Economist 4/6/16

  1. FOR its time, Concorde was a technological marvel if not a commercial success. Only 14 aircraft, heavily subsided by British and French taxpayers, went into service.The shock wave  caused by Concorde could rattle windows and dislodge roof tiles, which is why Concorde was largely banned from flying supersonically over land.A sonic boom is formed when an aircraft travels faster than the speed of sound, which is around 1,240kph (770mph, or Mach 1) at sea level. Air molecules simply can’t get out of the way fast enough and pile up at certain points on the aircraft. That creates an instantaneous change in pressure, resulting in a wave that contains a huge amount of sound energy.Tweaking the design of a supersonic jet could modify the shape of these shock waves so that they produce a less sudden and intense sound.NASA is working on a small experimental single-engined jet, which engineers believe will be able to reduce a sonic boom to something that resembles a soft thump in the distance.
  2. THE issue of Europe became an increasing concern for the British public in the first quarter of this year, according to Ipsos MORI’s latest polling. This is perhaps unsurprising, coming as it does less than three months before a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union (presently public preference is finely balanced between those wanting to leave and those wanting to remain). When asked to pick just the “most important issue” facing the country, nearly 10% of Britons fretted about Europe/the EU in early 2016 (up from 2% for the same period in 2015) while 20% included it as one of their most important concerns. More people also expressed concern about immigration in the latest poll, while worries about health and the economy—both prominent domestic issues in recent years—have subsided.
  3. Sanjeev Gupta, boss of the commodities firm Liberty House, will surely demand generous government support before buying Tata Steel’s loss-making plant in South Wales.Ambitiously, Mr Gupta pledges to save all 4,000 jobs by converting the plant to use domestic scrap, rather than imported raw material. In America, such “mini mills” indeed do better than the traditional kind: electricity costs are lower and labour less encumbered by pension and health-care costs. Crucially, they are easier to switch off during a glut—like the current one, in which profits of marginal steelmakers around the world are being smelted by surplus Chinese production. But America has swingeing anti-dumping tariffs against Chinese steel; Britain doesn’t.Electricity costs are higher, the steel market smaller.
  4. Intermittent power cuts, ancient sewage systems, insufficient housing for an influx of migrants from the countryside are some of the issue plaguing Myanmar now.Bad roads make it costly to get goods to market and impede investment. Around three-quarters of the country’s children live in homes that lack electricity. Myanmar’s voters hope their first freely elected government since the 1960s, which took office this week, will change things for the better.The task ahead is daunting: within South-East Asia, only Cambodia has a lower GDP per person. Its infrastructure (both physical and financial) is somewhere between crumbling and non-existent; its laws are archaic and, after decades of isolation and underinvestment in education, its skills base is woeful. Government revenue is another problem: corporate and individual tax rates are high, but few people pay.
  5. Still, potential abounds. Myanmar has a young and cheap workforce, a long coastline, abundant agricultural land and an ideal location, wedged between the massive markets of China, India and South-East Asia. Expatriate Burmese are returning in droves, bringing enthusiasm and professional expertise with them.Miss Suu Kyi’s government says that agriculture will rank among its top priorities, which makes sense: directly or indirectly the sector employs around 70% of the labour force. Before a military junta seized control of Myanmar in 1962 it was the world’s leading rice exporter—a title many believe it could infrastructure and Byzantine internal trade rules keep the domestic market fragmented and productivity low:In the near term, making it easier for farmers to get affordable credit would help. The main (and for decades, the only) source of rural credit is the state-run Myanmar Agricultural Development Bank, which provides only tiny loans.

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