The automotive industry is on the brink of a major upheaval due to the arrival of electric vehicles. Not only cars, also delivery vans, trucks, buses – you name it. After the automotive industry tried to pretend for years that nothing serious was going on, it is now increasingly clear that change is unavoidable, and may come much faster than many think. There is presently a lot of arguing and sweating in the board rooms. Some will take right decisions, some will take wrong. Some well-known car companies may survive and prosper – others may disappear ingloriously in the coming years. But change will come.
Thorbjørn Waagstein, Economist, PhD, since 1999 working as international Development Consultant in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
Electric vehicles are presently ridiculously expensive. Could be the cost of the battery, couldn’t it? That is only part of the explanation. The other is scale: the production volume is too low to secure economies of scale. And to this comes a lack of competition: existing car producers are not really interested in selling quantities, as they will cannibalize their own profitable traditional car business. The answer is regulation and more competition. Not more subsidies.
We have just seen a flurry of new reports on Climate Change, and they are not funny reading. Before we fall into gloom and accept that the end is nigh, the good news is that with what we already know and the instruments we have at hand, it is absolutely within our reach to avoid the worst climate change scenarios, and the cost is absolutely not scaring. But it needs bold and determined policies and willingness to take risks. The lack of capacity for this is the biggest risk we are facing.
China is no longer a low-wage economy. To avoid being caught in a trap where its products are neither really cheap, nor really good, it wants to go upmarket, moving from low-tech standard products to high-tech, high-value products. This is what the strategy “China 2025” is about, supported by big government funding. Is this a legitimate strategy, or is it unfair competition? The US thinks the latter and is determined to do what it can to stop it. But they are unlikely to succeed.
The spectacular arrest in Canada of the chief financial officer from Chinese telecom giant Huawei follows on the heels of the US punishing another Chinese telecom company, ZTE, earlier this year. The argument is that these companies have violated the US sanctions against Iran. But this is a much deeper conflict and of existential importance for both the US and China and the consequences are far-reaching. How far is the US willing to go to prevent China from becoming a technological great power?
Foreign Affairs named in 2011 Russia “The dying bear”, pointing to the country’s high mortality and the low fertility. “Russia's economy doesn't produce anything that anybody wants to buy, except oil, gas and arms”, said ex-president Obama at his final news conference in 2016. “Vladimir Putin is a bigger threat than Isis”, according to Senator and ex-presidential candidate John McCain, And according to the actor Morgan Freeman, the US is now at war with Russia. But then everything should be fine. Russia is on its way down the drain. No people left, a useless economy, finished. Or are they once again underestimating their declared enemy?
“The Russian economy is in tatters”, said ex-president Barak Obama in his State of the Union Address in January 2015, and one year earlier he had described Russia as a “regional power”. The republican ex-presidential candidate senator John McCain said in March 2014 that Russia is “a gas station masquerading as a country”. “Lights our out for the Putin Regime”, “Is Putin’s Russia Headed for a Systemic Collapse?”, “Is Vladimir Putin’s big collapse coming soon?”, “The Achilles Heel of Putin’s Regime” - the list of dire predictions for Russia and the “Putin regime” from the last year or so is endless. But are they correct?
The cost of solar energy has plunged in recent years, and solar panels are now dirt cheap. We have just installed a 46 kW solar roof top system here in Leon, Nicaragua, which produces energy at 7.5 cents of a US dollar – that is around a third of what the electricity company charges us. So there is no excuse for continuing contributing to global warming. The energy revolution is here, right now.
We are in 2017 an estimated 7,500 million people on the planet earth – three times the 2,500 million we were in 1950. According to projections made by UN, we will be 9,700 million in 2050 and 11,200 million at the end of the century. The growing world population and its natural desire for decent living conditions imply an enormous stress on our planet with global warming, depletion of resources, decreasing biodiversity, polluted and congested megacities and accumulation of waste. Can we handle this in the future?
Should people have the right to move freely between countries? As it is well known, in large parts of the world, capital is already moving freely. And well-off people can move freely: in many developed countries, if you promise to invest enough, you get a permanent residence permit. But why limit this to well-off people? Why not let all people move as they want? It is a good question. But apart from the well-known problems in the country receiving the migrants, it is often overlooked that massive migrations carry high costs for the migrants. And the countries they leave behind tend to get stuck in a low level of development.