CUTTING ROOM

CUTTING ROOM - Ford focuses on a new best-seller; spying potential of the camera-phone; why the poor live longer in penury; magic moments at Mach 2 ... Evan Davis at large.

by Evan Davis, economics editor of the BBC
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Ford focuses on a new best-seller; spying potential of the camera-phone; why the poor live longer in penury; magic moments at Mach 2 ... Evan Davis at large.

In the old TV sitcom Yes, Minister, Sir Humphrey had only to describe a new policy as 'Very courageous, Minister' for the hapless Jim Hacker to drop it immediately. In the same vein, I would say the decision of Ford to replace the existing Focus with a new model next year displays courage of the highest order.

The Focus is the best-selling car in the UK, with a 43% lead over its nearest rival; it is widely recognised as a design classic, and has just won AutoExpress's Best Family Hatchback title for the fifth successive year. It doesn't look or feel dated, and to withdraw such a product from the market implies that Ford executives possess ball-bearings of steel.

As it happens, I own a Focus. It was only when I was visiting Ford's research centre in Essex recently - a chance to admire such marvels as a machine that opens and closes a car door 150,000 times to ensure it works properly - that I learned my car was soon to be consigned to the category of retro design.

Ford normally gets things right - and it will certainly not be making a Hacker-like U-turn. But I look forward to seeing how the company can improve on what it has got.

The new new thing for this year is clearly the camera-phone. I don't credit the surge in sales of the flip-back devices to David Beckham's Vodafone ads, though they must have helped. People buy them because that's what the mobile phone stores are pushing. And great fun they are too. But has the business world cottoned on to the implications?

We now live in a society where many citizens are - with no intention of espionage - legitimately carrying a pocket-sized photographic device. I've heard that in Japan, students photograph textbook pages in stores, to save on the cost of buying them (although I find this hard to believe, as the quality has some way to go yet). But companies sensitive about people taking photos in the workplace should worry: car manufacturers, for example, with prototype designs around the place. Expect some lawsuit or other on this topic.

Worried about growing global inequality, about poor countries falling further behind the rich in income levels? The problem may be exaggerated, according to new research from the US. The rich may be getting richer very fast, but the poor are living longer - and their life expectancy is growing more quickly than that of the rich, says the study. So if instead of measuring annual income, we compute full lifetime income, the poor are not doing as badly as the usual comparisons suggest.

It's a wonderful result - in the best tradition of solving a problem by changing the way you measure it. Even if it fails to assuage your sense of guilt at global poverty, it implies that recent trends in globalisation have yielded unrecognised benefits - a conclusion on which trade ministers can ponder when they rewrite the rules of global commerce in Cancun this month.

Despite all BA's recent problems, one thing seems to be going right: Concorde's last months in service.

In the week of Concorde's first scheduled flight in 1976, Private Eye carried the cruel cover line 'Would the passenger please fasten his seat-belt'. Well, when this month I fulfilled my lifetime ambition to fly on the plane, there were too many passengers. The flight was overbooked, according to check-in staff. I was told I could not sit beside my partner - until I made a fuss.

From the moment we walked into the Concorde lounge at Heathrow, it was obvious the staff were learning to cope with the hoi-polloi. Instead of the usual quota of Saudi Princes or Sir David Frosts who frequent the service, it was tykes like me exploiting a last chance to enjoy supersonic aviation, walking around the plane, taking photos, peering into the loos and asking the staff for little facts and figures. It was like a revolution in which the masses invade the royal palace. There was even a bit of looting - souvenir hunters pinching the safety cards, the sick bags, the salt and pepper pots.

BA staff didn't seem to mind: they obviously enjoyed boasting that theirs was 'the only supersonic airline in the world', now that Air France has dumped its fleet.

A lovely time was had by all. The man across the aisle from me proposed to his girlfriend; we drank champagne as we hit Mach 2, and at 57,000 feet we all sighed at the sight of the curvature of the earth and the dark space-like sky above us.

It was all over too quickly, but it would be churlish to complain about that.

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