steady job. Poor health is another problem: Native Americans have high rates of obesity and diabetes, which are often aggravated by a lack of good medical care. Per capita payments have grown as gaming revenues have risen.Of the 17 tribes in the study that handed casino profits directly to members, ten saw their poverty rates rise.One very small tribe in the study, Jamestown S’Klallam in northern Washington, has eliminated poverty entirely. That tribe does not issue any per capita payments and has used its casino profits to diversify into other businesses, such as harvesting huge molluscs for export to China.
  3. FIRST Sweden in 2007, then Cuba in 2013, and now Norway have left the small club of countries that ban professional boxing. The centre-right coalition in power since 2013 promised to cut taxes and red tape—and to let Norwegians indulge in pastimes its predecessors deemed too dangerous, including cheaper wine and spirits, jetskis and Segways. And last month 33 years without pro boxing came to an end, leaving Iceland with the Nordic region’s sole boxing ban.
  4. EXPERTS are calling it the African “Smack Track”: a circuitous route to smuggle heroin from Afghanistan to Europe, passing through east Africa. Two drug busts in November, netting 712kg of the stuff, closed a record year for heroin seizures off the coast of Kenya. Most heroin from Afghanistan travels to Europe by two main routes: a northern one through Central Asia and a western one via Iran. The minor “southern route” through east Africa has existed since the 1980s, but last year’s seizures—totalling some 3,500kg, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)—point to a growth in traffic.Alan Cole of UNODC says the shift was caused by “improved law enforcement in central Europe and the conflict in Syria”.nstead smugglers have taken to the seas. Shipments of heroin are unloaded from dhows and cargo ships off the shores of Kenya and Tanzania, and taken ashore on small speedboats. In Kenya and Tanzania criminal gangs with close ties to political and security elites control the trans-shipment.n. Countries including Ghana, Mali and Senegal became—and remain—key trans-shipment points for South American cocaine bound for Europe. Some is also routed through South Africa. Tiny, poor, coup-prone Guinea-Bissau has been branded Africa’s first “narco-state”.
  5. AT THE start of a new Congress everything seems possible. Republicans have spent much of 2015 on bucolic retreats, pondering how to remake America. One rather ambitious idea is to repair both the budget and the country by supporting marriage. Most mothers under 30 are not married to the fathers of their children.There are indeed marriage penalties in the tax code and in the welfare system: a single mother who marries a man with a job can lose all kinds of means-tested benefits. But there are also some marriage bonuses, and the tax code is so complicated that few Americans know whether tying the knot will mean they owe the taxman more or less. The federal government has made $114 billion-worth of pro-marriage fiddles to tax laws in the past decade with nothing much to show for it. A debate about marriage should begin by acknowledging that the high rates of the 1950s and 1960s were a peak rather than the norm. The marriage rate in America has only recently dipped below where it was at the end of the 19th century, according to Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University. In the post-war years, an American working man could expect to double his earnings between the ages of 25 and 35, while women’s wages were flat, according to Stephanie Coontz, a historian of marriage. It is no coincidence that the decline in marriage has accompanied the improvement of women’s prospects in the workplace.
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