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Should films on planes be censored?

“FLYING’S very dangerous. In 1987, there were 30 airline accidents; 211 were fatalities and 230 were definitely passengers.” When “Rain Man” was released in 1988, airlines edited this scene out of the film before showing it to passengers. The deleted segment was important to the plot—it explains why Raymond and Charlie drive cross-country rather than use more convenient modes of transport. Still, airlines’ squeamishness is hardly surprising. Despite Tom Cruise’s assurances that air travel is “the safest…in the world”, flyers prefer not to be reminded of the one-in-11m chance that they might die. To this day, airlines avoid playing the scene on shared screens. (Only Qantas allowed it to be shown: Raymond lists it as the only airline to have never crashed.)

If aeroplane-disaster flicks such as “Sully” (2016, pictured above) and “Flight” (2012) are obviously unsuitable for in-flight entertainment, what do carriers look for when offering a film? On short-haul flights with shared screens, the goal is to find something that might appeal to everybody. That is a tough task. In his book on censorship, Michael Cornick argues that “terrorism, nudity or sex...Continue reading

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Businesses can and will adapt to the age of populism

AS THEY slid down the streets of Davos this week, many executives will have felt a question gnawing in their guts. Who matters most: shareholders or the people? Around the world a revolt seems under way. A growing cohort—perhaps a majority—of citizens want corporations to be cuddlier, invest more at home, pay higher taxes and wages and employ more people, and are voting for politicians who say they will make all that happen. Yet according to law and convention in most rich countries, firms are run in the interest of shareholders, who usually want companies to use every legal means to maximise their profits.

Naive executives fear that they cannot reconcile these two impulses. Should they fire staff, trim costs and expand abroad—and face the wrath of Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, the disgust of their children and the risk that they’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes? Or do they bend to popular opinion and allow profits to fall, inviting the danger that, in the run up to their 2018 annual general meeting, a fund manager from, say, Fidelity or Capital will topple them for underperformance?

Wiser executives...Continue reading

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Two big European makers of eyewear agree to merge

GIANT, cross-border mergers in Europe have been rare in recent years. Deals fail to happen even when mid-sized companies—such as family-owned and run specialist manufacturers in northern Italy or the Mittelstand in Germany—have the chance to gain global heft. For that blame founding owner-managers, many of whom are reluctant to lose control of treasured companies. Blame too an artisanal culture, particularly in southern Europe, in which firms’ owners say they are content to remain small and relatively obscure. Occasionally, too, nationalist politicians block efforts by perfidious foreigners to snaffle prized local brands.

Now, though, one of the largest-ever mergers in Europe actually looks set to go ahead. Luxottica, an Italian maker of fancy specs that was founded in 1961—it owns brands such as Ray Ban and Oakley—is to merge with Essilor, a spiffy French producer of lenses. The joint entity is set to combine Italian style with deft French engineering. The deal is supposed to be completed by the end of the year, creating a new entity with a market value of €46bn ($49bn), 140,000 staff and annual revenues of €15bn. It will be...Continue reading

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Air India may segregate some women passengers for their own safety

SEGREGATION on airlines has a long history. Sometimes it is understandable. Carriers’ business models depend on them drawing a curtain between those of us stuffed into economy-class seats and our betters who have paid for lie-flat beds. Other times it has been immoral. While racial segregation on American planes was never legal, in some airports during the first half of the 20th century it was the norm to insist that blacks did not mix with whites in the terminals. 

That particular outrage has been consigned to the past. But new forms of segregation are replacing it. This time, though, they are less to do with enshrining differences and more for the benefit of those being segregated. Or so the argument goes.

On 11th January, Ashwani Lohani, the boss of Air India, told The Hindu newspaper that the carrier plans to reserve six seats in the front rows of its aeroplanes for women passengers who are travelling alone. As the paper explains:

The move assumes significance, as it comes soon after an on-board...Continue reading

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Are big infrastructure projects castles in the air or bridges to nowhere?

IF THERE is a consensus right now in American politics, it must be that infrastructure spending is a good thing. It employs workers, improves economic efficiency and, at the moment, can be financed at rock-bottom bond yields. So why don’t governments get on with it?

The problem is multi-faceted. Although people tend to be enthusiastic about infrastructure in general, they are more critical of specific projects. If they are in the country, then they ruin the currency; if they are in the town, then they ruin neighbourhoods or impinge on private-property rights. When it comes to public infrastructure projects, the benefits are long term but the costs are short term. The politician that authorises the project is rarely the same one that opens it. So an elected leader gets all the flak from those who oppose this white elephant/blot on the landscape but none of the praise for the reduced traffic jams or cheaper power that ensue. Occasionally a leader might be tempted into authorising a big scheme (like Britain’s high-speed rail) but, as the Continue reading

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American regulators accuse Fiat Chrysler of emissions cheating

FOR each of the past three years, Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s (FCA) 3 litre V6 turbodiesel has made it to a list of the industry’s top ten engines compiled by Ward’s, a distinguished American car-industry trade publication. Its place on the shortlist for 2017 must now be in doubt. On January 12th America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accused FCA (whose chairman, John Elkann, sits on the board of The Economist’s parent company) of using illegal software in conjunction with the engines. This, it says, allowed 104,000 vehicles—mostly Dodge pickups and some Jeeps, fitted with the 3 litre V6 turbodiesel—to exceed legal limits of toxic emissions.

The news sent the firm’s shares plummeting by 17%, before recovering somewhat. Nervous investors feared a repeat of the huge penalty imposed on Germany’s Volkswagen (VW) for cheating American emissions laws. A day earlier VW had agreed to pay a criminal fine of $4.3bn for selling around 500,000 cars fitted with so-called “defeat devices” that are designed to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) under test conditions. With the latest sum included, its final bill...Continue reading

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Thousands of flyers have been caught trying to smuggle loaded guns onto American planes

ON JANUARY 6th, a gunman ran amok at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, killing five people. Earlier this week, Esteban Ruiz Santiago, a 26-year-old Iraq war veteran, appeared in court charged in relation to the horrific crime. If convicted, the judge told him, he could face the death penalty.

Mr Santiago allegedly pulled a gun out of his luggage in the baggage reclaim area. Although he appears to have a history of questionable mental behaviour, including entering an FBI building with a magazine of ammunition, he had probably checked his weapon into the hold of his flight legally. According to Transport Security Administration (TSA) rules, “You may transport unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided container as checked baggage only. Declare the firearm and/or ammunition to the airline when checking your bag at the ticket counter. The container must completely secure the firearm from being accessed.”

Yet despite such an easy-going attitude to allowing passengers legitimately to fly with guns, an increasing number try to do so illegally, by sneaking firearms...Continue reading

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Singapore tries to become a fintech hub

IN AN era when architectural masterpieces curve and bloom (Zaha Hadid), or shimmy and fold (Frank Gehry), designers of central-bank buildings remain reassuringly fond of right angles. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the city-state’s central bank and financial regulator, is housed in a boxy tower just south of the central business district. But tucked into one corner is a room called “LookingGlass@MAS” that desperately wants to be Silicon Valley: witness the scruffily dressed young men, whiteboards on wheels covered in buzzwords and the kitchen along one wall.

This is the MAS’s fintech lab, where Singapore is trying to put its own twist on the technologies disrupting the financial sector. A report from Citigroup published in 2016 warned that as fintech lets customers do more online and cuts into banks’ lending and payments activities, European and American banks could lose almost 2m jobs in the next ten years. Similar fears stalk Singapore, home to more than 200 banks, and dependent on finance for 12.6% of GDP.

In London, Berlin and San Francisco, many fintech innovators are betting against the big banks. Singapore,...Continue reading

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A rush to patent the blockchain is a sign of the technology’s promise

A rush to patent the blockchain is a sign of the technology’s promise

FOR fans of bitcoin, a digital currency, the year got off to a volatile start. On January 5th one bitcoin changed hands for nearly $1,150—almost as much as the record set three years ago. It has since dropped by 33%. Elsewhere in the land of monetary bits, things move more slowly but trouble is brewing: a potential patent war looms over the blockchain, a distributed ledger that authenticates and records every bitcoin transaction.

Heated fights over intellectual property are nothing new in promising technology markets. But given that the blockchain is expected to shake up everything from the way precious diamonds are safeguarded to the way shares are traded, the legal fights could be especially fierce.

On the face of it, the blockchain does not lend itself easily to staking out intellectual-property claims. Bitcoin’s creator, known only by his pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto, published a paper about his invention, coded the first implementation and then disappeared—meaning that the core of the technology is now part of the public domain and only important additions and variations could be patented. And the blockchain’s components are widely known. In America court decisions as well as a new law on the granting of patents make it difficult to claim ownership for such financial innovations.

This hasn’t stopped firms from trying to get patent...Continue reading

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How fintech firms are helping to revolutionise supply-chain finance

Still waiting for the invoice approval

GROWING up on a sugar-cane farm in Australia, Lex Greensill had a front-seat view of the strains suppliers suffer as they wait to be paid. After harvesting his crops, Mr Greensill’s father had to wait a year or more to receive payment. Across industries, buyers are eager to conserve their cash. Delaying payment is one way to do it: among the most important for some, such as big retailers, says Mr Greensill. Many buyers expect their suppliers to accept payment months after delivery. Even so, many still pay late—47% of suppliers surveyed by Taulia, a fintech firm, said they had this problem. In 2011 Mr Greensill founded Greensill Capital, one of a cluster of new fintech firms overhauling how supply chains are financed.

The details vary but their basic approach is to take advantage of buyers’ low credit risk to pay suppliers’ invoices promptly. The buyer—a large supermarket chain, say—approves a supplier’s invoice and transmits it to the fintech lender. (The lender can raise money in different ways: Greensill raises funds in the capital markets.) The lender pays the supplier on...Continue reading

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