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Economic Digest

Economic Digest – August 2015


For decades, Mexicans have been the largest contingent in America’s 41.3-million foreign born population, but the annual inflow has slowed dramatically. In 2013 Mexico was overtaken as the biggest source of new migrants by both China and India. In 2007, just before the recession, Mexicans made up 23.6 per cent of all annual migrants. By 2013, more jobs at home and tighter border controls had reduced this to 10 per cent, while China’s and India’s combined share rose to a quarter. Around a third of America’s 1.1-million foreign students are Chinese and some 70 per cent of H1B visas for highly skilled jobs go to Indians.


Canada’s oilsands are paving the way for driverless trucks, and the threat of big layoffs. The 400-tonne heavy haulers used on the oilsands employ thousands of operators to drive the massive rigs. Increasingly, the giant trucks are getting around without a driver. Self-driving trucks are already in use at many operations in Alberta although they are still operated by drivers while companies test whether the systems can work in Alberta’s variable climate. The move to driverless trucks comes as companies in the oilsands look for opportunities to cut costs and boost productivity, an effort that has intensified amid the plunge in oil prices.


According to reports, China has forbidden its armed forces from wearing internet-connected wearable technology. One expert says the move was a natural extension of restrictions already placed by most armies on mobile phones. The moment a soldier puts on a device that can record high-definition audio and video, take photos, and process data, including smartwatches, it is possible for him or her to be tracked, or to reveal military secrets. Wearable technology poses a challenge to military forces across the globe.


Canadian clean-tech companies continue to record stellar growth but are falling behind global competitors in the absence of a coordinated government strategy to boost exports. The country’s share of the global market for manufactured environmental goods fell by 41 per cent between 2005 and 2013. Though exports grew to C$12-billion by 2013, Canada dropped from 14th place to 19th, outpaced by countries including, Spain, Denmark and Malaysia. China leaped from third place in 2005 to first in 2013, doubling its share to a stunning 20 per cent of the export market. The US share of exports was down 14 per cent.


Wi-fi-signals have been used to beam power to a surveillance camera. The battery-free camera was modified so that it could scavenge power from ambient wi-fi signals, store it and then use it to take photos. The experiment is one of several by US researchers looking at ways to use wi-fi as a power source. The researchers realised that the energy contained in ambient wi-fi signals that are now ubiquitous often come close to the operating voltages required by a variety of low power devices.


Cultural activities accounted for three per cent of Canada’s total gross domestic product (GDP) and 642,486 jobs in 2010. The data comes from the first ever Provincial and Territorial Culture Satellite Account which measures the economic importance of culture and sport in terms of output, GDP and employment for each province and territory. Culture is defined as a creative and artistic activity and the preservation of heritage. Sport is defined as an individual or group activity often pursued for fitness during leisure time and that may be undertaken for fun or competition.


By the end of this year, nearly half of the global population will be using the internet. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a United Nations body, predicts that 3.2-billion people will be online out of a global population of 7.2-billion. About 2-billion of those will be in the developing world. But just 89-million will be in countries such as Somalia and Nepal. There will also be more than 7-billion mobile device subscriptions. 78 out of 100 people in the US and Europe already use mobile broadband, and 69 per cent of the world has 3G coverage. In the year 2000, there were just 400-million internet users worldwide. 


One of the cheapest, safest, oldest, most widely prescribed drugs for Type 2 diabetes is metformin with some 72-million prescriptions written for it in the US in 2013. A recent study has found higher trace levels of the drug (presumably from the urine of people taking it) in Lake Michigan than of any other drug, including caffeine.


Researchers in Norway have seen a polar bear preying on white-beaked dolphins in what they say is a sign of how warmer temperatures are changing how species interact in the Arctic. As the climate warms, the sight of polar bears eating unusual prey could become more common. This is the first time dolphins have been observed that far north in the spring.


Agricultural land values in Canada rose by 13 per cent in 2014 as strong prices for livestock and global demand for crops drove up farmers’ incomes. The value of Canada’s farms reached C$531-billion. Growing global demand for meat and animal feed coupled with unpredictable weather patterns which have hurt harvest in some parts of the world have helped make Canadian farms more profitable. Farmers are getting more for their crops and growing more valuable crops, like corn and soybeans. Prices for cattle and pigs have recently set records as herd sizes have not kept pace with demand for meat.


The proportion of Canadians who volunteer has remained relatively unchanged at 44 per cent over the past decade, but volunteer involvement has fallen in certain sectors. While still among the most common, participation in the education and research sector declined from 25 per cent in 2005 to 20 per cent in 2013 and in religious organizations from 22 per cent to 19 per cent. Both men and women cited a lack of time as the leading barrier to volunteering. While older Canadians were less likely to volunteer, they devoted more hours to their volunteer work. The overall rate of volunteering was highest among teens aged 15 to19, at 66 per cent. This was followed by people aged 35 to 44 at 48 per cent.


An Uber driver in California has been deemed an employee, not a contractor, in a ruling that could mean higher costs for the app-based taxi service. The company is appealing the ruling which has been applied to just one driver. Uber considers its drivers independent contractors and the drivers pay for their own cars, insurance, gas, tolls and general costs of operating. Drivers are paid 80 per cent of each fare. If the ruling is applied widely it could mean extra costs such as social security and unemployment benefits. Rulings in five other US states came to the opposite view, that drivers are contractors.


A global bioenergy assessment has concluded that biofuels derived from plants could meet up to a third of the world’s transportation fuel needs by the middle of the century. The report, involving experts from 24 nations, said bioenergy has the potential to be the key driver in delivering a low-carbon future. Bioenergy is defined as energy generated by combusting solid, liquid or gas fuels made from biomass feedstocks. Biomass is biological material that can be used as a fuel or for industrial production such as wood, plant or animal products.


A new study estimates that within two decades acid levels in the Beaufort Sea could reach levels so corrosive that many shelled organisms, and even fish and whales, depended on by aboriginal people in the region, could be at risk. The Beaufort Sea is located in the Arctic Ocean, off Canada’s northwest coast. Ocean acidification is happening faster in the Arctic than anywhere else and the Beaufort Sea is out front in terms of how water chemistry is changing.  Acidification is caused by the release of carbon dioxide when fossil fuels are burned and finds its way into the oceans and reduces the amount of calcium carbonate in the water that shelled organisms, like  crab, need to create their shells.


England’s National Health Service is in the midst of an ambitious project to collect genetic profiles of up to 100,000 citizens by 2017 while commercializing the venture so that money can flow back into public health care.  Like Canada, the UK is struggling under unsustainable growth in health care costs. A potential rescue plan is to share geonomic information with researchers at universities and hospitals to stimulate the economy as they create treatments, devices and diagnostic tools. The project is focussing on three key areas: cancer tumours, rare diseases and infectious diseases.


Amazon Canada has released a list of Canadian cities that love to read, and Vancouver is at the top of the list. Amazon says that not only is Vancouver the most read city but it is also number one in more than half of Amazon’s categories, with Vancouverites buying more cooking, travel, self-help, business and health books than any other city in Canada. Vancouver was beaten in some categories however. Saskatoon residents purchase more novels written by Canadian authors than any other city, though Vancouver did come second. Calgary, Regina and Saskatoon led the way for purchasing digital books.  


The US Food and Drug Administration has ruled that trans-fats are unsafe to eat and must be banned from the food supply within three years. Partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are the main source of trans-fats and are not recognised as safe.  The FDA says that a ban would save lives by preventing fatal heart attacks. Food suppliers have been required to show trans-fat information on food labels since 2006 but health experts say Americans still consume too much. The UK has been calling for a ban on trans-fats for several years and in Denmark, almost all trans-fats have been banned since 2003.


Both sides of the fracking debate have a new US study to back their position. A major five-year study from the US Environmental Protection Agency found hydraulic fracturing activities in the US have not led to widespread, systemic effects on drinking water. However, the report says that fracking can lead to contamination, including through spills of hydraulic fluids and waste water, and inadequate protection of wells with metal casings and concrete.  Contamination of water has been one of the key worries raised about fracking on both sides of the border. The fracking process involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals deep underground at high pressure to fracture rocks, allowing the trapped natural gas to flow and then be pumped to the surface.


New NASA data shows how the world is running out of water. The world’s largest underground aquifers, a source of fresh water for hundreds of millions of people, are being depleted at alarming rates according to new NASA satellite data that provides the most detailed picture yet of water reserves hidden under the Earth’s surface. Twenty-one of the world’s 37 largest aquifers, from India and China to the United States and France have passed their sustainability tipping points, meaning more water was removed than replaced during the decade-long study period. Thirteen aquifers declined at rates that put them in the most troubled category. Underground aquifers supply 35 per cent of the water used by humans worldwide.


It is one of the hottest sectors in the global financial markets but rarely gets much attention. Remittances. They are the small amounts of money that migrants in the rich world send to their families in the poor world, typically US$200 a month. Last year the World Bank estimated the value of the global-remittances flow was US$436-billion. Migrant workers in Europe sent $109-billion to their home countries. The companies that transfer the funds can make a lot of money. Russian transfer companies charge only 2.4 per cent to send money to Central Asian countries. The Swiss companies charge obscene fees, 14.4 per cent. France is roughly in the middle charging 10.7 per cent.


According to a new report, bees contribute more to Britain’s economy than the monarchy. Researchers estimated the value of the pollinators to the UK economy to be over US$1.035-trillion a year, an increase of $350-million since 2012. This is $238-million more than it is estimated that the Royal Family brings in through tourism. 


A Belgian city has come up with a solution to the problem of pedestrians bumping into each other while sending text messages from their phones. Narrow corridors in Antwerp are marked as “text walking lane” in English where people can walk while texting or looking at their phones without irritating or endangering others.