Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks at the unveiling of the Model 3
Image: © Justin Prichard / AP/Press Association Images

Tesla launch, UK steel on brink. 26 March to 1 April: What just happened?

Geriatric criminals in Japan, political turmoil in Brazil, plus electric cars and a Men's Underwear Index in the US. Here's our bitesize review of all the big stories in the last seven days

Tesla moves into a new gear

US auto manufacturer Tesla has launched the Model 3, its lowest priced electric car to date. At $35,000 a piece, it speeds from 0 to 60mph in seconds and charges in minutes. The electric car industry could be a real game changer for environmentally friendly production, reducing the demand for oil so much that a sustainable automative industry could actually be possible. With their previous models priced at around $100,000 each, Model 3 is a step closer to being affordable. Still, it's got some way to go before being accessible to most, and oil prices are currently so low that driving a conventional car is relatively cheap. Plus, Model 3 drivers won't be able to get further than 346 km miles (215 miles) without needing to recharge, and with just under 10,000 charging stations in the US, compared with over 120,000 gas stations, that might be easier said than done. Still, Tesla CEO Elon Musk will not be deterred, promising to make a product "so compelling that even with low gasoline prices it’s the car you want to buy.” Coming from the man who co-founded PayPal, chairs OpenAI, and has publicly stated he's "close" to inventing a supersonic aircraft jet with electric fan propulsion, we figure he's up for the challenge.

UK steel industry on the brink of collapse: Capitalism at work?

The Port Talbot Steelworks
Image: © Wikimedia Commons

In a strange twist of fate for a company set up in India to counter UK steel manufacturing power, Tata Steel has announced its plans to sell off operations in the UK as they're no longer affordable. Basically, the Chinese aren't buying as much steel as they used to, and everyone's got too much of it, including the UK. European steel manufacturers are suffering because their production costs just can't compete with the low prices in places like China. Some think the government should step in to protect the 15,000 employees who will be affected by the move, and subsidise the industry with taxpayers' money. Others take more of a c'est la vie approach, saying it’s just a natural part of how capitalism works: if a business isn’t making money, or someone else can supply the goods it produces at a lower cost, then so be it. With almost 80% of the UK’s economy now made up of service sector businesses, traditional manufacturing barely has a role to play anymore anyway, they say.

Brazilian government in turmoil, but at least the stock market's fine

A demonstrator wearing a mask with the likeness of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and holding a picture of Brazil's current president Dilma Rousseff protests in their support in Sao Paulo, Brazil
Image: © Andre Penner / AP/Press Association Images

Things just aren’t getting any better for Brazil as the largest party in their ruling coalition decided to quit this week. It’s looking increasingly likely that president Dilma Rousseff will be impeached, perhaps as early as mid-May. The country’s economy isn’t faring well from all this, largely because : people have been consuming less and less over the last year, and what with Congress being kept busy by the impeachment debacle, government spending is pretty much paralysed – which some say is a good thing anyway as government debt is almost two thirds of the value of Brazil’s domestic goods and services (its GDP). Industrial employment has fallen for the 13th month running, and one in five young people are out of work. The silver lining? Brazilian stock markets are doing well as the more likely it becomes that Rousseff will be ousted, the more optimistic investors about the future value of Brazil’s businesses. At least someone’s getting something out of it.

Japanese elderly turn to crime to cope with the cost of living

An elderly Japanese man stands near a bench with a trolley
Image: © Thomas E. Smith via Wikimedia Commmons

Recent crime figures in Japan show a significant increase in offending... by those aged 60 and over. Why? Free food, accommodation, and healthcare. The is extremely high in Japan. Even the most basic lifestyle will still cost more than the average pension by 25%, and many of the elderly live alone with no other means of financial support. Prison has become the only affordable option. But it's not affordable for the state: A two year sentence (which could be incurred for a crime as minor as stealing a sandwich) costs up to $750,000 (Y8.4m) for the government. With a rapidly ageing population, and a 40% chance for people over sixty to repeat a crime over six times, it's not sustainable: the government is going to have to come up with a better solution than a system that encourages the elderly to virtually volunteer themselves into their own prison cells.

Introducing the Men’s Underwear Index

Men's underwear with banknote prints of South Korea won, Chinese yuan and U.S. dollar are displayed at a shop in Seoul
Image: © Ahn Young-Joon / AP/Press Association Images

Last time we heard from former US Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan, he admitted he 'got it wrong' in 2008. Now he's back to redeem himself with The Men's Underwear Index. That's right: Alan Greenspan reckons the price of men's underwear is the perfect indicator to find out just how an economy measures up. The logic goes something like this: men tend to spend less money than women on underwear, and are more likely to wear a pair of undies to the point of destruction before replacing them. So when men do actually decide to spend money on some new ones, it’s a sign that the economy is recovering. Good news for the US: Quartz reported this week that sales of briefs, boxer-briefs and boxers are all up! Looks like the economy is finally getting the support it needs.

Free pizza and a million dollar budget: Boston's teenagers have it good

Boston has given 15 high school students a million dollars (and some free pizza) to spend on the city. And they're not the first to do it. 1500 cities around the world have trialled what's known as participatory budgeting, a way of getting more people involved in deciding how a government spends its money. Part of the city’s ‘Youth Lead the Change’ initiative, thousands of ideas get submitted, and committees of young people choose which ones go to a public vote by Bostonians between the ages of 12-25. The winning proposals get allocated the funds. Previous winners include playground makeovers, laptops for schools and community ‘art walls’. They'll think of things adults wouldn't, like needing WiFi on buses for the kids who don't have internet at home to do their homework on the way to school. And let's be honest: they've definitely done a maths class more recently than most politicians, so maybe they're exactly the right people for the job.

Living in a box

The box or pod that Peter Berkowitz pays $400 a month to live in in San Francisco
Image: © Peter Berkowitz

Rent in San Francisco is now so high that one resident has started living in a wooden box in his friend’s living room. Peter Berkowitz, in a piece for the Guardian, speaks affectionately of his “pod” which costs him $400 a month. With the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city now standing at around $3096, that seems like a pretty good deal. He goes on to write that unlike computers and phones, “housing is not becoming both radically better and cheaper. Rather, its quality appears to have stagnated and its price skyrocketed. People are paying far more for far less.” He describes is 8-foot-by-3.5-foot home as being “like Harry Potter’s closet but with a happy twist”. Although, we're assuming there's no room to swing Professor McGonagall around it.

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