1 Spanish economy grows fastest since financial crisis (Khaleej Times) Official figures show the Spanish economy grew by a strong 0.8 percent in the fourth quarter compared with the previous three months.
The National Statistics Office said the economy grew 3.2 percent for all of 2015, its strongest expansion since before its economic crisis started in 2008. Spain only emerged from recession in late 2013. It’s now one of the European Union’s fastest growing economies but still has a 21 per cent unemployment rate, the second highest in the 28-nation bloc after Greece.
Acting conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had hoped the recovery would help him be returned to office in last month’s election. His Popular Party won most seats but lost its parliamentary majority and is struggling to win support from other parties to stay in power.
2 Zika could be bigger threat than Ebola (Robin Mckie in The Guardian) The Zika virus outbreak in Latin America could be a bigger threat to global health than the Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people in Africa.
That is the stark claim of several senior health experts ahead of an emergency meeting of the World Health Organisation on Monday which will decide whether the Zika threat – which is linked to an alarming rise in cases of foetal deformation called microcephaly – should be rated a global health crisis.
There is no prospect of a vaccine for Zika at present, in contrast to Ebola, for which several are now under trial. “The real problem is that trying to develop a vaccine that would have to be tested on pregnant women is a practical and ethical nightmare,” added Mike Turner, head of infection and immuno-biology at the Wellcome Trust.
With at least 80% of those infected showing no symptoms, tracking the disease is extremely difficult. The mosquito species that spreads Zika, Aedes aegypti, has been expanding its range over the past few decades.
3 Tech to effect more top-down change (Martin Wolf in Gulf News) Every technique human beings have invented, from the stone axe onwards, is “technology”. The ability of humans to invent technologies is their defining characteristic. Furthermore, new general purpose technologies, such as the computer and the internet, have effects that fall far outside the technology sector, narrowly defined.
We need to assess contemporary innovations in their broader context. Here are some points about these changes. First, the penetration of recent innovations in communications technology has been astonishingly rapid. At the end of 2015, there were more than 7 billion mobile phone subscriptions, a penetration rate of 97 per cent, up from around 10 per cent in 2000. Penetration of internet access grew from 7 per cent to 43 per cent over the same period.
Economically, this has led to the rise of eCommerce, the transformation of industries whose products can be converted into “bits” (music, film and news media, for example) and the rise of the “sharing economy”. Socially, it has altered human interactions. Politically, it has affected relationships between the rulers and the ruled.
Second, a substantial “digital divide” exists. In 2015, 81 per cent of households in the developed world had internet access, the proportion in all developing countries was 34 per cent and the proportion for the least developed countries was a mere 7 per cent.
Third, the arrival of the internet and mobile phones has failed to generate a sustained upturn in the growth of productivity. Output per hour worked in the US grew at rate of 3 per cent a year in the 10 years up to 1966, after which the growth rate declined, falling to just 1.2 per cent in the 10 years to the early 1980s. After the launch of the World Wide Web, the moving average rose to 2.5 per cent in the 10 years to 2005. But it then fell to just 1 per cent in the decade to 2015.
Fourth, the new technologies have reinforced tendencies towards greater inequality, in at least three respects. One is the rise of “winner-takes-all” markets in which a few successful people, businesses and products dominate the world economy. Another is the rise of globalisation. A last is the explosion in financial trading and other rent-extracting financial activities.
Fifth, the rise of global communications, of our reliance on cyberspace, of behemoth technology-enabled corporations and of “big data” raises difficult questions about privacy, national security, the ability to tax and, more broadly about the relationship between governments, corporations and individuals.
Technologies are tools. They offer opportunities and dangers. What we make of them is, as always, up to us.