Economist 1/20/15

  1. With a count of “respirable suspended particulate matter” that is roughly double that of China’s notoriously smoggy capital, Beijing, Delhi is ranked by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the world’s most polluted big city. Several other Indian cities are nearly as atrocious.Perhaps 25,000-50,000 of greater Delhi’s 25m people die prematurely every year because of air pollution.On January 15th Delhi wrapped up a drastic two-week experiment to reduce car emissions by restricting road use to odd- or even-numbered licence plates on alternate days.By the measure of the nastiest element in Delhi’s toxic cocktail, ultrafine particles, the drop in emissions was not drastic. The first days of the new year even saw a discouraging spike in concentrations of PM10 and PM2.5, as the diameter of two sizes of particles are commonly defined in thousandths of a millimetre. In parts of the city, PM2.5 (the more harmful of the two sorts, because it penetrates the lungs more deeply) exceeded 500 micrograms per cubic metre. That is 20 times the WHO’s guideline for safe air.
  2. UNEMPLOYMENT in Britain is just 5.1%, the lowest since 2006. Economists expect that when joblessness falls, wages will rise, because employers have to compete more fiercely for staff. After a long slump brought on by the recession, by mid-2015 wages were growing nicely.In November three-month average growth in pay was just 1.9% in real terms year on year, far below levels in the years before the 2008-09 global crisis.The oil-price slump is biting: wages in the oil-and-gas industry, which are about 50% above the average, have fallen by 12% in the past year.In recent months the workforce has thus become younger, pushing down average wages. However, with youth unemployment now lower than in mid-2008, firms may not be able to get away with this for much longer.
  3. Podcasts were meant to have arrived a decade ago. But they remain a tiny market for advertisers—$50m to $80m annually in America compared with $16 billion on terrestrial radio.In 2006 11% of Americans aged 12 or over had listened to a podcast; by 2015 that had tripled, according to Edison Research and Triton Digital (an ad-technology firm). Technology is pushing podcasts into listeners’ ears. In 2014 Apple put a podcast app on the iPhone that is all but indelible. In 2015 Spotify and Pandora added podcasts to their music-streaming services. As increasing numbers of cars get wireless-internet connections, that too should boost podcasts.Most podcast ads are for smallish niche businesses. There are two obstacles to attracting big-budget advertisers. One is that it is hard to know who is listening to podcasts, rather than just downloading them. The second is that, so far, few podcasts have a big enough audience.
  4. Saudi Arabia’s young defence minister, deputy crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, insists he is winning the war. His coalition has retaken Aden, Yemen’s southern port, and 80% of the country, he claims. But many of Yemen’s largest cities—Sana’a, Taiz and Ibb—remain in rebel hands. And with negotiations stalling (the resumption of talks set for January 14th has been indefinitely postponed), officials talk less of an early victory than a protracted war.Saudi Arabia wants to send Iran and its regional clients a message that it will resist their regional push. With Iran holding sway through its proxies in Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut, Saudi Arabia is loth to let a fourth capital, particularly one in its back yard, go Iran’s way. But the campaign is now mostly about blunting the capabilities of the Houthis (a militia of Zaydis, a splinter Shiite sect concentrated in Yemen’s north) and their ally, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who until Saudi Arabia engineered his removal in 2012 was the Arab world’s longest-reigning ruler.
  5. Together the Houthis and Mr Saleh make a formidable force. Whereas the former are guerrillas who model themselves on Lebanon’s Hizbullah, the latter commands Yemen’s Republican army, which has been fighting wars (including against the Houthis) for 25 years.It says much about Saudi trepidation that General Olyan limits himself to defending Saudi territory; he says his troops make no attempt to attack the Houthi heartland of Saada governorate, just across the frontier.But the costs for Saudi Arabia are mounting. Eroding his plans for cutting the budget deficit, Muhammad bin Salman is reinforcing his forces inside Yemen. Yemeni refugees, too, have been spilling into the kingdom, to the tune of over half a million
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