Global Glance: May 18, 2015
A quick look at intriguing international stories
By John Bostwick, Managing Editor, Radius
Welcome to the second edition of Radius’ Global Glance, a look at entertaining and informative stories from around the web. This week, you’ll read about how to eat healthy meals when dining out, why one country’s tax authorities are targeting Netflix and other digital providers, and why solar-energy panels may be better off on large farms than on your roof.
Popular Cuisines by US State and How to Eat Healthy Restaurant Meals
There is maybe no better indication of the rise of globalization than the staggeringly high number of international restaurants many Americans now have access to. Thirty years ago in Chicago, I was introduced to Thai food, and at the time it seemed as exotic as a meal from inner Borneo. Today by contrast, there are about 10 Thai restaurants within walking distance of Radius’ Boston office, where I’m typing this.
There are of course regional differences, made clear by this 2015 Huffington Post-Yelp survey on The Most Disproportionately Popular Cuisine In Each State. Who knew that Alaskans are 208 percent more likely than other Americans to eat Filipino food, or that Belgian food is 1,711 percent more popular in the District of Columbia than in the rest of the US?
Despite the rise in international food options, a New York Times article last week confirmed the unpleasant fact that “most meals at American restaurants aren’t healthy.” The article — How to Eat Healthy Meals at Restaurants — indicates that the US has undergone “portion inflation” in the last 40 years, and gives general tips on how to avoid high-calorie meals, as well as specific recommended meals at various national restaurant chains. The chain restaurant that “leads the way” in offering Americans healthy meals, according to the article, is not American at all, but the London-based, French-named Pret A Manger, which now has “60 American stores in four cities.”
New “Netflix Tax” Starting in 2016
Starting next year, multinational digital suppliers such as Netflix will be under tighter scrutiny from Australian tax authorities to ensure they pay goods and services tax (GST) for products and services sold in that country. An article published last Monday in The Guardian is accompanied by a video in which Australian treasurer Joe Hockey explains how some multinationals use the so-called “Double Irish-Dutch Sandwich” — in which money earned in one jurisdiction is shifted to and from multiple countries — to avoid paying high taxes or indeed any taxes.
This issue is yet another example of how tax and other laws must be regularly updated in response to changing technologies. As Hockey observes, “When the GST legislation was originally drafted, it did not anticipate the massive growth in the supply of digital goods like movie downloads, games and eBooks from overseas.” Assuming other countries follow suit, users of digital providers like Netflix shouldn’t be surprised if they see an increase in rates beginning next year.
Solar Farms or Rooftop Panels?
MIT released a study earlier this month titled The Future of Solar Energy. While the study focuses on US solar-energy generation and related policies, it is placed in a wider context. The study’s executive summary notes that “massive expansion of global solar generating capacity to multi-terawatt scale is very likely an essential component of a workable strategy to mitigate climate change risk.”
Not surprisingly, the study is long and technical in nature. For a good summary, check out the Washington Post article “Why the Best Place for Solar Panels May Not Be on Your Roof.” It boils down the MIT study like this: “The report essentially argues that solar energy costs more per unit of generating capacity on rooftops than on vast solar farms. Therefore if the two types receive the same cost-based subsidy then more money will be paid for less generating capacity with rooftop systems than with large utility-scale arrays.” The study, then, doesn’t argue that homeowners should dismiss the benefits of installing solar panels on their roofs, but that government tax benefits targeting solar farms may be more efficient than those targeting the residential market.