Friday, February 4, 2011

New and Noteworthy (Unemployment, Supporting 9 Billion By 2050)

In today's edition:

* An in-depth analysis by Daniel Indiviglio of The Atlantic parsing the BLS's unemployment data for January--and showing that the improvement in the numbers (particularly a drop in the U-3 rate from 9.4 to 9 percent, in the U-6 from 16.7 to 16.1 percent during that month) is not due to job creation, which remains paltry. (The month saw a net gain of a mere 36,000 jobs, accounting for less than a tenth of the change.) There is of course disagreement about where the rest of the change comes from, with some observers (Indiviglio included) suggesting it is mainly a matter of discouraged workers finally giving up, though Emily Kaiser at Reuters offers a somewhat more optimistic view. One possible bright spot is that, where in previous months most of the gains have tended to be in services, manufacturing has led the way this time, though Jeff Harding at Seeking Alpha offers a reminder as to why a sustained recovery is unlikely--the softness of demand, which seems unlikely to change anytime soon. In short, it's still a long way back to where the U.S. economy was in 2007--which really wasn't all that great to begin with.

* Two articles in The New Scientist, discussing a pair of reports released this week about how the nine billion people likely to inhabit the world by 2050 might plausibly be housed and fed. The reports are, respectively, One Planet, Too Many People? (which actually considers food, water and energy alongside urban shelter), published by the British Institution of Mechanical Engineers' and freely available online; and Agrimonde: Scenarios and Challenges for Feeding the World, published jointly by France's National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), and the Centre for International Cooperation in Agronomic Research for Development (CIRAD).

Both argue for the manageability of the problem, the One Planet report noting in the overview of its recommendations in the executive summary that "there are likely to be no insurmountable technical issues in meeting the basic needs of nine billion people and improving their world through engineering" (p. 9). They have been received as good news because of this, but the optimism is not unconditional: as the same report goes on to say,
there is much urgent work to be done in preparing to meet this mid-century peak in a sustainable way. It is evident that many of the potential barriers to developing these solutions and ensuring a successful outcome are not technological, but lie in the areas of politics, social ethics, funding mechanisms, regulation and international relations (p. 9).
Of course, these barriers are far from trivial (indeed, the "social ingenuity" needed to tackle a problem is often tougher to come by than the technical kind), but the fact of feasibility is meaningful in itself.

New and Noteworthy (Energy Report, The Future Faces of War, Middle East)
2/3/11
New and Noteworthy (100% Renewable Energy by 2030, Not-So-Clean Natural Gas, Pirates)
1/26/11
New and Noteworthy (The Unemployment Rate, John Hickman in Space Review, The New Security Beat)
12/3/10
My Writings on the Recession (A Listing)
4/2/10

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