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Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Monday 4 June 2018

Politics

Image: Getty Images

Let the right ones in

Not news: Japan’s economy is precarious. News: foreign workers are the solution. But Shinzo Abe would like to keep that on the hush-hush…

Wanted: low-skilled foreign labourers who speak Japanese but are willing to come without family and go home within five years. That sums up Japan’s latest proposal to recruit 500,000 foreign workers by 2025 as a result of prime minister Shinzo Abe’s latest economic policy outline. If approved this month, the policy would temporarily suspend the ban on foreign labourers taking jobs in farming, construction, hotels, nursing and shipbuilding. It’s an indication that the government is cautiously exploring ways to prop up the economy as the working population shows signs of decline – from 65 million now to under 38 million by 2060, according to one estimate. Over the past nine years the number of foreign workers has nearly doubled to 1.3 million. But this is hardly an open-door policy: Abe has said he would never adopt an immigration policy and some lawmakers in his ruling Liberal Democratic party have warned that immigration would bring social and economic problems. For now a patchwork of temporary measures seems to be the preferred approach.

Retail

Image: Getty Images

Open book

Yes, a particularly large bookshop in Taiwan is about to close. But fear not – there’s a happy ending.

Sad news for bibliophiles in Taipei: Eslite, one of Taiwan’s largest bookshop retailers, is expected to close its flagship Dunnan store in 2020. Blame it on the landlord, who is planning a major renovation of the building and wants to replace the shop with a hotel. The closure of Eslite’s only 24-hour store in Taiwan will be a big loss but there is no need to mourn; this is not a story about the decline of paper media. That’s because Eslite, whose shops are credited with building Taipei’s book culture, is expanding. Just last year it opened R79 Eslite Underground, an impressively lengthy retail space incorporating 600,000 titles in the passageway of a Taipei Metro station. And according to media reports the chairwoman, Mercy Wu, is considering keeping one branch open around the clock once the Dunnan location shuts its doors.

Society

Image: Alamy

Dead of night

Officials in Zürich are curbing night-time noise after residents’ complaints but quieter streets aren’t always better.

The world’s major hubs are being hit hard by rigid noise regulations – and Zürich is no exception. The federal court has clamped down on the late-night noise on the Langstrasse (after residents in the area complained) by denying operating permission to a garden restaurant on the street. Despite the efforts of Pro Nachtleben Zürich, a pro-nightlife association that has been advocating on behalf of the night-time economy in the city, the court decision was handed down last week and its ripple effects have been felt ever since. For now it looks like a victory for those on the side of quieter – and less vibrant – neighbourhoods after dark. Yet Swiss authorities should be wary of the fate that’s befallen many other European cities: in the decade after 2005, more than half of the nightclubs in the UK shuttered, while the number of nightclubs in the Netherlands fell by 38 per cent between 2001 and 2011. This not only spells a loss of culture but a serious dent to the economy.

Politics

Image: Getty Images

Calm before another storm

Italy’s political situation as finally settled down – but that’s not to say that there isn’t plenty more turmoil to come.

Almost three months after the general election, and a false start later, Italy’s new populist government has left the starting blocks. The squad of ministers, led by Giuseppe Conte, still includes Paolo Savona, the economist whose suggested appointment as finance minister had aborted the previous attempt to form a coalition. This time around he’s taking up the role of European policies minister instead. Given how fundamental his role proved to be in the unravelling of the populists’ first proposed government, it’s unsurprising that many of the other 17 people making up the cabinet are now under extensive scrutiny from the country’s press. And Savona’s no longer the most controversial character: brand-new family minister Lorenzo Fontana has already made headlines by claiming same-sex couples don’t legally exist. With plenty more extremist figures in its ranks, this cabinet that’s keen to define itself as “the government of change” may indeed bring about modifications – but they are likelier to take the country backwards rather than forwards.

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