IMF sees an ‘investment deficit’; Why Australia must not imitate the US; Euthanasia divides France; How skinny legs support 1,000-kg giraffes

1 IMF sees an ‘investment deficit’ (The Guardian) Global economic activity should strengthen in the second half of the year and accelerate in 2015, although momentum could be weaker than expected, Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, has said hinting at a slight cut in the fund’s growth forecasts.

Lagarde said central banks’ accommodative policies may have only a limited impact on demand and that countries should boost growth by investing in infrastructure, education and health, provided their debt stays sustainable. The IMF’s update of its global economic outlook, expected later this month, will be “very slightly different” from the forecasts published in April, she said.In April, the IMF had predicted that global output would grow by 3.6% in 2014 and 3.9% in 2015.

“Global activity is picking up but the momentum could be less strong than we had expected because potential growth is weaker and investment … remains subdued,” she said. Lagarde made a plea for more public investment, saying that the “investment deficit” in both the public and private sectors was dragging down growth in most countries. “Despite the many responses to the crisis … recovery is modest, laborious, fragile, and measures to boost demand, despite the goodwill of central banks, will find their limits,” she said.

2 Why Australia should not imitate the US (Joseph Stiglitz in Sydney Morning Herald) There are several areas where Australia should be particularly cautious about imitating the US model. One of the reasons that the US has gone to the bottom of the league tables in economic opportunity is our education system, and especially the way higher education is financed. It is one of the reasons that only about 8 per cent of those in the bottom half get a college education. Australia’s income contingent loan program, HECS, is the envy of the rest of the world. It works.

The best US universities are superb – the best in the world – but they are all either state financed or non-profits, supported by generous philanthropy. They compete vigorously in quality – but it is not conventional market competition, where price plays a pivotal role. The under-regulated for-profit universities excel – in exploiting children from poor families and in lobbying to make sure that they can continue to do so.

Another area in which Australia leads, and America fails, is health. The American mostly private health care system is probably the least efficient in the world – spending twice the percentage of GDP of Australia, with much poorer results, exemplified by a life expectancy that’s three years shorter. The country is perhaps the only in the advanced world not to recognise the right to access to healthcare, with the result that inequalities in health outcomes are enormous.

A third area where America trails is basic welfare support and systems of social protection. With almost one out of four children living in poverty, and with deficient public support, the prospects for their future are not rosy. The combination of unequal education opportunities and access to healthcare and inadequate systems of social protection translates into poor average performance of our children, in contrast to Australia, whose children perform well above average.

Two big lessons of economic research over the past 10 years are that inequality is not the result of inexorable laws of economics but rather of policy; and that countries that adopt policies that lead to high inequality pay a high price – inequality not only leads to a divided society and undermines democracy, but it weakens economic performance. Hopefully, as Australia debates its new government’s budget and economic “reforms,” it bears this in mind.

3 Euthanasia issue divides France (Zafar Masud in Dawn) A French judicial ruling has ignited a fierce controversy all over the country on the question of euthanasia in extreme cases when there remains no hope of a patient’s recovery.

France today is split in two halves over the issue which comes at the same time as the trial of Dr Nicolas Bonnemaison who was accused of hastening the deaths of no fewer than seven patients connected on life-support systems. The main charge against Bonnemaison, an emergency room physician in the Bayonne hospital, was “poisoning particularly vulnerable people”. Five women and two men had died between March 2010 and July 2011 soon after being admitted to the hospital and then left in Bonnemaison’s care.

Dr Bonnemaison faced life imprisonment when his trial began in the middle of last month in the southern French city of Pau. During the hearings there were emotional and often poignant speeches appealing to the audience’s sense of compassion and comprehension. Some also laid emphasis on the solitary role of the doctors while taking major decisions and on the dangers of their profession. There were vivid descriptions too of the patients’ agony.

As France today remains in the middle of a heated debate, there are frequent demonstrations, for or against euthanasia, in all the major cities. Not untypically, the dispute is also assuming somewhat philosophical proportions in the media. An editorial in the daily Le Figaro raises interesting questions in this regard:

“What is life and what is its worth? Is it simply the capacity to eat, to talk and to feel? At what stage does it become useless to go on living? Human history has reached a point where people no longer look for answers to these essential queries in reflection, in great philosophers’ writings or in sacred texts but in legal codes and court decisions. There certainly is something bone-chilling in all this!”

4 How skinny legs support 1,000-kg giraffes (Khaleej Times) Ever wondered how a giraffe’s thin legs support its massive 1,000 kg weight? Credit it to a special ligament, new research says.

“Giraffes are heavy animals (about 1,000 kg), but have unusually skinny limb bones for an animal of this size,” explains lead investigator Christopher Basu, a PhD student at the Royal Veterinary College in London. “This means their leg bones are under high levels of mechanical stress,” Basu adds.

In giraffes, the equivalents to our metatarsal bone (in the foot) and metacarpal bone (in the hand) are extremely elongated, accounting for roughly half the leg length. A distinct groove runs along the length of these bones, housing a structure called the suspensory ligament. This structure is found in other large animals, such as horses (which are well known for their ability to sleep whilst standing) but this is the first time that it has been studied in giraffes.

Ligaments are elastic tissue, and can only offer passive support. This means that giraffes can support their weight without engaging as much muscle, and do not get tired as soon. This information will help to explain how giraffes evolved from small, antelope-like species to the long-necked animals we know today, Basu says.


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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2 Responses to IMF sees an ‘investment deficit’; Why Australia must not imitate the US; Euthanasia divides France; How skinny legs support 1,000-kg giraffes

  1. Stiglitz does make an interesting point- America does not have everything figured out for them anyways. And thanks for the information about the giraffes. It will certainly make for an interesting ice-breaker!

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