Economist 8/4/15

  1. The Charlie Hebdo attack prompted solemn pledges from politicians to uphold the right of European citizens to express all manner of opinions, including rough-edged ones, as well as people’s liberty to follow or reject any religious or philosophical belief. But according to a Danish lawyer who founded a think-tank with the aim of mounting an intellectual defence of free speech, these promises have been broken.In a short essay published this week, he cites an impressively, almost improbably broad range of examples. Acknowledging a couple of titbits of good news, he welcomes the decisions of Norway and Iceland to repeal their (hardly used) blasphemy laws.Advocates of liberty, he goes on to argue, should also be worried by Britain’s new anti-terror policy, under which the government wants to claim new legal powers to curb the ability of “non-violent extremists” to express hard-line religious opinions.Yet another negative signal: the fact that in June, when a Danish Islamist was sent to jail for four years on charges of glorifying terrorism, the mere fact that he had posted Koranic texts on social media was deemed to be acceptable evidence against him.
  2. NEW population forecasts from the United Nations point to a new world order in 2050. The number of people will grow from 7.3 billion to 9.7 billion in 2050, 100m more than was estimated in the UN’s last report two years ago. More than half of this growth comes from Africa, where the population is set to double to 2.5 billion. Nigeria’s population will reach 413m, overtaking America as the world’s third most-populous country. Congo and Ethiopia will swell to more than 195m and 188m repectively, more than twice their current numbers. India will surpass China as the world’s most populous country in 2022, six years earlier than was previously forecast. China’s population will peak at 1.4 billion in 2028; India’s four decades later at 1.75 billion. Changes in fertility make long-term projections hard, but by 2100 the planet’s population will be rising past 11.2 billion. It will also be much older. The median age of 30 will rise to 36 in 2050 and 42 in 2100—the median age of Europeans today.
  3. The name biyuntao for condoms , literally, “pregnancy-avoidance sheaths, however, suggests why use of them is low in China compared with many other countries. Contraception is widely seen as a woman’s responsibility—indeed, abortion is one of the most common methods.Open discussion of sex remains taboo in most quarters, making it difficult to raise awareness of how useful condoms are, not only to prevent pregnancy but also the spread of disease.The authorities, fearful of the spread of HIV, have tried to make condoms more readily available in places where prostitutes do business. But they have been slower to promote them more widely.It was only last year that officials lifted a near-total ban on television adverts for condoms.Durex relies instead on social media to build its brand. Chinese equivalents of Twitter and Facebook are censored for political content, but give freer rein to discussion of sex.
  4. A new paper published earlier this summer in the RAND Journal of Economics tests whether regulators made the right call in the American beer industry. The paper looks at the 2008 merger of Miller and Coors, the second and third largest brewers at the time in the United States. Miller and Coors argued that a merger would combine their distribution networks, thus reducing transportation costs.The researchers found that overall, prices slightly increased. As soon as the merger was approved, prices of Miller and Coors beer started rising, particularly in regions where brand concentration increased. But two years after the merger, prices fell, particularly in regions where transport costs were reduced. The lag is due to the time it took for the brewers to combine their distribution networks. Overall, the average price of MillerCoors beer increased by 0.2%.
  5. EVEN ardent advocates of a woman’s right to an abortion may grow queasy from watching a series of undercover videos of meetings with representatives from Planned Parenthood, a national group that offers reproductive-health services.The videos come courtesy of the Centre for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion pressure group.It says the videos show that Planned Parenthood is running a “black market for baby parts”, which is illegal. Planned Parenthood denies this claim, and the recordings do not quite prove that the organisation is profiting from these transactions. But abortion providers at their health centres are apparently aware of the value of fetal tissue, which scientists need for a wide array of medical research.Senate Republicans plan to vote on defunding the organisation before the August recess.Polls show that pro-life voters are in the minority, but they punch above their weight because they care more about where politicians stand on the issue. Surveys find that most Americans support keeping abortion legal within the first weeks of conception; but this sympathy plummets once the woman enters her second trimester, and nearly disappears when she reaches her third.. Twelve states now require abortion providers to proffer details about a fetus’s ability to feel pain; ten mandate an ultrasound (though it is not medically necessary); and 14 have introduced bans on an abortion 20 weeks after conception.For every public dollar spent on contraception, the government saves $5.68 in Medicaid spending on pregnancies, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice NGO. Planned Parenthood reaches over a third of all qualifying patients, making it the biggest provider of these services. In addition, its clinics carried out 500,000 screenings for breast cancer and 4.5m tests for sexually-transmitted diseases in 2013.
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