Economist 1/29/15

  1. Symphony, an Indian aircooler company does just one thing, and does it so well that it is not only the leading brand at home, but sells more than a fifth of its production abroad. Symphony’s success started when its founder, Achal Bakeri, returned to India in 1988 with an American MBA, determined to sidestep the family property business.Air-coolers, which work on simple evaporation, are cheaper—but the models on sale in India tended to be clunky, noisy appliances, made to order in simple workshops. Mr Bakeri designed an elegant, quiet, mass-produced alternative. Success came quickly.vestors pressed it to bring its innovative flair to other appliances, such as water heaters and washing machines.To save his firm, Mr Bakeri junked everything but the air-cooler business.Shares in Symphony could be picked up for pennies in 2004. They now sell for 2,207 rupees ($36), making it one of India’s best-performing stocks over the past decade.
  2. The suicide rate in America has risen from 11 per 100,000 people in 2005 to 13 seven years later.What drives people to self-destruction? Those who suffer from depression are, unsurprisingly, most at risk. The suicide rate also rises when times are hard. During the Depression it jumped to a record 19 per 100,000. But now it is the middle-aged who are most at risk. In 2012 the suicide rate for Americans aged 45-54 was 20 per 100,000—the highest rate of any age group. For those aged 55-64 it was 18; for the over-65s it was 15. The middle years can be stressful, because that is when people realise that their youthful ambitions will never be fulfilled.Women make nearly four times as many suicide attempts as men, but men succeed four times as often.Military veterans are especially prone to suicide. Data from 48 states suggest that 30 out of 100,000 veterans kill themselves each year—a rate far higher than among civilians.Some who ponder suicide may be dissuaded by counselling.Making it slightly harder to kill yourself is also surprisingly effective.In Oregon, Washington and Vermont “Death with Dignity” laws allow terminally ill, mentally competent residents to ask for prescription drugs to hasten their deaths.A suicide deeply affects six people close to the deceased, research suggests.
  3. IMMIGRANTS have become an easy target for populist politicians in Europe. Sluggish economic growth, an influx of refugees and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris have stirred up public antipathy to foreigners. But Europe’s ageing workforces need replenishing. The median age of Europeans living in their own country is 43, compared with 35 for migrants. Britain does particularly well in attracting young and employable foreigners: most are in their 20s and 30s. Some two-thirds of the immigrants in Germany, France and Italy are aged between 25 and 64, the prime working age; only around half of the natives are. Immigrants are often better educated than the locals, too.
  4. On January 28th McDonald’s announced that itschief executive Mr Thompson will leave on March 1st. He will be replaced by Steve Easterbrook, the chief brand officer.The abrupt exit comes after one of the worst years in McDonald’s recent history.Some analysts wonder whether Mr Easterbrook, as a longtime insider, is the fresh blood needed at the top of McDonald’s. But he has a good track record: he turned around the firm’s fortunes in Britain, his home country, now one of McDonald’s best-performing markets, after becoming boss of the local operations in 2006.
  5. Activists for internet freedom and other causes are up in arms. Without strict network-neutrality rules, they warn, toll booths and other checkpoints will mushroom, robbing the network of what has made it great.America’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to start discussing plans on February 5th (and vote on them on February 26th).Chile, the Netherlands and Slovenia have already passed strict network-neutrality laws; several others, including Norway, have opted for softer rules or are planning to do so.The strictness of neutrality rules varies. Chile forbids any kind of traffic prioritisation. Others allow plenty of exceptions. In Slovenia, for instance, network operators can block spam and manage traffic to avoid congestion or for security reasons.EU governments must agree on common regulation, but each has its own agenda. Big member states, such as Italy, tend to defend the interests of their big telecoms firm.The next network-neutrality battle has already begun—over “zero-rating”, a practice by which mobile operators allow customers access to certain services, such as Facebook or Wikipedia, without charging them for the data usage.
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