Bank of England fears housing market crash; Why India elections take so long; To be more creative, take a walk

1 Bank of England fears housing market crash (Larry Elliott, Hillary Osborne & Rupert Jones in The Guardian) Britain’s booming housing market could be heading for a fresh crash, the Bank of England said in its toughest warning yet about the dangers of the return of rapidly rising property prices. Sir Jon Cunliffe, Threadneedle Street’s deputy governor for financial stability, said it would be dangerous to ignore the momentum apparent across the country and dropped strong hints of new measures to slow down the market in the months ahead.

On a day when it emerged that one in 15 London homes are now selling for £1m or more, Cunliffe said Britain had a history of booms turning to bust. “This is a movie that has been seen more than once in the UK.” The Bank’s deputy governor said that there were always risks to financial stability “blinking on the dashboard” but made clear his concern about the possibility that borrowers taking on large mortgages could find themselves in trouble when interest rates inevitably rose.

He said the risk was of “a major overshoot in prices and buildup in debt followed by a sharp correction with negative equity and an overhang of debt for many households”, adding: “Unfortunately, there are more precedents in UK for periods of a rapidly growing housing market to end in this way.”

Figures from the Nationwide building society showed annual house price inflation at a seven-year high of 10.9%. Cunliffe said: “There is good reason to believe that a … combination of strong demand, weak supply and expectations of a rising market could lead to a period of sustained and very powerful pressure on house prices in the UK.”

2 Why India’s election takes so long (Soutik Biswas on BBC) As India enters the eighth phase of its marathon general election, many are asking whether the world’s largest democracy deserves such a protracted voting exercise. For those not up to speed, India’s 16th general election for its 543 parliamentary seats is currently being held in nine phases from 7 April to 12 May – at 36 days, it is the longest in the country’s history.

This is “an election without end” laments political analyst Jawid Laiq. India’s drawn-out election, he argues, leads to several unintended consequences: campaigns become bitter and acrimonious and development work is on hold because of a model code of conduct for candidates and political parties. If vast and populous countries like Indonesia and Brazil can complete their elections in a single day, he asks, why can’t India with its formidable election machinery?

It wasn’t always like this. India’s historic first election in 1951-52 took three months to complete. Between 1962 and 1989, general elections were completed in between four and 10 days. The four-day elections in 1980 were the country’s shortest ever. But most of these polls were marked by violence and were hardly free and fair. In the 1990s, under a tough new election chief, TN Seshan, things began to change. Mr Seshan sought paramilitary forces from the federal government to keep violence in check during an election.

 “The long-drawn, multi-phased election in India boils down to a single reason – security,” former election commissioner SY Qureshi says. “The local police are seen to be partisan, so we need to deploy federal forces. These forces have been freed up from their duties and moved all around the country to ensure peace. That is why it takes time.” Some 120,000 such federal troops have been deployed this time – they are drawn from security forces who guard borders, industrial installations and railway properties, among other things.

India’s marathon election actually shines a light on one of its most glaring deficiencies: its poorly paid, badly equipped, ill-trained and understaffed police. Unless the police force is beefed up considerably and its standard improve, voters will have to live with “elections without end”.

3 To be more creative, take a walk (Gretchen Reynolds in The New York Times) Most of us have heard that exercise, including walking, generally improves thinking skills. Multiple studies have shown that animals and people usually perform better after exercise on tests of memory and executive function, which is essentially the ability to make decisions and organize thoughts (although prolonged, intense exercise can cause brief mental fatigue — so don’t take a math test after a marathon).

Similarly, exercise has long been linked anecdotally to creativity. Researchers at Stanford University recently decided to test that possibility, inspired, in part, by their own strolls. With the enthusiastic support of her adviser, Daniel Schwartz, a professor in the Stanford Graduate School of Education, Dr. Marily Oppezzo recruited a group of undergraduate students and set out to see if she could goose their creativity.

Gathering her volunteers in a deliberately dull, unadorned room equipped with only a desk and (somewhat unusually) a treadmill, Dr. Oppezzo asked the students to sit and complete tests of creativity, which in psychological circles might involve tasks like rapidly coming up with alternative uses for common objects, such as a button. Then the participants walked on the treadmill, at an easy, self-selected pace that felt comfortable. The treadmill faced a blank wall. While walking, each student repeated the creativity tests, which required about eight minutes.

For almost every student, creativity increased substantially when they walked. Most were able to generate about 60 percent more uses for an object, and the ideas were both “novel and appropriate,” Dr. Oppezzo writes in her study.

inally, to examine another real-world implication of walking and creativity, Dr. Oppezzo moved portions of the experiment outdoors. “Most people would probably guess that walking outside should be much better for creativity” than pacing inside a drab office. But surprisingly, her study undermined that assumption. “It really seems that it’s the walking that matters,” in terms of spurring creativity, Dr. Oppezzo said, and not the setting


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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