Economist 6/30/16

  1. Social Progress Index (SPI), by the Social Progress Imperative, an American think-tank eschews GDP entirely and focuses on 53 social and environmental output indicators under three headings: basic needs, the foundations of well-being and opportunity.The latest index, published on June 28th, springs few surprises in its main ranking. Nordic countries, western Europe, Canada and Australia gain the highest scores in fulfilling citizens’ basic needs such as housing, sanitation, health outcomes, safety, access to the internet and also promoting tolerant, inclusive societies that offer opportunities for advanced education. The United States comes 19th, owing to poor scores on personal safety, health and environmental quality. African countries and conflict-ridden nations such as Yemen fare worst.Gains in social progress appear to slow when a country enters middle-income status. It also becomes harder to improve at a high-income level as countries face rich-world problems such as obesity.
  2. New, more interesting browsers have started cropping up. In August internet users will be able to download the first full version of Brave, the brainchild of a co-founder of Mozilla. Mozilla itself is working on a new type of browser which will give users suggestions on where to navigate next.March saw the release of Cliqz, a browser developed in Germany; a month later came Vivaldi.Building a new browser from scratch is a fiendishly difficult and expensive undertaking. Only Apple, Google and Microsoft have the money and resources to throw at developing a fast “engine”, as the core of a browser is called. Their dominance also scares off investors.
  3. Insurgents are trying to overcome the obstacles in three ways. To reduce development costs, their products are based on existing open-source projects, such as Chromium, which also powers Google’s Chrome. They get money from angel investors, who have an appetite for risk. And most important, they aim their products at niche segments. Brave, for instance, is for surfers who prize privacy. It can block annoying online advertisements and privacy-invading “trackers”, which lurk on websites to follow users around. Cliqz also blocks trackers and is integrated with a new search engine. Vivaldi pitches itself as a browser for “power users”.Such small browser-makers do not need the scale of their competitors to make money (Chrome has more than 1 billion users). Both Vivaldi and Brave say they can break even with a few million users apiece. The easiest source of revenue is search deals. Companies such as Google pay roughly one dollar per user per year to be the default search engine on rival browsers. Vivaldi is also experimenting with charging firms to be featured on its home page.
  4. Since 2003, about 75 countries linked to the diamond supply chain have allied with non-governmental organisations in the Kimberley Process (KP), which aims to ban the export of diamonds to fund conflict. It is still considered a badge of honour within the industry.Financial stresses are also mounting, especially on “sightholders”, the family-run middlemen who buy rough diamonds and ship them to places like Antwerp and Mumbai for cutting and polishing. Since the financial crisis, banks have come under pressure to ensure they are not lending to businesses associated with money-laundering, transfer pricing and terrorist financing. The publicity-shy middlemen have been caught out by the pressures to improve transparency.In June Standard Chartered shut down its $2 billion diamond-financing business, saying it was beyond the bank’s new “risk tolerance”.The reputational headaches have been compounded by a glut of diamonds caused by a slump in consumer demand in China. That has dragged prices of top-quality cut diamonds down from about $12,000 per carat to $7,400 in five years.
  5. Against this backdrop,boffins are improving their ability to cultivate diamonds in labs. They are looking beyond the billions of carats of synthetic diamonds produced under high temperature and pressure that are used in industries such as oil drilling.Since last year, California-based Diamond Foundry has been producing lab-grown rough diamonds of a quality almost indistinguishable from those dug up from the ground, produced using chemical-vapour deposition, a technology common in semiconductors.The firm seeks to bolster their appeal by attacking traditional miners at their weakest point—ethical sourcing. The impact is more deeply felt because one of its backers is Leonardo DiCaprio, star of “Blood Diamond”, a film released in 2006.Sales of such diamonds are still minuscule compared with the $14 billion of rough stones dug up each year.

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