Fed chief sees slack staying in US jobs market; Europe’s existential question; The clout of online ratings

1 Fed chief sees slack staying in US jobs market (BBC) US Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen has said there is still “remaining slack in the labour market”. It was understated by the unemployment rate, at 6%, she said. Ms Yellen said the “underutilisation of labour resources” still “remained significant” to the US economy.

If inflation went up more rapidly than expected, she said, increases in the federal funds rate target could “come sooner” than expected and “could be more rapid thereafter”. But she added: “Of course, if economic performance turns out to be disappointing and progress toward our goals proceeds more slowly than we expect, then the future path of interest rates likely would be more accommodative than we currently anticipate.”

Luke Bartholomew, manager at Aberdeen Asset Management Investment, said Ms Yellen was being “deliberately vague” by telling the market “nothing to see here”. He said there was “some hint” she was still concerned about the labour market. “Which is good because one of the biggest questions about the US economy is just how many of the long term unemployed will ever return to the labour market. “The fear is that no one, least of all Janet Yellen, knows the answer,” he added.


2 Europe’s existential question (Khaleej Times) The EU’s latest slip back into contraction is raising near-existential questions among observers of the continent. At an immediate level, Europe’s woes — of Germany and Italy contracting 0.2 per cent for the second quarter — are disheartening, particularly since they are the consequences of failed policies.

The public’s response has been growing cynicism and xenophobia, with radical parties gaining popularity and calling for the dissolution of the union. Rectifying the mistakes requires overcoming substantial political inertia. There is reason to be disillusioned; and yet, it almost unthinkable that borders will once again be closed and currencies split along national lines. It is also worth noting how strong the symbolism of Europe remains to emerging states such as Romania and Ukraine, which have demonstrated strong public enthusiasm for the EU project.

At a broader scale, the EU is currently still the world’s largest economy, worth more than $17 trillion in GDP, more than the US; or even China, Japan and South Korea combined. The continent also boasts the world’s best economies by living standards and quality of life.

The standard cautionary tale is to warn that Europe could become another Japan, stuck helplessly in “lost decades” of stagnation. Since its bubble burst in the early 1990s, Japan’s economy has grown roughly one per cent a year, with recurring periods of contraction. So if Europe were to become Japan… is it only a matter of wounded pride and investors’ profits?

The difference between the EU’s brightest — such as Norway and the Netherlands — and its most troubled is too multi-faceted to fit a simple narrative of a failed idea. The best of Europe remains in many ways the best in the world, and is likely to remain that way for some time.


3 The clout of online ratings (Carlo Ratti & Matthew Claudel in Straits Times) Travel websites have been around since the 1990s, when Expedia, Travelocity and other holiday booking sites were launched, allowing travellers to compare flight and hotel prices with the click of a mouse. Today, the industry is in the throes of a new revolution – this time, transforming service quality. Online rating platforms – specialising in hotels (TripAdvisor), restaurants (Zagat), apartments (Airbnb), and taxis (Uber) – allow travellers to exchange reviews and experiences for all to see.

Hospitality businesses are now ranked, analysed and compared not by industry professionals, but by the very people for whom the service is intended – the customer. This has forged a new relationship between buyer and seller. Customers have always voted with their feet; they can now explain their decision to anyone who is interested. As a result, businesses are much more accountable, often in very specific ways, which creates powerful incentives to improve service.

The impact cannot be overstated. Businesses that attract top ratings can enjoy exponential growth, as new customers are attracted by good overall reviews and subsequently provide yet more (positive) feedback. So great is the influence of online ratings that many companies now hire digital reputation managers to ensure a favourable online identity.

Fortunately, technology is also countering this misuse of ratings. Algorithms can already detect fake reviews by identifying consistently positive or negative opinions from the same reviewer. Geolocation tracking can ensure that only customers who have actually used a service can express an opinion, as is the case with Airbnb.

Not every service, however, has been touched by online ratings. The impact of ratings depends on whether the typical consumer actually reads online reviews before making a decision. While it is increasingly common to do so when, say, booking a hotel room, it is much less so when deciding among, say, bars on a busy street. Needless to say, many developed economies lag behind, at least for now. But the writing is, literally, on the wall – or at least on the screen. Indeed, if you are reading this online and disagree with me, you can explain why in the comments section accompanying this commentary.



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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