The Friday Fish

This week's haul from behind the headlines

No 21: Endearing Robots; Blood Antiquities; EU-Iran Banking; Latvian Reforms; The Pursuit of Happiness

Endearing Robots

The first reference to robots came from the Czech play R.U.R, written by Karel Capek, in which the term “roboti” was the name for artificial people who–disclaimer–mastermind a rebellion of the mechanical proletariat against humankind. Today, a different breed of robots modelled after Pepper the humanoid and designed by the French robotics firm Aldebaran, will be for sale in Europe for as low as €10,000. Its purpose? To help people in their daily lives, aid in customer service and assist in caring for the elderly.

Blood Antiquities

Search for antique cylinder seals on eBay, and you’ll find a list of what could be ancient artefacts dating back to Mesopotamia or Babylonian periods. The buyer might wonder whether they are genuine. But he should also ask himself how such goods ended up online. Many such antiquities have been looted from archaeological sites and museums throughout Iraq, Syria, Ethiopia, and Cambodia to name a few. The profit made from their sale may even benefit criminal or terrorist organisations–think ISIL or Al Shabaab–whose notoriety is global. The OECD has lined up guidelines for companies to take responsibility for their supply chains and to crack down on illicit trade and the exchange of blood antiquities.

EU-Iran Banking

When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met on Thursday with a group of financial institutions to encourage them to do business with Iran, he left them divided on how to interpret his advice. Some expressed caution, considering the potential consequences of investing in Iranian markets, particularly if the US position toward the Iranian government changes. In 2012, when international embargoes against Iran expanded to prohibit EU banking, several European banks faced hefty US-led lawsuits for sanctions violations. However, since the July 2015 resolution to relieve sanctions has taken effect, European policymakers like Philip Hammond see trade with Iran as “the first hurdle in the race.”

Latvian Reforms

Latvia has managed to bolster its fight against corruption and money laundering, has made reforms to its health care system, and has brought in independent boards to lead some of the country’s largest state-owned companies. The OECD recognized Latvia this week by inviting it to become a member country. The invitation is as much a pat on the back as it is a push toward further reforms, including trade liberalisation, stronger banking regulations, and new tax and investment policies.  

The Pursuit of Happiness

Subjective well-being (SWB) is catching the interest of economists, policymakers, and psychologists as they try to find out whether people are satisfied with their quality of life. Weighing the balance of positive factors like health, income and socializing with negative factors like unemployment and insecurity, the OECD has drawn up guidelines for building policies to increase quality of life.  But is SWB a fair representation of what makes people happy, and what would people change about the factors it considers to make it more relevant for their own lives? A Huffington Post survey found that people do indeed seek the maximization of life satisfaction, confirming the importance of SWB, while 40% of respondents to the survey would make changes to how it measures satisfaction.

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q1 2019 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% May 2019 annual
Trade: +0.4% exp, -1.2% imp, Q1 2019
Unemployment: 5.2% July 2019
Last update: 8 July 2019

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