Economist 12/11/15

  1. China produces roughly half of the world’s annual output of Steel( 1.6 billion tonnes). Analysts at UBS, an investment bank, reckon that this year it will produce 441m tonnes more than it will consume. With prices slumping, China’s 101 biggest steel firms lost some $11 billion during the first ten months of this year, according to one estimate.Unsurprisingly, they are seeking to export their unwanted product, even at a loss. Official data released this week confirm that China has, in the 11 months to November, exported over 100m tonnes of steel for the first time.China’s exports are now bigger than the total steel production of any country apart from Japan.The American steel industry’s lobbyists have begun clamouring for action to stop what they consider illegal dumping of subsidised product.
  2. ONE day after 14 people died and 21 were injured in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, America’s Senate defeated a bill that would have prevented people on the terror watch list from buying guns.But 54 conservative senators determined that such a rule might impinge on the gun rights of innocent Americans who were mistakenly placed on the watch-list—a risk assessment that is hard to square with the calculus used by many of the same lawmakers who oppose resettling Syrian refugees lest one of them turn into a terrorist.Many people attribute the phenomenon to the power of the National Rifle Association (NRA), one of America’s richest and most influential lobbying groups.So while 55% of Americans believe that gun laws should be “more strict” (as compared to 11% who want them to be “less strict” and 33% who are satisfied with the laws as they stand), gun owners are twice as likely to sound off to their congressmen and nearly five times more apt to contribute money to candidates or interest groups that reflect their views on guns. America’s electoral structure also lends NRA supporters outsize influence.
  3. Opponents of gun control routinely argue that the Second Amendment’s “right to bear arms” ensures unfettered access to guns. Seven years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that a ban on handguns in the home was an affront to the Second Amendment. But since the ruling in District of Columbia v Heller, the justices have refused to embellish this right.American civilians own far more guns than anybody else in the world. The land of the free is home to an estimated 270m guns, enough for nearly nine in ten Americans. (That’s compared to 46m guns for the runner-up, India, with a population quadruple that of America.). Some countries, notably Australia, have rounded up privately owned weapons and seen a dramatic decline in suicides and homicides.
  4. THE Beijing city government issued its first-ever “red alert” for smog on December 7th. Schools were closed, outdoor construction halted, car use limited and some factories shut until the air quality improved. The first reaction of many Chinese online was fury. The second was scepticism. The concentrations of small particulates—the worst kind for human health—had been far greater only the previous week, when no such procedures were put in place. Much of the smog is produced by manufacturers in other provinces. Unlike during the shutdowns that are imposed to produce APEC blue, their factories were not affected by Beijing’s red alert.Beijing’s government said it would spend 760 billion yuan ($118 billion) on efforts to reduce its annual average level of fine particulates, known as PM2.5, by one-quarter by 2017. Also in 2013 Beijing introduced a smog-alert system, using four colours to represent the severity of the threat: blue, yellow, orange and (the most serious) red, as issued this week.Since then air quality in the Chinese capital has improved overall. But two bad spells in two weeks show that there is still much to be done.
  5. AFTER an initial flurry of people upgrading their personal computers to Windows 10, the latest and greatest version of Microsoft’s popular operating system, the migration seems to be running out of steam—despite a roll-out that was the most carefully managed in the company’s 40-year history. Launched in late July, after nine months of public testing, Windows 10 is available free (until next July) to anyone running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 on their computers. Despite this unprecedented generosity from Microsoft, Windows 10 accounts for only 9% of computers used to surf the web, says Net Applications, an internet analytics firm based in Aliso Viejo, California. By contrast, six-year-old Windows 7 runs on over 56% of computers. Even the disastrous Windows 8/8.1 has a 14% share, while older versions still (mainly Windows XP) account for over 12%. For the record, Apple’s OS X claims 7% and open-source Linux 1.6% of total users.These are, of course, early days for Windows 10. And to have chalked up, in little over four months, something like 135m sales and upgrades (out of the 1.5 billion of so PCs in the world) is no mean feat. Microsoft’s professed goal is to have a billion copies of Windows 10 in use within three years.

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