Economist 4/29/16

  1. Migrants and refugees arriving in Australia by boat have grown into an outsized political issue over recent years. Although fewer than 70,000 people reached the shores of a country of 24m between 1990 and 2013, the need to “stop the boats” has frequently decided elections. In 2001 the Australian government denied entry to its waters to a Norwegian ship, the MV Tampa, that had rescued 433 refugees adrift in the Pacific. Despite international condemnation, the policy proved a vote-winner at home, and John Howard’s incumbent Liberal Party was re-elected weeks later. Mr Howard then introduced the Pacific Solution, which included the construction of two offshore detention centres, on Manus Island and on Nauru. Since then, governments have vacillated on the centres. They were closed in 2008 under Kevin Rudd’s Labor Party administration, but were opened again in 2012 by his successor, Julia Gillard, in response to a renewed rise in boat arrivals.The deal struck by the Gillard government has been a failure. Although the number of boat arrivals has dried up, the Australian government has spent billions of dollars in keeping the migrants and refugees in detention.The fate of the detainees remains unclear.
  2. Some 850m Indians live in rural areas, and nearly 60% of them depend on farming for survival.India has more people living in poverty than any other country—260m by the World Bank’s count—and 80% of them live in the countryside.Farmers are poorer than urban folk the world over, but the difference in India is stark: the median annual wage for a farmer, at 19,250 rupees ($290) including the implied value of the food they consume, is barely two months’ minimum wage in Mumbai. Data from 2008 show the rural-urban wage gap at 45%, versus around 10% for China and Indonesia.Much of that is down to low productivity: farmers in India grow 46% less rice per acre than their Chinese counterparts and 39% less wheat. Less than half of Indian farmland is irrigated. That leaves farmers at the mercy of the monsoon, which dumps the lion’s share of annual rainfall in just a few months over the summer.
  3. By the government’s own assessment, Indian farmers are “locked in” to low-value crops such as wheat and rice, even as increasingly affluent city types demand fruit, vegetables and meat. Making the switch to bananas and chillies is potentially lucrative.But the transition needs agricultural infrastructure such as cold storage as well as access to credit, which is not usually forthcoming for farmers.Only a tenth of the money the government spends in rural areas goes on investments that might boost yields. Much more is squandered on subsidies that encourage farmers to grow staples while occasioning vast corruption.Non-farming income in rural areas has also suffered. A small guaranteed-employment scheme has helped relieve acute distress, but only goes so far. Other forms of employment available outside cities, notably in mining, are in the doldrums.
  4. Spirit, uncharitably dubbed “America’s most hated Airline“, has once again found itself at the tail end of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) for Airlines. The ranking, which was topped by JetBlue and Southwest, draws on detailed interviews from a pool of 70,000 American consumers to rate the service of over 40 industries across ten broader fields. For the field of travel an average airline-industry score of 72 was the worst performer, ranking below average industry scores of 74 for hotels and 79 for online travel sites.Scores improved for the airline industry as a whole, probably because cheaper fuel costs have pushed down prices and freed funds for better customer care.Many travellers, however, will roll their eyes at yet another airline ranking. Each year Skytrax releases its own international ranking, which was headed by Qatar Airways in 2015. (In Skytrax’s ranking JetBlue, the top airline in the ACSI survey, was ranked 50th.)
  5. International SOS (ISOS), the world’s largest travel-security firm counts nearly two-thirds of the Fortune Global 500 companies as clients. It operates 26 other centres across the world. The firm says they have never been busier.Globalisation (ever-increasing business travel and tourism), political instability (spreading in an arc from the Gulf to sub-Saharan Africa) and fear of terrorism in places previously thought safe (such as Istanbul, Jakarta, Paris and Brussels) are all drivers of the business. So too is China’s expanding international footprint.Since 2001 ISOS has grown from revenues of $250m a year and 2,500 employees to $1.5 billion and a staff of 11,000, which includes over 5,000 medical professionals and 200 security specialists. Operating from around 1,000 locations in 90 countries, it takes nearly 5m assistance calls every year.Although support when an emergency strikes is what gives clients reassurance, ISOS and its smaller rivals, such as Annapolis-based iJet and Anvil Group, a British firm, emphasise that risk mitigation starts with understanding where and how threats arise and knowing how to avoid or deal with them.

Economist 4/28/16

  1. THE outcome from the five Democratic primary elections held on April 26th confirmed that Hillary Clinton is now virtually assured of clinching the Democratic nomination for president. She won four of the five states that were up for grabs, and is now less than 250 delegates away from securing the 2,383 needed for victory. Bernie Sanders won only in tiny Rhode Island. Mr Sanders had been on a roll in late March and early April, winning seven consecutive contests, though these were mostly in states that hold lower-turnout caucuses (local meetings of party activists) rather than primaries. In those states and elsewhere the overwhelming base of his support has been among the millennial generation, and exit polls from Tuesday reaffirmed that trend. In Pennsylvania, for example, he won 83% of the votes of those aged under 30. In the Democratic primaries and caucuses overall, Mr Sanders won 70% of the under-30 vote, but this made up just 17% of all voters.
  2. On April 22nd the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a US federal agency, released a report suggesting that America is in the grip of a sustained rise in the suicide rate across all age groups and for both sexes. The age-adjusted rate rose by 24% from 1999 to 2014, from 10.5 to 13.0 per 100,000 people. Men shoot themselves and women tend to take poison, although there has been a rise in suffocation and strangulation among both genders.The suicide rate declined steadily from 1986 until 2000, the date the CDC paper takes as its starting point.The rise since 2007, when the financial crisis got under way, adds weight to the idea that suicide studies are really just a branch of macroeconomics.When plotted on a map, what researchers refer to as a “suicide corridor” runs from Montana in the north to New Mexico in the south, with Nevada to the west and Colorado to the east. The best explanation for this seems to lie in demography. Native Americans and non-Hispanic whites both have a higher propensity for suicide than other ethnic groups.Surveyed by age, the group at the highest risk of committing suicide is not reckless young men but males aged 75 or over.
  3. It is tricky it is to compare living standards over time. Yet such comparisons are not just routinely made, but rely heavily on a single metric: gross domestic product (GDP). This one number has become shorthand for material well-being, even though it is a deeply flawed gauge of prosperity, and getting worse all the time.Defenders of GDP say that the statistic is not designed to do what is now asked of it. A creature of the 1930s slump and the exigencies of war in the 1940s, its original purpose was to measure the economy’s capacity to produce.If GDP is failing on its own terms, as a measurement of the value-added in an economy, its use as a welfare benchmark is even more dubious.But at least the direction of travel was the same. GDP grew rapidly; so did quality of life. Now GDP is still growing (albeit more slowly), but living standards are thought to be stuck. Part of the problem is widening inequality: median household income in America, adjusted for inflation, has barely budged for 25 years.
  4. Measuring prosperity better requires three changes. The easiest is to improve GDP as a gauge of production.Instead, statisticians should improve how GDP data are collected and presented. To minimise revisions, they should rely more on tax records, internet searches and other troves of contemporaneous statistics, such as credit-card transactions, than on the standard surveys of businesses or consumers.Second, services-dominated rich countries should start to pioneer a new, broader annual measure, that would aim to capture production and living standards more accurately. This new metric—call it GDP-plus—would begin with a long-overdue conceptual change: the inclusion in GDP of unpaid work in the home, such as caring for relatives.
  5. CARMAKERS have two methods for dealing with the gases that belch from exhaust pipes. One is to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide (NOx) and other nasties by spending heavily to develop cleaner engines. Another is to devise methods to game emissions-testing systems but keep polluting the atmosphere on the road.Volkswagen and Mitsubishi opted for the second method, using means illegal in some countries.Mitsubishi admitted on April 20th that it had improperly conducted fuel-economy tests. Its potential punishment in court for 25 years of rule-breaking is, as yet, unclear.VW reached a deal on April 14th in an American court to fix cars, compensate owners and pay fines. The details are not yet public but reportedly VW will buy back around 480,000 cars and give a further $5,000 to each owner.Europe’s system relies on a gentle test cycle that fails to replicate how cars are actually driven on the road. Carmakers are permitted to test specially prepared prototypes.Testing agencies compete for business from carmakers by promising to “optimise” conditions. America’s system, in contrast, is more robust. Carmakers test their own vehicles. The Environmental Protection Agency subsequently checks their figures using randomly selected production cars. If the numbers diverge it has the power to levy eye-wateringly large fines on firms.

Economist 4/27/16

  1. In 2014, nearly 37,000 elderly  Japanese couples parted ways, a figure that rose 70% over the previous quarter-century. That is partly a by-product of the ageing population: about a quarter of Japanese are 65 or older. But the growing number of grey divorces also reflects a more poignant reality. During their workaholic years salarymen often spend little time at home; at retirement they might be rejected by long-ignored wives as “sodai gomi”, the large items of rubbish left out monthly, bound for the dump. Recently, though, the trend seems to be reversing: increasingly it is the men, rather than the women, doing the spring cleaning.
  2. CANNABIS users around the world recently lit up in celebration of April 20th, 420 day. Although the origins of the link are obscure (the earliest credible story attributes it to 4.20pm being the time a group of Bay Area students in the 1970s met by a statue of Louis Pasteur to get high) the number, and the date, are so synonymous with cannabis culture that business travellers may want to take notice.The reason is that 420 related items have become stoner trophies. Road signs are one target: road markers bearing the number 420 in Colorado have had to be replaced with 419.99, for instance. Hotel rooms have become another, forcing some hotels to phase out the room number altogether. This is partly to stop the stealing of room numbers but mainly to prevent the rooms being used as “hot boxes” for cannabis parties.
  3. Space is not the only frontier that billionaires want to conquer. Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, hopes to give meat a makeover by growing it from stem cells. Mr Musk desires to “reinvent” railways by shooting passengers down hermetically sealed tubes. Tycoons are particularly keen on schemes to cheat the grim reaper. Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, proclaims that “The great unfinished task of the modern world is to turn death from a fact of life to a problem to be solved.”History is full of examples of rich men with big ideas.Howard Hughes spent the 1930s testing innovative aircraft and setting aeronautical records, almost killing himself in the process. None of today’s billionaires spends serious money on universal peace. But the psychology of the very rich seems the same.There is a lot of ego involved—the minted are competing with each other to produce the most eye-catching schemes, much as they vie to run the most successful businesses.There is also a lot of misdirected effort. The gift of $100m by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, has not dramatically improved Newark’s schools.Yet the madness does far more good than harm. Deep-pocketed entrepreneurs not only add to the number of moonshot projects, literal or metaphorical, they also introduce fresh thinking.
  4. Florida rivals southern California as the rich world’s most inventive, exuberant urban laboratory.Today the fad in south Florida is not golf villages or retro towns but ready-made city centres. Half an hour’s drive south of Sunrise, another Metropica-like development, City Place Doral, is under construction. Two others with even taller towers, Miami Worldcentre and Brickell City Centre, are going up in central Miami.All will combine “walkable” shopping streets, offices and homes—mostly two- and three-bedroom flats in towers. Like a rash, similar developments are popping up in other American states and as far away as China and Vietnam.Builders call these developments “mixed-use”, a term that fails to capture what they are up to. The idea of combining flats, offices and shops even in a single building is not new: look at an old New York district like Chelsea.
  5. Foreigners want to own them (most of the people buying flats in Metropica are Latin Americans) and young Americans want to rent them, partly because they find it hard to get mortgages to buy family homes. The towers are growing bigger: 48% of flats constructed in America in 2014 were in buildings with at least 50 units.Mixed-use development is also being pushed by politicians. They have tweaked the zoning rules that normally separate homes, offices and shops, and allowed taller buildings: Miami approved a more relaxed zoning code in 2009.Suburbs are growing denser and more diverse; urban cores are greener, cleaner and often less densely populated than they were.But creating the appearance of urbanity is not the same as making a city. Cities are supposed to be cosmopolitan and surprising; they ought to change in unpredictable ways. Mixed-use developments, by contrast, are fully-formed when they are built—and are too costly for the poor. They are not supposed to be diverse.In fact, the low-rise 1960s suburb where Metropica is being built is already full of cosmopolitan surprise. Behind those monotonous lawns lives a diverse population: one-third of the 88,000 people who live in Sunrise are black and one-quarter are Hispanic.

Economist 4/26/16

  1. OF THE estimated 1m asylum-seekers who arrived in Germany in 2015, a vast proportion headed straight to its big cities, many eventually settling locally as refugees. This was due in part to the personal choices of the new arrivals, but also the German government’s allocation strategy which favours locations with sizable populations and tax revenue shares. But large, heavily populated areas may not present the best options, either for the migrants (families in particular), or for Germany as a whole.Many smaller and more rural areas perform better when it comes to employment opportunities and housing availability, while a good number also offer a greater level of safety, but most asylum seekers simply don’t know where these more “liveable” areas are.
  2. Germany desperately needs low-skilled workers,and faces shortages in some high-skilled jobs. Its overall labour force is expected to shrink sharply in the next few decades.Migrants can offer a vital boost. Smaller rural districts such as Tuttlingen,Baden-Württemberg and Sonneberg, Thuringia have more job vacancies than other parts of the country.Highest estimates suggest an influx of up to 2m new asylum seekers this year. By that reckoning the country would need to house 800,000 additional citizens and provide an extra 3 20,000 houses. It has the capacity for that, just not in the larger cities.There has been a marked increase in the number of attacks on refugees or their hostels recently. In 2015,279 incidents caused either direct harm or put residents at serious risk.Saxony has reported the most alarming figures for violent attacks,whereas neighboring Brandenburg appears to be one of the more benign states.
  3. China has already roared past America to become the world’s biggest car market. In March sales of passenger cars zoomed again, by nearly 10% year on year.Shiny sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) did even better: sales jumped by 46% in March from a year earlier.China’s box-office revenues shot up by nearly 50% on a year earlier in 2015, to $6.8 billion.After years of breakneck expansion, the smartphone market is peaking. Some firms still thrive: China’s Huawei, a telecoms giant, predicts that revenues from its consumer-devices division will rise by about 50% this year. But Xiaomi is losing steam.The unrelenting march of e-commerce continues. In 2010, online shopping accounted for only 3% of total private consumption, but it now makes up 15%. Alibaba, which processes more sales on its ecommerce platforms than eBay and Amazon combined, saw annual Chinese revenues grow to 63 billion yuan ($9.7 billion) in 2015, a rise of nearly 40% compared with a year earlier. JD, its main local rival, saw revenues leap by nearly 58%.
  4. The Chinese still are spending heavily abroad. International tax-free shopping by Chinese shot up 58% last year, according to a new report from Global Blue, a big operator of duty-free shops. Overall, Chinese tourists spent $215 billion on outbound travel last year, a rise of 53% on the previous year. Ctrip, a big online travel firm partly owned by Baidu, a Chinese internet search giant, saw its revenues jump by nearly half last year, to 10.9 billion yuan.A cooling economy and an official anti-corruption drive have squeezed luxury goods, sales of which fell by 2% year on year in 2015, to 113 billion yuan.
  5. By one estimate, if 30% of capacity is slashed across China’s most bloated state industries, perhaps 3m workers will lose their jobs over the next three years. But thanks largely to the private sector, the country created 64m jobs between 2011 and 2015, with more than 13m of them coming in the past year alone.Chinese household debt stands at about 40% of GDP, roughly half the level seen in America.) Real urban incomes rose by 5.8% in the first quarter. Willis Towers Watson, a consultancy, estimates that white-collar salaries are now significantly higher in China than in southeast Asia.Many big firms seem willing to look past current clouds over China’s economy to brighter days ahead. Pepsi, an American snack-food firm, opened its first Quaker Oats manufacturing plant on the mainland in October, and has launched oat-based dairy drinks to cater to local tastes.America’s Walt Disney, an entertainment colossus, is set to open Shanghai Disneyland, a $5.5 billion theme park that is its biggest investment outside Florida, in June.By 2020, the number of households earning above $24,000 per year is expected to double to 100m, making up 30% of all urban households. They are also betting on free-spending youth. Consumption is rising at 14% a year among under-35s, twice the level of oldies.

Economist 4/25/16

  1. NO QUESTION is more contested among Russia-watchers than what really motivates the regime.Charles Clover’s book is an important contribution to this discussion.“Black Wind, White Snow” traces the rise of Eurasianism: the belief (crudely put) that Russia’s national identity is determined by its ethnicity, geography and destiny.Russia’s new rulers, ideologically orphaned by the collapse of Soviet communism, have increasingly latched onto the belief. It lends grandeur and dignity to their doings, and allows them to look down on the notionally more successful societies of the West as doomed and decadent.People in and around the Kremlin take Eurasianism seriously. They run the biggest country in the world. They have nuclear weapons. And they believe history is on their side.
  2. In 2010, to British government decided to eliminate Britain’s budget deficit. In 2010 the deficit hit 10% of GDP; now it is more like 4%. The pain of deficit reduction (tax rises and spending cuts), the argument goes, has been shared across the British population evenly.When imposing austerity, it is difficult not to hit the poor hard. After all, for a working-age household in the bottom income quintile, benefits are worth about 45% of gross income, compared with just 2% for one in the top quintile.According to calculations from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a think-tank, between 2010 and 2015 (the period of the first Conservative government, when they were in coalition with the Liberal Democrats) the average household in the bottom income decile saw their income fall by around 4%.A household in the top income quintile saw their income fall by more like 2%.
  3. In 2010 Britain was coming out of a deep recession. Unemployment was falling rapidly. As a result, the downsides of austerity were largely offset by the upsides of higher earnings in the labour market. When all this is factored in, a household in the bottom income decile probably saw their income rise between 2010 and 2015.The same cannot be said for the current government, which was re-elected in 2015. The pace of austerity has quickened. For instance, the government has pledged to shave £12 billion from the working-age welfare bill by the end of the parliament.This will hit the poorest hardest—and relatively harder than during the last parliament. The problem this time around is that the labour market cannot help the poor much more than it already has. Unemployment is around 5%, so it cannot fall much further.
  4. Rwanda and Burundi, two small countries with Hutu majorities and Tutsi minorities, have seen large-scale ethnic massacres in 1959, 1963, 1972, 1988, 1993 and 1994. These were not, as some outsiders imagine, spontaneous outbursts of tribal hatred. They happened because those in power deliberately inflamed ethnic divisions. The Rwandan genocide of 1994, in which perhaps half a million Tutsis were hacked to death, was meticulously planned by Hutu army officers and politicians. They did it to avoid sharing power with Tutsi rebels after a peace accord to end a civil war.The genocide ended only when a Tutsi army swept in to stop it, led by Rwanda’s current president, Paul Kagame.Today in Burundi, many people hear echoes of 1994. Since last April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza, a Hutu, declared that he would seek a (probably unconstitutional) third term in office, the country has been plunged into turmoil.Tutsis have cause to be afraid. They are quietly being purged from the army. As was the case in Rwanda in 1994, today’s Burundian government feels besieged.It is far from clear that genocide is looming. But even if the worst is unlikely, it makes sense to take precautions.More targeted sanctions, which hurt the president’s cronies personally, are needed. If things get worse, outsiders should be ready to send in troops, under the aegis of the African Union or the UN.
  5. That people often experience trouble sleeping in a different bed in unfamiliar surroundings is a phenomenon known to psychologists as the “first night” effect. This is because if a person stays in the same room the following night they tend to sleep more soundly. Yuka Sasaki and her colleagues at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, set out to investigate the origins of this effect.Dr Sasaki knew the first-night effect probably has something to do with how humans evolved.She also knew from previous work conducted on birds and dolphins that these animals put half of their brains to sleep at a time so that they can rest while remaining vigilant enough to avoid predators.Dr Sasaki found that, as expected, the participants slept less well on their first night in the lab than they did on their second, taking more than twice as long to fall asleep and sleeping less overall.More specifically, on the first night only, the left hemispheres of their brains did not sleep nearly as deeply as their right hemispheres did.Dr Sasaki argues in Current Biology that the first-night effect is a mechanism that has evolved to function as something of a neurological nightwatchman.

Economist 4/22/16

  1. THE dangers of drinking too much are well known. But how much is too much? To find out, Agnieszka Kalinowski and Keith Humphreys of Stanford University in California scoured the globe for countries whose governments have defined the size of a “standard drink” or set guidelines for low-risk consumption. They found there isn’t a whole lot of agreement. Among the 37 nations polled, the size of a standard drink varies by 250%, the team reports in the scientific journal Addiction. Britain and Iceland, for instance, have a typical tipple defined as just 8 grams of alcohol, while for Austrians the standard is set at a dizzying 20 grams.Only a few countries think that safe alcohol intakes are the same for males and females, but even among them there is no consensus on what they are.But confusion over a country’s safe quota is only part of the problem. Who drinks alcohol by the gram? Americans don’t even use metric measures and the British insist on keeping alive the imperial pint.
  2. America’s once-close relationship with Saudi Arabia, dating to the end of the second world war, is now deeply strained, thanks in large part to Mr Obama, who once dubbed the kingdom a “so-called ally” and more recently referred to it as a “free rider”. The Saudis have responded in kind. When the president arrived in Riyadh on April 20th for an almost insultingly brief visit he was greeted by the local governor, not by King Salman himself, which some saw as a snub.In truth, the relationship between the two countries—one a vibrant, liberal democracy, the other a closed-off, puritanical autocracy—has always been awkward.There were more questions after 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 turned out to be Saudis. Those questions still linger: a bill now under debate in Congress would allow victims of the attacks to sue the Saudi government and claim damages if it were found by the American courts to be complicit.
  3. The alliance endured because America prioritised its other interests—in oil, counter-terrorism and stability in the region. It didn’t hurt that American arms manufacturers spread their profits from sales to the kingdom around congressional districts. The weapons still flow—America looks set to improve the region’s ballistic missile defence system—but an abundance of shale gas at home has given Mr Obama a lot more freedom to reconsider the relationship.The Sunni Saudis fear it will allow Iran to stoke (more) regional instability. But the president has all but told the Saudis to grow up.Not long after approving the deal with Iran, Mr Obama tried to reassure the Saudis and America’s other allies in the Gulf by holding a summit at Camp David, the presidential retreat. King Salman did not show up. The deal was merely the latest instance in which Mr Obama disappointed the Saudis. The president had alarmed them in Egypt, when he did not support the tottering regime of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and infuriated them in Syria, when he did not follow through on his threat to bomb Bashar al-Assad.
  4. IT WAS billed as a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Iran is the “biggest new market to re-enter the global economy in decades”, British trade officials said in January, predicting more than $1 trillion of investment over ten years.Airbus said it would sell Iran 118 jets, with bigger orders possibly to follow. PSA Peugeot Citroën and Renault-Nissan said they would assemble and sell cars to Iran’s 80m people.Yet getting started is proving harder than many expected. The biggest problem is a lack of finance. On April 13th a Treasury official denied that America is continuing to freeze Iranian overseas assets. Yet such funds, worth perhaps $100 billion, which had been expected to help pay for an investment boom, do not seem to be flowing. More importantly, America continues to deny firms that operate in Iran access to its financial system. That spooks foreign banks, which are wary of the long arm of American law.The US Treasury seems unable to define the benchmarks Iran has to meet to regain access to the American financial system
  5. In Tehran, businessmen and officials say everything is stymied from afar. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s religious leader, says Americans lifted sanctions only “on paper”.Much excitement, for example, rested on the prospect of oil funds being splurged on infrastructure. But despite rising output, revenues will disappoint. In 2010 oil generated $125 billion for Iran; this year, given low prices, it will be lucky to get $25 billion.Much of Iran’s industry, oil included, is run-down. Once flourishing industrial parks are ghost towns. Though luxury-goods firms see an opportunity, many consumers are short of cash and opt for the cheapest goods.Getting a work visa, however, still involves tiresome wrestling with red tape.Iran has a modest ranking, 118th, on the World Bank’s ease-of-doing-business index (see chart). Things might improve if parliament, newly elected, were to pass laws to tidy up customs rules, or to make it easier to hire and fire workers.

Economist 4/21/16

  1. On April 20th the commission presented Google, one of the brightest stars in the modern tech firmament, with a “statement of objections”, as the charge sheet in European Union (EU) antitrust cases is called. Google, it argues, has followed a strategy to “preserve and strengthen its dominance in internet search” by tying this service and some of its popular apps to Android, its mobile operating system, which powers around 80% of all new smartphones.On the face of it, putting Android at the centre of an antitrust case seems silly. It faces competition from iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system. It is also “open-source”, meaning any hardware-maker can adapt the program as needed and install it on its devices for nothing. Yet since Apple doesn’t license its software to other smartphone and tablet brands, they are stuck with Android. And to be able to offer commercially viable products, it helps to pre-install some of Google’s popular apps.
  2. The problem is that these add-ons are not open source and come with strict licensing rules. The commission focuses on three of these: handset-makers that wish to pre-install Google Play must, among other apps, also add Google Search and make it the device’s default search service; if they want to share in Google’s ad revenues they have to exclusively pre-install Google Search; and if they pre-install Google’s apps on any of their models, they must commit to install only Google’s standard version of Android on each and every one of their models.The case hinges on whether such restrictions are deemed legitimate.The licensing terms, the firm argues, also serve to keep Android from fragmenting into incompatible versions and “make sure that people get a great ‘out of the box’ experience with useful apps right there on the home screen”.
  3. THE queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (and more) is celebrating her 90th birthday today, April 21st, and notching up her 23,451st day on the throne in the process. She is high on the list of the world’s most enduring rulers. Only Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been calling the shots for longer.Polling by Ipsos-MORI shows that the older she gets, the less people want her to retire. Belief in the monarchy as an institution remains strong: 76% of British respondents think the country should continue with a king or queen as head of state, up from 65% in 2005. When the explicit alternative is an elected president, 86% think so.Outside Britain the queen is head of state in 15 other countries. There the picture is more mixed. Similar to the British, Australians have warmed to their monarch as she has aged. The governor-general of Jamaica has announced that a constitutional amendment to make the island a republic is on the agenda. The prime minister of Barbados is thinking along the same lines.
  4. Philip Morris International is the world’s biggest tobacco firm, it sold 850 billion cigarettes last year.But it boss, André Calantzoupolos, insists Philip Morris is on the verge of a revolution. He touts “reduced-risk products”: on April 19th the firm said its top offering in this category, iQOS, accounted for one in 30 cigarette sales in Tokyo, a test market.The new product resembles a pen. A user inserts a cigarette-lookalike called a HeatStick; iQOS then warms the stick’s tobacco, but doesn’t burn it. That produces an aerosol that carries a traditional cigarette’s taste but, the company hopes, eliminates much of the nasty stuff that comes with combustion.This is hardly the first time tobacco firms have peddled healthier-seeming goods. Some have dubious benefits. Consumers have long bought “light” cigarettes to lower their risk of disease, despite evidence they do nothing of the kind.Debate rages over whether e-cigarettes help smokers quit. What is more, many smokers simply don’t like them.Their share of the cigarette market remains tiny: 0.4% last year, estimates Euromonitor, a research firm.Its research staff now includes some 300 scientists, many poached from pharmaceutical and medical-device companies. The company has several alternatives to combustible cigarettes, but iQOS is its most prominent.
  5. Whereas in the geriatric West recreational drug use is falling and many night clubs are closing, in Africa’s capitals it appears to be growing, both among the new middle class and the poor. Drug-use surveys are rare in Africa, but governments are worried.The UN estimates that roughly 7.5% of African adults smoke weed in a typical year, almost double the global figure of 3.9%. In Somalia and Ethiopia, many men chew vast amounts of qat, a leaf with mild amphetamine properties.The more recent spread of harder drugs such as heroin and cocaine is driven by the expansion of Africa as a transit route for chemicals on their way to Europe. Cocaine is smuggled from South America to West Africa by boat or small plane. In some small countries, the trade is huge. In Guinea-Bissau, Colombian drug dealers are alleged to have funded the re-election campaign of President João Bernardo Vieira in 2005.In east Africa the more urgent problem is heroin, which is imported from Afghanistan and Pakistan on its way to Europe, but also serves a local market.Corruption makes prohibition even less effective than in the West. Kenya’s government likes to blow up boats carrying contraband in front of journalists. But few traffickers are prosecuted.