Globetrotting: news from around the world – September 2017

Many Americans can no longer afford to buy a car, and researchers have developed a battery-free smartphone.

TAX DODGERS

Above the law

Massive data leaks such as the Panama Papers have thrown a spotlight on global elites and their tax-dodging schemes, but a big part of the blame should be placed on the wealth managers who mastermind these convoluted schemes, says Quartz.

In Capital Without Borders, author Brooke Harrington explores the world of money managers who support a stateless and borderless upper class that changes passports at will and maintains multiple residences to stay beyond the reach of national laws.

Harrington describes this worldview that reigns in these circles as “libertarian anarchy.” Taxation is viewed as the and essentially immoral because the revenue is redistributed to the poor, who then don’t learn initiative. In this system, it’s not just the poor who are neglected; so is public infrastructure. One stark example: Omaha, Nebraska, has stopped repaving its streets and fixing potholes because it lacks the necessary tax revenue.

CAR PRICES

Veering out of reach

Automobile assembly line

Many Americans can no longer afford the central symbol of their culture: cars. A Bankrate.com report shows that in 24 out of the 25 largest metro areas, households with median incomes cannot afford the average price of a new car, reports The Fiscal Times.

The report applies a 20/4/10 rule to measure affordability: a 20% down payment, a four-year loan and 10% of pre-tax income for payments and insurance. Based on that measure, only residents in the Washington, DC, metro area, where the median income is US$100,000, could afford the average car price of US$33,000. In the greater Miami area, where the median household income is US$51,000, residents could afford only a US$13,577 car, but the average new car there costs US$35,368, with taxes. No wonder car loans, at US$1.2 trillion, are at an all-time high.

MOBILE DEVICES

Look, no batteries

Wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to be constantly charging your smartphone? You won’t, if the battery-free smartphone developed at Washington University makes it to market.

Starting from standard components, the research team built a device that runs on very little power, reports Commentçamarche.net. Energy is collected from radio frequencies and a photodiode. Of course, the discovery isn’t yet ready for prime time: for their demo, the researchers dialled into a fuzzy Skype exchange on a screen-less device. But it used only 3.5 microwatts — a far cry from the demands of battery-operated smartphones.

TRUST AND ANTITRUST

Commoditized news

Reading the news

About 2,000 news organizations, represented by the News Media Alliance, have asked Congress to allow them to negotiate collectively with large online platforms such as Google and Facebook, reports Les Affaires.

Newsrooms still produce the news, but increasingly, it is being read online, where those two main distributors consume the bulk of digital ad revenue. In this system, publishers have to abide by the giants’ rules on how news is displayed, prioritized and monetized. As a result, readers now consume commoditized news — or even fake news. The irony is that news organizations are forbidden by antitrust laws to negotiate as a single voice.