Marketplace - American Public Media

Subscribe to Marketplace - American Public Media feed
Updated: 44 min 33 sec ago

The income gap is widening faster than you think

Fri, 2015-01-23 01:30
$280 billion

That's the amount of Greece's bailout deal, which the radical, far-left party called Syriza, promises to renegotiate should they win the upcoming elections. Such moves would have big repercussions for the European economy and the global economy, too.

$106 million

Abercrombie and Fitch's expected profits from last year, less than half of what they made in 2012. The flagging sales eventually lead to longtime CEO Mike Jeffries ouster late last year. Jeffries made Abercrombie his life, at times quite literally, and a new Businessweek feature shows Jeffries' uncompromising vision and eccentricities built one of the top brands in the world, but also lead to its downfall.

6.5 pounds

That's how many pounds of Crystal Meth a drone attempted to carry over the Mexico/U.S. border before crashing. But you already knew that didn't you? So why not prove your knowledge of the week in tech news by taking our quiz over at Silicon Tally?

$11,000

That's how much more money the bottom 80 percent of the population would have per household if today's economy had the income distribution it had in 1979, the Financial Times reported. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent would have $750,000 less per household. Further evidence that the rich are getting richer, and fast.

$40,000 to $80,000

That's the range of incomes of those most likely to lose their health insurance as a result of a Supreme Court decision on King v. Burwell against federal subsidies in states that don't run marketplaces for healthcare exchanges. As reported by the New York Times, other characteristics of this group include being predominantly white, Southern, employed and middle-aged.

162,000

The approximate number of drivers working for Uber, quadruple the amount from just a year ago. That's according to new data released by the company, which shows Uber drivers are a rapidly growing and diverse group, but one with very high turnover: 11 percent of drivers quit after a month, and half stop driving after a year.

Fun fact Friday: Lifestyles of the rich and famous

Thu, 2015-01-22 16:15
Fun fact: Bill Gates has enough money to buy Uber ... twice.

We did the numbers on what some of the wealthiest people on earth are capable of purchasing.

Doing the numbers on the super rich Fun fact: No one really knows how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop.

But more than one group of candy-crazed engineers have tried to find a satisfying answer. Read about it here:

Tootsie Roll CEO, 95, leaves behind a sweet legacy Fun fact: Amazon Prime subscriptions are booming in — of all places — rural Alaska.

That’s because Amazon Prime’s $99 annual subscription fee comes with free shipping, no matter how heavy the package.

Free shipping a boon for Alaska's Amazon customers Fun fact: When it comes to the presidential wardrobe during the State of the Union address, blue ties beat out red.

Still, both red and blue are more popular than the dark and yellow tie President Clinton wore in 1998.

State of the Union, by the numbers

Auto industry's dirty little secret: Fake engine noise

Thu, 2015-01-22 13:30

The engine noise you hear on the fine roads of the United States of America are often artificially enhanced, according to the Washington Post.

Fake engine noise has become one of the auto industry's dirty little secrets, the report says. Drivers want better gas mileage, but also the sound of a powerful car.

Volkswagen uses something called a "Soundaktor." Porsche has a "Sound Symposer."

Click on the audio player at the top of the page to see if you can hear the difference between an engine that's sound-enhanced and one that's not.

 

Microsoft's new holographic headset augments reality

Thu, 2015-01-22 12:44

Meet Microsoft's HoloLens:

Microsoft unveiled its new headset which will layer elements of virtual reality onto the real world. It will use holograms to facilitate fully immersive gaming, enhance conferences, and help with day-to-day tasks.

Author Jessi Hempel got to try them on herself for a preview in Wired Magazine. “This is a little bit like virtual reality … except nothing like it, because it takes all the best elements of virtual reality and layers them into the real world,” she says.

For instance, she used the goggles to fix an electrical issue while on a video call with an electrician. From his screen, the electrician circled the pieces Hempel needed to work on, and the drawings appeared directly on the wires. Likewise, this device allows wearers to digitally interact with the physical world. Hempel describes wearing the glasses, “I’ll see the room around me but I might also be able to reach out and draw a circle on the wall that looks like a real circle on the wall.”

Microsoft is not the first to create holographic goggles, but Hempel says that the HoloLens surpasses beta versions like Google Glass.  The goggles probably won’t hit the market until next year, so we’ll have to wait. But the good news is they’ll probably be affordable.

Doing the numbers on the super rich

Thu, 2015-01-22 12:16

The collective wealth of the world's 80 richest people matches the wealth of the poorest 50 percent of the population. That's according to new data from Oxfam, which says the super-rich are getting much richer. In 2010, it took 388 of the richest people to match half of the global wealth.

It is a powerful comparison but can also be abstract. Indeed. Oxfam has been criticized for the way it calculates global wealth. What does all this money actually look like? We pulled the top names off Forbes' billionaire list to see if we could come up with equivalents that could help you picture their net worth.

The Walton Family: $160.2 billion

The heirs to Wal-Mart founders Sam and Bud Walton are four of the 15 richest people in the world, with more than $160 billion split between Christy, Rob, Alice and Jim Walton. That's as much as Apple's notoriously large cash reserves.

Bill Gates: $80.6 billion

The Microsoft founder has donated much of his personal wealth via the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He could still buy Uber twice, but just barely.

Warren Buffet and Carlos Slim: About $73 billion apiece

They're neck-and-neck for second place on Forbe's rich list. If they joined forces, they could level out the hit Russia's economy took this fall from sanctions and dropping oil prices.

Another fun fact: Buffet earned $13.5 billion in 2013 alone, meaning it took him just two minutes to earn $51,900, the median household income in the U.S. This tool from Penny Stocks Lab calculates how long it took Buffet to earn your wage:

Amancio Ortega: $61.4 billion

The fashion tycoon hails from Spain, but his net worth is equal to the GDP of the Dominican Republic.

Koch Brothers: $41 billion each

Charles and David Koch are known for running Koch Inudstries, one of the largest privately held companies in the world, as well as for their political activism and charitable donations. With their personal fortunes, the brothers could both cover the costs of every major national election from 1998 to 2014 and still have several billion left over.

Larry Elison: $54.5 billion

His daughter is producing Oscar-winning movies, but with his personal wealth, Larry Elison could buy every team in the NFL plus half of the teams in the MLB.

Liliane Bettencourt: $38 billion

If the 92-year-old L'Oreal heiress wanted, she could fund the European Space Agency for about a decade, or NASA for two years.

Michael Bloomberg: $35 billion

The media mogul was mayor of New York, but his personal fortune almost exactly matches the Gross Metropolitan Product of Tuscon, Arizona.

 And that's just the start: there are 67 more billionaires in that top 80, adding up to a net worth of $1.9 trillion. 

The euro is dropping, but airfares aren't

Thu, 2015-01-22 12:11

Your dollar may go further in Europe these days — but you'll have to get there first.

Airlines know that a weak euro will boost tourism, and they're raising the price of tickets from the U.S. to Europe, Asia and South America accordingly. On the flip side, airlines are cutting prices on flights originating in Europe to ensure demand remains high.

As fuel prices hit record highs over the past decade, many airlines ditched gas-guzzling jumbo jets for smaller aircraft with fewer seats. A drop in fuel prices may mean that some of those larger carriers return to the skies. That should — and the key word is should — lead to a drop in prices.

Striving to get to 'HIV zero'

Thu, 2015-01-22 11:49

Fifteen years ago, the Millennium Development Goals challenged the world to stop and begin to reverse the spread of HIV by 2015. The world missed that goal, and today, 35 million people are still living with HIV and millions are suffering from AIDS. It can be hard to see how to bend the curve on the spread of this virus.

However, several places have managed to start to make inroads against the virus. Vancouver, British Columbia, and San Francisco have both made strides in reducing the spread of the virus. Last year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his plan to end the HIV epidemic in the state. Another city that’s had some success is Washington, D.C.

“We had about 1,300 cases at a peak in 2007, and we are just under 500 as our preliminary numbers for 2013,” says Michael Kharfen, head of the Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and TB Administration

The district’s three-pronged strategy of outreach, treatment and prevention is the secret to its success, according to Kharfen.

Outreach means finding and testing as many people as possible – in schools, hospitals and on street corners. Sometimes Washington residents have to opt out of a test.

Treatment means getting people who are HIV positive into medical care and onto HIV medications as soon as possible, so they can stay healthy. Recent studies have shown that this method, known as “Treatment as Prevention” or “TasP” makes HIV positive people more than 95 percent less likely to transmit the virus to someone else, Kharfen says.

Prevention means needle exchanges, safer sex ad campaigns and giving out millions of free condoms. All this was achieved, Kharfen said, with an annual budget of around $85 million.

Another factor, he says, is the close relationship between Washington's government and its medical providers, like Whitman-Walker Health. It has many LGBT and low-income clients, two groups that bear a disproportionate burden of HIV infection.

“You can show that over a four-year period you can reduce the incidence of HIV by 70 percent and really get a marked improvement,” says Dr. Richard Elion, Whitman-Walker Health's clinical research director. “But that last 30 percent, over time, is not showing a decline. And that now is really where the illness is.”

So how do public health officials hit a shrinking target?

Washington has to get creative, Elion says. Whitman-Walker runs public health studies and surveys that look at at the next generation of HIV/AIDS treatments, approaches that include new medications and cold hard cash. One study looks at the impact of paying HIV-positive people a couple hundred dollars a year if they remain HIV undetectable, and therefore not infectious. Compare that to the roughly $20,000 it can cost for medicine for each newly infected patient.

Providers face challenges in getting patients to adhere to treatment for most chronic conditions, like diabetes and heart disease, Elion says. “The difference is that HIV because it’s an infectious disease has ramifications as a result of that lack of control," he says.

Whitman-Walker’s surveys helped show that a new prevention strategy known as "pre-exposure prophylaxis," or "PrEP," which involves taking HIV medicine to prevent infection, works in the real world. 

Methods like these, known as biomedical interventions, should chip away at that shrinking target, says Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. And as for those lofty Millennium Development Goals? It's OK to miss a target, he says.

“When you set a goal and strive for it – although you may not reach precisely the goal that you set – it increases the energy, it increases the effort and it increases the fate that you’re going to get there,” Fauci says.

The ultimate goal is a world of “HIV zero,” no more AIDS deaths and no more HIV transmissions, Fauci says. He and other scientists say that day probably won’t come until there is a safe and effective vaccine, and that’s at least a decade away.

Pipeline spill exposes a fracking cost

Thu, 2015-01-22 11:35

From North Dakota comes word of a record oil and gas spill. No, not the petroleum itself, but the wastewater from the fracking process. And these days there’s a lot of it.

The water could be toxic, even though federal rules exempt it from treatment as hazardous waste. Fracking pumps huge volumes of water into the well, and even more comes back out. A typical well can spit about 1,000 gallons a day. Some of the water is recycled back into fracking, stored in pits or used to de-ice roads. It's also injected deep underground, which has been known to cause earthquakes.

Google could be your next wireless carrier

Thu, 2015-01-22 09:22

Google reportedly plans to get into the wireless technology space by piggybacking off of Sprint and T-Mobile’s networks. 

The search-engine giant would effectively rent excess network capacity from those providers so it could then sell its own wireless service plans to customers.

Sprint wouldn't comment on the rumored deal.  T-Mobile pretty much said, "Um, go ask Google." Google is keeping mum.

“I think they're looking at adding some other type of value beyond just a cheaper price,” says Bill Menezes of the research firm Gartner.

The wireless industry is already highly competitive, with carriers jockeying to provide cheaper plans and shorter contracts. So it might seem odd that Google would want to get into the game. Google will likely come up with some kind of "wireless services plus” package to differentiate itself, according to Menezes.

“They have other things to offer, whether it's YouTube-oriented or something related to Google apps, if you're a business," he says.

Another possibility is that Google will try to perfect a way of letting customers move seamlessly between wireless and WiFi service, which would disrupt how wireless carriers work. 

“The innovation here is going to be for them to develop ways in which they provide ubiquitous access to, ultimately, what Google wants, which is Google's applications,” says Pai-ling Yin, a social science research scholar at Stanford University's Institute of Economic Policy Research. 

Ultimately, Google may just want to learn more about being a carrier – and experiment with ways to expand Internet access in remote areas, Yin says.

What's in it for Sprint and T-Mobile?  If Google pays to use their excess network capacity, that would help offset costs they incurred building up their wireless networks.

What’s QE and the ECB got to do with you and me?

Thu, 2015-01-22 08:56

The European Central Bank’s quantitative easing bond-buying program is supposed to boost the eurozone’s economy. It could also have some big effects on this side of the pond. A stronger dollar hurts tourism and exporters, but some of that European cash could find its way to our shores in other ways.

Quiz: Not as ready as they think they are

Thu, 2015-01-22 07:50

Employers say recent college grads overestimate how prepared they are for jobs, according to a survey.

var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/", id: "not-as-ready-as-they-think-they-are", placeholder: "pd_1421945348" } ); (function(d,c,j){if(!document.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol)?'https://polldaddy.com/survey.js':'http://i0.poll.fm/survey.js';s=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);}}(document,'script','pd-embed'));

The State of the (Film) Union

Thu, 2015-01-22 06:16

The Oscars debates are alive and well this year.

One of the most talked-about films of this Oscars season is "American Sniper," which — despite a $90 million debut weekend at the box office — is receiving mixed reviews from critics, including Grantland's Wesley Morris.

"I feel like there's a second half to the movie that is only hinted at," Morris said. "The intent is to complicate the automatic urge to turn a guy like [Bradley Cooper's character] Chris Kyle into a hero ... and the thing the movie sets out to do, it just doesn't achieve, I think in part because the script isn't that good."

Watch the trailer for American Sniper here:

Morris acknowledges that Hollywood has a diversity problem, saying the Academy needs "to actively invite people of color." But, he says, it's not the sole issue surrounding the nominations. He points to the release timeline of the film "Selma."

"Selma opened on Christmas Day. It went wide on January 9. This is not really enough time to enter the collective cultural consciousness," he said. "It gives people who thought Selma was a possible Oscar front-runner time to mount a campaign against it."

Watch the trailer for "Selma" here:

PODCAST: The economics of patients on medicaid

Thu, 2015-01-22 03:00

Market participants were looking for Europe to take a serious step toward holding together its single-currency zone. Today, European Central Bank Chief Mario Draghi announced a stimulus plan centered on buying piles of government debt from individual European countries. More on that. We'll also take a look at the tough economics doctors face if they want to treat patients on Medicaid. Plus, there's increasing evidence that companies especially thrive when their executive ranks are not just a bunch of white guys.

A closer look at inheritance taxes

Thu, 2015-01-22 02:00

This week, after the White House circulated some big changes to the tax code the President is now seeking, we took a look at the trust fund aspect of the proposal.

If, for example, somebody's Uncle Jack put $1 million into a tax deferred investment, it rose to $100 million over the years, and then Uncle Jack died, under the current system the heirs pay no capital gains tax on that increase. In other words, Uncle Jack gets to pass on his tax protection in the will. The administration would like to change that.

A number of listeners wrote us saying words to the effect of "Hello...what about inheritance tax?" Good point. How might controversial inheritance tax play out if the President's trust fund plans were to somehow gather steam?

Click the media player above to hear Michael Graetz, professor of tax law at Columbia University, in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio.

Executive diversity can pay off, study says

Thu, 2015-01-22 02:00

Gender, ethnic and racial diversity among corporate leaders can correlate to better earnings, according to a report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. Working in a diverse environment means "you make very few assumptions about ... the extent to which others will agree with you," says Evan Apfelbaum, who studies workplace diversity issues at the MIT Sloan School of Management. "And so it produces this kind of more rigorous, comprehensive decision-making outcomes," says Apfelbaum.

But Shirley Davis Sheppard, who leads diversity efforts at several major companies, says while it is seen as a worthy goal, "when it comes down to the budget ... and getting senior executive commitment, that's where you start to find a little bit more of the challenge," because diversity initiatives can take a long time to show dividends.

Study links higher Medicaid payments to accessibility

Thu, 2015-01-22 02:00

Most things in healthcare are complicated. This one isn’t.

When the federal government under Obamacare paid doctors more to treat Medicaid patients, the doctors treated more Medicaid patients, according to a new report in the New England Journal of Medicine that comes just a few weeks after Medicaid rates, which had been boosted temporarily, returned to their lower levels.

You could say this report is an example of doctors just chasing a buck. But, of course, most things in healthcare are complicated.

If doctors want to treat Medicaid patients, they face difficult economic realities.

For example, Dr. Shawn Purifoy is living his dream: running his own family medicine office in his home town of Malvern, Arkansas. Setting a 20 percent quota on Medicaid patients wasn’t part of the plan.

“Those patients aren’t different kinds of people. They are just people who don’t make as much money. They are still in my kids’ class or going to church with me,” he says.

But Purifoy says the math makes it simple. For a standard visit, Medicaid reimburses him $36, Medicare sends him $67 and Blue Cross pays him $88. On top of that, Medicaid patients tend to be sicker, which eats up his time.

“That doesn’t work financially,” he says. “That sounds like a horrible thing to say but the truth is you are going to get paid a certain amount, and it really doesn’t make that much difference how much more time it takes to do the work.”

To take on more Medicaid patients could mean Purifoy cutting salaries, maybe jobs. Obamacare architects understood these economics from the start. That’s why they put in the two year fee bump.

It’s helped Camden, New Jersey primary care doctor Ramon Acosta patch up some holes in his practice. Literally.

“We have been able to do some repairs, like some roofing work,” he said of the extra money from Medicaid. “We have been able to pay some tax arrears.”

If the bump were to come back — highly unlikely — it would buy Acosta five to ten more minutes a visit. That may sound trivial, but it would mean fewer gut wrenching conversations like a recent one with a boy and his mother who had two pressing concerns about her son.

“Unfortunately, I said which one of the two problems would you like me to address primarily,” he says, recalling that he did not have the time to address both concerns.

Acosta’s made a living off these sorts of hard choices for 26 years now. Asked the trick to staying in business, he says long hours – and knowing money is something other doctors make.

Technology can't make you fall asleep

Thu, 2015-01-22 02:00

If I learned anything from watching the Back to the Future movies, it is that prescience is dangerous. Someone who knows too much about their own future might try to reprogram it in their favor, and every small change has the potential to rewrite history.

In an early scene from Back to the Future Part II, Marty McFly and his girlfriend Jennifer Parker - played by Elisabeth Shue - travel from 1985 to 2015. The DeLorean is airborne and Doctor Emmett “Doc” Brown is wearing a funky visor.

But forget flying cars and fashion - Jennifer wants to know what happens to her in the future: “I’m gonna be able to see my wedding dress! I wonder where we live. I bet it’s a big a house with lots of kids!”

Worried about where her curiosity might lead her, Doc pulls out his sleep-inducing alpha rhythm generator - it looks like a pair of high-tech opera glasses - and knocks her out with a flash. Doc and Marty then hide Jennifer’s unconscious body in an alley to protect her from the shock of crossing paths with her future self.

"The future? Marty, what do you mean? How can we be in the future?"  

Doc Brown is a time travel expert and practiced meddler, so it is not surprising that he carries around a sleep-inducing alpha rhythm generator in case he needs one to cover his tracks. But does a sleep-inducing device exist in the real 2015? It does not - at least not in the way Back to the Future imagines.

That flash of light is the first clue that the technology is too good to be true. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that nighttime exposure to light - especially the kind emitted by electronic devices - makes it harder to fall asleep.

Aiming a little lower than instant-sleep-inducing technology, we find ourselves among a range of devices that won’t make you fall asleep, but might make you sleep better.

The U.S. military is very interested in efficient sleeping. In 2003, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) put $20 million toward its “Continuous Assisted Performance program,” research that looked for ways to keep soldiers awake for up to seven days “without suffering any deleterious mental or physical effects and without using any of the current generation of stimulants,” according to DARPA’s then-director Tony Tether.

In conjunction with DARPA, a company called Advanced Brain Monitoring is developing a sleep mask called the Somneo Sleep Trainer. It blocks light and noise, and heating elements around the eyes may help people reach a deeper stage of sleep faster.

Another technique to encourage better sleep is called transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS. TMS uses magnetic fields to create small electrical currents in parts of the brain, and researchers are trying to tune those currents to nudge a sleeping brain toward restorative, REM sleep.

Sarah Lisanby is Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University. “Sleep is a rhythm,” she says. “And you can actually use the different forms of stimulation - such as magnetic stimulation, or direct electrical stimulation, or sensory stimulation - at different frequencies to modulate those brain rhythms. The idea is to try to entrain the rhythmic activity of the brain in a way that would be comparable to sleep.”  

Which brings us back to Doc’s device. Alpha waves are a type of brain wave that occur during REM sleep. If an alpha rhythm generator did exist, maybe it would stimulate the brain rhythms associated with restorative sleep. But there is another flaw in its design.

Brain-stimulating technologies like TMS are better at suggesting behaviors than forcing them. So, short of a blow to the head or some other kind of trauma, there isn’t a reliable, non-invasive way to knock someone out. To put someone to sleep, they have to want it.

You can find more from our Back to Back to the Future Part II series at Gizmodo’s Paleofuture blog and on Soundcloud.

When the Government fakes out Facebook

Thu, 2015-01-22 01:30
2,400 jobs

Following a disappointing holiday season for sales, Ebay announced it would be cutting 2,400 jobs — roughly 7 percent of its workforce. The  e-commerce company will soon be dividing its PayPal and eBay marketplace businesses into two publicly traded companies.

25 minutes

That's how long President Barack Obama talked about the economy in his hour-long State of the Union address Tuesday, more than any other topic. That's according to the Washington Post, which broke down the speech by topic. Twitter's data scientists also annotated the speech, showing which topics were being tweeted about when both Obama and Iowa Senator Joni Ernst were addressing the nation.

22 years

We've heard of taking a break, but this is a bit ridiculous. A.K. Verma, an executive engineer at the Central Public Works Department in India, took a leave of absence ... back in 1990. In 1992, he was found guilty of  "willful absence," but it would take another 22 years before he was actually fired.

$85,000

That's how much ShipYourEnemiesGlitter.com sold for Wednesday, after the site became a sensation over the weekend, pulling in over 20,000 orders. Flipping these types of viral sites is common, Motherboard reported, usually when the owner hopes to cash in before a fad burns out.

$134,000

That's how much the U.S. Justice Department will have to pay Sondra Arquiett for using pictures of her to create a fake Facebook profile. Arquiett was arrested in 2010 for allegedly being involved in a drug ring. At the time, her phone was confiscated, at which point she gave permission for officers to access data to help with the investigation. She did not, however, anticipate that they would later use photos found on her phone to make a Facebook profile with the intent of trapping her boyfriend, also suspected of being involved in illicit activity. 

72 percent

The portion of Airbnb listings in New York that violate zoning or other laws, according to a report the states's attorney general released last fall. Now the city is using new data-driven tools to crack down on these listings, WNYC reported. One official called the practice "'Moneyball' for quality of life violations," and it means 30 percent more work without hiring anyone new.

Ruthless smuggling trade's new business: 'Ghost ships'

Wed, 2015-01-21 12:03

The wars in Syria and Iraq have triggered an unprecedented wave of refugees eagerly seeking – and prepared to pay for – a new life in Europe.

The United Nations reckons that last year 170,000 migrants, who are fleeing war, persecution or simply seeking a better standard of living, have arrived in Italy. Many have paid people traffickers to smuggle them in, making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean in small fishing boats and even rubber dinghies. More than 3,000 lives have been lost. 

But now the traffickers have developed another business model to cater to this burgeoning new trade: It’s been called “the Ghost Ship” route, and here’s how it works: You buy a battered old cargo ship, pack it with hundreds of migrants, sail it across the Mediterranean, aim the vessel at the coast of a European Union country, and then abandon the ship and hope that the migrants reach safety. 

The Ezadeen, a 50-year-old former livestock carrier, is one of these so-called “ghost”  ships. The Italian Coast Guard intercepted it at sea last month, on its way from Turkey to Italy, and found 359 migrants on board, most of them Syrians, but no actual ship crew.

“It was incredibly dangerous,” says Ewa Moncure of Frontex, a European Union border agency. “There were no lifeboats or life vests." The crew apparently abandoned the ship at full-speed at night in the Mediterranean, a danger to those on board and to others who are at sea, Moncure says.

Three of these ghost ships carrying a total of more than 1,000 migrants have arrived in European waters in recent weeks, an escalation by traffickers that does not entirely surprise experts on this grisly trade. Andrea Di Nicola, a criminologist at the University of Trento and co-author of “Confessions of a People Smuggler,” says traffickers are always quick to exploit a new business opportunity. “These are businessmen, opportunistic, criminal businessmen.” he says. "And this is a travel agency, the most ruthless travel agency on the planet. There’s a huge profit involved.”

Let’s look at the costs. “Ships at the end of their working life are worth little more than the scrap value they will yield if they are sailed to the breaking yards of Bangladesh or India.” says David Osler of Lloyd's List, a maritime newspaper. Italian police claim that one of the ghost ships, the Ezadeen, cost the smugglers only $110,000.

Now, consider what the smugglers are charging for the trip: up to $6,000 per passenger.

“We estimated that one of the ships should have grossed revenues of $3 million," says Joel Millman of the International Organization of Migration. "So if you do the math, you can see there are millions to be made.”

It looks like all of the passengers that have arrived on ghost ships so far are likely to be offered asylum. So far, none have perished at sea. The smugglers’ new business model is paying off, for the smugglers and their customers.

But the scale of the operation is putting many more people at risk. With another four ghost ships reportedly ready to sail, more migrant lives are likely to be lost in the Mediterranean this winter.

The true biography of 'Davos Man'

Wed, 2015-01-21 11:15

The origins of "Davos Man" are murky.  

As a name, it's often an epithet, spoken with venom. It refers both to the individual human beings who attend the World Economic Forum at a ski resort in Davos, Switzerland each year, and the global, capitalist power structure they are taken to represent.

Its first use is often credited to "The Clash of Civilizations" by Samuel Huntington, but, in fact, the words "Davos Man" never actually appear in the book. Instead, the earliest reference I could find was an editorial from 1997 in The Economist, "In Defense of Davos Man," that ostensibly reviews Huntington's book. It seeks not to bury, but to praise and defend "Davos Man" as a paragon of a global capitalism that could transcend culture and bring people of the world together. Here is the ending:  

Although 40 or so heads of state will troop to Davos this weekend, the event is paid for by companies, and run in their interests. They do not go to butter up the politicians; it is the other way around (see previous leader). Davos Man, finding it boring to shake the hand of an obscure prime minister, prefers to meet Microsoft's Bill Gates.

All this should cheer up Mr Huntington, not cast him down. Some people find Davos Man hard to take: there is something uncultured about all the money-grubbing and managerialism. But it is part of the beauty of Davos Man that, by and large, he does not give a fig for culture as the Huntingtons of the world define it. He will attend a piano recital, but does not mind whether an idea, a technique or a market is (in Mr Huntington's complex scheme) Sinic, Hindu, Islamic or Orthodox. If an idea works or a market arises, he will grab it. Like it or loathe it, that is an approach more likely to bring peoples together than to force them apart.

Matthew Bishop, an editor at the Economist who was in the meeting that debated this editorial in 1997, says elements of the argument are still valid.

But Seyla Benhabib, professor of political science and philosophy at Yale University, says the forces that Davos Man represents have also pulled people apart, exacerbating global inequality.

Felix Salmon, senior editor at Fusion, says Davos Man hasn't changed since he started attending. "Rich people don't change that much, I don't think," he says.

Pages