Economist 3/31/16

  1. There have been 1,067 hijackings since 1931, when the first one occurred in Peru. At their peak in the late 1960s, most hijackings were politically or criminally motivated. Some, such as D.B. Cooper, hijacked planes for the money (he famously demanded—and received $200,000).  Many did so to defect from the former Soviet bloc, or to Cuba. But it was the rash of hijackings perpetrated by Middle Eastern militant groups from the late 1960s onward that forced countries to rethink security. More than 130 American planes were hijacked between 1968 and 1972. In the 1970s, the International Civil Aviation Organisation began requiring passengers be screened using metal detectors. Bags also had to be X-rayed. Measures to screen for explosives were implemented later. In 1969 there were 86 hijackings globally. By 1999, the number had dropped to 13. But it took the September 11th attacks to truly change security measures in the United States, in manners now familiar.
  2. The  asylum acceptance rate in Europe jumping by ten percentage points to 60% in the final quarter of 2015—the highest rate ever. Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands all granted asylum in record numbers.Syrians, Eritreans and Iraqis, who are let in more than 90% of the time, make up almost half of all decisions, up from about a quarter in 2014. For other countries the acceptance rate was just 28%, and there has been no jump.Because violence and repression in their home countries is widely recognized across Europe, they have the highest acceptance rates in the rest of the continent, at 97%, 86% and 90% respectively. Conversely, more than three-quarters of asylum-seekers in Poland are Ukrainians or Russians; other European countries admit them just 36% and 27% of the time.Bulgaria, Sweden, the Netherlands and Cyprus all post overall admission rates above 70%, but fall to within four percentage points of the European average after accounting for the composition of their asylum-seekers. Poland’s recognition rate rises from 18% to 34%.Romania has the lowest adjusted recognition rate, at 15%; this may be because applicants who move on to richer neighbors and skip their assessment interviews are listed as “rejected”. In bankrupt Greece, an underfunded asylum system makes rushed decisions based on inadequate information.
  3. On March 29th Tata Steel, Britain’s biggest producer, said it planned to sell or shut down its British operations, prompting growing pleas for a government bail-out. The state of the global steel industry, and Britain’s now-peripheral position in it, mean that those calls should be resisted.Steel production in Britain has more than halved since its peak in around 1970, to some 12m tonnes a year. In 2015 British steelmakers contributed less than 1% of world supply.Most of the increase is accounted for by China, which has more than quadrupled its production since 2000. In 2015 China produced over 800m tonnes, or about half of the global total. But its flagging economy has led state-owned steelmakers to sell their growing surpluses on foreign markets.Any bail-out by the state would run into trouble. The European Commission allows governments to help steelmakers regain competitiveness by, for example, cutting energy taxes. But it bans them from offering aid to rescue or restructure ailing steelmakers.
  4. Harvard has an endowment of $36 billion, the largest in the country. Last year it raised more than $1 billion. Some of its alumni think this ought to be sufficient to scrap tuition fees.America’s universities raised a record $40.3 billion last year, according to the Council for Aid to Education. Harvard’s endowment is made up of 13,000 funds and is its largest source of revenue by far. Endowments are not usually used to lower tuition fees, but they can be used to provide scholarships and financial aid to students who cannot afford to pay (70% of students at Harvard get some assistance with fees and living costs).Some lawmakers are wondering whether threats to change the tax-exempt status of endowments might be used to persuade colleges to bring down the cost of tuition.After Congress last examined the topic in 2007, more colleges began to award grants instead of loans. Financial aid has doubled over the past decade.Around 70% of endowments are restricted funds. Not abiding by a donor’s wishes can result in a lawsuit.
  5. SIXTEEN years was surely too long for anyone to remain as boss of Spain’s largest telecoms company, Telefónica. During his spell in charge, César Alierta, 70, who at last agreed to hang up his receiver this week, created a giant.Early on he had shown caution: his tenure began with his cleaning up the mess that resulted from Telefónica’s dud investments during the dotcom bubble. Then, like bosses at other big Spanish firms such as Santander, a bank, Mr Alierta was tempted to splurge. Telefónica bought BellSouth’s Latin American mobile operations in 2004; acquired O2, a British telecoms firm, in 2006; and invested in China. By 2007 its market value exceeded €100 billion ($150 billion).As Spain’s fortunes fell, Mr Alierta was forced into retreat, selling investments in Italy, the Czech Republic and Ireland. Last year Telefónica also agreed to sell O2. The firm decided to concentrate on core markets including Germany, where it bought E-plus, a big phone operator, and Brazil, the company’s largest market by sales.Telefónica is not ushering in radical change. Its new boss is likely to be a well-liked and slightly younger insider, José María Álvarez-Pallete

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