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Upending Conventional Wisdom on Pollution, Trade and the Race to the Bottom

One might anticipate that increasingly tight environmental restrictions, coupled with falling trade costs, might inspire a race to the bottom, as producers relocate to countries with less stringent regulations. However, new research by the World Bank, published in the World Development Report 2020, finds that this hypothesis has not been borne out. 

Looking at the United States as a case study, the report observed that emissions from U.S. manufacturing fell between 1990 and 2008. However, “contrary to the conventional wisdom about industrialized countries ‘offshoring’ production of polluting goods, imports to the United States have been shifting away from pollution-intensive goods even faster,” wrote the report’s authors.

“As trade costs fall, the U.S. increasingly imports goods in which it has a comparative disadvantage, which happen to be those that are relatively less pollution-intensive,” wrote the report’s authors. “Trends in Europe are similar, with imports becoming progressively less pollution-intensive, especially from low-income countries.”

Metal Prices Soar As Economies Recover

Source: International Monetary Fund (IMF)

Global industrial metal prices reached a nine-year high in May, with a 72% increase compared to pre-pandemic levels. Of the metals reviewed, the price of copper is up 89% year-over-year, iron ore is up 116% and nickel is up by 41%, according to the IMF.

Four factors contributed to metals’ soaring prices: manufacturing activity, supply chain disruptions, storability and a push for a greener economic recovery. Many mining operations temporarily paused due to COVID restrictions, and freight rates for transportation of bulk materials reached a 10-year high — both attributing to the cost of metals. 

Market predictions indicate that industrial metal prices will rise a further 50% YoY; however, prices are then expected to decrease by 4% in 2022. As the U.S. and EU introduce high-scale infrastructure projects, demand for copper, iron ore and other industrial metals could spike to accommodate a quicker energy transition. 

Pandemic Policies Leave Societies Divided

Source: Pew Research Center

Over sixty percent of the publics surveyed feel their countries are more divided now than prior to the pandemic. Among 17 advanced economies, more people in the U.S. (88%) felt increased division compared to any other country, followed by the Netherlands, Germany and Spain. Only 34% of countries surveyed feel more united this year, according to Pew Research Center.

Those with negative views of the economy are more likely to report societal division. Attitudes about COVID-related restrictions also affect the public’s sense of division: Those who believe there should have been fewer restrictions are more likely to agree that society has grown more divided. 

As economies recover this summer and vaccine distributions continue, 75% of respondents have confidence that their health care system can handle future global health emergencies, but a median of 65% continue to feel the day-to-day impact of COVID-19 a great deal.

Which Countries Have Mandatory Childhood Vaccine Policies?

Source: Our World in Data

Various vaccinations for children are mandatory in 89 countries, recommended in 32 countries and required for school entry in 20 countries. Vaccines have helped reduce the likelihood of child mortality, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, hepatitis B and tuberculosis, to name a few. 

Our World in Data found that disease outbreaks are a major driver of enforcing mandatory vaccination, followed by a lack of other policy alternatives. About half of the countries in Europe do not have mandatory vaccinations, whereas 29 out of 35 in the Americas do. Many low- and lower-middle-income countries have mandatory policies but miss their target vaccination rates due to vaccine supply, delivery and access limitations — similar to what they are encountering with the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Although no country has made the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for its population, some are considering the idea. Many countries are also offering the vaccine for children aged 12 and above, with the U.S. vaccinating more than 600,000 children in less than a week.

Business Leaders Are Out of Touch With Burnt Out Workforce

Source: Microsoft Work Trends

Over 40% of the global workforce is considering quitting their jobs. More than half of 18- to 25-year-olds in the workforce are also considering submitting their notice, according to a report by Microsoft. A U.K. and Ireland survey found that 38% of employees intend to leave their jobs by the end of 2021.

Many employees felt burnout during the pandemic — those who just joined the workforce reported feeling this the most. To overcome employee exhaustion, the report says that employers need to embrace flexible hybrid options immediately. Forty-two percent of employees, for example, are planning to quit if there are no long-term remote working options offered. 

The report also found that many business leaders are out of touch with workplace burnout. Over 60% of leaders say that they were “thriving” last year — a 23 percentage point difference to those without decision-making authority. Microsoft states that business leaders need to be flexible when readjusting their operating model in order to retain their employees and succeed in a post-COVID workforce.

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