I had the privilege this week of listening to a lecture by Hans Rosling, professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. Many will have seen his engaging performances on Youtube or in Ted talks . He’s the one with the endearing Swedish accent – he says “yust” for “just” – and the animated charts that show nations as variously sized, coloured bubbles moving dramatically over time. He also uses a pointer with a little hand attached to the end.

His message is basically an optimistic one: that poor countries are rapidly converging on richer ones as their birth rates fall to sustainable levels and as their victory over preventable disease and premature death allows them to advance economically. Most of the world is now between what he calls “light bulb” and “washing machine” – in other words advancing up the lower rungs of the “middle classs”. Read more

By Catherine Contiguglia
♦ A European Commission probe into competition and price fixing in the oil market is raising questions about how much power one man’s price reporting window can have on the market, and whether greater EC regulation might worsen the problem by discouraging the availability of oil prices altogether.
♦ The Chinese decision to ban milk imports from New Zealand due to fears that some batches could contain botulism has stoked fears of wider import bans on all foreign milk going into China.
♦ Cash-for-freedom deals in the US were originally designed to funnel in badly needed cash to law enforcement budgets from white collar crimes and drug cartels, but are giving rise to corruption and violations of civil liberties.
♦ Romance is being nationalised in South Korea, where the government is taking the lead in campaigns to introduce young singles at government-sponsored parties. Corporations are also increasingly encouraging relationships in the workplace as fears mount about the shortage of workers in an aging society.
♦ In countries where the government or market fails to meet citizens’ needs, the connectivity of social media and mobile technologies is allowing individuals to build their own representative platforms to meet them.  Read more

Singapore’s normally staid airwaves are being shaken up with a raunchy rap video urging the city-state’s population to do what it takes to get the birth rate up.

As the tiny nation of 5.2m gears up to mark 47 years since it was founded next week, candy maker Mentos has issued a call to action in the bedroom, urging Singaporeans in a video to give the country “the population spurt it so desperately needs”.

“We’ve got to go all the way for Singapore, baby, you know what I’m saying,” a male voice sings to a female companion audible in the background. “Let’s put a bao” — bun — “ in your oven”.

Later he tells her that he wants to “explore your body like a night safari” — a reference to the night safaris that have made Singapore zoo famous.

The backdrop is some unfortunate mathematics that threaten the sustainability of Singapore’s economic miracle.

The number of “baby boomers” reaching 65 is rising. That’s not a problem unique to Singapore. But what’s really hurting is that the birth rate among “heartlanders”, as native Singaporeans are sometimes called, has been in steady decline for some time. Read more