Economist 9/30/16

  1. Skytrax releases an annual ranking of the world’s top 100 airports. This year’s list puts five airports in developing countries ahead of the top American airport, Denver International, which lies in 28th place.The top 50 includes 15 airports in developing countries and just four in the United States.New York JFK and Los Angeles LAX come in 59th and 91st, respectively. Newark and LaGuardia don’t even make the top 100.What is it that makes American airports so bad? There are a number of factors, beginning with chronic underinvestment in public infrastructure across the country.But part of the answer can be traced to a related trend: the poor performance of American airlines compared with international rivals.So while both Singapore Changi (the top airport) and Emirates (the top airline) add new amenities to lure international travellers, America’s carriers and hubs are more focused on the dominant domestic market, where there isn’t as much competition or pressure to improve.
  2. HUNGARY will hold a referendum on October 2nd.The question is: “Do you want the European Union to be entitled to prescribe the mandatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the consent of parliament?” (Note the neutral wording.) The referendum was prompted by the EU’s Emergency Response Mechanism, adopted in September 2015, under which 160,000 of the migrants who began surging into Europe last year are to be shared out between member states according to quotas. The decision passed in the EU’s Council of Ministers by majority vote, but four countries voted against it: the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary. Hungary and Slovakia have challenged the system in the European Court of Justice.The referendum is largely a popularity ploy by Viktor Orban ,Hungary’s populist prime minister, and will have no legal effect.
  3. Polls predict a comfortable majority of voters will choose “no”. Outside Budapest and the major cities, Hungary is a conservative and insular country, where many people speak no foreign languages and have little experience of those with different skin colours or faiths. But more than 50% of Hungary’s roughly 8m eligible voters must turn out for the result to be valid, and they may not.Since the start of 2015 Hungary has received 203,898 asylum applications, and granted only 880 people any form of protection, according to the government.It is not clear how anti-migrant the public is.
  4. GOLF clubs abounded in Arnie Palmer’s life.He had won seven majors (the US Open, the British Open twice, the Masters four times) in seven seasons, and 92 professional tournaments worldwide. They made him the most celebrated player in America and his sport, once the preserve of snobs in plus-fours, a popular sensation. He did not play like other people: he was muscular, dramatic, with his flopping hair and working man’s hands.Thanks to him, golf became a TV fixture and a maker of millionaires. He was the first.His style was not subtle.“Go for broke” was his motto, and his speciality was the “Palmer charge”, where he would roar in from behind to clinch a title.From 1959, though, his business manager Mark McCormack taught him the ropes of borrowing, investing, sponsorship and endorsements, and two years later Arnold Palmer Enterprises Inc marked the first transformation of golfing prowess into a business empire.
  5. BARRING any last-minute hiccups, America’s government will let lapse a contract that gives it control over part of ICANN on October 1st.Whoever controls the internet’s address book can also censor the internet: delete a domain name (such as and the website can no longer be found. That is why, as the internet grew up, America decided not to hand control to the United Nations or another international body steered by governments. Instead, in 1998 it helped create ICANN, which is a global organisation that gives a say to everybody with an interest in the smooth running of the network, whether they are officials, engineers, domain-name holders or internet users.Most were happy with the arrangement, at least at first. But American oversight came to seem odd as the internet grew into a vast global resource with much traffic no longer passing over American cables.But America’s Department of Commerce, which oversees ICANN, was provoked to announce in March 2014 that it would relinquish its role if it were convinced that the organisation would be truly independent and able to resist power grabs by other governments and commercial interests.

Economist 5/19/16

  1. Facebook has recently been accused of suppressing conservative news on a feature of its desktop version, called “Trending Topics”, which shows the current top stories. Anxiety about Facebook’s liberal bias in this instance is probably overblown, because that section is such a small part of the news Facebook serves up.Facebook undoubtedly has tremendous power in the lives of its users. Around 1.6 billion people use the social network each month, including some 200m Americans. They spend around 30% of their internet time on mobile devices on Facebook and its properties.One study, published in 2014, concluded that people’s level of happiness could be influenced by whether the posts they saw on Facebook were upbeat or sad.Part of what makes critics uneasy is Facebook’s eerie ability to predict what people want to see, paired with its penchant for keeping its algorithms secret.Where Facebook will hold most sway this election is as an important advertising platform. In 2016 candidates in all elections are likely to spend more than $1 billion on digital ads.
  2. Drug-resistance is not only one of the clearest examples of evolution in action, it is also the one with the biggest immediate human cost.Stretching today’s trends out to 2050, the 700,000 deaths could reach 10m. People have fretted about resistance since antibiotics began being used in large quantities during the late 1940s.The lack of an incentive to do the right thing is hard to correct. In some health-care systems, doctors are rewarded for writing prescriptions. Patients suffer no immediate harm when they neglect to complete drug courses after their symptoms have cleared up, leaving the most drug-resistant bugs alive.Reserving new drugs for emergencies is sensible public policy. But it keeps sales low, and therefore discourages drug firms from research and development. Artemisinin, a malaria treatment which has replaced earlier therapies to which the parasite became resistant—and which now faces resistance problems itself.
  3. Because antimicrobial resistance has no single solution, it must be fought on many fronts.Start with consumption. The use of antibiotics to accelerate growth in farm animals can be banned by agriculture ministries, as it has in the European Union.In both people and animals, policy should be to vaccinate more so as to stop infections before they start.Hospitals and other breeding grounds for resistant bugs should prevent infections by practising better hygiene. Governments should educate the public about how antibiotics work and how they can help halt the spread of resistance.Policy can also sharpen the incentives to innovate. In a declaration in January, 85 pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies pledged to act against drug resistance.If doctors could tell instantaneously whether an infection was viral or bacterial, they would no longer be tempted to administer antibiotics just in case. If they knew which antibiotics would eradicate an infection, they could avoid prescribing a drug that suffers from partial resistance, and thereby limit the further selection of resistant strains.
  4. QUEUES have been growing longer at America’s airports, and things will get worse before they get better.Two senators think they have a solution. In a letter to 12 American airlines last week, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Edward Markey of Massachusetts, both Democrats, asked the carriers to stop charging fees for checked bags this summer.According to the letter, baggage fees increase the number of carry-on bags by 27%. If the charge disappeared, the senators argue, people would check their bags instead.Suspending bag fees would certainly be politically popular, so it is not surprising to see politicians calling for the move. But it is probably not the best approach to speeding up security lines. The main reason for the current problems has nothing to do with carry-on bags, and everything to do with staffing. There are nearly 5,000 fewer TSA screeners now than there were three years ago, even though there are more people flying. That is because the TSA was counting on many more flyers joining its PreCheck programme. PreCheck allows pre-screened members, who pay $80 to join, to skip the long lines and move through an expedited security channel. The programme has struggled to meet its membership targets, but the TSA has still slashed staff in anticipation of a reduced need.
  5. As global demand for quinoa galloped ahead, supply could not keep pace. So between 2000 and its peak in 2014, the average price of quinoa exports from Peru and Bolivia more than tripled, to $6-7 a kilogram.Although average quinoa consumption in Peru fell as quinoa prices rose, it did so steadily, and much less abruptly, than the movement in the price. This suggests that the switch was as much to do with changing preferences as prices.In any case, only a tiny portion of Peruvian household spending is devoted to quinoa.But a study by Andrew Stevens at the University of California found that quinoa accounted for a mere 0.5% of household spending, on average.For farmers, meanwhile, higher prices meant higher incomes. Peruvian and Bolivian quinoa-growers need all the money they can get.Surging prices helped lift quinoa farmers’ household expenditure by 46% between 2004 and 2013 (compared with an increase of around 30% for non-producing households.It seems that by spending their newfound income, flush quinoa producers benefited the local economy more broadly. For every 25% increase in the price, household consumption increased by 1.75%.