Economist 12/2/15

  1. MEETINGS to last no more than 30 minutes; junior staff allowed to speak freely with superiors; a cut in bonuses for bosses whose teams do not take enough holidays. Since 2012 “Pride”, a handbook, has set a new tone for the internal culture of Hyundai Capital.It is a striking departure from the norm for the consumer-finance arm of one of South Korea’s most culturally conservative chaebol, the country’s giant family-owned conglomerates. Established during Japanese rule of the peninsula (1910-45), most of the chaebol were fashioned in the working style of Japan’s pre-war zaibatsu, huge industrial companies; many chaebol founders were also educated in Japan, and their successors still have connections there. Lifetime employment, hierarchical management and pay based on seniority rather than performance all struck a chord with Korean Confucianist traditions.
  2. Bosses are treated as father figures, and colleagues like siblings, joining in each other’s family events. In return employees are expected to put in long hours at their desks—more than in any other OECD country, bar Mexico. To leave the office before higher-ups is seen as a betrayal. Late-night drinking sessions with bosses are de rigueur.Even now, the immersion courses newchaebol employees undergo—typically two intense weeks of learning and bonding in a company complex in the countryside.Yet companies are realising that their continued success, at home and abroad, requires an overhaul of the working culture that made them so big in the first place.Don Southerton, who advises South Korean businesses on how to manage their foreign operations, says many have been “going back to basics” since the slowdown in China and other big emerging markets. Their Korean staff have reverted to working longer hours and straining to hit short-term targets, under pressure from the bosses back in Seoul.
  3. Politicians are fighting over Ukraine’s proposed budget for next year; if things don’t go to plan, 2016 could look very tricky.There are two competing proposals for the budget. One, which is being pushed by the Ministry of Finance, is a fairly sensible plan. It will eliminate a range of tax loopholes and would also cut some spending. With that budget, Ukraine would probably run a budget deficit of about 4% of GDP next year. The IMF, which has arranged a bail-out with Ukraine, is happy with it.But the IMF is not so happy with the competing proposal, which has come from a member of the party of Petro Poroshenko, the president. This plan envisages hefty tax cuts, but also keeps plenty of loopholes. For that reason it is politically far more palatable. But that budget would probably lead to Ukraine running a budget deficit of 10% of GDP next year, entirely unsustainable for a government that cannot borrow on private markets.
  4. In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks by IS, America is looking to tighten its visa-waiver programme. The programme currently allows visitors from 38 approved countries—including much of Europe and trusted Asian allies such as Japan, Singapore and South Korea—to enter the country without a full visa, meaning that they don’t, for example, have to apply to an embassy. Around 20m people a year take advantage of the scheme. Under the new plan, to be debated in Congress, such visitors would need to have an e-passport, which contains biometric data. It would also put more onus on airlines to verify the passport data of its passengers, with bigger fines for those that fall short.Biometric passports are not fail-safe. They still depend on the vigilance of those checking them and well-maintained databases. And they are not impossible to counterfeit.Still, requiring biometric passports seems a sensible additional layer of security
  5. Europe’s air is less corrosive than it once was, and much less bad than China’s or India’s. Industrial decline and clean-air policies from the 1950s onwards have brought levels of many pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide, fine particulate matter.Yet more than 400,000 Europeans still die prematurely each year because of air pollution, according to the European Environmental Agency.About nine out of ten European city-dwellers are exposed to pollution in excess of guidelines produced by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Some of the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide are found in London; several cities in Turkey are choked with high levels of PM10 (particulate matter of at most 10-micron diameter).But some of the worst pollution is in Eastern Europe. Coal-fired power stations are still common there, and some pollutants blow in from the rest of Europe. The commission is prosecuting 18 governments for infringing pollution limits.Some government efforts to cut greenhouse-gas emissions have made matters worse. In Britain, diesel cars have been boosted by successive government policies because they emit less carbon dioxide than cars that run on petrol. In 2001 only 14% of British cars ran on diesel; by 2014, 36% did. But diesel vehicles emit more damaging pollutants than petrol ones.Another problem is that the farming industry has resisted much regulation. Emissions from agriculture, such as ammonia, contribute to particulate matter.
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