National News

The British have solved unemployment, once and for all

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-05-19 00:47

I am anchoring Marketplace Morning Report from London this week. While on the road, I am scouting for big ideas and I may have found a doozy.

Some iconoclastic economic thinkers just over the river in the Vauxhall area of London have constructed a device that wipes out unemployment.

Roll this baby out into the economy and everyone who wants to have a job would get a job. If it works as promised, not just Britain but the rest of the developed world including the U.S., could have full employment.

Outsourcing of jobs to poorer parts of the world? No problem. Robots and algorithms taking away human jobs, not to worry. And what is this device that would solve what is one of the greatest and most persistent economic problems?

Well, it is not a device in the sense of an electronic contraption. But it is a mechanism, a policy mechanism that is being put forth by experts at the New Economics Foundation here in London, among others. The idea is quite simple (although implementation will be tougher; I'll get to that in a moment).

Here is the idea: the 21-hour work week.

The NEF's proposal allows people to choose to work fewer hours. For the purposes of my discussion, let's do it by official decree: the order comes down that people can only work about half the hours they work now. That means it would take two people to do what is now one job. I do six shows a day as we roll through the time zones, including our ever-popular podcast.

With a 21-hour work week, I might do three of them a day and leave early. That means we could hire one more anchorman. Two people have jobs instead of one. Sure, the boss might try to cut my pay nearly in half, but if every working woman and working man was being paid less, prices should eventually drift downward to compensate.

Think of the benefits. If I were only working 21 hours in a week, I would have more time to do volunteer work, write a book, read a book, ride my bicycle, clean the basement -- more time to be a more balanced human being.

Yet, what might employers say about this 21-hour work week device to rid the developed world of unemployment once and for all? They generally don't like the idea much. You see, if there are two people doing the work of one -- that means two health care plans, two company pensions -- which could be a huge expense.

This suggests the 21-hour work week is more likely to come first to countries (like those in Europe) that have universal health care.

Another criticism that comes to mind about chopping the work week down the middle in order to produce full employment? Possible effects on income inequality. People who live off their wages and salaries as their hours are cut would find their incomes dropping (and their free time rising). People who live off their assets, their investments, might not see the same kind of decline in income. This might widen the gap between the richest and everyone else.

It is not just the New Economics Foundation here in London pushing a voluntary version of this. Up the road in Scotland, a policy group called the Jimmy Reid Foundation is trying to make the case for Scots working few hours. And, with all due respect to our UK hosts this week, the idea has a tradition in the U.S. as well. Not a glorious tradition, but a tradition. In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt apparently put a stop to a bid to cap the American work week at 33 hours.

Even with the mass unemployment of the Great Depression, shorter work weeks were seen as just too radical a notion.

AstraZeneca Board Rejects New Offer From Pfizer

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-19 00:44

In a statement Monday, AstraZeneca's board said it "reiterates its confidence in AstraZeneca's ability to deliver on its prospects as an independent, science led business."

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One rich Londoner unconcerned by wealth gap

Marketplace - American Public Media - Sun, 2014-05-18 23:45

What is the collective noun for plutocrats? A plethora, perhaps? If so London has a plethora. And a big one.

According to the Sunday Times newspaper, the British capital is now home to 72 billionaires – many of them foreigners. Indian steel magnates, Russian energy oligarchs and Greek shipping tycoons. 

With 72 of them, London has more billionaires  than any other city on the planet. New York has only 48. That  abundance of rich people is not exactly fueling national pride in Britain. In fact it's stoking fresh concern about growing income inequality – especially in London.

Not that wealthy London residents see themselves as part of the  problem.

Yvgeny Chichvarkin – reportedly worth around $250 million -- does not even regard himself as a member of a  metropolitan elite. 

"Compared with people on the Forbes rich list, I'm rather poor," he says, while sitting in his business premises  in London's exclusive Mayfair district.

Chichvarkin made his fortune from the sale of the cellphone business he built from scratch in Russia before he settled in London. He claims that he does not flaunt his money.

"I drive an eleven-year old Porsche," he says. "And although I love good food and wine, if I'm busy I will buy a hamburger for lunch."

While he plays down his own wealth, the 39-year old entrepreneur is more than happy to cater to the extravagant needs of the super-rich. His main British business is an exclusive wine store called HEDONISM; located just off Berkeley Square.

It stocks some of the finest and most expensive vintages in the world. Chichvarkin is particularly proud of his Chateu d’Yquem 1811 Sauternes – for $160,000.  Yes, that's $160,000 for one bottle.

"I'm sure we will sell it," he says. "We have - two different customers – who are thinking about buying it."

Running a business in London’s richest neighborhood, rubbing shoulders with the wealthy, surrounded by opulence, Chichvarkon is not worried about London's growing inequality.

"It's not so terrible like in Russia or Venezuela," he shrugs. "Poor people in the UK have hot food, clear water, and a TV. And a mobile phone. They're not really poor, like Russian poor people."

The Russian begrudges paying what he calls "crazy taxes" to fund the benefits of Britain's "idle poor."

"A lot of them do nothing. But our shop creates a lot of taxes for them to do nothing," he says.

He says he's ticked off that if he sells that one bottle of Chateau d’Yquem, the sales tax alone will keep two or three people on welfare for a year.

Pa. Democrats Aim For Spot To Challenge GOP Governor

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-18 23:27

Pennsylvania is among six states holding primary elections Tuesday. Gov. Tom Corbett is unchallenged in the GOP primary, but the general election is a different story.

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Hacking The Brain With Electricity: Don't Try This At Home

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-18 23:24

Small jolts of electricity to the brain can treat diseases like epilepsy and Parkinson's. But some healthy people are trying electrical stimulation to make the brain sharper. And it may not be safe.

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Six Words: 'You've Got To Be Taught' Intolerance

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-18 23:21

A huge hit upon its release, the 1949 musical South Pacific still resonates with contributors to The Race Card Project — particularly a song about how prejudice is learned, not innate.

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1950s Crooner Jerry Vale Dies At Age 83

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-18 23:06

Jerry Vale, the beloved singer known for his high-tenor voice and romantic songs in the 1950s and early 1960s, has died. His biggest hit was "You Don't Know Me."

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3 Face Charges In Turkey Mine Disaster Amid Anger

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-18 22:50

Prosecutors arrested 3 people, including a company manager, on charges of negligence. A total of 25 people were detained for questioning — 6 were freed and the other 16 in custody may face charges.

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The First American Teenager, Millennia-Old And Underwater

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-18 13:00

DNA from the skeleton of a 12,000-year-old teenage girl found on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula shows that today's Native Americans are descended from Siberians who spread southward across North America.

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In Sea Change Election, Young India Ushers In A New Political Era

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-18 13:00

Guest host Tess Vigeland checks in with NPR's Julie McCarthy about the elections in India and the country's new prime minister, Narendra Modi.

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Fighting Bugs With Bugs: Hatching A Solution For Troubled Trees

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-18 13:00

The Asian citrus psyllid is a tiny bug that spreads a devastating tree disease. Pesticides can't always control it, so California farmers have turned to a different solution: another bug.

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Fighting Bugs With Bugs: Hatching A Solution For Troubled Trees

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-18 13:00

The Asian citrus psyllid is a tiny bug that spreads a devastating tree disease. Pesticides can't always control it, so California farmers have turned to a different solution: another bug.

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Nairobi Bombings Are A Sign Of Spreading Militant Influence

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-18 13:00

A pair of bombs killed at least 10 people in Kenya's capital on Friday. What do these and a slew of other attacks in Kenya say about the security situation in the country and the region?

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Worst Floods In A Century Kill At Least 24 In The Balkans

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-18 11:29

Thousands of others have been displaced, more than 1,000 were flown to safety on helicopters. The floods are the worst on record.

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A Giant Among Dinosaurs Discovered In Argentina

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-18 11:11

Paleontologists say the titanosaur fossils are from the biggest dinosaur ever to walk the planet.

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'The Play Of The Game:' Watch A Boy Win Over A Girl With A Foul Ball

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-18 09:51

It was the smoothest play during Saturday's Blue Jays/Rangers game: A boy catches a foul ball, turns around and hands it to a much older girl. But, watch the replay and there's more to his play.

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Nigerian Church Spreads African-Style Zeal Across North America

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-18 09:22

White missionaries used to travel to Africa to save souls. Today, the trend is reversed, as evangelists from the global south target Americans and Europeans they say are ripe for Christian renewal.

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Unity Is A Difficult Mission For Christians In Israel

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-18 08:51

In Israel, Christians make up just 2 percent of the population. Their numbers are rising and the population diversifying.

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Swiss Voters Reject Hiking Minimum Wage To World's Highest Level

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-18 07:13

A referendum would have raised the national minimum wage to $25 an hour. It was rejected by 76.3 percent of voters.

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Reports: Syrian Air Defense Chief Killed In Rebel Attack

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-18 06:27

Lieutenant General Hussein Ishaq is one of the few high-ranking officials to have been killed during the Syrian civil war.

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