Economist 12/4/15

  1. ON THE face of it Japan’s system of criminal justice looks as if its gets a lot right. Crime rates are lower in Japan than almost anywhere else—the murder rate is less than a tenth of America’s. Those arrested for minor wrongdoing are treated with exceptional leniency. Less than one in 20 Japanese deemed to have committed a penal offence go to prison, compared with one in three of those arrested in America, where the average jail term is much longer. In Japan the emphasis is on rehabilitation, especially of young offenders. The rates of recidivism are admirably low.Yet the state’s benign paternalism has a dark side.The system relies on confessions, which form the basis of nine-tenths of criminal prosecutions. Many confessions are extracted under duress.Common criminal suspects may be held in detention for 23 days without charge. Many have only minimal contact with a lawyer. Few interrogations are recorded, and then not in their entirety, so there is not much to stop interrogators piling in. Physical torture is rare, but sleep deprivation, which is just as effective, is common. So are various other forms of psychological coercion.
  2. BMW is in the vanguard of a materials revolution, which is powered by a growing understanding of the properties of substances at the smallest scale.The cars begin life in a Japanese rayon factory as spools of plastic that look a bit like fishing line. This “precursor”, as it is called, is unwound in America, baked into strands of carbon fibre and then spun into a yarn. In Germany the yarn is woven into sheets. When the sheets arrive in Leipzig they are shaped, pressed and cured with resin to form stiff, light body parts which are glued together by robots. In roughly five years from now, scientists will have set out what some call the “materials genome”—a database with the properties of all known and predicted compounds.
  3. England’s private schools are struggling to attract pupils. Although the number of school-age children has risen since 2008, independent schools have barely grown.As a result, the proportion of children at such schools has slipped from 7.2% to 6.9%, with absolute numbers falling everywhere apart from the prosperous south-east.Much is likely down to cost. One recent study found that fees had gone up by around 20% over the past five years. As a result, the average price of a year’s education at a boarding school is now more than £30,000 ($45,000); a day place is around half that.The fall in numbers is largely confined to the lower end of the market. Indeed, one recently-published book claims this is a golden age for Britain’s grandest private schools, with standards of care, facilities and education higher than ever before.
  4. Where once China viewed international climate talks as a conspiracy to constrain its economy, it now sees a global agreement as helpful to its own development.China accounts for two-thirds of the world’s increase in the carbon dioxide emitted since 2000.Yet today China pledges to cap carbon emissions by 2030 (reversing its former position that, as a developing power, it should not be bound to an absolute reduction); and it says it will cut its carbon intensity (that is, emissions per unit of GDP) by a fifth, as well as increase by the same amount the electricity generated from sources other than fossil fuels.The big question is why China is now so serious about climate change. The answer is not that Communist leaders are newly converted econuts. Rather, they want to use environmental concerns to rally domestic support for difficult reforms that would sustain growth in the coming decades.
  5. In Africa today, as in Europe three decades ago, bilateral restrictions rule the skies. Before an African airline can fly from its home nation to another on the continent, it must be designated as an approved carrier by both countries. For state-owned airlines, this process is relatively straightforward. For private sector start-ups, it can take years. Greasing a few palms may help. Further complicating matters, the number of carriers and the frequency of flights permitted on popular trunk routes is typically restricted.The so-called Yamoussoukro Decision (YD) promised to create a single air transport market across Africa by 2002, tearing down existing bilateral regimes. It was signed by 44 member states of the African Union. What fibbers. Nothing has changed.In America, it was Pan Am and TWA that fell victim to deregulation—or, more accurately, to their failure to compete in a deregulated market. And so it will be in Africa.Africa does have well-run airlines that would thrive in a deregulated market. Unsurprisingly, they are keen to be set free.
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