Sue Gray’s Irish CV, the risk of space debris and the humble, nimble Fed

Planet Business: Cheering everybody up, World Bank-style

Jerome Powell, chairman of the US Federal Reserve, gains some canine comfort as he arrives for his confirmation hearing in Washington on Tuesday. Photograph: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg

Jerome Powell, chairman of the US Federal Reserve, gains some canine comfort as he arrives for his confirmation hearing in Washington on Tuesday. Photograph: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg

 

Image of the week: Dog-eat-dog world

On his way into his grilling by the US Senate’s banking committee ahead of his confirmation to chair the Federal Reserve for a second term, Jerome Powell understandably pauses to hang out with a pair of unelected golden retrievers, at least one of which has a mischievous glint in its eyes. Powell reiterated that the Fed would take the necessary steps – including increasing interest rates several times this year – to prevent higher inflation from becoming entrenched in the US economy as it recovers from the pandemic: high inflation, he noted, would pose a “severe threat” to the goal of maximum employment. “I think we’re going to have to be both humble and a bit nimble,” Powell said of the Fed’s policy moves this year, as some Republicans fretted that it was “behind the curve”. The dogs’ thoughts on whether the US central bank should raise rates three or four times in 2022 were not recorded.

In numbers: Crowded space

11,000

Satellites that have been launched into space since Sputnik 1 in 1957. The Soviet satellite worked for three weeks until its batteries ran out before burning up on re-entering the atmosphere a couple of months later.

70,000

Estimated number of satellites expected to go into orbit around Earth in the coming decades, increasing the risk of objects colliding and producing space debris, the World Economic Forum has warned.

1 million

Notwithstanding Elon Musk’s assurance that “space is just extremely enormous, and satellites are very tiny”, this is the current estimated number of debris pieces 1cm or larger. One such piece of “space junk” last year left a hole in the robotic arm of the International Space Station, which was not ideal.

Getting to know: Sue Gray

Senior UK civil servant (“top Whitehall mandarin” in journalese) Sue Gray has had more namechecks this week than Novak Djokovic, the Golden Globes and the guy who invented Wordle combined. Sue Gray, who must always be referred to her by her full name, has been tasked with “investigating” how many pandemic law-breaching parties took place at No 10 Downing Street, who was at them and just how terrible the BYO rosé was – a job that really shouldn’t take too long. Sue Gray, once described as “deputy God” by a Labour MP, missed out on becoming head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service not too long ago, though a more fun fact is that Sue Gray ran the Cove pub outside Newry in the 1980s with husband Bill Conlon, a country and western singer from Co Down. The “Sue Gray” defence, thanks to Boris Johnson, has now entered the great pantheon of excuses and deflections. Question: Did you forget to buy the milk? Answer: I can’t comment on whether I purchased any dairy products until after Sue Gray has completed her inquiry.

The list: Economic threats

What every January needs: a gloomy report on the global economic outlook from the World Bank. So what did the institution, which advances loans and grants to poorer countries, have to say for itself?

1: Slowing growth. The world economy is still expected to expand in 2022, but this growth will decelerate to 4.1 per cent, it forecasts.

2: Covid aftershocks. The potential for more Omicron-style variants to emerge, facilitated by uneven distribution of vaccines, hasn’t gone unnoticed.

3: Income inequality. This is the “big drag”, says World Bank president David Malpass, with lower-income countries likely to find it difficult to stave off the crushing impact of inflation.

4: Supply-chain bottlenecks. Like Covid-19, these haven’t quite gone away.

5: Policy uncertainty. With government spending and monetary policies both in uncharted territory, “policy uncertainty” is the polite way of saying nobody has a clue what’s going to happen next.

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