IMF fears ‘years of sub-par growth’; Germany approves first minimum wage; Russia leads shopping mall building resurgence; India’s geriatric politicians; Amazon leaps into home entertainment

1 IMF fears ‘years of sub-par growth’ (BBC) The global economy could be heading for years of “sub-par growth”, according to the head of the International Monetary Fund. Christine Lagarde warned that without “brave action” the world could fall into a “low growth trap”. She said the global economy would grow by more than 3% this year and next, but that market volatility and tensions in Ukraine posed risks. Ms Lagarde also urged more action to tackle low inflation in the eurozone.

She called on the European Central Bank (ECB) to pursue “more monetary easing, including through unconventional measures”. She added, “There is the emerging risk of what I call ‘low-flation’, particularly in the euro area”. “A potentially prolonged period of low inflation can suppress demand and output, and suppress growth and jobs.”

The IMF’s managing director said that global economic signs were positive overall, but that “without sufficient policy ambition, the world could fall into a medium-term low-growth trap”. She called for governments to reform labour markets to encourage job creation, and for more public investment such as transport and communications networks in rich and emerging countries.

2 Germany approves first minimum wage (BBC) German Chancellor Angela Merkel has approved the country’s first minimum wage, at 8.50 euros an hour ($11.75), to start in 2015. At the moment, the country is one of seven in the 28-nation EU without a minimum wage level. Germany has relied on trade unions and business groups to fix pay instead. Mrs Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats approved the change as part of a power-sharing deal with the Social Democrats (SPD).

Parliament is expected to debate the proposal this summer. It will then move to the upper house for approval in September. Economists said higher wages in Europe’s biggest economy could help people spend more and stimulate the economy, promoting economic growth. The SPD’s labour market policy spokesperson, Katja Mast, said: “Labour has got its dignity back with a fair payment of 8.50 euros, whether in the East or West and with no industry exceptions.”

But the wage does not cover minors, interns, trainees or long-term unemployed people for their first six months at work. Some employers, such as those using temporary or seasonal, workers, will have two years to phase in the new minimum wage. For the rest of Germany’s employers, the regulations will come into effect on 1 January 2015. The wage will be reviewed annually from 1 January 2018.

3 Russia leads shopping mall building resurgence (Julia Kollewe in The Guardian) Russia is spearheading a resurgence of mall building across Europe, with nearly 100 new shopping centres springing up in the space of a little over two years, according to a new report. Across Europe there were 110 new malls, 44 of them in Russia, which is expected to get a further 50 by the end of 2015.

The rash of new developments means Russia is poised to overtake the UK as the country with the second-most mall space in Europe by the end of this year. Holding the largest development pipeline, Russia may even contend for the top spot – eclipsing France – should most of the projects come good.

4 India’s geriatric politicians (Neeta Lal in Khaleej Times) Should politicians have a retirement age? With general elections looming large on the horizon, this question is currently engaging the world’s largest democracy. The proponent of the idea – senior minister of India’s ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Jairam Ramesh – has advocated that all those holding political offices should retire at 70 years, and segue gracefully into playing an advisory role.

Perhaps the minister had his own party – the 127-year-old Indian National Congress – in mind while making the suggestion. The Congress creaks with pensioners. From prime minister Manmohan Singh (who is 81) to Rishang Keishing, 94, four times chief minister of Manipur, this is one geriatric club. In fact the average age of the UPA ministerial Cabinet is 66 years, the oldest in the world! For this, the dynastic tendencies of the entrenched Congress party leadership – which has dominated the Indian political landscape for over a century — is mainly to blame.

The elderly are clogging other political formations as well. Lal Krishan Advani of the Opposition BJP is 88. Other BJP stalwarts – Rajnath Singh, Arun Jailtely and Sushma Swaraj — are all sexagenarians. Narendra Modi, 63, is being touted as the `young face’ of his party. In a country where 50 per cent of the population is below the age of 24 years, having aged leaders is a serious liability. For a young and vibrant democracy, politicians need to be in sync with its citizenry’s thoughts. This breathes fresh new ideas and enthusiasm into governance and administration.

The moot point is: If a retirement age is applicable to top government and private officials, and even Supreme Court judges, why not politicians? Age limits exist for a reason: to encourage the induction or ascension of new talent, weed out the potential for entrenched privilege, and ensure that the leadership reflects the changing times. All excellent reasons why it’s time to impose a retirement age on India’s silver-haired politicos. Besides, retirement from active politics doesn’t mean you have to stop serving the people. The Hindu philosophy divides life into four periods. A 75-year-old, in his Vanprastha period, is expected to devote himself to serving the society, without looking for profit.

5 Amazon leaps into home entertainment (Jennifer Saba & Deepa Seetharaman in Sydney Morning Herald) Amazon has made a play for the increasingly crowded home entertainment arena by unveiling a set top box that allows streaming of online video content in the US. The Amazon Fire TV device ($99) device runs Google’s Android operating system and will offer Netflix, Hulu and other streaming channels in addition to the company’s own service, Amazon Prime.

The announcement comes as the online retailer faces increasing pressure to boost its bottom line after years of furious growth. The device is one of several initiatives by Amazon, one of the world’s largest online retailers. It is investing heavily in building centres worldwide to expand its same-day delivery service. Earlier this week, Amazon approved six original television shows. If Fire TV takes off, it could shape the way consumers shop online. Fire TV viewers may eventually be able to use their remote to buy a product directly off a commercial, analysts said, as Amazon’s multimedia and online retail businesses become more integrated.

Tech leaders such as Microsoft and Apple are vying for space on the TV, the traditional family entertainment centre and where people used to spend most of their leisure time. That has changed with the advent of the smartphone and tablet. While the company tried to one-up existing streaming boxes with voice-activation and games, some remained doubtful the Fire TV will make waves.



About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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