Economist 4/27/15

  1. As China urbanises, its cities are producing a lot more rubbish. They are running out of good places for landfills and are turning instead to burning rubbish, generating electricity at “waste-to-energy” plants like the one in Hangzhou. About 70 such incinerators are now being built, in addition to more than 180 in operation.Most rubbish in China ends up either in landfills or in unregulated heaps outside cities, where it gives off methane as it decomposes. There is a lot of informal recycling.More recycling would help. But encouraging households and local governments to co-operate in this will take time.The waste burns at temperatures of 850°C or higher, hot enough to eliminate toxic dioxin pollutants. The gases heat water to produce steam, in turn driving turbines that generate electricity. On a recent visit to the site, there was no detectable odour outside.Normally this sort of claim makes Chinese citizens scoff. Many of the factories and mills that have polluted rivers or made skies smoggy are state-owned. Their dismal record is one reason why residents near environmentally sensitive projects are often quick to anger when they hear about them.
  2. AFTER pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong late last year that blocked several main streets for weeks, neither the territory’s leaders nor their backers in Beijing are in any mood to make concessions. On April 22nd the Hong Kong government revealed how it would like to conduct elections in 2017 for the territory’s chief executive, as the most senior official is known.For the first time, Hong Kong residents will all be allowed to cast a vote for their leader. But the only candidates will be ones approved by a committee stacked with the party’s supporters.  Pro-democracy legislators were quick to show their contempt for the government’s plan.The current chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, has warned that if they do reject the plan, the next chief executive will be chosen by the same method as last time, which involved no public vote at all.
  3. THE rise of low-cost index-tracking funds over the past 40 years has put active fund managers—those who claim the ability to pick the best shares—on the defensive. Figures from Morningstar show that the majority of fund managers in the American market beat the index in just five of the past 20 years.All fund managers are not equal, the research claimed. Those who assemble portfolios that closely resemble the index are doomed to underperform, because of costs. However, managers who take more daring bets by veering a long way from the index—the academic term is having a high “active share”—are able to outperform. Since then, fund managers have been using a high active share as a marketing device.That argument is challenged by a new paper** from AQR, a fund-management group that specialises in quant (mathematically-based) strategies. It finds that fund managers who did well on the “active share” measure were actually just following a different benchmark: they tended to be focused on smaller or midsized firms.
  4. The Fifth Amendment requires the government to provide “just compensation” when it takes “private property…for public use”. A lower court held that this only applies to such things as land and houses.The government maintains that the programme is intended to help raisin farmers by curbing supply and stabilising prices. The Supreme Court seemed sceptical.The government maintains that the programme is intended to help raisin farmers by curbing supply and stabilising prices. The Supreme Court seemed sceptical.
  5. HUMAN beings are a distractible bunch, and their propensity to be elsewhere, mentally speaking, is particularly dangerous when they are motoring.A study published in March, by the American Automobile Association, a motoring club, reviewed nearly 7,000 videos of teenage drivers who had had monitoring cameras put into their cars between 2007 and 2013 in exchange for cheaper insurance premiums. This analysis found that distraction was a factor in 58% of crashes—four times the figure estimated for this age group from accident reports compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Phone use was the second-greatest contributor to accidents. (Interaction with passengers was top.) Another approach is to integrate phones better with a car’s other controls. Manufacturers such as Citroën, Ford and Volvo have already added phone controls to the touchscreen which regulates the vehicle’s air conditioning, navigation system and so on. One improvement in Mr Greenberg’s sights is voice control, extending the limited set of tasks that existing speech-recognition software on smartphones can accomplish.

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