Sunday, May 22, 2016

Japan export slump enters seventh month; Flexibility as the new injustice; Airbus unveils 3D-printed electric bike

1 Japan export slump enters seventh month (Straits Times) Japan's exports fell 10.1 per cent in April from a year earlier, down for a seventh straight month, Ministry of Finance data showed, reflecting sluggish demand from China and emerging markets.

That matched a 10 per cent decrease expected by economists in a Reuters poll, and followed a 6.8 per cent drop in March. Imports plunged 23.3 per cent in April, versus the median estimate for a 19 per cent decrease. The trade balance came to a surplus of 823.5 billion yen, against the median estimate for a 492.8 billion yen surplus.

2 Flexibility as the new injustice (Phillip Inman in The Guardian) As a new documentary on release now shows, the pressures of modern work go well beyond the factory floor. The Divide reminds us of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s book The Spirit Level, which documents how those in better-off societies and better-off jobs are making themselves unhappy.

From 2001 we saw a flurry of initiatives designed to deal with falling incomes and rising costs in a desperate attempt to maintain living standards. Labour’s introduction of tax credits in 2003 was the main prop under household incomes, extending as it did to those earning up to £60,000.

But other ways to maintain incomes – for instance, flexible working – allowed parents to dovetail working hours to minimise childcare costs. Flexibility came in the form of self-employment, flexible rotas and, to a lesser extent, zero-hour contracts. Each of these has transformed the labour market.

The numbers of those in self-employment, after decades hovering around the 3 million mark, began to increase in 2001. Now there are 4.6 million self-employed people and they account for 15% of the workforce. There is scant research into what the newly self-employed do. The Royal Society of Arts has reported that thousands are young digital entrepreneurs. Others have set themselves up as drivers delivering the ever-growing mountain of stuff bought online.

In the five years after the financial crash the majority of new jobs were part-time, temporary or self-employed. It wasn’t until 2014 that full-time employment edged into the lead. If the 1990s was characterised by increasing debt to fund a decent living, flexible working is the cancer eating away at 21st century workers.

The defenders of flexible working argue that people like it. They are supported by surveys that show most appreciate being offered it. But as employment expert John Philpott points out, those who say they like zero-hours contracts are generally students and older workers, who have another income to fall back on.

Even full-time workers say the flexibility they like does not come from draconian rota systems, but from time off to look after a sick child, and the opportunity to take leave or make up the hours another time. Working weekends and nights is rarely a pleasure.

Regulators like the Bank of England are oblivious to the problems that are being stored up. Almost everyone on its interest-rate-setting committee believes that GDP growth will bring back permanent full-time employment. They should realise that, in an era of corporate anxiety and low investment, the trend will remain in the opposite direction.

3 Airbus unveils 3D-printed electric bike (San Francisco Chronicle) What weighs 77 pounds, goes 50 mph and looks like a Swiss cheese on wheels? An electric motorcycle made from tiny aluminum alloy particles using a 3D printer.

European aeronautics giant Airbus unveiled the 'Light Rider ' in Germany on Friday. Manufactured by its subsidiary APWorks, a specialist in additive layer manufacturing, the motorcycle uses hollow frame parts that contain the cables and pipes. The frame weighs just 13 pounds, about 30 percent less than conventional e-motorbikes.

APWorks chief executive Joachim Zettler said the complex, branched hollow structure wouldn't have been possible with conventional production technologies such as milling or welding. The company is taking orders for a limited run of 50 motorbikes, costing 50,000 euros ($56,095), plus tax, each. They'll have a range of 37 miles (60 kilometers).

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