Economist 1/26/16

  1. On January 4th Sweden introduced border controls on the bridge as part of an effort to curb an influx of Middle Eastern asylum-seekers. Businesses warn that the border checks will upset decades of planned integration between Copenhagen and Malmo, the Swedish city on the far side of the bridge.Swedes are pleased with Denmark’s high salaries. The strong Danish krone helps, making prices about 10% higher than in Sweden.The Danish are pleased with the Swedes, too: many say their arrival has made Copenhagen a friendlier place.The new Swedish border checks, Madeleine and Sandra say, will add 30 minutes each way to their commutes.Although the loss of a few thousand Swedish workers might seem like a marginal problem, business leaders fear serious damage to the local economy.
  2. America and the world are now waking up to the series of misguided austerity policies, bad public policy-decisions and attempts to cover up the mess that have led to the exposure to poisonous lead of the entire population of a poor, mostly black Midwestern city blighted by unemployment and high rates of crime.The people of Flint were vindicated, at last, when state officials changed their mind in early October last year about the findings of a research group. The trouble is that the state acted too late.Flint’s water still isn’t safe because the lead pipes have been so damaged by the water from the Flint river that they still leach lead into the tap water. Moreover, as many as 9,000 children between zero and six might have been poisoned. They are the most vulnerable to the exposure to lead, a neurotoxin, because their neurological system is still developing.
  3. The Baha Mar missed its first ribbon-cutting in December 2014. It hired 2,000 staff and stocked its casino with $4.5m cash in preparation for a second deadline the following March. But with three days to go the resort was still not quite ready. A long-simmering quarrel between its main investor and the Chinese contractor, which had broken out early on, boiled over. The opening was put off again.For the Bahamas the disaster is much bigger. The project’s $3.5 billion cost is two-fifths the size of the country’s GDP. At full strength, its workforce of 5,000 employees would represent more than one in 40 Bahamian workers.Although it is the region’s second-richest economy, income from tourism, its biggest industry, has faltered for most of this century. It took a knock after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, and suffered further from the housing-market debacle in the United States. The number of tourists has dropped from around 1.6m in 2006 to 1.3m in 2015.The American embassy has warned its citizens about the country’s high crime rate. Bahamian hoteliers dread the day when Cuba begins to draw American tourists in large numbers.
  4. Divorce rates are rising quickly across China. This is a remarkable transformation in a society where for centuries marriage was universal and mostly permanent (though convention permitted men to take concubines).The trend reflects profound economic and social change. In the past 35 years, the biggest internal migration experienced by any country in human history has been tearing families apart. Traditional values have been giving way to more liberal ones. Women are becoming better educated, and more aware of their marital rights (they now initiate over half of all divorce cases).As long as both sides agree on terms, China is now among the easiest and cheapest places in the world to get a divorce. In many Western countries, including Britain, couples must separate for a period before dissolving a marriage; China has no such constraints. In 2014, the latest year for which such data exist, about 3.6m couples split up—more than double the number a decade earlier. The divorce rate—the number of cases per thousand people—also doubled in that period. It now stands at 2.7, well above the rate in most of Europe and approaching that of America, the most divorce-prone Western country.
  5. But marriage is not losing its lustre. In most countries, rising divorce rates coincide with more births out of wedlock and a fall in marriage rates. China bucks both these trends. Remarriage is common too.It is tradition itself that is partly to blame for rising divorce rates. China’s legal marriage age for men, 22, is the highest in the world.As a result of China’s one-child-per-couple policy (recently changed to a two-child one), many people have no siblings to share the burden of looking after parents and grandparents.Women are more likely to be the ones who suffer financially when this happens. Rising divorce rates reflect the spread of more tolerant, permissive values towards women, but legislation tends to favour men in divorce settlements.In 2011 the Supreme Court went further. It ruled that in contested cases (as about one-fifth of divorces are), the property would be considered that of one partner alone if that partner’s parents had bought it for him or her after the couple had got married. In addition, if one partner (rather than his or her parents) had bought a home before the couple wed, that person could be awarded sole ownership by a divorce court.

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