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Friday news roundup September 14, 2018

Friday news roundup September 14, 2018

France’s national railway operator SNCF plans to introduce driverless mainline trains by 2023. SNCF hopes that the switch will allow more trains to run and reduce energy consumption. Guillaume Pepy, SNCF chairman, commented: “With autonomous trains, all the trains will run in a harmonized way and at the same speed.” Professor Michael Gibbs states that technology will change the landscape of the labor market, removing “the demand for middle-skill jobs, and increasing wage inequality.” Gibbs suggests that “policymakers should encourage technology that complements employees’ work, and should foster education and training that help workers adapt to change.”

The Association of Greek Soft Drinks Industries (SEVA) has launched an initiative to reduce sugar in its products by 10%, following an EU appeal to tackle obesity across Europe. SEVA’s president, Angeliki Patroumpa, commented: “We acknowledge that while sugar can be consumed in a moderate amount, excessive amounts are not good. And like all foods and beverages, our sugar products can be consumed as part of a balanced lifestyle, on the condition that people do not consume them excessively.” Greece has one of the highest obesity levels in the EU. In 2014, 66.3% of Greek men and 48.1% of Greek women were overweight. Susan L. Averett writes: “There is growing evidence that obese people receive lower wages and are less likely to be employed than non-obese people, and that these adverse outcomes are caused by obesity…Governments and employers have a compelling interest in finding ways to reduce obesity levels and discrimination against obese workers.”

New research finds that job applicants perceived as identifying strongly with their racial group are less likely to be hired. Furthermore, when they are hired, they receive lower suggested salaries than those indicating weak associations with their racial group. The research suggests that interviewers use cues on an application to infer the applicant’s racial identity and use this to make their decision. The researchers warn against employer bias as much research has shown that diversity at work leads to multiple benefits. Ulf Rinne writes: “Anonymous job applications have the potential to remove or reduce some discriminatory hiring barriers facing applicants from minority and other disadvantaged groups.” However, “context-specific information may be interpreted disadvantageously if the candidate’s identity is unknown.”

Happiness metrics are becoming increasingly popular as national well-being indicators. New Zealand intends to report on how national spending affects national well-being in 2019, and the Smart Dubai Office launched a Smart Happiness Index this year to assess the happiness of city managers. Researchers have highlighted the problems with the methods used to measure happiness. Current data is informed by predictive behavioural analytics, wearable emotion sensing and empathetic machine learning, but this fails to explain what happiness is, how we can pursue it, and the ethical considerations associated with measuring and managing happiness. Robert MacCulloch writes: “Estimating the welfare effects of a new policy, like a cut in unemployment benefits, is difficult. Economists lack dependable methods to measure all of the costs and benefits of potential policy changes. As a result, politicians often end up relying on their own discretion when making key decisions.”