Economist 12/9/15

  1. THE lift at 1009 Expo Blvd in Vancouver goes directly from the 12th floor to the 15th. The omission of the 13th caters to Western superstitions. The absent 14th acknowledges an Eastern anxiety. The numeral four sounds in Mandarin and Cantonese like the word for death. Fourteen sounds like “certain death”; 24 is “easy death”. 1009 Expo is missing the fourth, 24th and 34th floors as well.Developers in Vancouver have been building four-free apartment blocks for a decade to attract Chinese buyers, among the biggest customers for luxury condominiums and a prime cause of a boom in property prices.The city of Vancouver banned non-sequential numbering schemes. Existing buildings can remain four-less but new ones may not skip numbers.
  2. Over the past year, the presidents in Burundi, Rwanda and Congo-Brazzaville have sought to extend their rules, often with messy results. Yet those are minnows compared to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where observers are wondering whether Joseph Kabila, the president since 2001, wants to do the same thing.Mr Kabila became president in murky circumstances after his father, Laurent Kabila, was assassinated by one of his bodyguards. In 2006, he won an election after the writing of a new constitution which limits him to two terms in office of five years. So by the end of 2016, Mr Kabila ought to be standing down. But few are sure that he will. Indeed, various suggest he may try to hold on. Congolese officials have claimed that elections that are due in November will have to be delayed—possibly for years.Yet unlike presidents in places like Rwanda and Uganda, Mr Kabila is not assured of an easy ride if he does try to stay on. His political support is relatively weak and at its most concentrated in the wild east. Elsewhere, opponents are already massing.
  3. Europe urgently needs ideas on how to integrate better its huge numbers of newcomers. And second, because as European societies age, many businesses face growing shortages of workers—so for them, Europe’s refugee problem is a potential solution.This week German officials said that 1m refugees had been registered so far this year—half from Syria, and many others from Afghanistan and Iraq. Sweden expects nearly 200,000 arrivals.Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency, says that of 729,000 asylum-seekers registered between May and October, 82% were younger than 34 years. Their median age is around half that of Germans, which is 46. Some of those arriving are poorly educated, but as surveys of refugees arriving in the Netherlands show, many have secondary schooling and even university-level education , especially those fleeing Syria’s conflicts. And a significant proportion have skills and experience in various professions and trades.Germany alone needs 173,000 workers trained in mathematics, IT, natural sciences and technical subjects.Small firms, notably manufacturers in the Mittelstand, crave apprentices.Labour shortages are even more acute in rural and remote areas, such as northern Norway. Salmon farms there need workers to gut fish, a job locals spurn.
  4. A series of problems, however, hinder the smooth movement of refugees into European workplaces. The first, and broadest, of these is legal. America generally lets in people it has already screened and recognised as refugees, and allows them to start work almost immediately. There are plenty of low-paid jobs waiting for them, and they typically integrate, and learn English, quickly. Europe mostly gets asylum-seekers, and keeps them waiting, sometimes for years, for refugee status. In this legal limbo they typically get welfare and shelter but are usually barred from work, and even from state-funded language lessons.A second impediment to getting the new arrivals working is the failure to assess their education and skills systematically. There are a few schemes here and there, such as ones in which German state governments have hired recruitment agencies to identify those with high-level skills among groups of refugees. SAP, a German software firm, wants to build a national database for the federal government, to record and analyse the skills of all asylum-seekers, then share the data with employers.A third broad obstacle to getting refugees into work concerns the recognition of foreigners’ qualifications—which matters more because of Europe’s excessive demands for credentials.A fourth and final task is overcoming language barriers. Those Swedish trainee teachers, for example, will begin preparing for classes with the help of Arabic interpreters, while learning Swedish simultaneously.
  5. IN THE shadow of student protests highlighting racial injustice on American campuses, the Supreme Court is once again scrutinising public universities that take account of race when admitting students.On December 9th, the justices heard arguments in Fisher v University of Texas (UT), a reprise of a case they first considered two years ago. Abigail Fisher, a white woman, says she was discriminated against in 2008 when she was rejected from UT’s flagship campus in Austin. Though Ms Fisher had less than stellar grades and could not prove she would have been admitted under a race-neutral admissions policy, she and the organisation backing her, the Project on Fair Representation, insist that the UT scheme violates the constitution.Ms Fisher’s lawyers do not quarrel with the court’s precedents saying that race can play a role in enhancing diversity. The issue in Fisher, rather, is whether UT’s policy is necessary to fulfil that goal.In 1997 UT began filling about 75% of seats with the top 10% of graduates from each of Texas’s high schools. Black and Hispanic enrolments continued to lag, so in 2004 the university tweaked the way it admits the remaining quarter of its classes. In addition to grades, test scores, essays and a host of personal characteristics, from leadership and awards to family income, race was added as a factor.  
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