Economist 8/14/15

  1. ALTHOUGH Britain and America can feel smug about their unemployment rates of 5.6% and 5.3%, other countries are still fire-fighting. The authors compare results from hundreds of different studies to find out what works best to boost employment prospects, who it works for, and when. Their results show that in the short-term, the more immediate policies—such as kicking people off benefits—get more impressive results. But the effects quickly fade. In contrast, cuddlier programmes that offer training are disappointing in the short-term, but blossom over time. This fits with other research, which has found that the returns to experience in low-skilled jobs is very low, so there is little benefit from pushing people into the first shelf-stacking job they find. On the other hand, the study implies that building their skills yields long-term rewards. The authors then compare effects on different groups and find that women and the long-term unemployed are most responsive to the investment programmes, but that young people are slightly less responsive than average.
  2. THE majestic tranquillity of the National Mall in Washington, DC, has become frazzled in recent years.The Mall is known as America’s “front yard”.From the steps of the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial on the Potomac stretch two miles (3.2km) of grass and trees.Congress has approved costly new buildings but is stingy about maintenance. The turf is finally being upgraded and last year the restored Washington Monument reopened. At the edge of the Washington Monument, Weiss/Manfredi, an architecture firm, and Philadelphia-based OLIN, landscape architects, will warp the lawn sensuously upwards to form a grassy amphitheatre facing a stage that will have the great obelisk as its backdrop.
  3. Angst about automation typically focuses on the substitution effect, whereby jobs once done by people are taken over by machines—the fate of the Luddites. The current fear is that ever more versatile robots will substitute for labour on a scale never seen before. Between 1980 and 2010, Mr Autor points out, the number of bank clerks in America actually increased despite the rapid spread of the cashpoint. That was because the IT revolution not only enabled machines to dispense cash; it also allowed clerks to work out what extra financial products customers might be interested in and process applications for them. One way to think about the impact of technology is by categorising the tasks involved in any job between cognitive and manual on the one hand, and routine and non-routine on the other hand.This explains a pattern that has become common in the labour markets of advanced economies in recent decades, whereby there has been growth in employment at both the top and the bottom of the spectrum but a hollowing-out in the middle.
  4. MANY of us have found ourselves trying to explain to friends and colleagues that, no, business travel isn’t as fun and glamorous as it seems.The study, which synthesises existing research on the effects of frequent travel, finds three types of consequence: physiological, psychological and emotional, and social. The physiological ones are the most obvious. Jet lag is the affliction travellers know best.Then there’s the danger of deep-vein thrombosis, exposure to germs and radiation—people who fly more than 85,000 miles a year.Frequent flyers experience “travel disorientation” from changing places and time zones so often. They also suffer mounting stress, given that “time spent travelling will rarely be offset through a reduced workload.Finally, there are the social effects. Marriages suffer from the time apart, as does children’s behaviour.
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