January 15, 2016

Wall Street Journal - Population Implosion: How Demographics Rule the Global Economy 5-15min

The developed world’s workforce will start to decline next year, threatening future global growth ... Ever since the global financial crisis, economists have groped for reasons to explain why growth in the U.S. and abroad has repeatedly disappointed, citing everything from fiscal austerity to the euro meltdown. They are now coming to realize that one of the stiffest headwinds is also one of the hardest to overcome: demographics. ... For the first time since 1950, their combined working-age population will decline, according to United Nations projections, and by 2050 it will shrink 5%. The ranks of workers will also fall in key emerging markets, such as China and Russia. At the same time the share of these countries’ population over 65 will skyrocket. ... reflects two long-established trends: lengthening lifespans and declining fertility. Yet many of the economic consequences are only now apparent. Simply put, companies are running out of workers, customers or both. In either case, economic growth suffers. As a population ages, what people buy also changes, shifting more demand toward services such as health care and away from durable goods such as cars. ... Demographic forces are assumed to be slow-moving and predictable. By historical standards, though, these aren’t ... it took 80 years for the U.S. median age to rise seven years, to 30, by 1980, and just 34 more to climb another eight, to 38. ... There is no simple answer for how business and government should cope with these changes, since each country is aging at different rates, for different reasons and with different degrees of preparedness.

Aeon - Origins 5-15min

Paleogenetics is helping to solve the great mystery of prehistory: how did humans spread out over the earth? ... Before the Second World War, prehistory was seen as a series of invasions, with proto-Celts and Indo-Aryans swooping down on unsuspecting swaths of Europe and Asia like so many Vikings, while megalith builders wandered between continents in indecisive meanders. After the Second World War, this view was replaced by the processual school, which attributed cultural changes to internal adaptations. Ideas and technologies might travel, but people by and large stayed put. Today, however, migration is making a comeback. ... Much of this shift has to do with the introduction of powerful new techniques for studying ancient DNA. ... Whole-genome sequencing yields orders of magnitude more data than organelle-based testing, and allows geneticists to make detailed comparisons between individuals and populations. Those comparisons are now illuminating new branches of the human family tree. ... In five years, we’ve gone from thinking we shared no DNA with Neanderthals, to realising that there was widespread interbreeding, to pinpointing it (for one individual) within 200 years – almost the span of a family album. But the use of ancient DNA isn’t limited to our near-human relatives. It is also telling us about the dispersal of humans out of Africa, and the origin and spread of agriculture, and the peopling of the Americas. It is also helping archaeologists crack one of the great mysteries of prehistory: the origins of the Indo-Europeans.

Bloomberg - United's Quest To Be Less Awful 5-15min

Every airline has its horror stories, of course—air travel is full of opportunities for customer disenchantment. But United has proved an industry leader: On all major performance metrics—delays, cancellations, mishandled bags, and bumped passengers—United has, since 2012, been reliably the worst or near worst among its competitors. In 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, United was responsible for 43 percent of all consumer complaints filed against U.S. airlines. It finished last among North American nondiscount airlines in the 2015 J.D. Power & Associates customer satisfaction survey. ... It’s been five years since United Airlines and Continental Airlines combined to form what was at the time the world’s largest carrier, and the merger hasn’t gone well. In 2012 and early 2014, when American Airlines Group, Delta Air Lines, and Southwest Airlines reported large, and in some cases, record profits, “the new United” lost money. ... Then there was the coffee, an issue that, while hardly central to its business, symbolized United’s inability to get things right. On Nov. 19 the airline announced it was changing the coffee it serves on its planes and in its lounges from a brand called Fresh Brew to the Italian premium roaster Illy. It was welcome news to customers and to the flight crews used to fielding complaints. It was also a tacit admission that the choice of coffee after the merger, a decision that consumed thousands of man-hours, took nearly a year, and involved everyone from Smisek to the airline’s head chef to the flight attendants, hadn’t worked out.

Longreads - Kidnapping a Nazi General: Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Perfect Heist > 15min

As it turned out, I stayed with Sandy Rendel in his cave for over a month. It was perched near a handy spring in the Lasithi mountains above the village of Tapais in Eastern Crete. Smoky, draughty and damp, but snug with strewn brushwood under the stalactites, it was typical of several lairs dotted about the island, each sheltering a signal sergeant, a small retinue of Cretan helpers and one each of a scattered handful of heavily disguised British Liaison Officers. ... It was a game of hide-and-seek usually ending in a disorderly bunk to a new refuge in the next range. We could not have lasted a day without the islanders’ passionate support: a sentiment which the terrible hardships of the occupation, the execution of the hostages, the razing and massacre of villages, only strengthened. ... I put forward to the powers in SOE the suggestion of kidnapping General Müller. He commanded the 22nd Bremen (‘Sebastopol’) Panzergrenadier division based on Herakleion. It was the sort of action we all needed in Crete, I urged. The General was universally hated and feared for the appalling harshness of his rule: the dragooning of the population in labour-gangs for the aerodromes, mass shooting of hostages, reprisal destruction of villages and their populations, the tortures and the executions of the Gestapo. The moral damage to the German forces in Crete would be great; a severe blow to their self-confidence and prestige.