Robots eating into factory jobs; India sets rates in major tax reform; International epidemic of exam cheating

1 Robots eating into factory jobs (Gulf News) Despite the Republican presidential nominee’s charge that “we don’t make anything anymore,” manufacturing is still flourishing in America. Problem is, factories don’t need as many people as they used to because machines now do so much of the work. America has lost more than 7 million factory jobs since manufacturing employment peaked in 1979.

Yet American factory production, minus raw materials and some other costs, more than doubled over the same span to $1.91 trillion last year, according to the Commerce Department, which uses 2009 dollars to adjust for inflation. That’s a notch below the record set on the eve of the Great Recession in 2007. And it makes US manufacturers No. 2 in the world behind China.

Trump and other critics are right that trade has claimed some American factory jobs, especially after China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 and gained easier access to the US market. And industries that have relied heavily on labour — like textile and furniture manufacturing — have lost jobs and production to low-wage foreign competition.

But research shows that the automation of US factories is a much bigger factor than foreign trade in the loss of factory jobs. A study at Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research last year found that trade accounted for just 13 percent of America’s lost factory jobs. The vast majority of the lost jobs — 88 percent — were taken by robots and other homegrown factors that reduce factories’ need for human labor.

General Motors, for instance, now employs barely a third of the 600,000 workers it had in the 1970s. Yet it churns out more cars and trucks than ever. Or look at production of steel and other primary metals. Since 1997, the US has lost 265,000 jobs in the production of primary metals — a 42 percent plunge — at a time when such production in the US has surged 38 percent.

The Boston Consulting Group predicts that investment in industrial robots will grow 10 percent a year in the 25-biggest export nations through 2025, up from 2 or 3 percent growth in recent years. But the rise of the machines offers an upside to some American workers: The increased use of robots – combined with higher labor costs in China and other developing countries – has reduced the incentive for companies to chase low-wage labor around the world.

2 India sets rates in major tax reform (BBC) India has set rates for its new Goods and Services Tax (GST) system, its biggest tax reform since independence. The new rates will range between 5% and 28% depending on the product, with 12% and 18% as the standard.

The long-awaited changes aim to streamline the country’s fragmented tax system and transform it into a single market. Currently, everything sold in India is subject to a multitude of taxes varying from state to state.

The changes mark a “significant development”, said Santosh Dalvi of KPMG in India. There has been no announcement yet, though, of which products fall into which of the tax categories. “While one can have some guesswork around the GST rate for some of the products, the devil is in the detail when the final classification list will be released which is the most challenging task for the policy makers,” said Mr Dalvi.

A central plank of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic agenda, the centralised tax is intended to cut through the red tape and corruption generated by the swathe of state taxes currently in force. Currently, goods brought for example from the northern city of Haryana to Chennai are taxed in six different states.

Optimistic estimates suggest the changes could bring more than 2% of added economic growth. India already has overtaken China as the world’s fastest growing economy.

3 International epidemic of exam cheating (The Guardian) Students in Asian countries have been notified that their scores on the writing section of last month’s ACT college entrance exam are being cancelled, in the latest example of how standardised test makers are struggling to contain an international epidemic of cheating.

The incident comes a few months after ACT Inc, the Iowa-based nonprofit that operates the test, was forced to cancel its exam for all takers in South Korea and Hong Kong. That incident, in June, marked the first time the high-stakes exam was cancelled for an entire country. The ACT, like the SAT test, is used by thousands of US colleges to help choose from among millions of student applicants.

ACT’s chief rival, the New York-based College Board, which administers the SAT, has been struggling with its own security problems. The College Board recently notified an undisclosed number of test-takers in Egypt that their scores were being cancelled for the October test.

College Board spokesman Zach Goldberg said the cancellations were “based on evidence that a test preparation organisation illegally obtained and shared the test content before the administration”.


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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