Economist 3/17/15

  1. TRANSPLANT operations in China have long relied on organs taken from executed prisoners, a practice that has led to such abuses as the timing of executions to meet organ demand, with no notification of relatives.Since January 1st the government has insisted that no such organs be used for transplants. Ensuring compliance, however, will be difficult.The number of executions is almost certainly falling, even if it remains far higher than in the rest of the world. The government does not release data, but the Dui Hua Foundation, an American NGO, reckons there were around 2,400 executions in 2013, down from 6,500 in 2007.  In theory, the rules mean that hospitals will be able to obtain only organs donated by volunteers to a national organ-bank.t was slow to get going: by the end of 2014 it had received only about 8,000 organs from deceased volunteer-donors.Persuading the public to donate remains a problem. Many Chinese adhere to a traditional belief that the body has to be kept intact to show respect for ancestors.
  2. Germany has one of the world’s most rapidly ageing and shrinking populations, even though an uptick in immigration has temporarily halted its overall decline since 2011. But decline is unevenly spread. Some cities are growing.But local people in those places are not giving in. Some get together to start volunteer van services to replace buses. Others merge government services and shops under one roof.
  3. “The Barefoot Lawyer”, Mr Guangcheng Chen’s memoir of his struggle with the thuggery of the state in the poor village in eastern China where he grew up, and of his eventual flight, is a powerful reminder of how some aspects of the country remain unchanged despite its rapidly growing prosperity. Mr Chen’s efforts, as a self-taught expert in the law, to expose one particular abuse—the subjection of 130,000 people in his prefecture, Linyi, to forced abortions and sterilisations.The penalties for such outspokenness can be severe: Mr Chen was imprisoned for four years before he was put under house arrest in 2010, with goons deployed to prevent him escaping or receiving visitors. Mr Chen’s combative spirit seems never to desert him. His flight from his village to the American embassy is gripping. Only his wife knew about the escape planmerican diplomats saw his firmness; to their frustration he changed his mind about a plan, painstakingly agreed on with Chinese officials, that he stay in China and be allowed to study at university. Not trusting the government, he asked to leave for America instead.But the US administration did manage to persuade China to let him leave the country.
  4. For Diageo, the world’s biggest maker of alcoholic drinks, St Patrick’s day is an opportunity to sell them Guinness, a stout brewed in Dublin since the 18th century.This year, Diageo hopes to sell 7.5m pints of the black stuff on St Patrick’s day alone. in 2014 Diageo lost eight times as many sales of Guinness in Britain as it gained in Ireland.The total volume of beer downed in Britain and Ireland has fallen by 20% over the past six years, according to Euromonitor, a research firm.Americans are downing fewer Budweisers. Carlsberg, a Danish beermaker, and Heineken, a Dutch competitor, are also struggling to revive revenue growth in Western Europe.British and American topers may not be drinking more bottles of wine but they are drinking pricier ones. Revenues are up by 6% a year. Sales of spirits are also improving. Smaller breweries may profit form the popularity of craft beers.
  5. Insurance relies on a dynamic of imperfect information.Unlucky and lucky alike pool premiums into a collective fund, and the unused payments of the fortunate cover the costs of the unfortunate, leaving some money left over as insurer profits. The growing mountain of personal data available to individuals and, crucially, to firms is giving those with the necessary processing power the ability to distinguish between low-risk and high-risk individuals.This could upend existing insurance business models, in a few ways. The better behaviour resulting from smart devices is one threat. Conventional risk pools (for home or car insurance, for example) are shrinking as preventable accidents decline, leaving the slow-footed giants of the industry at risk.Whether technology companies are actually keen to get into the insurance business is not yet clear. The prize for the most successful firms will probably be huge; last year insurers collected an estimated $338 billion in profits.
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