- ON JUNE 5th the Swiss overwhelmingly voted to reject an initiative that would have amended the constitution and required the government to take steps towards implementing a universal basic income—an unconditional cash payment given to all citizens. Supporters had favoured an income of SFr2,500 ($2,500) per month.The idea behind a basic income for all is actually quite old. Thomas Paine reasoned in an essay published in 1797 that—in exchange for a social consensus in favour of private property rights—governments ought to pay everyone £15 per year. Politicians flirted with the notion off and on through the industrial revolution but generally built welfare states along different lines.Setting up a basic income would be no easy matter. To pay every adult and child an income of about $10,000 per year, a country as rich as America would need to raise the share of GDP collected in tax by nearly 10 percentage points and cannibalise most non-health social-spending programmes.
- There would be benefits. Poorer workers (and people who work for no income, like stay-at-home mums) would get a big boost to their incomes. Many people might use the payment to invest time and money in education or training. Entrepreneurship would become less risky. A more robust safety net would give workers more bargaining power with employers, and force firms to work harder to retain workers (and to make productivity-boosting investments). Yet there would also be big downsides. Many people might choose not to work at all; social tensions might rise. The availability of a basic income would almost certainly harden attitudes towards immigration.Finland and the Netherlands are planning basic-income experiments of their own. But while a universal basic income might well be a key part of the welfare state several decades down the road, it will take much more evidence that robots are stealing jobs, and more hardship for workers, to convince people in most countries to embrace such a radical step.
- Walmart is not just the world’s biggest retailer but the biggest private employer and, by sales, the biggest company. Last year its tills rang up takings of $482 billion, about twice Apple’s revenue.The source of the commotion is online shopping, specifically online shopping at Amazon. E-commerce accounted for $1 in every $10 that American shoppers spent last year, up by 15% from 2014. Amazon’s North American sales grew at about twice that rate. Walmart’s share of America’s retail sales, which stands at 10.6%, is still more than twice Amazon’s, but it peaked in 2009 at nearly 12%.Walmart’s “supercentres” once offered an unmatched combination of squeezed prices and expansive choice, but this formula is losing its magic.Whereas Walmart has strived to help Americans save money, Amazon is obsessed with helping them save time. In the age of Amazon only those that offer better service, greater convenience or an experience that is hard to mimic online will do well. TJX, which offers brand-name goods at a discount, is thriving, because customers prefer hunting for treasures that are physically there in front of them.
- AS THE Olympic torch relay nears Rio de Janeiro in the countdown to the games supposed to start there on August 5th, a proposal to postpone or move the event has ignited controversy. An open letter posted online on May 27th and now signed by more than 200 academics and health experts, mostly bioethicists, argues that holding the games as planned is “unethical” because it will speed up the spread of the Zika virus.They worry that many of the 500,000 foreigners expected to flock to Rio for the games will get infected, and then spread Zika back home. But, though 500,000 is a huge number, it is less than 0.25% of all those who travel each year to places already affected by Zika, according to America’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The World Health Organisation (WHO) agrees. Cancelling or moving the Olympics will not significantly alter the spread of Zika, it said on May 28th. The virus is now present in nearly 60 countries and territories, and people will continue to travel to and from these, games or no games.
- Tate Modern’s new twisted ten-storey extension opens on June 17th.With over 5m visitors a year, twice the number going to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, and with only half the exhibition space, an extension quickly became inevitable.The eating and meeting places have been part of Tate’s appeal ever since this former power station, converted by Herzog and de Meuron, a Swiss firm, opened in 2000. People flock to the projects in the Turbine Hall.Tate Modern’s original permanent exhibition was sniffed at for its patchy content and occasional holes. This forced the gallery to put on thematic rather than chronological displays, some of them quite baffling. But over the past 16 years, Frances Morris, first as a curator and now as director of Tate Modern, has been building up a wide-ranging collection, roaming first through Latin America and then on to the rest of the world.It is hard to believe that when Tate Modern opened, its senior team worried that the Turbine Hall was too big and wondered if people would come.It is doubtful that the HangarBicocca, a 15,000-square-metre former factory in Milan which opened in 2004, would have happened without Tate’s example.Or the Power Station in Shanghai. Or the massive Art Mill in Qatar.