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The Economist - Leaders
  [7 followers]  Follow
   Full-text available via subscription Subscription journal
   ISSN (Online) 1358-274X
   Published by The Economist Group Homepage  [4 journals]
  • From dotcom hero to zero
    • Abstract: IT WAS one of Silicon Valley’s most riveting success stories. Now it stands as a warning to others. Yahoo began in 1994 as a lark in Stanford’s dormitories, when two students, David Filo and Jerry Yang, assembled their favourite links on a page called “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web”. The site, which they renamed Yahoo, quickly became the “portal” through which millions first encountered the internet. At its peak in 2000, Yahoo had a market value of $128 billion. In the dotcom version of Monopoly, Yahoo got the prime slot. This week its history as an independent firm came to an end. On July 25th Verizon, a telecoms giant, announced that it would pay around $4.8 billion to acquire Yahoo’s core business (see article). The sale will come as a blessed relief to shareholders. Yahoo churned through four chief executives in the three years before the hiring of Marissa Mayer in 2012. Her efforts to turn the company round may have failed, but the seeds of this week’s sale were sown long before...
      PubDate: Thu, 28 July 2016 14:43:06 GMT
  • Cleaning up the data
    • Abstract: WHAT if all Londoners, no matter how young or frail, smoked for at least six years? In effect, they already do. The city’s air pollution exacts an equivalent toll on each resident, cutting short the lives of nearly 10,000 people each year and damaging the lungs, hearts and brains of children. Yet few Londoners realise that things are this bad. Citizens of other big cities in the rich world are equally complacent (those in the developing world are unlikely to be in any doubt about the scale of their pollution problem). Official air-quality indices do exist. They alert people when to stay at home, particularly those with asthma and other medical troubles. But these indices focus on the immediate risks to health, which for most people are serious only when the air is almost unbreathable. No equivalent source of information exists to warn residents about the dangers that accumulate from much lower amounts of pollution. It is all too easy for people to take the short-term index, which says “low pollution” most of the time, as a proxy for their lifelong risks. Easy, and wrong. Analysis of one year’s worth of pollution data from...
      PubDate: Thu, 28 July 2016 14:43:06 GMT
  • Doping and hacking
    • Abstract: IT HAS been a good few days for Russia’s dirty-tricks squad. On July 24th the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced it would not ban the Russian team as a whole from next month’s games in Rio de Janeiro, even though an investigation concluded that the country’s government had been running an extensive doping programme for athletes. Two days earlier WikiLeaks, a whistleblowing website, had published embarrassing e-mails from officials of the Democratic National Committee, which is meant to be neutral between Democrats, disparaging Bernie Sanders. Security experts determined the e-mails had been stolen by Russian government hackers. Compared with the other misdeeds of Vladimir Putin’s regime, these ones may seem tame. Russia is, after all, a country that stripped the markings from its soldiers’ uniforms in order to invade Ukraine while lying about it, and assassinated a defector in London by putting polonium in his tea. But cheating at sport and hacking e-mails to sway an American election are serious offences too. More important, they reflect a broader pattern of behaviour. In arena after arena, Russia is not only violating the rules; it is...
      PubDate: Thu, 28 July 2016 14:43:06 GMT
  • Overhyped, underappreciated
    • Abstract: IN THE 1980s Japan was a closely studied example of economic dynamism. In the decades since, it has commanded attention largely for its economic stagnation. After years of falling prices and fitful growth, Japan’s nominal GDP was roughly the same in 2015 as it was 20 years earlier. America’s grew by 134% in the same time period; even Italy’s went up by two-thirds. Now Japan is in the spotlight for a different reason: its attempts at economic resuscitation. To reflate Japan and reform it, Shinzo Abe, prime minister since December 2012, proposed the three “arrows” of what has become known as Abenomics: monetary stimulus, fiscal “flexibility” and structural reform. The first arrow would mobilise Japan’s productive powers and the third would expand them, allowing the second arrow to hit an ambitious fiscal target. The prevailing view is that none has hit home. Headline inflation was negative in the year to May. Japan’s public debt looks as bad as ever. In areas such as labour-market reform, nowhere near enough has been done. Compared with its own grand promises, Abenomics has indeed been a disappointment. But compared with what preceded...
      PubDate: Thu, 28 July 2016 08:33:31 GMT
  • The new political divide
    • Abstract: AS POLITICAL theatre, America’s party conventions have no parallel. Activists from right and left converge to choose their nominees and celebrate conservatism (Republicans) and progressivism (Democrats). But this year was different, and not just because Hillary Clinton became the first woman to be nominated for president by a major party. The conventions highlighted a new political faultline: not between left and right, but between open and closed (see article). Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, summed up one side of this divide with his usual pithiness. “Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,” he declared. His anti-trade tirades were echoed by the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party. America is not alone. Across Europe, the politicians with momentum are those who argue that the world is a nasty, threatening place, and that wise nations should build walls to keep it out. Such arguments have helped elect an ultranationalist government in Hungary and a Polish one that offers a Trumpian...
      PubDate: Thu, 28 July 2016 08:33:21 GMT
  • Tunnel vision
    • Abstract: CARBON DIOXIDE is the main greenhouse gas emitted by human activities. But it is not the only gas capable of causing great harm to people and the planet. That point was driven home by the emissions scandal that engulfed Volkswagen last year. Since the 1990s policymakers in Europe had backed diesel as a way to reduce carbon emissions, turning a blind eye to other ways in which the fuel might damage human health. The VW affair drew back the veil on this trade-off. The company’s diesel engines did indeed deliver lower carbon emissions and better fuel economy, but at the cost of belching out noxious pollutants capable of shortening many lives. A similar case of tunnel vision also exists in the energy industry. To its evangelists, natural gas helps satisfy demand for fossil fuels but causes less harm to the planet than coal and oil. Like diesel carmakers, natural-gas producers make reduction of carbon-dioxide emissions a big selling-point, but downplay the effects of other gases they emit. For the car industry, the problem is nitrogen oxides. For natural gas, it is methane, the fuel’s main component. Burning natural gas...
      PubDate: Thu, 21 July 2016 14:44:46 GMT
  • Breakthroughs and brickbats
    • Abstract: IT IS easy enough to criticise economists: too superior, too blinkered, too often wrong. Paul Samuelson, one of the discipline’s great figures, once lampooned stockmarkets for predicting nine out of the last five recessions. Economists, in contrast, barely ever see downturns coming. They failed to predict the 2007-08 financial crisis. Yet this is not the best test of success. Much as doctors understand diseases but cannot predict when you will fall ill, economists’ fundamental mission is not to forecast recessions but to explain how the world works. Over the next six weeks we will be running a series of briefs on important economic theories that did just that—from the Nash equilibrium, a cornerstone of game theory, to the Mundell-Fleming trilemma, which lays bare the trade-offs countries face in their management of capital flows, exchange rates and monetary policy; from the financial-instability hypothesis of Hyman Minsky to the insights of Samuelson and Wolfgang Stolper on trade and wages; from John Maynard Keynes’s thinking on the fiscal multiplier to George Akerlof’s work on information asymmetry, the topic of this week’s article (see...
      PubDate: Thu, 21 July 2016 14:44:46 GMT
  • Open for business?
    • Abstract: THE “Silicon Fen” of tech firms on the outskirts of Cambridge is less glamorous than the California cluster after which it is nicknamed, but it has nonetheless produced some stars. The brightest of them is ARM Holdings, whose microchips power cars, drones and most of the world’s smartphones. This week’s announcement that ARM would be bought by SoftBank, a Japanese tech giant, was hailed by Britain’s new government as evidence that the country is still “open for business” following last month’s decision to leave the European Union. ARM’s sudden appeal to its Japanese suitor may owe something to the post-referendum slide of the pound, but the deal is welcome nonetheless. Foreign companies play a pivotal role in Britain’s unusually open economy, carrying out half of all research-and-development spending as well as raising productivity and wages in the firms they snap up (see article). Yet, despite the good news about ARM, two clouds hang over Britain’s ability to attract foreign direct...
      PubDate: Thu, 21 July 2016 14:44:46 GMT
  • The generals who hide behind the throne
    • Abstract: TO THE tourists who still flock to its beaches and golden temples, Thailand seems calm. But this is an illusion. Thai politics are as ugly as the country is beautiful—and could soon get uglier. The country’s beloved king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose 70th year on the throne was celebrated on June 9th, is 88 years old and gravely ill. The country is scared of what might happen when he dies (see article). Were Thailand a normal democracy with a constitutional monarchy, the death of a king would cause national sorrow but not political instability. Alas, it is not. Two years ago the army seized power in a bloodless coup. An “interim” constitution grants the prime minister and junta leader, Prayuth Chan-ocha, almost unlimited power. Because the regime is illegitimate, it hides behind Thailand’s most revered institution. Its propagandists do all they can to fizz up adulation of the monarchy; for example, by building colossal statues of seven Thai kings. And the regime has applied Thailand’s strict lèse-...
      PubDate: Thu, 21 July 2016 14:44:46 GMT
  • Erdogan’s revenge
    • Abstract: MUCH is unknown about the attempted military coup in Turkey on the night of July 15th. Why was it botched so badly? How far up the ranks did the conspiracy reach? Were the putschists old-style secularists, as their initial communiqué suggested; or were they followers of an exiled Islamist cleric, Fethullah Gulen, as the government claims? But two things are clear. First, the people of Turkey showed great bravery in coming out onto the streets to confront the soldiers; hundreds died (see article here and here). Opposition parties, no matter how much they may despise President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, united to denounce the assault on democracy. Better the flawed, Islamist-tinged strongman than the return of the generals for the fifth time since the 1960s. The second, more alarming conclusion is that Mr Erdogan is fast destroying the very...
      PubDate: Thu, 21 July 2016 08:47:25 GMT
  • Net positive
    • Abstract: FISH are slippery characters, with little regard for international agreements or borders. The speediest, such as crescent-tailed bluefin tuna, can slice through the ocean at 70 kilometres per hour. Their routes take them beyond areas that come under the jurisdiction of individual coastal states, and into the high seas. These wildernesses were once a haven for migratory species. No longer. Under international law the high seas, which span 64% of the surface of the ocean, are defined as “the common heritage of mankind”. This definition might have provided enough protection if the high seas were still beyond mankind’s reach. But the arrival of better trawlers and whizzier mapping capabilities over the past six decades has ushered in a fishing free-for-all. Hauls from the high seas are worth $16 billion annually. Deprived of a chance to replenish themselves, stocks everywhere pay the price: almost 90% are fished either to sustainable limits or beyond. And high-seas fishing greatly disturbs the sea bed: the nets of bottom trawlers can shift boulders weighing as much as 25 tonnes. Introducing private property rights is the classic answer to...
      PubDate: Thu, 14 July 2016 14:44:27 GMT
  • A floundering titan
    • Abstract: THERE are banks that are smaller than Deutsche Bank, and there are larger ones. There are riskier ones, and safer ones. But it is hard to think of any other big financial institution so bereft of a purpose. Since its acquisition of Bankers Trust in 1999, Deutsche has sold itself as a global investment bank. Yet American rivals leave it trailing, even in its own backyard: the Goldman Sachs of Europe, it turns out, is Goldman Sachs. Deutsche’s revenues have dived since the crisis; last year it reported its first annual loss since 2008. Its shares are worth barely an eighth of what they were in 2007. Employees are demoralised: less than half are proud to work there. Some of the blows Deutsche has sustained are not of its own making. It has thousands of investment bankers in London, for example, but the city’s future as Europe’s financial capital has been thrown into doubt by Brexit. Negative interest rates hurt margins across the industry. A few problems, such as litigation costs for past misdeeds, will fade with time. Its newish chief executive, John Cryan, wins plaudits for a hard-nosed strategy to cut costs, sell assets...
      PubDate: Thu, 14 July 2016 14:44:27 GMT
  • Come back from the brink, Beijing
    • Abstract: THE aggression that China has shown in the past few years in its vast territorial grab in the South China Sea has terrified its neighbours and set it on a collision course with America, long the guarantor of peace in East Asia. This week an international tribunal thoroughly demolished China’s vaguely defined claims to most of the South China Sea. How Beijing reacts to this verdict is of the utmost geopolitical importance. If, in its fury, China flouts the ruling and continues its creeping annexation, it will be elevating brute force over international law as the arbiter of disputes among states. China’s bullying of its neighbours greatly raises the risks of a local clash escalating into war between the century’s rising superpower and America, the current one. The stakes could hardly be higher. Blown out of the water The ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, in...
      PubDate: Thu, 14 July 2016 14:44:27 GMT
  • The dividing of America
    • Abstract: FROM “Morning in America” to “Yes, we can”, presidential elections have long seemed like contests in optimism: the candidate with the most upbeat message usually wins. In 2016 that seems to have been turned on its head: America is shrouded in a most unAmerican pessimism. The gloom touches race relations, which—after the shooting of white police officers by a black sniper in Dallas, and Black Lives Matter protests against police violence, followed by arrests, in several cities—seem to get ever worse. It also hangs over the economy. Politicians of the left and right argue that American capitalism fails ordinary people because it has been rigged by a cabal of self-serving elitists. The mood is one of anger and frustration. America has problems, but this picture is a caricature of a country that, on most measures, is more prosperous, more peaceful and less racist than ever before. The real threat is from the man who has done most to stoke national rage, and who will, in Cleveland, accept the Republican Party’s nomination to run for president. Win or lose in November, Donald Trump has the power to reshape America so that it becomes more like the...
      PubDate: Thu, 14 July 2016 08:48:25 GMT
  • May time
    • Abstract: THEY campaigned to Leave, and they were as good as their word. Three weeks on from their referendum triumph, the politicians who led the charge for Britain to quit the European Union have fallen by the wayside in the race to replace David Cameron as prime minister. This week the last of the prominent Leavers, Andrea Leadsom, withdrew her candidacy after a few days’ media scrutiny revealed her to be fantastically ill-prepared. The job of steering Britain towards the EU’s exit doors has thus fallen to the only candidate left in the race: Theresa May, who campaigned to Remain. Mrs May’s path to power was easier than that of most prime ministers, but her time in office will be the hardest stint in decades (see article). Extricating Britain from the EU will be the diciest diplomatic undertaking in half a century. The wrangling at home will be no easier: whatever divorce settlement Britain ends up with is likely to be deeply unsatisfactory even to those who voted to Leave. Popular anger will not be...
      PubDate: Thu, 14 July 2016 08:48:17 GMT
  • 225m reasons for China’s leaders to worry
    • Abstract: BEFORE the late 1990s China barely had a middle class. In 2000, 5m households made between $11,500 and $43,000 a year in current dollars; today 225m do. By 2020 the ranks of the Chinese middle class may well outnumber Europeans. This stunning development has boosted growth around the world and transformed China. Paddyfields have given way to skyscrapers, bicycles to traffic jams. An inward-looking nation has grown more cosmopolitan: last year Chinese people took 120m trips abroad, a fourfold rise in a decade. A vast Chinese chattering class has sprung up on social media. However, something is missing. In other authoritarian countries that grew rich, the new middle classes demanded political change. In South Korea student-led protests in the 1980s helped end military rule. In Taiwan in the 1990s middle-class demands for democracy led an authoritarian government to allow free elections. Many pundits believe that China is an exception to this pattern. Plenty of Chinese cities are now as rich as South Korea and Taiwan were when they began to change. Yet, since tanks crushed protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, China has seen no big...
      PubDate: Thu, 07 July 2016 15:00:58 GMT
  • Aussie rules
    • Abstract: WHAT Switzerland is to watches and France is to beauty products, Australia is to immigration systems: a national guarantee of quality. Before Britain’s referendum on EU membership on June 23rd, Brexiteers invoked the Aussie brand to sell an alternative to the free movement of labour within the European Union. Leave the EU, they said, and Britain could enact an “Australian-style points-based immigration system”. Voters went for it. But they have been sold a dodgy product. Albeit grudgingly, all Western countries let in refugees and foreigners whom their citizens have married. They also accept immigrant workers—but in very different ways. America tends to take people with offers of skilled work, as do European countries, at least when screening applicants from outside the EU. Beginning in 1979, though, Australia went in a different direction. It decided to favour people who look good on paper: a young PhD, say, or...
      PubDate: Thu, 07 July 2016 15:00:58 GMT
  • Notes on a scandal
    • Abstract: THE former secretary of state and her colleagues were “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information”. Hillary Clinton, who in August said she “did not send classified material”, in fact used her home-brew IT system in eight e-mail chains containing material that someone in her position should have known was classified top-secret. There was no direct evidence that her own e-mail account was compromised, but she sent and received e-mails in “the territory of sophisticated adversaries” and the accounts of some people with whom she corresponded were indeed hacked, opening a possible route for foreign spies into Mrs Clinton’s in-box. Delivering his verdict on a year-long investigation, the FBI’s director, James Comey, sounded like someone who was laying out the case for the prosecution. It turned out that Mrs Clinton will not be charged—because Mr Comey concluded that her mistakes were neither intentional nor the result of malice towards the United States, and because the attorney-general, Loretta Lynch, said that she would follow the FBI’s lead. In legal terms, the matter is closed. At one level,...
      PubDate: Thu, 07 July 2016 15:00:58 GMT
  • The dangerous chill of Chilcot
    • Abstract: BRITISH troops spent six years fighting in Iraq; the official inquiry into how they ended up there has taken nearly seven. Sir John Chilcot’s 2.6m-word report, published on July 6th, is—as foreseen—devastating. Assessments of Iraq’s weapons “were presented with a certainty that was not justified”; planning for after the invasion was “wholly inadequate”. The foreign-policy blunder of the century, billed as a war of necessity, in fact was “not a last resort”. The report holds many lessons, including for this newspaper, which supported the invasion of Iraq: about the danger of impetuous decision-making; of failing to plan; and of making optimistic assumptions (see article). Yet it also carries a risk that the wrong lesson may be learned. As Britain begins the tortuous, regrettable process of disentangling itself from the rest of Europe, it is already in danger of turning inward. The Chilcot report will be read by many not merely as evidence of a badly conceived mission, thinly planned and poorly executed...
      PubDate: Thu, 07 July 2016 15:00:58 GMT
  • The Italian job
    • Abstract: INVESTORS around the world are extraordinarily nervous. Yields on ten-year Treasuries fell to their lowest-ever level this week; buyers of 50-year Swiss government bonds are prepared to accept a negative yield. Some of the disquiet stems from Britain’s decision to hurl itself into the unknown. The pound, which hit a 31-year low against the dollar on July 6th, has yet to find a floor; several British commercial-property funds have suspended redemptions as the value of their assets tumbles. But the Brexit vote does not explain all the current unease. Another, potentially more dangerous, financial menace looms on the other side of the Channel—as Italy’s wobbly lenders teeter on the brink of a banking crisis. Italy is Europe’s fourth-biggest economy and one of its weakest. Public debt stands at 135% of GDP; the adult employment rate is lower than in any EU country bar Greece. The economy has been moribund for years, suffocated by over-regulation and feeble productivity. Amid stagnation and deflation, Italy’s banks are in deep trouble, burdened by some €360 billion ($400 billion) of souring loans, the equivalent of a fifth of the country’s GDP....
      PubDate: Thu, 07 July 2016 08:48:27 GMT
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