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How will vaccine technology improve?

THE FIRST covid-19 vaccines came from rapid innovation. They have already saved millions of lives. What new technologies are in the pipeline? Robin Shattock’s team at Imperial College London is developing a self-amplifying RNA vaccine.

Moz Siddiqui of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, describes a drone system delivering shots to remote areas. And Pamela Bjorkman of the California Institute of Technology explains her research into a universal coronavirus vaccine that could protect against future pandemics.

Alok Jha and Natasha Loder are joined by Oliver Morton, The Economist’s briefings editor. Runtime: 42 min

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Covid-19 has stymied governments’ efforts to collect data

IN EARLY JUNE Britain’s long-suffering Europhiles got a rare taste of Schadenfreude. Tim Martin, a forthright Brexiteer who is the boss of J.D. Wetherspoon, a chain of pubs, announced that Britain ought to create a more liberal immigration policy to allow more Europeans to move there to work. Over the past 18 months hundreds of thousands of European immigrants, many of whom worked in pubs and restaurants and lost their jobs when they were closed during covid-19 lockdowns, have gone home. Brexit means that many cannot return. He denies it, but Mr Martin’s establishments are almost certainly suffering from the staff shortages afflicting the rest of the British hospitality industry.

Unhelpfully, no one knows how many Europeans have departed. Britain imposes no exit checks at its borders. Foreigners do not have to register their residency as they do in Belgium and France. The British government’s main source of information on migration is the International Passenger Survey (IPS), conducted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). In normal times, researchers with clipboards at airports ask around 700,000 people each year why they are entering or leaving the country. On the basis of this they estimate migration to and from Britain. Between March 2020 and January 2021 covid-19 restrictions meant that the survey was suspended, so no one knows how many people left.

The IPS is one of many surveys to be wrecked by the pandemic in Britain. The best crime statistics are also based on a survey, which is also now conducted by phone. Victims of crime tend to be poorer and may be less likely to answer the phone, so the survey is probably less accurate.

Wonks elsewhere are worried, too. Fully 150 countries were scheduled to hold censuses during 2020 or 2021. Those that went ahead, such as America, may find the results less accurate than usual because lockdowns made it hard to reach people. Those that delayed censuses, such as Brazil, will have to wait for the crucial information a census normally provides.

All of this has profound consequences for policymaking. “Officials of the modern state are, of necessity, at least one step—and often several steps—removed from the society they are charged with governing,” notes James C. Scott, author of “Seeing Like A State”, a critique of government schemes planned with incomplete knowledge. Civil servants and politicians rely on large amounts of data to make decisions affecting millions. Never has that been more true than during the pandemic. Enormous blind spots have developed. And yet, eventually, the pandemic may accelerate a shift already under way, towards smarter, more resilient models of data collection.

Like businesses and other government agencies, national statistics offices had to adapt quickly to the pandemic. According to a survey of such bodies by the UN and World Bank last year, 90% of employees were told to work from home. A surprising amount of important data is still collected in fairly old-fashioned ways—by asking people questions in person. Some 96% of face-to-face data collection was stopped in May last year. By July, only a quarter had resumed. Agencies adapted. Some found other ways to gather information. But not all. The damage was particularly acute in poorer countries, where a lack of money meant that staff often did not have the IT equipment or space to work from home.

In rich countries, assessing the economy has been tricky. Measuring inflation has been especially hard, notes Paul Schreyer, chief statistician of the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries. Normally officials visit shops, restaurants and even vending machines to check the price of a “basket” of goods. But with restaurants, shops and offices closed, people’s spending habits changed radically, and inflation counters had to change as well. This year Britain added the prices of “men’s loungewear bottoms” and deleted the price of “staff restaurant sandwiches”. Alberto Cavallo of Harvard University created “covid consumption baskets” which suggested that America’s consumer price index underestimated the inflation rate, especially early in the pandemic, as consumers spent more on food and categories with higher inflation. Headline measures of inflation are now probably mostly right, reckons Mr Schreyer but big price swings for specific items, such as a recent spike in the price of used cars, may have been missed.

Unemployment data are also a prob­lem. In Britain they are based on the Labour Force Survey (LFS), which typically samples 33,000 households using face-to-face interviews. During the pandemic, it has had to rely on phone calls, which are less likely to pick up itinerant or younger workers—a disproportionate number of whom have lost their jobs. Employment estimates from the LFS now show different figures from real-time data from payrolls and the workforce jobs survey, which asks businesses if they have fired people (see chart). Using such figures to make economic policy, “the Bank of England and the Treasury must just be a little nervous,” says Guy Goodwin, the head of NatCen, a private social-research charity. In other rich countries, furlough schemes and changing eligibility rules for unemployment benefits have muddied the picture.

In poorer countries data-gathering was often already patchy. That has made responding to the pandemic even harder. South Africa has recorded 58,000 deaths due to the coronavirus, but a total of 170,000 excess deaths. Many other countries in Africa do not have good data on deaths at all so nobody can be sure how many people have died of covid-19 or when. Poor data have also made it difficult to judge the pandemic’s economic impact. In Brazil, concerns about official statistics led the country’s biggest bank, Itaú, to create its own unemployment indicator to use instead of the government’s labour-force survey.

The United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, says it has struggled to count refugees, even as wars have accelerated in places such as Ethiopia, Congo and Yemen. Normally, humanitarian staff would physically find displaced people, count and interview them. But the pandemic has meant contacting people by mobile phone.

Some of the problems of poor data will be rectified as surveys restart. But the impact of some will last years. America’s and Britain’s censuses are conducted once a decade, but their data are used for many other surveys. Since both were carried out during lockdowns, the picture they paint will be an unusual one. In Britain the census asks people how they get to work. Answers inform decisions on housing and transport. The census asks only where they were working that day. Most people were, by law, sitting at home.

In America much of the in-person counting that would have normally happened was cancelled. Census workers still visited homes, but they could not go to sports matches or churches as they normally would to persuade people to fill in their forms. That means higher proportions of some groups, such as ethnic minorities and poor people, may be missed. “The jury is still out on whether there is disproportionate undercounting,” says Terri Ann Lowenthal, an expert on federal statistics. But she thinks there probably is. Since the distribution of congressional seats and electoral college votes is based on census data, that is troubling politically. It also creates problems for cities that rely on federal funding linked to population.

The pandemic has, however, also accelerated innovation. Even before it began, the decline of landlines and the rise of spam-calling on mobiles meant that fewer people would answer calls from researchers. The growing complexity of the digital economy meant that measures of inflation relying on visits to shops and cafés did not reflect how money was actually spent.

America’s Bureau of Labour Statistics has been “grappling with the challenge of a transition to other approaches”, says Alex Engler of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank. To check inflation data, they have experimented using “big data”, recording prices and sales of goods automatically scraped from websites and administrative records. In Britain the ONS has used credit-card data to try to judge economic activity more quickly, and survey data from an app, Teacher Tapp, to judge how much education children were losing, in order to adjust productivity figures.

In future, suggests Tom Forth of The Data City, a consultancy, missing data could be reverse-engineered, by using instantly available commercial transport data. At the start of the pandemic, data from Citymapper and Google, gathered from people searching for directions, showed how much transport use had fallen. But with economies reopening, those data could also be used to work out how people are getting to work, in a timelier and cheaper way than running a census.

Since 1968 Denmark has kept a central register of every person in the country. So it can estimate population changes quite reliably without a census or a survey. Britain and America, which do not have identity cards or registration, cannot.

But the Danish model only works if the state counts people accurately—which Denmark’s might, but America’s surely does not. And using private data sources raises concerns about whether firms will keep providing it. Mr Goodwin of NatCen notes that, though many surveys have suffered, “the big core data” have been collected through surveys. For example, in just a few weeks in April 2020, Britain’s ONS created from scratch an infection survey to estimate the spread of covid-19. A representative sample of people have their throats swabbed each week and tested for the virus; the results show how the infection spreads without being skewed by, for example, changes in testing rates. By contrast, measures of infectiousness that relied on things like people googling their symptoms proved less useful.

In future, governments will probably rely on a mix. To be able to make good policy, they need as much accurate information as fast as possible. Many countries have skimped on data-collection budgets, thinking it old-fashioned. Britain has considered cancelling its census. Donald Trump’s administration starved the census bureau of funds. The pandemic has shown how short-sighted such cuts are.

Democrats in New York choose a mayoral candidate in a tight race

WHATEVER THEIR political views, policy priorities or base of support, candidates seeking office tend to campaign on the same fundamental message: vote for me, not for anybody else. In New York, where Democrats will select their mayoral candidate tomorrow, some candidates have taken a slightly different approach. Last weekend, Kathryn Garcia and Andrew Yang—running second and fourth in the 13-candidate field, according to a recent Marist Poll—campaigned together in Flushing, Queens, a heavily Asian-American stronghold for Mr Yang, and the Lower East Side of Manhattan, favourable territory for Ms Garcia. Mr Yang called Ms Garcia “a true public servant,” and urged the crowd: “If you support me, you should rank Kathryn number two on your ballot.” (Ms Garcia did not reciprocate the endorsement.)

In form and substance, Mr Yang’s plea highlighted the unusual nature of this election—perhaps the highest-profile one yet to use ranked-choice voting (RCV), an electoral system much beloved by psephologists. In RCV elections, voters rank their choices from one to five. First-choice votes are tallied first. If no candidate gets a majority, then the candidate with the least support is dropped from the ballot, and top-choice votes for them are reallocated to their voters’ second choices. If there is still no majority, the candidate with the least support is again dropped; this continues until one candidate has more than half the total vote. Multiple rounds of counting make RCV elections difficult to predict (as, in this case, does the large share of voters, around 13%, who are undecided); a winner may not be announced for weeks. But it is already clear that after eight years of Bill de Blasio’s bumbling progressivism, New York’s Democrats appear poised to elect a moderate.

Leading the polls, but not by much, is Eric Adams (pictured), a retired African-American police officer currently serving as Brooklyn’s borough president. Public safety figures heavily in his campaign, and also in voters’ minds: although the city is far safer than it was in the 1990s, homicides have spiked over the past year, as they have in the rest of the country, and New Yorkers list crime as one of their three biggest concerns (along with covid-19 and the economy) in this election. Mr Adams argues both for more police, particularly more non-white officers, and for police reform (the police captains’ union, of which Mr Adams was once a member, has endorsed Mr Yang). Mr Adams has strong African-American support, as well as endorsements from David Paterson, New York’s first African-American governor, and Adriano Espaillat, a congressman whose support carries tremendous weight in the Latino neighbourhoods he represents in upper Manhattan and the Bronx.

The other leading African-American candidate is Maya Wiley, a staunch progressive running third, between Mr Yang, a famous but untested former presidential candidate, and Ms Garcia, who headed the city’s sanitation department and has been endorsed by multiple labour unions as well as the city’s two leading liberal newspapers, the New York Times and the Daily News. Ms Wiley has benefited from the struggles of the other leading progressives; two women have accused Scott Stringer, the city’s comptroller, of sexual misconduct (he denies the allegations), while the campaign of Dianne Morales, an executive at a nonprofit, has imploded over labour disputes among her campaign staff. Ms Wiley is a civil-rights lawyer who worked for Mr de Blasio; she is running on a broadly reformist platform, and appears to be gaining support as the campaign draws to a close.

For the rest of America, the most important part of this election is not who wins, but how RCV performs. Proponents say that it reduces negative campaigning, encourages moderation, opens races to a more diverse slate of candidates, and offers voters greater choice. Because candidates must command a majority, not just a plurality, they have to find broader appeal. And, because third-party votes do not automatically constitute spoilers, outsiders get a fairer shake.

RCV has not been widely used enough to provide a conclusive test of these hopes. San Francisco has used the system since 2002, but Rafael Mandelman, who sits on the city’s Board of Supervisors, says it has worked in unexpected ways. He cites as an example the 2019 race for District Attorney, in which Chesa Boudin garnered only 35% in a first round against three considerably more moderate candidates, but ended up winning the election. Mr Mandelman finds this outcome strange. Mr Boudin now faces a recall campaign. “He’s doing exactly what he said he would do,” says Mr Mandelman. “And the voters are furious.”

Such oddities arise because RCV, like all electoral systems, is sensitive to details of implementation. Australia, which has used the system for more than a century, requires voters to rank all candidates on the ballot. If complete rankings are optional, as in San Francisco, the ultimate tally will not account for the desires of voters who failed to rank one of the final two candidates, resulting in so-called “exhausted ballots.” Mr Boudin squeaked into office with a margin of only 3,000 votes. More than six times as many ballots were exhausted.

Observers looking for evidence elsewhere are more optimistic. Lee Drutman, a political scientist and author of a book advocating RCV, suggests that Australia has notably moderate politics. Mike Winder, a legislator in Utah who has spearheaded efforts to implement RCV there, says that it resulted in a more civil Republican gubernatorial primary in 2020. He is eager to see it deployed nationwide.

Would RCV for national elections fix American politics? Jack Santucci, a political scientist at Drexel University, says that activists are too sanguine. Many of the stated goals of RCV advocates, he says, could be accomplished at the national level by a transition to proportional representation with multi-member districts. Others agree. Even Mr Drutman, a ranked-choice cheerleader, thinks that, without proportional representation, American politics will remain deeply polarised.

As a reform, RCV has one vital advantage over proportional representation: it is comparatively easy to implement. It can also be tested fairly easily at the level of local elections like New York’s. Instituting proportional representation would constitute a complete overhaul of America’s electoral system. Does it have a chance? “Forgive me for laughing, but that’s ridiculous,” says Michael Munger, political scientist at Duke University. “Might as well say everyone has jetpacks to get ‘em to the polls.”

The pandemic cut annual FDI flows by one-third

THE COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on global economic activity. Foreign direct investment (FDI) is no exception. Last year flows of FDI dropped by one-third from $1.5trn in 2019 to $1trn, the lowest since 2005, according to an annual report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) published on June 21st. Inflows to rich countries fell faster than those to developing ones—by 58% against just 8%. Developing countries’ share of the total thus climbed to two-thirds, from just under half in 2019 (see chart). UNCTAD expects total flows to bottom out this year; by next year, if they are at the upper end of its projections, they may get back to where they were in 2019.

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The shrinkage of FDI into rich countries, UNCTAD notes, was aggravated by a drop in “conduit” flows (ie, those routed through one country, such as the Netherlands or Switzerland, on the way to another), intra-firm flows and corporate restructuring. Globally, inflows stripped of those elements were down by about 25%. Nevertheless, mergers and acquisitions, the biggest component of rich countries’ inflows, fell by 11%; “greenfield” investments in new projects were down by 16% and project finance by 28%. Flows into America fell by 40%, largely because of a reduction in reinvestment of earnings by foreign firms’ American affiliates, but the country remained the biggest recipient of FDI, with $156bn, just ahead of China, at $149bn.

Poorer countries did not exactly get off lightly. Collapses in demand for their exports and commodity prices hammered the investment prospects of many of them. In Latin America and the Caribbean inflows shrivelled by 45%. In Brazil, which has suffered more than 500,000 deaths from covid-19, they plummeted from $65bn to just $25bn. UNCTAD also expects that Africa and Latin America will see the weakest recoveries in FDI. Flows into developing Asia, which accounts for more than half of the global total, actually rose by 4% last year, to $535bn. But strip out China (up by 6%) and conduit flows through Hong Kong, and the region’s inflows fell by 6%—and by 25% in South-East Asia.

UNCTAD worries in particular that the pandemic has hurt FDI in sectors where poor countries need it most. The value of announced investment in water and sanitation fell last year by 67%; in health, transport and energy infrastructure by 54%; in agriculture by 49%; and in education by 35%. Investment in renewable energy declined too, though by a less gloomy 8%. Growth in investment in these areas—essential to the UN’s sustainable-development goals—was already flagging, says UNCTAD, before the pandemic. Poor countries lag behind rich ones in their ability to raise funds by taxing and borrowing. And now they have even more ground to make up.

After Brexit, devolution in Northern Ireland is in a parlous state

WHEN EDWIN POOTS became leader of Northern Ireland’s largest political party a month ago, he described politics as “a rough-and-tumble game”. Defending his role in ousting his predecessor, Arlene Foster, as party leader and Northern Ireland’s first minister—that is, joint leader of its devolved assembly—he said: “I would assume that at some stage it may well happen to me.” Prophetic words: after just 21 days in office Mr Poots was on his way out, too.

The origins of his political demise lie in 2017, when the then prime minister, Theresa May, held a snap election that lost her Conservatives their majority. That handed Mr Poots’s party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the balance of power in Westminster. After Mrs May failed to get her Brexit deal through, it supported Boris Johnson’s bid to replace her. It liked his vision of a post-Brexit United Kingdom set adrift from the European Union, rather than retained within a customs union, as Mrs May—and its nationalist rivals—wanted. That miscalculation is now tearing the party, and Unionism, apart.

In the contest to lead the DUP Mr Poots, a creationist from its hardline wing, saw off the party’s leader in Westminster, the more moderate Sir Jeffrey Donaldson. But upon taking over he dismayed his supporters, who had expected obduracy in response to both Irish nationalism and the British government’s seeming lack of interest in solving the conundrums posed by Brexit in the province. The vaunted hard man turned squishy, compromising to keep Northern Ireland’s devolved government in Stormont functioning for fear of a drubbing for the DUP if the government collapsed, triggering fresh elections.

That led to a fatal gamble. Mr Poots needed the DUP’s nationalist arch-rival, Sinn Fein, with which it shares power in Stormont, to ratify his choice of first minister. Sinn Fein demanded a price: enhanced protections for the Irish language that are opposed by many DUP members. The issue threatened to bring down Northern Ireland’s assembly. In an attempt to prop it up, on June 17th Mr Johnson’s government said it would legislate for Irish-language protections if Stormont refused—a promise accepted by Sinn Fein, and by Mr Poots. But not by his party: hours later just 15% of DUP legislators voted for the deal.

His position untenable, Mr Poots stepped down that night. Peter Donaghy, a data-analyst based in Belfast, produced a chart giving context to Mr Poots’s tenure as party leader: midway between the average shelf life of yoghurt and the lifespan of a housefly.

Unionists had seen in Mr Poots someone who would put an end to compromise and concession, says David Campbell, the chairman of the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), a (legal) umbrella group for illegal paramilitary organisations that together have more than 12,000 members. They blame Unionist leaders, whom they regard as “totally incompetent”, for the political mess. “It’s just one strategic blunder after another.”

The DUP’s next leader—almost certainly Sir Jeffrey—will struggle to reimpose party discipline. But a bigger challenge will be dealing with the trade border between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain. That was the price for the Brexit Mr Johnson chose, which takes Britain out of the EU’s single market and customs union, but in effect leaves Northern Ireland in both. The province is bound by EU rules over which it has no say, with added bureaucracy for British traders selling across the Irish sea, checks on goods at Ulster’s ports and some British goods banned from entering. Before Brexit, Mr Johnson had vowed never to accept such an arrangement—and after signing the deal, he denied that this was what it entailed.

The broken promises increased Unionists’ sense of betrayal when in January, after Brexit, many products disappeared from supermarket shelves. In April rioting broke out in loyalist areas. In a sign that the worsening political situation in the North has harmed cross-border relations, on June 18th the LCC issued a menacing statement saying that “Irish government ministers and officials are no longer welcome in Northern Ireland.”

The Reverend Mervyn Gibson, Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, a fraternity formed in 1795 to promote Protestantism and loyalty to the United Kingdom, laments the “rudderless” state of Unionism. He now believes that Mr Johnson’s plan to smooth over the difficulties caused by Mr Johnson’s deal—extending “grace periods” for certain items—is inadequate. That shows how Unionist attitudes have hardened. Mr Gibson had been among the moderates, saying nine months ago after meeting Mr Johnson’s government that he was “taking people at their word”. Now he says that “we should keep every option on the table—and that includes bringing down the [devolved] executive”.

All this is happening at the point in the year when it is most likely to inflame tensions. July 12th is Unionism’s biggest festival, with marching Orangemen celebrating the victory of William of Orange, a Dutch Protestant, over his rival for the English throne, the Catholic King James, in 1690. The Orange Order will “look at what action we’ll take after the 12th”, says Mr Gibson. Options include protests and breaking off relations with the Irish government.

The disarray within Unionism does not mean a united Ireland is imminent. But it does mean that devolution is under threat.

This year, the centenary of Ireland’s partition, should have been a gala one for Unionists, who have managed to stave off all calls for reunification. Brexit has increased support for reunification a bit, but opinion among Unionist voters has barely shifted. The most recent results of a long-running survey, Northern Ireland Life and Times, published on June 10th, found that just 30% of people said they would vote for Irish unity tomorrow. But it also found that Protestant support for the power-sharing that re-established the parliament in Stormont in 2007 had fallen from 72% that year to 58% now.

A snap election is a distinct possibility, and would probably see Sinn Fein emerge as the largest party. Doug Beattie, the leader of the more moderate Ulster Unionist Party, has said that if Stormont cannot be restored after an election, devolution will be over for good.
But power-sharing is probably the only way that Northern Ireland can survive within the United Kingdom in the long term.

Even some of the staunchest Unionists are struggling to keep the faith. “We are the unwanted children of the Union,” says Wallace Thompson, one of the founders of the DUP in 1971. “Worse, we are the abused children…Unionism is in a dark place, and the old shibboleths and ‘No Surrender’ slogans simply don’t cut it any more.”

Unlike Mr Thompson, younger Unionists do not remember the Troubles—the 30 years of intercommunal conflict during which more than 3,500 people were killed. With no personal memories of strife, and no prospect of reunification to concentrate their minds, many are still wedded to intransigence.

For more coverage of matters relating to Brexit, visit our Brexit hub

The battery that powers the world

WHAT DOES it take for an idea to change the world? This new monthly series examines how innovation really works. The lithium-ion battery is the most important factor in the recent rise of the electric car and also powers everything from toothbrushes to smartphones to lawnmowers. We talk to the Nobel prize-winning scientists, the co-founder of Tesla and the pioneers behind this game-changing technology. What does their story tell us about the nature of innovation? Tom Standage hosts. Runtime: 30 min

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The international role of the euro

WHEN THE European Union launched the euro two decades ago, economists wondered if this novel currency might pull off a feat none other had managed in the post-war period: to challenge the mighty American dollar. However, reserve managers at the world’s central banks, as well as business folk the world over, largely stuck with the trusty greenback. Now Europe is having another go at establishing the bona fides of the euro beyond its borders. A significant step was taken on June 15th when $20bn worth of bonds was issued as part of the Next Generation EU (NGEU) scheme to boost European economies. Those bonds could yet rival American Treasury bonds as a safe asset of choice.

Currencies exist mainly to facilitate the transactions of people and businesses within the borders of the places that issue them. But having an international presence helps in myriad ways. For firms, having imports and exports denominated in their local currency rather than, say, the dollar, means less disruption when exchange rates inevitably see-saw. Issuing a currency that foreigners want to hold can make it easier for governments to raise money from them at cheap rates. That in turn drives down the cost of borrowing for firms and banks.

The euro is widely available outside the 19 countries that formally use it. About two dozen countries link their own currencies to it in some way, albeit mainly former European colonies and close neighbours. Between a third and half of all euro banknotes by value are held outside the euro area, according to the European Central Bank (ECB). Nevertheless, by the conventional measures used to gauge international usage, it is a distant runner-up to the greenback.

Around a fifth of all foreign-exchange reserves accumulated by central banks, and a similar percentage of cross-border loans and bonds, are denominated in euros—the share for the dollar is about 60%. The euro’s share of payments for transactions is much closer to that of the dollar (see chart), unsurprisingly given that the EU is the world’s biggest importer and exporter of goods and services. Still, commodities like oil remain mostly priced in dollars.

In its first few years the single currency looked as if it might rival the post-war champion. By 2007 the euro even became the most popular currency in which to issue foreign-currency denominated debt (for example by multinationals). It was not to last. The financial crisis that started that year prompted skittish investors to fall back on the dollar as their currency of choice. The euro zone miasma that ensued, during which the very survival of the single currency came into question, seemed to vindicate their decision. Depending on the measure used, the euro has since flatlined or lost importance.

Europe now wants to have another crack, if not at overtaking the dollar, at least reducing the latter’s dominance. Two changes in circumstances mean there is a chance the euro could gain ground.

The first is America’s changing attitude to international economic policymaking—at least under the presidency of Donald Trump. His brand of jingoist protectionism jarred with the obligations incumbent on the issuer of the world’s reserve currency. Even under the more conciliatory Biden regime, Europe frets that its interests will not always be aligned with America’s. Relying on the dollar is perceived as an even greater potential vulnerability than before.

In March, euro zone leaders said that boosting the currency’s international use would help them achieve “strategic autonomy”. The EU has been particularly irked to discover that businesses in the region were in effect forced to abide by American sanctions that Europe opposed, for example on Iran. America has used the need of big banks to have access to dollars to police their behaviour far beyond its shores. Those that have fallen foul of American edicts have incurred large fines.

Critics see this extra-territorial prerogative as an undue weaponisation of the dollar. That has encouraged a change of mind among those who have traditionally been resistant to boosting the international role of the euro. In times of crisis, global reserve currencies tend to spike as investors seek a safe haven. Such unpredictable capital flows worried German monetary policymakers in the age of the Deutschmark; their scepticism carried over to the ECB. It has historically sought to “neither hinder nor foster” an international euro, but is now seen as more amenable to the idea.

The second change came, unexpectedly, as a result of the pandemic. Whereas the last global recession brought the euro to the precipice, on this occasion the swift actions of the ECB and national governments to support their economies were well received. Such battle-hardening has boosted the credibility of the euro in a crisis—a key attribute of a global currency.
Better yet, part of the bloc’s economic response to the crisis has tweaked the architecture of the single currency in ways that should bolster its international attractiveness. A big step was the creation of the NGEU scheme and the subsequent bond issuance. The bonds are effectively backed by the balance-sheet of all EU member states, thus making them roughly akin to America’s Treasury bonds. This is a relative novelty in Europe, where borrowing has mostly been done by national governments, whose creditworthiness vary. The new pan-EU bond creates a way for investors to save in euros without taking credit risk (as they might if they were lending to Italy, say).

The absence of such a “safe asset” had been one element hampering the use of the euro internationally. All manner of cross-border operations, from central-bank reserve management to companies borrowing money in a foreign currency, are underpinned by a liquid risk-free benchmark. The bonds of Germany have served as an imperfect proxy until now, but the NGEU issuance “contributes to making the euro a better substitute for the dollar,” says Reza Moghadam of Morgan Stanley, a bank.

Is smartphone film-making the future of cinema?

LONDON’S LATEST film festival has received entries from Britain, Spain, Iran and Venezuela. They include documentaries, thrillers and experimental art films; the running times range from under a minute to over an hour. But they all have one thing in common—they were made using the kind of camera which most people carry around in their pockets. The London International Smartphone Film Festival (SMart for short) is the first major film festival in which at least 50% of every film was shot on a mobile phone.

“We have had 130 entries, which is pretty good going for such a specific area,” says Adam Gee, one of SMart’s two organisers along with Victoria Mapplebeck. “They’re extremely varied, but the quality is extraordinarily high. There was barely a dud amongst them.” The pandemic may have boosted the numbers. One reason why 2021 was picked as SMart’s inaugural year is that social distancing and other safety protocols have made conventional film-making tricky, and some frustrated directors have turned to their phones instead. At the same time, the pandemic has disrupted cinema screenings, too, so the first SMart will be a “virtual” festival. The best of the entries, as chosen by a panel of judges, will be free to watch online.

Mr Gee and Ms Mapplebeck had the idea for the festival after working on a smartphone film together. Prior to that Ms Mapplebeck had been a documentary-maker, but when she became “a broke single mum”, in her words, the requisite long hours and international travel were impossible. “I had to leave the industry,” she says. “There was no way I could keep going.”

In order to keep her eye in, she used her phone to chronicle her day-to-day life, including her breast-cancer treatment and her efforts to contact her son’s estranged father. She then realised that the footage she had amassed could be edited into documentaries with exceptional spontaneity and intimacy. “You’re invisible when you’re shooting with a smartphone,” Ms Mapplebeck explains. “They’re so ubiquitous that you can use them on the tube or the bus or in a hospital corridor and it doesn’t matter. People just think you’re reading a text or taking a selfie. You can look like an amateur and shoot like a professional.”

One of the films Ms Mapplebeck shot on her phone, “Missed Call” (pictured), was commissioned and produced by Mr Gee. It went on to win the BAFTA for Best Short Form Film in 2019, making it the first ever smartphone film to win a British Academy Film Award. The victory “felt like a bit of a landmark”, says Mr Gee. “We’ve all got phones which are capable of making high-quality images, the software is cheap, and we’ve all got free access to distribution [via YouTube and other sharing platforms], so it boils down to the key qualities of having talent and having vision. Otherwise, everyone’s on a pretty level playing field.”

Mr Gee and Ms Mapplebeck, now a professor in Digital Arts at the University of London, set up SMart to foster and publicise smartphones’ “amazing democratising potential”, says Ms Mapplebeck. There has been much hand-wringing in recent years about the film business’s need to be more diverse; though grants and initiatives have their place, smartphone cameras are a revolutionary way for aspiring film-makers to break into the industry by creating a body of work on a budget. Nor do they need to abandon their phones once they’ve broken in. Sean Baker’s “Tangerine” (2015) was shot on an iPhone, as were two films from Steven Soderbergh, “Unsane” (2018) and “High Flying Bird” (2019).

Will other Hollywood directors swap truckloads of expensive equipment for the handheld alternative? Mr Gee thinks this is the wrong question, given that smartphones allow people to craft and distribute their work without fitting into a commercial mould. It’s all very well to cite Mr Soderbergh and Mr Baker, but “the really interesting and inventive smartphone film-making is on TikTok”. Ms Mapplebeck, however, believes the ever-increasing quality of smartphone images, and the ever-decreasing cost of the accompanying software, mean that mainstream cinema can’t afford to ignore the new technology. “People will use smartphones as another camera lens, so you get the best of both worlds: traditionally beautiful scenic shots that took five hours to light, and fluid, spontaneous, atmospheric footage shot with a phone.” Whatever the size of a film’s budget, a smartphone may sometimes be the smart choice.

The London International Smartphone Film Festival runs between June 21st and 25th

Americans are quitting their jobs in droves

BEWARE THE simple solution to a complex problem. In recent weeks at least 25 states, all with Republican governors, have cut off federal unemployment benefits. This is in spite of the fact that the programmes in question are fully funded to early September and cost the states nothing. Kim Reynolds, Iowa’s governor, blamed the payments for “discouraging people from returning to work”. In fact, argues a report from Morgan Stanley, a bank, it is likely that those benefits are “no more of a factor than other impediments” that stymie the return of workers to their old jobs. Child care is harder to come by than before the pandemic, and employees with health concerns may remain wary about returning to full-time in-person work.

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Whatever the reason, America’s labour market is tighter than it has been in years. Workers are quitting jobs at rates not seen this century. In April, according to preliminary data from the Department of Labour, 2.7% of the workforce quit their jobs—well above the previous peaks of 2.4%, briefly reached in 2001 and 2019. Though they have been rising for years, resignation rates were especially high in retail and hospitality, two sectors badly affected by the pandemic as people stopped travelling and did much of their shopping online.

There is no evidence of a massive wave moving from office to sofa. Job openings in April hit a new record of 9.3m; employers hired 6.1m people, about as many as were hired in March. Accommodation and food services—a subsector of the broader hospitality sector—boasted more openings and hired more people than any other sector. Competition for workers has grown fierce: restaurant chains including Chipotle, Olive Garden and McDonald’s all plan to raise wages. Non-managerial wages in the hospitality sector hit a record $15.70 per hour in April.

For the Biden administration, the salary rises are both welcome and worrying. They are welcome because Mr Biden has long advocated more power and leverage for workers. Higher wages—along with quit rates, a tacit and widespread sign of faith in the economy—indicate that they have more of both. They are also worrying because rising wages and prices could presage a long-lasting inflationary surge, which might leave workers no better off in real terms.

How many oceans are there?

A NEW OCEAN has appeared on the maps of the National Geographic Society, an American research and conservation organisation. The Southern Ocean, which encircles Antarctica, will henceforth be given the same status, and typeface, as the Arctic, Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. But of course the Southern Ocean is not really new. Not only has the body of water been there for around 30m years, since Antarctica and South America moved apart, but what to call it has been mulled and contested by others before. So how many oceans are there? And how is that decided?

All of Earth’s oceans are part of one interconnected system. Mapmakers divide it into different zones, including oceans, which also contain smaller seas. Oceans are usually bordered by whole continents whereas seas are typically surrounded by smaller bits of land. But where two bodies of water converge scientists must look at the conditions in the water to decide their boundaries. Bodies of water often have multiple names. The Southern Ocean is sometimes called the Antarctic Ocean. Sometimes these names reflect competing political claims. For instance, the one between Japan and the Koreas is known as the Sea of Japan in Japan, the East Sea in South Korea and the Korean East Sea in North Korea. Most governments have departments given the task of surveying, mapping and naming oceanographic features but the arbiter of such issues is the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO), to which 94 countries belong. (June 21st is also the IHO’s World Hydrography Day.)

The definition adopted by the National Geographic Society is that the Southern Ocean includes most of the waters that surround Antarctica to a latitude of 60° south, excluding the Drake Passage and Scotia Sea. Also called the “60th parallel south”, this cartographic line roughly corresponds with the path of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which swirls water clockwise from west to east and marks a boundary between the cold, northward-flowing waters of the Antarctic and the warmer subantarctic waters. The waters of the Southern Ocean are colder and less saline than those of the southern Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. This has allowed a distinct ecosystem to flourish, rich in plant and animal life including krill, penguins, seals, whales and albatrosses. Its icy nature makes it particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change.

The United States Board on Geographic Names already counts the Southern Ocean as distinct from other oceans, also using the 60th parallel definition. So do plenty of other governments, scientists and organisations. But the IHO’s position is trickier. The first edition of its marine mapping bible, “Limits of Oceans and Seas”, was published in 1928. This showed the Southern Ocean reaching Africa, Australia and South America. By the second edition, in 1937, the Southern Ocean’s northern limits were moved southward, no longer touching land. In the third edition, in 1953, the Southern Ocean was omitted entirely as its authors no longer saw a “justification” for applying the term ocean to this body of water, “the northern limits of which are difficult to lay down owing to their seasonal change.” Instead the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans were extended down to Antarctica. In 2000, when the fourth edition of “Limits of Oceans and Seas” was due to be published, IHO members voted to name the waters below the 60th parallel south the “Southern Ocean”. Argentina objected, as did Australia, which argues that it is the Southern, not the Indian Ocean which laps its southern shores. But other disputes between members, such as what to call the Sea of Japan, stopped the fourth edition from being formally ratified. Which leaves the IHO stuck in 1953, when the Southern Ocean didn’t exist at all.

“The closer you get to the ground, you find all sorts of funny business going on”—Ethiopia’s flawed election

THE NORTHERN region of Tigray, consumed by war and facing famine, will not vote today. It is all a far cry from what Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed once promised. Italy has piles of cash and a new ministry to guide it through a green revolution; we examine its plans and its challenges. And a rare conservation success off Australia’s coast. Runtime: 21 min

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The ransomware pandemic, America-Russia diplomacy and the best days to work from home

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A SELECTION of three essential articles read aloud from the latest issue of The Economist. This week: how to stop the ransomware pandemic, America and Russia return to traditional great-power diplomacy (10:15) and picking the best days to work from home (19:20). Runtime: 24 min

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America says it’s back. But where are its ambassadors?

SOME IMPORTANT people were nowhere to be seen as Joe Biden touched down in Europe last week on his first trip abroad as president: American ambassadors to all three countries he visited. Mr Biden has not yet nominated envoys to Britain, Belgium or Switzerland, where he ended his whirlwind of summitry by meeting his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

In fact, Mr Biden hasn’t chosen an ambassador to any of the countries—from Japan to Germany to Canada—that with America make up the G7, the group of prosperous democracies he tried to rally last week for a global contest against the autocracies of Russia and China. Nor has he picked an ambassador to the European Union, whose leaders he also met on his tour. The list of absences goes on. Though the administration has floated various names, Mr Biden has yet to select top diplomats to Beijing, Delhi, Islamabad, Kabul, Kyiv, Manila, Riyadh, Seoul, Warsaw and more. America may be back, as Mr Biden likes to declare, but its ambassadors are still a long way away.

There is an ambassador to Moscow, but only because Mr Biden held over Donald Trump’s choice, John Sullivan. And Mr Biden has got around to nominating a representative to NATO. She is Julianne Smith, one of his deputy national security advisers when he was vice-president. But she has not yet been confirmed by the Senate, and, since the president proposed her only last week, she is unlikely to be in office for quite some time.

It is hard to measure the impact of an absent ambassador. A chargé d’affaires, generally an experienced foreign service officer, acts as placeholder. Heads of state and foreign ministers often speak directly to each other. During the pandemic, virtual diplomacy showed its merit as a workaround for having diplomats on site. And some ambassadors, generally those not drawn from the foreign service, have done more to set back than advance relations with their host country. The Los Angeles Times described Richard Grenell, Mr Trump’s envoy to Berlin, as “an unabashed irritant to Germany”. To be fair, however, Mr Grenell was representing his boss’s views.

As Mr Biden put it last week in Geneva, where he met Mr Putin, he believes foreign policy “is a logical extension of personal relationships”. The sooner ambassadors are in place the sooner they learn who the real players are and begin building trust. And as choices of the president, ambassadors speak with particular authority, both to their host government and their own.

Consider Tom Nides, whom Mr Biden nominated last week to be ambassador to Israel. The vice-chairman of Morgan Stanley, Mr Nides was deputy secretary of state for management and resources under Hillary Clinton and also worked for years on Capitol Hill. Had he been in place as tensions were building last month in Jerusalem, he might have had the authority and relationships to call the administration’s attention to the trouble, and to intervene effectively himself, before Israel and Hamas began trading blows. As it was, the administration scrambled to dispatch an envoy after the fact, and the most senior official it could spare was a deputy assistant secretary of state, Hady Amr.

The dilatory pace of ambassadorial appointments is part of a broader pattern. After getting off to a relatively quick start staffing his administration, at least with appointees who did not require confirmation by the Senate, Mr Biden has lost steam. As with the trip itself, during which the allies were tickled just to be meeting with an American president who did not insult or physically shove them, Mr Biden’s slow pace of appointments does not look so bad compared with Mr Trump’s. But that is a low bar.

Five months into his term, Mr Biden has had 67 political appointees confirmed, compared with just 41 for Mr Trump at the same point. Barack Obama, on the other hand, had 149 officials confirmed by now, according to data kept by the Partnership for Public Service, a non-profit group.

These tallies are particularly striking when you consider that, in all, a president is supposed to fill some 1,100 vacancies that require Senate confirmation, along with another 3,000 that do not. One problem is that, in order to hire people, you need to hire the people who oversee the hiring. It does not help that, in part because of senatorial inertia, Mr Biden has yet to fill three top posts focused on staffing the government and making it run effectively: the leaders of the Office of Personnel Management, the General Services Administration and the Office of Management and Budget. Mr Biden has proposed an activist foreign policy and an audacious domestic agenda, but, across the government, he still lacks many of the leaders he will need to pursue either effectively.

The Senate plays a role of its own in undermining effective governance by taking its time. For example, Mr Biden has nominated most of his candidates for the critical position of assistant secretary of state, some as long ago as mid-April. But the Senate has yet to confirm any of them. It took Mr Obama an average of 510 days, and Mr Trump an average of 525, to get each assistant secretary approved.

Mr Biden and his most senior aides had the government experience to anticipate the obstacles to hiring, from the politics of choosing individuals to the demands of scrutinising each for financial conflicts of interest or other burdensome baggage. They wisely had more than 1,000 appointees who did not require Senate confirmation ready to start on day one. But confirmation hearings were slow to get under way, not least because of the attack on the Capitol, followed by the second impeachment of Mr Trump.

The administration then fell into a pattern familiar to those who have watched transitions come and go. Those officials who were in place became preoccupied with crises or making new policy. Questions of personnel, which have the disadvantage of being both dull and sensitive, became easy to put off. And, of course, the fewer the people in place, the more the duties that get piled on them.

Various reforms have been proposed over the years to speed things up, such as reducing the number of political appointees altogether, requiring fewer of them to be Senate-confirmed and eliminating some positions altogether. But the legislative and executive branches guard their prerogatives carefully, and so the process plods along.

Picking ambassadors is particularly tricky. Presidents have tended to use comfortable, lower-pressure posts to reward big campaign donors or other political allies. Mr Trump particularly liked to do this, and he raised the proportion of politically appointed ambassadors to 43%, with the other 57% drawn from the professional foreign service. Since 1974 the share of professionals has been closer to 67%.

Antony Blinken, the secretary of state (pictured above with the president), wants to promote more foreign service officers into ambassadorships. He is also looking to diversify the ranks. An analysis released in January by the Partnership for Public Service found that of 189 ambassadors, just five were black. All these considerations can make for complex decision-making, even before members of Congress and others call to lobby for their own favourites.

After naming nine foreign service officers to be ambassadors in April, Mr Biden followed up two months later, on June 15th, with nine more nominations, including Ms Smith and Mr Nides. In addition to choosing ambassadors to Costa Rica, the Gambia, Guinea, Paraguay and Sri Lanka, Mr Biden picked Ken Salazar, a former interior secretary and senator from Colorado, as ambassador to Mexico. He also chose C.B. “Sully” Sullenberger III, a former airline captain who successfully landed a disabled passenger jet on the Hudson River in 2009, to be the American representative, with the rank of ambassador, on the council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

But the president has yet to fill many of the most important and sensitive posts. After decades of successful Republican demonisation of government, Mr Biden wants to prove it can be a force for good at home and abroad. It would be a shame if incompetent management got in the way.

Myanmar sinks deeper into civil war, as anti-army groups multiply

MOUNTED ON HIS bike, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a corporate logo, Kyaw Soe resembles one of the myriad food-couriers zipping through Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city. But his bag contains no food. It is a convenient disguise for somebody whose mission requires him to rove the city, looking not for door numbers but for hidey-holes in which to plant explosives.

Mr Kyaw Soe (not his real name) belongs to a covert group of people trying to destabilise Myanmar’s military junta by blowing up the homes and offices of those who work for the regime. Before the army launched its coup four months ago, ending a ten-year experiment with democracy and returning the country to military rule, Mr Kyaw Soe “had never dared to pick up a gun.” In February and March, he, like hundreds of thousands of Burmese, took to the streets to engage in peaceful protest against the putsch.

But the army’s brutal crackdown, in which more than 850 people have died and more than 6,000 others have been arrested, has pushed many who oppose the coup to change strategy and tactics. The resistance no longer wishes merely to reverse the coup, but to tame the army, which has ruled the country for most of the past 60 years. Deposed parliamentarians have formed a shadow government, and ordinary citizens like Mr Kyaw Soe have taken up arms. In cities, underground operatives are assassinating officials from the military government. In the countryside, newly formed militias are attacking army units. Even before the birth of this “revolutionary movement”, as Thant Myint-U, a Burmese historian, calls it, Myanmar was racked by ethnically based insurgencies (see map). Since the coup, several of these ethnic militias have launched offensives against the Tatmadaw, as the army is known. The proliferation of armed uprisings poses the most serious challenge to the army’s hegemony in a generation.

The most battle-hardened of the forces arrayed against the Tatmadaw are the ethnic militias. Two of the oldest and biggest rebel groups, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), launched offensives in March, seizing army bases and police posts across Kachin and Karen states. A “meat-grinder” battle near the Chinese border that has gone on for months “has seen some of the heaviest fighting ever between the KIA and the Tatmadaw,” says Anthony Davis, a security analyst, with almost an entire army battalion reportedly wiped out in just two days in April.

The Tatmadaw is even losing skirmishes against less experienced rebels armed with home-made hunting rifles. On May 31st the Karenni Nationalities Defence Force (KNDF), a merger of established insurgent groups and new militias from Kayah state, ambushed 150 soldiers. In retaliation, the army deployed helicopters, fighter jets and heavy artillery. Though the KNDF’s claim to have killed 80 soldiers is likely to be an exaggeration, says Mr Davis, the scale of the retaliation suggests the Tatmadaw suffered humiliating losses. He suspects that experienced troops have probably been deployed to fend off the KIA and KNLA, leaving less capable troops to tackle new outfits like the KNDF, who know the terrain better and are more motivated. “We are defending our land,” says Thomas, the KNDF’s information officer (who goes by one name). “The regime’s forces were just following orders.”

Unusually, the Tatmadaw must also contend with fury among Bamars, the majority ethnic group, who are clustered in the centre of the country. Thousands of urban activists have received basic military training in the redoubts of ethnic militias in the jungle and have, like Mr Kyaw Soe, returned to the cities to put their new skills into practice. More than 300 bombs have exploded in police stations, state-owned banks and government offices since February, according to Radio Free Asia, a news website. The junta claims that more than 300 “innocents” have been killed in bombings and shootings since the coup, though RFA can confirm only 12 assassinations. At the same time, in rural areas, scores of new militias that have declared allegiance to the shadow government have attacked police stations, clashed with soldiers and ambushed military convoys.

There are signs of co-ordination between ethnic rebels and Bamar fighters. In late April Chinese-made rockets were launched at two air-force bases in central Myanmar. These weapons were almost certainly obtained from the KIA or KNLA, says Mr Davis, but neither group could have deployed and fired the projectiles in central Myanmar without help from local Bamars. It is the first time that military targets in the centre of the country have been attacked with heavy weaponry.

The Tatmadaw is taking a pounding. Mr Davis estimates that the security forces have suffered 500 fatalities since the coup. The creation in May of an auxiliary militia to patrol big cities and towns shows how overstretched it is. Even Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief, admitted, in an interview with a broadcaster from Hong Kong in May, that the situation is not “100% under control”.

Yet the Tatmadaw is far from being defeated. Even were its opponents to band together, as the shadow government hopes, its 350,000-odd soldiers would still dwarf the rebels’ combined forces of around 80,000. Over the past decade it has built up an arsenal of sophisticated weaponry, enabling it to mount combined land and air offensives. A resolution passed on June 18th by the UN General Assembly, calling for an end to arms sales to Myanmar, as well as an end to violence and the release of detainees, will make little difference. The Tatmadaw’s two biggest suppliers, China and Russia, abstained.

There have been hundreds of defections from the army since the coup, but it is very unlikely that enough would abandon the force to influence the conflict’s outcome. Plus, their fortunes may change with the weather. Hostilities with ethnic rebels, who live in the country’s uplands, are usually suspended when the monsoon arrives. If that annual pattern holds this year, the Tatmadaw may be able to redeploy troops to the heartland, Mr Davis predicts.

The shadow administration, known as the National Unity Government (NUG), is trying to knit the disparate anti-regime forces into a standing army. But different ethnic rebels are wary of one another—past efforts at co-operation have failed—and of the NUG, which was formed by a Bamar political party criticised before the coup for ignoring the grievances of ethnic minorities. Even the Chin National Front, the only ethnic militia formally allied with the NUG, is worried that Bamars will dominate their coalition, says Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong, who is the front’s vice-chairman and the NUG’s minister of federal affairs. Some rebel groups have no interest in taking on the Tatmadaw. They include the biggest, the United Wa State Army, with 30,000 troops. Others, such as the Arakan Army, which had engaged the Tatmadaw in fierce fighting until last November, see an opportunity to extract concessions from the army while it is under pressure.

“It is highly unlikely that the shadow government will ever have full centralised control over all the various new militias formed to stop the coup, let alone the ethnic-armed organisations who will remain allies at best,” says Kim Jolliffe, an analyst. But the fragmented nature of the resistance also makes it more difficult for the Tatmadaw to root out insurgents. And Mr Lian Hmung Sakhong points out that the Tatmadaw’s brutality has turned the entire country against it. For the first time since some students took up arms after the bloody suppression of an uprising in 1988, Bamars are joining ethnic rebels in their war against the army. Resistance fighters may be outgunned by the Tatmadaw, but Mr Lian Hmung Sakhong, speaking of the junta’s leader, says, “Min Aung Hlaing cannot kill the whole people, the entire country.”

Global markets adapt to a change in the Federal Reserve’s tone

FOR SEVEN months most investors have been singing the same uplifting song. Since Pfizer and BioNTech published the successful results of trials of their covid-19 vaccine last November, the way to make money in markets has been to bet on a roaring rebound in the global economy, as pent-up demand for all the things the pandemic denied people—holidays, dining out, shopping—was unleashed. This “reflation” trade lifted the prices of commodities used in construction, such as copper and lumber, to record heights. It lifted global stocks, especially the share prices of firms hardest hit by the pandemic, such as cruise operators and retailers. The currencies of emerging economies, which tend to benefit more than most from global economic strength, rallied against the dollar and the euro. Bond yields climbed along with expectations of speedy growth and higher inflation.

But that changed on June 16th, after the Federal Reserve—hitherto apparently sanguine about rising American inflation—suggested that it may eventually think about raising its policy rate, long anchored at zero. Shorter-dated bonds and shares tumbled, as did those building-boom commodities. After a jittery week, some investors may start this one wondering whether they over-reacted.

The enthusiasm of the past few months was underpinned partly by the assumption that the Fed would maintain the same, super-loose monetary policy. Hence the anxiety when Jerome Powell, the Fed’s chairman (pictured), suggested that the central bank might have to consider tightening “somewhat sooner than previously anticipated”. The Fed raised its inflation forecasts and lifted its median estimate for the future of policy rates to include two increases in 2023. Mr Powell also said the Fed would begin discussing when to slow its asset purchases from the current $120bn per month. Any doubt about the change of tone was snuffed out two days later when James Bullard, head of the St Louis Fed, told CNBC that the first rate rise could arrive in late 2022.

The Fed had seemed nonchalant even as signs of overheating in the American economy became harder to ignore. The central bank’s target measure of inflation, “core PCE”, jumped to 3%, year on year, at the end of April. Headline inflation, gauged by the consumer-price index, has climbed from less than 2% in February to 5% in May. Anecdotal evidence of overheating abounds, from the piping-hot housing market to spiking grocery bills, gas prices and Uber fares. Yet Fed officials said the acceleration in inflation was “transitory” and that they would look through its effects. Investors believed them.

They were accordingly surprised by the change of tone. Many of the trends that have dominated markets since November unwound. Reflecting the prospective rate increases, the yield on two-year Treasury bonds jumped to 0.27% from 0.16% on June 14th (see chart). The 30-year yield, which tends to follow long-term growth or inflation expectations, tumbled to 2.02% on June 18th, from 2.21% before the Fed’s meeting.

The prospect of the Fed putting a brake on inflation and growth hit share and commodity prices. The S&P 500 slipped from near a record high, ending the week about 2% lower. “Value” stocks, which had performed particularly well since November, were hard hit. Copper lost its spark, shedding 8% over the week. Lumber was felled, dropping 15%.

The Fed also wrong-footed monetary policymakers elsewhere, several of whom met after the Fed did or are due to convene this week. When the Fed last unwound a post-crisis stimulus, in 2013, setting off a notorious “taper tantrum”, many emerging-market currencies, notably those of Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey, fell sharply against the dollar. On June 16th the Brazilian central bank raised its interest rates from 3.5% to 4.25%, the third increase since February, despite the damage covid-19 has done to Brazil’s economy (and to Brazilians’ health). The currencies of the other four countries have fallen by between 1% and 4% against the dollar since the Fed’s meeting. An index of the dollar against other leading currencies rose by 1.9% last week.

As a new week begins, investors will ask whether the shift signalled by the Fed warranted such strong reactions. It is possible that markets overdid it. When many investors hold the same portfolio of positions, they can be forced to bail out in a hurry if markets move violently against them. This liquidation of positions can exacerbate volatility. In fact, there are reasons to think the great reflation trade has further to run: the full reopening of the American economy is still in its early stages and the end of 2022 is a long way off.

But those turning their backs on emerging-market currencies, value stocks and copper will find plenty to convince them that a new phase for markets and the economy has already begun. Lumber prices were already slipping before the Fed meeting, as a frenzy for home improvements cooled. Credit-card spending, an early indicator of economic activity, has been running 20% higher than it was two years ago, but this month the pace has slowed to 16.5%, according to Bank of America.

Soon, investors will learn which bet pays off next. But those still eager, after last Wednesday’s surprise, for hints of what the Fed thinks is in store are in luck. Its officials, including Mr Bullard and Mr Powell, will make no fewer than 12 public appearances this week.

The number of forcibly displaced people reaches another record high

AS THE PANDEMIC took hold last year, countries across the world shut their borders to contain the virus. But covid-19 did not stop people in desperate circumstances from fleeing their homes in ever growing numbers. A new report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) shows that 11.2m people fled in 2020; overall, there were 82.4m forcibly displaced people by the end of the year (see chart). It is the highest total to date—and the ninth year in a row that the figure has increased.

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It is almost inevitable that the number will soon exceed 100m. These include people classified by UNHCR as refugees (ie, those who have “fled war, violence, conflict or persecution”, have crossed a border and have obtained refugee status); asylum-seekers (people whose claim to refugee status has not been evaluated), internationally displaced (those who have left their home countries but have not sought refugee status) and internally displaced people (who have fled their homes to find safety, but remained in their countries).

People from just five countries account for about half of those displaced abroad (see chart). The biggest share have left Syria, where the civil war which began in 2011 has settled into a bloody stalemate. Almost 5m Venezuelans have escaped an economic crisis and political repression in their home country. Afghans subject to terrorism and insurgency, and South Sudanese caught in the middle of fighting have also fled their homes. In Myanmar, more than 1m people have escaped civil war and the genocide of the Rohingyas.

More than half of those who have fled their homes around the world are internally displaced within their countries—notably in Colombia, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen.

And although Western governments and media focus on people seeking asylum in Europe and America, most refugees are sheltering in poorer countries such as Pakistan and Uganda. Turkey hosts more refugees than any other country, the majority of them from neighbouring Syria. In a reversal from the 1980s and 1990s, when oil-rich Venezuela welcomed Colombians fleeing drug-fuelled conflict, Colombia has opened the door to a large influx of Venezuelans.

President Joe Biden has promised to allow 62,500 refugees to settle in America, which is an important signal but still far fewer than the United States has welcomed in the past: between 1990 and 1995, an average of 116,000 refugees arrived in America annually. Colombia’s government announced in February that it would offer temporary-protection status to more than 1m Venezuelans. This is helpful, though the report says that “many more such symbols of solidarity and responsibility-sharing are needed”.

Covid has aggravated the refugee crisis in the short term by disrupting supply chains and worsening food insecurity; the pandemic has forced more people into poverty. But other problems will continue to cause displacement. Environmental degradation will probably force more people from their homes in the coming decades: 95% of the people fleeing conflict in 2020 came from countries vulnerable or highly vulnerable to climate change, as identified by the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index. Reversing the grim exodus of refugees seems ever harder.

Alison Gopnik on a revolution to properly value caregivers

THE PANDEMIC changed much, but it revealed more. A crisis in caregiving that had long existed suddenly became visible. Caring for others is essential for families and for society. But it took the covid-19 crisis to make us all realise just how ubiquitous and necessary caregiving is—and how neglected it has been.

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Throughout human history, people have had to take care of helpless children and fragile elders—homo sapiens has an exceptionally long period of childhood and old age. Humans also evolved an exceptionally wide range of carers: mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, grandparents and uncles and aunts, and “alloparents”—those who take care of other people’s children. It takes the proverbial village to look after the old as well as raise the young. But in today’s society, the cost of that care has been invisible—it’s not even counted in GDP. The pandemic transformed a quiet, slow-motion disaster into a startling, explosive one.

There are several immediate reasons for the crisis. Women have shouldered most of the burden of care and women’s work has always been overlooked and undervalued. Care has relied on an unstable amalgam of institutions that bridge the family, market and state. Society has depended on individual mothers and daughters, and perpetually struggling private day-care centres and nursing homes. Public institutions, such as schools and hospitals, that provide care, often do so as an after-thought, a side-effect of their primary purposes. In fact, programmes that do provide care often disguise the fact, especially in America. Child care only gets support if it’s called preschool, and social security is positioned as just another kind of insurance.

The pandemic suddenly made the fragility of these contrivances painfully apparent. Parents and children were locked in the same room 24/7, as schools and sports and day-care centers shut down. “Assisted living” for the elderly turned into solitary dying. Carers, paid and unpaid, who had always been “essential,” now got this designation officially, and at least earned a measure of respect, even if it was expressed by bell- ringing and clapping instead of higher salaries.

Aside from these particular circumstances, though, there are also more profound philosophical and psychological reasons why it has been so difficult to find a place for care. The idea of care is deeply tied to love—the way we feel about our specific, particular children and parents, family and friends. Until recently, those emotions and relationships have been strikingly absent from philosophy, economics and politics. The idea that the world needs more love has been the stuff of songs and sermons, not public policy. Taking love and care seriously could lead to a new political agenda that bypasses the usual ideological divisions and helps society solve the caregiving crisis.

Much of the discussion about policy is rooted in the idea of the social contract. Individual agents try to achieve their goals and maximise their utilities. But better outcomes for everybody are possible if people are willing to place the interests of others above their own, at least sometimes. I may sacrifice my own short-term interests for yours, so long as you reciprocate—tit for tat.

Ultimately, both sides do better. This kind of contract has been the focus of attention in philosophy, biology, psychology, economics and political theory. It’s central to philosophical utilitarianism, biological accounts of the evolution of altruism and psychological accounts of how we cooperate. And of course, it’s at the core of classical economics.

Market economics and political democracy were the great inventions of the Enlightenment and they expand the logic of individual contracts to the scale of a city, a nation or even a planet. You could think of them as a kind of software that aggregates all those individual goals and utilities into the “greatest good for the greatest number”, with dramatically beneficial effects.

Until recently, though, love and care have been paid much less attention. They have always been part of religious traditions, of course. And feminists have argued that they have traditionally been associated with women and so undervalued. But relationships of care have been subject to much less rigorous scientific or analytic attention than contractual ones, and they’ve played a surprisingly small role in moral psychology and economic and political theory.

That’s starting to change. Important scientific work has uncovered biological mechanisms of care, and tracked their evolutionary history. The relationships between mothers and infants in mice and voles involve the same brain mechanisms that underpin the wide-ranging attachments we see in humans. But though they may have their evolutionary origin in kinship relationships, in humans these relationships extend far beyond shared genes.

In fact, one of the principal mechanisms for establishing these relationships of care is caring itself. Vole mothers and fathers who groom their infants become attached to them. The badly paid, over-worked carers who risked their lives during the pandemic often explained their heroism in terms of their relationship to specific people—“I couldn’t abandon old Mr Smith!”. We don’t care for others because we love them, we love them because we care for them.

Taking these caring relationships seriously would give us a very different picture of moral psychology and political philosophy. Love and care can play an essential moral and political role that goes beyond contracts. When we care deeply for another person, we are no longer just one person with one set of values and interests—values and interests that we can weigh against one another, and co-ordinate with the values and interests of others. Instead, a parent is a person whose self has been expanded to include the values and interests of a child, even when those values and interests are different from their own. The same expansion of interests happens when we care for an elderly parent or an ailing spouse, or just a friend in trouble.

Care isn’t a trade-off between two equal and autonomous agents. Instead, care expands an individual agent’s utilities to include the utilities and goals of another. In fact, one of the challenges of all these kinds of care is that we must assess our actions from the perspective of the person we care for, even if their goals are different from ours. This kind of expansion of the self serves the same overall function as the social contract: it lets a community of people do better than any individual could. But it uses a very different mechanism to do so, a mechanism we are just starting to understand both biologically and mathematically.

From a policy perspective, this kind of care doesn’t fit well with either the market or government models that have been so useful in scaling up contracts and accomplishing utilitarian ends. In a market economy, defined by consumers and producers, love and care either become expensive luxuries, measured in preschool tuition and assisted-living facility costs, or a particularly poorly paid and low-status kind of work. But love and care also don’t seem to fit the model of goods, like defense or education, healthcare or environmental protection, that a state should distribute equally and universally to all its citizens.

We can imagine an alternative policy agenda that would help support and encourage these local caring relationships, an agenda to let love flourish. In America the pandemic suddenly made programmes like family allowances, childcare subsidies and parental-leave policies realistic. Along with stimulus checks and financial assistance, the programmes will dramatically cut child poverty. These policies could be extended to support care for elders and others.

There are more ambitious ways to reimagine policies to foster caregiving. Marriage is one of the few examples of a legal recognition of love, conferring both benefits and responsibilities. Yet the model of marriage could be extended. For example, one particular child, usually a daughter, often ends up taking responsibility for ageing parents, and society could formally recognise and support that commitment. The designated carer could receive six months of “elder-care leave” and a cash allowance—the equivalent of parental leave and child allowances. Carers could be granted more authority over medical and financial decisions, as currently happens with spouses.

Policies could allow other people to make similar formal commitments to help care for children, along the lines of traditional godparents. Or they could allow one friend to be officially committed to caring for another: a dear friend of mine who has no close living relatives recently shared her anxieties about growing old alone. Officially recognising and supporting relationships of care beyond marriage would help carers both practically and symbolically.

Finally, we could work to alter the physical environment to support these close relationships. Close relationships of care are intrinsically local—they depend on being in the same place. But in contemporary life, people work in one place, children go to school in another and elders are even further away, with long commutes in between. Once again, the pandemic exaggerated problems that were already there.

The forced togetherness of parents and children was difficult, but the forced separation of grandparents and grandchildren was tragic. Yet the pandemic also let us see that care and other kinds of work could happen in the same place, as they did for most of human history. If the industrial economy separated work and family, neighbours and friends, the post-industrial economy might allow us to bring them together again.

No lesson can make up for the fundamental tragedy of the pandemic. But if we started taking care seriously and acting to support the people who care for others, we would have salvaged a treasure from the wreck.
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Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and the author of several books on cognitive science, notably “The Scientist in the Crib” (Harper Collins, 2001) and “The Philosophical Baby” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009).

Ebrahim Raisi wins a rigged election in Iran. What next?

“THE HEART of elections is competition—if you take that away it becomes a corpse,” said Hassan Rouhani, the president of Iran, last month. To many Iranian voters, though, the presidential election on June 18th was more like a joke. In the days before the vote, some posted images on social media of Ebrahim Raisi, the front-runner, debating not other candidates, but himself. Others shared a clip from “The Dictator”, a film in which Sacha Baron Cohen plays a Middle Eastern despot. Mr Cohen’s character wins a foot race—after shooting the other runners with the starting pistol.

The election, in other words, was not competitive—even by the standards of Iran, where unelected clerics hold the real power. Of the nearly 600 candidates who registered to run, all but seven were disqualified by the Guardian Council, including a former president, a current vice-president and Iran’s longest-serving speaker of parliament. (Three of the seven dropped out later.) The council, a group of clerics and lawyers who vet candidates, essentially cleared the field for Mr Raisi, a hardline cleric and judiciary chief with close ties to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

On June 19th, with 90% of ballots counted, Mr Raisi had 62% of the vote, an unbeatable lead. His closest rivals conceded to him. Another hardliner, Mohsen Rezaei, a former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC), had about 12% and Abdolnasser Hemmati, a former governor of the central bank, on whom some Iranians settled as a protest candidate, around 8%. Turnout appeared to be low, as many liberal and moderate Iranians sat out the election.

Mr Raisi appealed to conservative voters and those who believe his promises to stamp out corruption, which is rife. Like Mr Khamenei, he is opposed to deeper engagement with the West and thinks personal freedoms should extend only as far as Islamic law allows (not very far, in his mind). America placed sanctions on him two years ago for his involvement in the regime’s repression of the pro-democracy Green Movement in 2009, after another rigged election. (Ironically, the man declared the winner of that vote, the then incumbent president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was disqualified this time around.) America also cited Mr Raisi’s participation, while deputy prosecutor-general of Tehran, in a “death commission” that ordered the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.

How Mr Raisi is viewed in America matters. Iran has been hit hard by covid-19. Its economy has suffered as a result of the virus, but also because of graft, mismanagement and, most of all, sanctions reimposed by Donald Trump after he yanked America out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. That is the unwieldy name given to the multinational deal under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief. In response to Mr Trump’s actions, Iran has breached the agreement in several ways, not least by enriching uranium to levels far beyond those needed for civilian use. But talks in Vienna, aimed at bringing both parties back to the deal, are said to be making progress.

President Joe Biden has made clear that he wants to re-enter the deal. But some in America fear that the election of Mr Raisi will toss a spanner in the works. The Iranian president’s advisers might include ideologues who make the negotiations more difficult. Still, Mr Khamenei has supported the talks in Vienna. And in the final presidential debate, Mr Raisi himself said he was open to bringing Iran back to the agreement (as long as Iran’s interests are met). An optimistic version of his presidency would see Iran reaping the economic benefits of a renewed deal, while the (so far slow) rollout of covid-19 vaccines leads to a recovery from the pandemic.

But the election of Mr Raisi may also be a harbinger of illiberal changes to Iran’s hybrid political system. Even though the clerics are in charge, the government has long pointed to elections and high turnout to bolster its claim to legitimacy. The democratic façade had already been crumbling. Reformists and moderates led by Mr Rouhani made little progress during his two terms as president (the maximum allowed under the constitution), as the clergy and allied security forces tightened their grip. Before last year’s parliamentary election reform-minded candidates were disqualified en masse. In a recording leaked earlier this year, Muhammad Javad Zarif, the foreign minister under Mr Rouhani, described how he was often sidelined by the IRGC, one of the country’s most powerful institutions.

To hold such a blatantly rigged presidential election, all but acknowledging that the system’s republican features are a sham, is another step in the hardliners’ consolidation of power. There is much speculation about what comes next. Some expect a further purge of liberals from state institutions. Others think structural changes are coming, as Mr Khamenei, who is 82, prepares the country for his eventual successor. Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group, a think-tank, believes Mr Khamenei may try to convert the country’s presidential system into a parliamentary one or replace the role of supreme leader with a council. “A parliamentary system would limit the conflicts between the offices of the supreme leader and the president,” he wrote in Foreign Affairs, “and abolishing the position of supreme leader would help his son [Mojtaba] maintain backroom influence after Khamenei’s death.”

The machinations of Mr Khamenei’s narrow group of clerical advisers are murky and unpredictable. Some believe he is grooming Mr Raisi as his successor, but there are plenty of other candidates (including Mojtaba). What is clear is that Iran’s unelected theocrats and the IRGC are tired of being challenged by the reformists, moderates and pragmatists often chosen by voters to represent them. And the regime will undoubtedly remain hostile to Western influence, even if the nuclear deal is renewed. Mr Raisi’s victory bodes ill for any hope of liberalisation in Iran. The Islamic republic looks ever more like an Islamic autocracy, ruled by God’s law, the clergy and the IRGC.

ACL injuries are a growing problem

AS THE COVID-19 pandemic abates and athletes around the world prepare to return to the sports field, new light is being shed on one of the gravest risks of injury they face. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of four that hold the knee together. Tearing it, as at least 2m people do every year, is one of the most immobilising injuries a person can sustain. ACL tears are usually a consequence of an awkward movement during a sport such as football. The surgery and rehabilitation needed cost billions of dollars a year. It is becoming increasingly clear just how devastating—and possibly preventable—this injury really is.

Doctors have always recognised ACL tears as serious, but used to think that returning to competition was possible six months after surgery. Elizabeth Gardner, head orthopaedic surgeon at Yale University Athletics, reckons, however, that nine months to a year is more realistic. That is a significant chunk of an athlete’s career. Even then, surgery alone is no guarantee of recovery. Re-tear rates are as high as 20%, “a lot higher than you would expect for a surgery that we think we do really well and is so ridiculously well studied”, Dr Gardner says. On top of that, recent investigations suggest as many as three-quarters of those who suffer an ACL tear go on to develop arthritis of the knee 15-20 years later.

ACL tears are, moreover, increasing in frequency. In 2018 researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital found that, over the course of a decade, the number of them relative to other orthopaedic problems had tripled amongst Americans aged under 18. This may be a consequence of moves towards single-sport specialisation in American schools. The lack of variety of body-movements thus engendered tends to focus strain repeatedly on particular parts of the body. Recent studies in countries around the world, including Australia, Finland and Norway, support the idea that more young people than ever before are sustaining ACL injuries. Australian sports authorities in particular are trying to discourage such specialisation.

One of the most curious features of ACL injuries, though, is that they afflict women far more often than men—as much as eight times more, some investigations suggest. Why this might be is the subject of intensive research. But a clue lies in an apparent connection with the menstrual cycle.

A study published in 2013, of a group of women skiers in the Alps, for example, found that those in the pre-ovulatory stage of the cycle were more than twice as likely to suffer an ACL tear than were those in the post-ovulatory stage. A four-year survey of 113 female England footballers, published in March, also found a clear correlation. Muscle and tendon injuries were far more common in the late follicular phase of the cycle, just prior to ovulation, than in the other phases.

The reason for this menstrual-cycle link is unclear. The ACL has oestrogen receptors, which might help to explain what is happening. But it is not unique among ligaments in this, and the receptors’ job is, in any case, obscure. Levels of oestrogen in the body do spike just before ovulation—the point when tear-frequency rises—but uncertainty remains about the exact link.

Other contributory factors to women’s higher ACL tear rate may be female body shapes and movement patterns. Compared with men, women have wider hips, more inverted knees and “over-dominant“ quad muscles (meaning that the quadriceps femoris muscle group in front of the thigh bone is relatively stronger than the hamstring group behind it). All these factors put pressure on the elaborate workings of the knee joint. Women also tend to land in a more flat-footed manner than men do, and to pivot more awkwardly.

Anatomy is what it is, so not much can be done about sex differences in hip shape and knee orientation. All athletes, though, can be trained how to move more safely, and this is particularly relevant for women. Straightforward exercise classes in balance and agility have been found to reduce ACL tears by 50%. Strengthening the muscles around the knee—especially the hamstring—by focused exercises, is another way to reduce the chances of a tear.

Dealing with the menstrual cycle has, in the past, been trickier, since it requires that individual athletes keep detailed track of their cycles. This, though, has been made easier by modern gadgetry. For example, the American women’s football team (real football, not the gridiron sort), who are the current world champions, use FitrWoman, an app that monitors a user’s cycle and tells her on which days it may be risky to train intensely. This is something that the team’s former high-performance coach, Dawn Scott, reckons contributed to their retention of the World Cup in 2019. And back in football’s home country, England, FitrWoman is also making a mark. The women’s team at Chelsea football club, who won this year’s Super League, have adopted the app as well.

This is the sort of thing that could be encouraged more widely, by introducing it into school and college sports. That does, though, require awareness of the problem—and this is still lacking. In 2019, for example, St Mary’s University, Twickenham, in England, conducted a survey of more than 14,000 female athletes. It revealed that 81% of those with coaches never discussed the impact of their menstrual cycles on training with them. Nearly three-quarters said they had received no education regarding the cycle’s impact on their exercise regime and fitness, and vice versa.

The topic of menses can be taboo even at the highest level of sport. In 2015 Heather Watson, a British tennis player, withdrew from the Australian Open citing “girl things”. She was applauded for publicly linking her performance to her period, even in the vaguest of terms, which is still a rarity among top athletes. From the top to the bottom of women’s sport, then, a bit more openness and physiological realism might work wonders for knee preservation and the avoidance of problems in later life. Considering the rigour of modern, professional athletes’ training regimes, it is surprising this is not happening already.

[Technology] Flight of the Sky Lion: ‘Like VR but without the headset’

Flight of the Sky Lion at the Legoland Windsor Resort is the UK’s first flying theatre ride.

The adventure is projected onto a 20m (65ft) high concave screen and the gondola, where the audience sits, is capable of a 30 degree swing, 23 degree pitch and 3 degrees of yaw (left or right movement).

BBC Click’s LJ Rich experiences the ride and goes behind the scenes to find out more.

See more at Click’s website and @BBCClick