Economist 3/25/16

  1. Eradicating a disease is the sort of aim that rich countries come up with, and poor ones struggle to reach. But for some diseases, the pattern is now reversed. These are the ailments for which vaccinations exist. The trend is most obvious for measles, which is so contagious that at least 95% of people must be vaccinated to stop its spread (a threshold known as “herd immunity”). Many poor countries are well above that. Eritrea, Rwanda and Sri Lanka manage to vaccinate almost all children. By contrast several rich countries, including America, Britain, France and Italy, are below herd immunity.Last year Europe missed the target it set itself in 2010 to eliminate measles, with outbreaks in several countries and nearly 4,000 cases.
  2. America was declared measles-free in 2000; in 2014 it had hundreds of cases across 27 states and last year saw its first death from the disease in more than a decade. This sorry state of affairs is often blamed on hardline “anti-vaxxers”, parents who refuse all vaccines for their children. They are a motley lot. The Amish in America spurn modern medicine, along with almost everything else invented since the 17th century. Some vegans object to the use of animal-derived products in vaccines’ manufacture. The Protestant Dutch Reformed Church thinks vaccines thwart divine will.In most countries such refuseniks are only 2-3% of parents. But because they tend to live in clusters, they can be the source of outbreaks. A bigger problem, though, is the growing number of parents who delay vaccination, or pick and choose jabs.In America, some poor children miss out on vaccines despite a federal programme to provide the jabs free, since they have no regular relationship with a family doctor. Some outbreaks in eastern Europe have started in communities of Roma (gypsies).There is, however, surprisingly little evidence that tough laws make a big difference to vaccination rates.One promising new approach is to keep track of the vaccine myths circulating in cyberspace and rebut each one as it appears.
  3. LAST September Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, and the leader of the FARC guerrilla army, Rodrigo Londoño, known as Timochenko, said that within six months they would reach a final agreement to end a war that has dragged on for more than half a century.The two men set March 23rd as their deadline.The final areas of negotiation have proven to be trickier than either side had imagined. One of the main sticking points is on how and where the FARC’s 6,500 fighters will gather to begin demobilising. The FARC proposed as many as 60 cantonments (to spread their influence) throughout the country, while the government wants to limit the number to about ten (to ensure proper monitoring). The two sides also disagree on how to ratify the accords. The government wants a plebiscite (as it has promised) whereas the FARC seeks a constitutional change (which would make the FARC’s struggle look more legitimate).Postponing a final deal is prudent, but it will be politically costly.Postponing a final deal is prudent, but it will be politically costly.
  4. Electronics firms together contribute 40% of Taiwanese exports, and 15% of its GDP. For more than two decades they have achieved great success assembling computers and other gadgets for Western companies. At first their factories were all in Taiwan, but as China opened up, they shifted some to the mainland. The combination of Taiwanese production expertise and the mainland’s cheap labour was hard to beat.Taiwanese firms fear that rising mainland counterparts, which they call the “red supply chain”, are catching up. Taiwan’s semiconductor firms, such as TSMC, are so far going strong. But its main makers of big display screens, Innolux (which Hon Hai controls) and AU Optronics, are under threat from the mainland’s BOE and China Star Optoelectronics.Of all the countries dependent on purchases by China, Taiwan has most to lose as the mainland’s electronics industry becomes more self-sufficient.

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