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A hot piece of city property: the curb
We have known the curb as a place to walk, place garbage, catch a bus and, of course, park our car. For city governments, the latter function is a cash cow. A 2016 survey found that the 25 largest U.S. cities collectively earned almost $5 billion in car-related revenues. Today, the curb is subject to stiff competition due to increasing online deliveries, ride hailing and rapid urban growth. With the urge to use the curb more flexible, companies and governments are starting to explore new possibilities of curb management. Since appropriate metrics and data collection to support decisions about curb-use is generally lacking, Alphabet’s company Coord started coding the curbs of San Francisco on a map. Washington designated select blocks for passenger vehicle pick-ups and drop-offs and Seattle introduced flex zones on which at certain times of day, the curb is reserved for specific functions. In a future with autonomous vehicles, it remains to be seen what the impact on curb-use will be. Either way, new ways of pricing curb-use need to be figured out.
Human capital in the 21st century
Although big investments in physical capital (like a new airport or tall building) often make the headlines, investing in a country’s stock of human capital attracts less attention while rendering higher returns. First, these investments provide holistic solutions. For example, affordable public healthcare leads to healthier citizens that have higher worker productivity, but also lowers crime rates and income inequality. Also, human capital investments have a high multiplier, despite having a long horizon to materialize: obtaining a good education takes years, but its benefits are capitalized during one’s whole career. As automation will increasingly replace labor work and businesses are operating across borders, human capital skills will become ever more important in our global and digital economy. “Softer skills” like the ability to critically assess information, creative thinking to boost innovation, or knowing how to behave in different cultural contexts (e.g. switching between a company’s subsidiaries in different countries), will gain a premium. In the long term, human capital investments will strengthen a country’s competitiveness and its ability to stay on the global techno-economic frontier.
A tale of two India’s
Since recent years, India has become the world’s fastest growing large economy. However, beside this process of India converging with the rest of the world, a process of divergence is taking place within the country: putting the South versus the North. India’s South is home to many booming hubs in manufacturing (e.g. Chennai) and IT (e.g. Bangalore), boosting GDP per capita two to three times as high as in North India. Other socio-economic indicators, such as sanitation and education, also put the South on par with middle-income countries, while population growth is stabilizing (with fertility rates below replacement level). This contrasts starkly with India’s more agrarian, populous and impoverished North. However, this part has been India’s traditional political power base, centered around Uttar Pradesh (India’s largest state with a population over 200 million) and New Delhi, India’s capital and political center. Thanks to its socialist policy and conservative-nationalist program, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s main voter base is in this part of India,. As a result, India’s government must increasingly strike a balance between its two India’s.