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The Economist - Leaders
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     ISSN (Online) 1358-274X
     Published by The Economist Group Homepage  [4 journals]
  • The British constitution: Now for the English question
    • Abstract: THE national rejoicing did not last long. Shortly after six o’clock on the morning of September 19th, the BBC announced that Scotland had voted to stay in the United Kingdom. At seven o’clock, with unionists still hugging each other, David Cameron, the prime minister, triggered a new constitutional crisis—this time concerning England.The country is hard done by, he argued (see article). Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have their own assemblies, which control much domestic policy. But England—with 84% of the union’s population—is still run from Westminster. And, since Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales continue to send MPs to Parliament, they can sway decisions on English schools, health care and the like, without English MPs having reciprocal rights. This must change, Mr Cameron said.It is an old anomaly. Tam Dalyell, a Scottish Labour MP, pointed it out so often in the 1970s and 1980s that it has been dubbed the West Lothian Question after his constituency. But it grows...
      PubDate: Thu, 25 September 2014 15:03:2
  • Corporate saving in Asia: A $2.5 trillion problem
    • Abstract: THE odd thing about prudence is that too much of it can be deadly. Timid drivers crawling along a motorway create more risk than they avoid. Children who are over-protected from germs end up with weaker immune systems. Economies are the same: too much saving can lead to a loss of vigour or, as Keynes put it, to a “paradox of thrift”. That is why Japanese and South Korean firms, two of the world’s biggest hoarders, need to be cajoled into parting with their cash.Corporate saving has risen across the rich world in recent years. Bosses have felt a greater need to protect themselves against financial turmoil. There have also been fewer opportunities for investment in ageing economies. But East Asia is an extreme case. Japanese firms hold ¥229 trillion ($2.1 trillion) in cash, a massive 44% of GDP. Their South Korean counterparts hold 459 trillion won ($440 billion) or 34% of GDP. That compares with cash holdings of 11% of GDP, or $1.9 trillion, in American firms. If East Asia’s firms spent even half of their huge cash hoards, they could boost global GDP by some 2%.Sadly, that kind of largesse is unlikely. Bosses in East Asia are still scarred by bitter...
      PubDate: Thu, 25 September 2014 15:03:2
  • China’s water crisis: Grand new canals
    • Abstract: SOON the centrepiece of one of China’s most spectacular engineering projects will be completed, with the opening of sluicegates into a canal stretching over 1,200km (750 miles) from the Yangzi river north to the capital, Beijing. The new channel is only part of the world’s biggest water-diversion scheme. More than 300,000 people have been kicked out to make way for the channel and the expansion of a reservoir in central China that will feed it. But the government is in a hurry, and has paid their complaints little heed.China’s leaders see the so-called South-North Water Diversion Project, which has already cost tens of billions of dollars, as crucial to solving a water problem that threatens the country’s development and stability (see article). Grain-growing areas around Beijing have about as much water per person as such arid countries as Niger and Eritrea. Overuse has caused thousands of rivers to disappear. The amount of water available is diminishing fast as the water...
      PubDate: Thu, 25 September 2014 15:03:2
  • The future of banking: You’re boring. Get used to it
    • Abstract: SINCE the financial crisis, it has become commonplace to argue that banks should be run as utilities, not casinos. At least in terms of their financial performance, that seems to be happening. In 2006, the eight American banks that regulators have since labelled “globally systemically important” generated casino-like profits, with returns on equity of 30% on average, according to Oliver Wyman, a consultancy. They are currently managing less than 11%, and there is worse to come: the Federal Reserve recently announced plans to oblige them to raise extra capital. By one calculation that would reduce their return on equity to little over 8%, other things being equal—a lower return than America’s water companies make.And other things are unlikely to be equal. American regulators continue to biff big banks with blistering fines. Then there is the requirement that banks produce “living wills”, explaining how they could be wound down if disaster strikes: the regulators have rejected every single “will” they have received so far as too flimsy. Making banks easier to close down will probably leave them even less profitable.Nor are American officials the only ones still...
      PubDate: Thu, 25 September 2014 15:03:2
  • America and Islamic State: Mission relaunched
    • Abstract: FOR more than three years, Barack Obama has been trying to avoid getting into a fight in Syria. But this week, with great tracts of the Middle East under the jihadist’s knife, he at last faced up to the inevitable. On September 23rd America led air strikes in Syria against both the warriors of Islamic State (IS) and a little-known al-Qaeda cell, called the Khorasan group, which it claimed was about to attack the West. A president who has always seen his main mission as nation-building at home is now using military force in six countries—Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.The Syrian operation is an essential counterpart to America’s attacks against IS in Iraq. Preventing the group from carving out a caliphate means, at the very least, ensuring that neither of these two countries affords it a haven (see article). But more than the future of IS is at stake in the streets of Raqqa and Mosul. Mr Obama’s attempt to deal with the jihadists is also a test of America’s commitment to...
      PubDate: Thu, 25 September 2014 08:03:1
  • Chinese debt: The great hole of China
    • Abstract: OF THE many things that are worrying investors around the world, from tumbling oil prices to the spectre of recession and deflation in Europe, one of the most important, and least understood, is China’s debt. For the past few years China has been on a borrowing binge. Its total debt—the sum of government, corporate and household borrowings—has soared by 100% of GDP since 2008, and is now 250% of GDP; a little less than wealthy nations, but far higher than any other emerging market (see article).Since most financial crashes are preceded by a frantic rise in borrowing—think of Japan in the early 1990s, South Korea and other emerging economies in the late 1990s, and America and Britain in 2008—it seems reasonable to worry that China could be heading for a crash. All the more so because the nominal growth rate, the sum of real output and inflation, has tumbled, from an average of 15% a year in the 2000s to 8.5% now, and looks likely to fall further as inflation hit a five-year low of...
      PubDate: Thu, 16 October 2014 14:59:37
  • Germany’s flagging economy: Build some bridges and roads, Mrs Merkel
    • Abstract: FOR the past few years Germany has been a shining exception to Europe’s economic weakness. But suddenly the Teflon Teuton is in trouble. Germany’s GDP fell in the second quarter and more recent news has been grimmer still. Industrial output and exports plunged in August. The ZEW index, a measure of investor confidence, has tumbled to its lowest level in almost two years. The economy may well be in recessionThis weakness has many outside Germany deeply worried. But inside the country the reaction is one of stoic nonchalance. Even as the government this week slashed its official growth forecasts from 1.8% to 1.2% for 2014, and from 2% to 1.3% for 2015, it argued against any shift from the long-standing goal of balancing the budget next year. “A dip in growth is not a cataclysm,” says Sigmar Gabriel, the economy minister; there are “no economic-policy grounds” for changing course.Good politics, lousy economicsPolitically, this position has a certain logic (see article). The promise of no...
      PubDate: Thu, 16 October 2014 14:59:37
  • British politics: Farage against the machine
    • Abstract: INSURGENT populist parties are now a familiar feature of the European political landscape, yet their rise is so recent and so sharp that it still has the power to shock the mainstream. In by-elections on October 9th the right-wing UK Independence Party (UKIP), which wants to stop immigration and pull Britain out of the European Union, not only won its first parliamentary seat, which it took from the Conservative Party, but also nearly grabbed one from the Labour Party, which hitherto regarded UKIP as the Tories’ problem. Polls since the by-election have put the party anywhere from 13% to 25% of the vote nationally. Next month another by-election offers UKIP the chance to grab another Tory seat.Neither David Cameron, the Tory prime minister, nor Ed Miliband, Labour’s leader, has much sympathy for UKIP’s positions. But both are trimming their policies in an effort to emulate the insurgent’s success. To placate his party’s perennially disaffected right—from which two MPs have so far defected to UKIP—Mr Cameron has promised to renegotiate freedom of movement within the European Union ahead of a referendum on Britain’s membership. He is now being urged to say that if...
      PubDate: Thu, 16 October 2014 08:33:09
  • The epidemic in West Africa: The war on Ebola
    • Abstract: IN SEPTEMBER 1976 scientists in Antwerp received a Thermos out of Yambuku, in what was then Zaire, with two samples from a nun who was fatally ill. One of the vials had smashed, but after scooping the other out of a pool of icy water, blood and broken glass, they discovered that they were handling a deadly and unknown virus. To spare Yambuku from infamy, they named the infection after a local river, the Ebola.The next 36 years saw about 20 Ebola epidemics. Each was in a village or small town in central Africa and subsided after claiming fewer than 300 lives. Today’s crisis is of a different order. It has struck down three countries—Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone—with a combined population of over 20m. Almost 4,500 deaths have been recorded: the actual total is much larger. The epidemic is still rampant, destroying communities as it goes. It has spread sporadically to other African countries and to Spain and America.The World Health Organisation (WHO) fears up to 10,000 new victims a week by December, perhaps 70% of whom will die. Its chief calls the epidemic “the most severe acute public-health emergency in modern times”. Now that the world has woken up to the...
      PubDate: Thu, 16 October 2014 08:03:09
  • Brazil’s presidential election: Why Brazil needs change
    • Abstract: IN 2010, when Brazilians elected Dilma Rousseff as president, their country seemed at last to be living up to its huge potential. The economy expanded by 7.5% that year, setting the seal on eight years of faster growth and a steep fall in poverty under Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Ms Rousseff’s political mentor and the leader of the centre-left Workers’ Party (PT). But four years later that promise has disappeared. Under Ms Rousseff the economy has stalled and social progress has slowed. Sanctions-hit Russia aside, Brazil is by far the weakest performer in the BRIC club of big emerging economies. In June 2013 over a million Brazilians took to the streets to protest against poor public services and political corruption.Ever since the protests the polls have shown that two-thirds of respondents want the next president to be different. So one might have expected them to turf out Ms Rousseff in the first round of the country’s presidential election on October 5th. In the event she secured 41.6% of the vote and remains the narrow favourite to win the run-off ballot on October 26th. That is mainly because most Brazilians have not yet felt the economic chill in their daily...
      PubDate: Thu, 16 October 2014 08:03:07
  • The world economy: Weaker than it looks
    • Abstract: FOR the American and British economies it has been a long road out of the woods, but the journey is nearing its end. America’s unemployment rate fell below 6% in September. Britain’s economy, where output was up 3.2% in the year to June, is growing faster than any other big rich country’s. Central bankers are counting the days until they can raise interest rates.Virtually everywhere else, however, the news is grim and getting grimmer. The euro zone, the world’s second-biggest economic area, seems to be falling from a feeble recovery back into outright recession as Germany hits the skids. Shockingly weak industrial production and export figures mean Germany’s GDP is likely to shrink for the second consecutive quarter—a popular definition of recession. Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy, may also be on the edge of a downturn, because April’s rise in the consumption tax is hurting spending more than expected. Russia’s and Brazil’s economies are stagnant, at best. Even in China, still growing at a suspiciously smooth 7.5% a year, there are worries about a property bust, a credit bubble and a fall in productivity (see...
      PubDate: Thu, 09 October 2014 14:58:57
  • Free-trade agreements: A better way to arbitrate
    • Abstract: GOODBYE to the European Union’s environmental protections. Goodbye to Britain’s National Health Service. Goodbye, for that matter, to the ability of voters in sovereign, democratic states to determine the sort of country they would like to live in. These things are all doomed, thanks to an obscure clause in the free-trade agreement that the EU is negotiating with America regarding “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS)—or so the agreement’s opponents claim.These exaggerations contain a kernel of truth. ISDS, which is intended to protect foreign investors from expropriations or other unfair treatment, requires countries to give up some of their sovereignty. The logic is simple. When a government molests a foreign firm—the forcible acquisition of stakes in foreign oil and gas ventures in Russia, say, or Venezuela’s nationalisation of gold mines, cement factories and cattle ranches—it cannot be relied on to fix things. Investors should therefore have recourse to an independent arbiter who can oblige the government to change course. In theory, the only power governments are giving up is the right to behave badly. In return they will receive more...
      PubDate: Thu, 09 October 2014 14:58:57
  • Iraq, Syria and jihadism: The will and the way
    • Abstract: THESE are early days, but the campaign that Barack Obama announced almost exactly a month ago to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State is not going well. In both Syria and Iraq, IS is scoring victories against the West and its Sunni Arab allies. The coalition’s strategy is beset by contradictions and self-imposed constraints, with two of the worst offenders being the two countries that could do the most to degrade IS: America and Turkey. The coalition must rise above these shortcomings, or IS will end up being validated in the eyes of could-be jihadists—the very opposite of what the coalition’s leaders set out to achieve.As The Economist went to press, the strategically important Kurdish town of Kobane, on the border with Turkey, had been entered by heavily armed IS fighters and surrounded on three sides. Coalition air strikes have delayed the town’s fall, but probably by only a few days. If Kobane succumbs there will be a chorus of demands for a redoubled coalition effort, offset by dire warnings of the dangers of mission creep.IS poses a threat to the entire Middle East and is potentially a source of terrorism...
      PubDate: Thu, 09 October 2014 14:58:56
  • Educational reform: Viva la revolución
    • Abstract: EVERYBODY knows how much schooling matters in the knowledge economy, but few governments have pounced on the idea of educational reform with much enthusiasm. Charter schools in America have shown a lot of promise, but their adoption has been patchy. Parts of Germany have got rid of underperforming schools and reformed technical education. Formerly Soviet Estonia has embraced new technology and data-management with impressive results. But the country that has seen the most radical structural reform is Britain.Michael Gove, education secretary until earlier this year, faced down left-wing teaching unions and rapidly expanded the academies programme, introduced by the Labour government in the early 2000s to make schools independent of local-government bureaucracies. So far, two-thirds of all England’s state-funded, non-selective comprehensive schools (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own systems) have been set free. Some 4,000 secondary schools therefore now control their own staffing, curriculum and budgets.New evidence on the performance of the first pupils to pass through academies (see article) suggests that the programme is working. Although the picture is mixed, academy pupils’ results have improved...
      PubDate: Thu, 09 October 2014 14:58:56
  • Human rights: The gay divide
    • Abstract: THERE was a teenager in Arizona in the 1970s who “could no more imagine longing to touch a woman than longing to touch a toaster”. But he convinced himself that he was not gay. Longing to be “normal”, he blamed his obsession with muscular men on envy of their good looks. It was not until he was 25 that he admitted the truth to himself—let alone other people. In 1996 he wrote a cover leader for The Economist in favour of same-sex marriage. He never thought it would happen during his lifetime. Yet now he is married to the man he loves and living in a Virginia suburb where few think this odd.The change in attitudes to homosexuality in many countries—not just the West but also Latin America, China and other places—is one of the wonders of the world (see article). This week America’s Supreme Court gave gay marriage another big boost, by rejecting several challenges to it; most Americans already live in states where gays can wed. But five countries still execute gay people: Iran...
      PubDate: Thu, 09 October 2014 08:33:14
  • American justice: A plea for change
    • Abstract: ANTHONY YARBOUGH was convicted of a triple stabbing in 1992, although not a speck of blood was found on his clothes and the DNA under one victim’s fingernails did not match his. He was found guilty because his petrified 15-year-old co-defendant, Sharrif Wilson, pleaded guilty and testified against him in exchange for a lighter sentence. (He later recanted.) The same DNA was found on the corpse of another stabbed woman while Mr Yarbough and Mr Wilson were in prison. Yet they were not exonerated and freed until this year.More than 95% of convictions in America are reached through plea bargains, in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty in return for leniency. Many convictions also depend on the testimony of a “co-operating witness”, who snitches for the same reason. Defenders of the system argue that it is efficient. By avoiding long, costly trials, America can lock up lots of villains. Without plea deals, the courts would be swamped.Alas, the process is open to abuse (see article). Prosecutors...
      PubDate: Thu, 02 October 2014 15:00:54
  • Economic reform in Europe: The rise of the Vallenzi
    • Abstract: IN THE smouldering economic landscape of the euro zone, the future is riding on two men. In France Manuel Valls (pictured, right) is leading the most reformist government in years (see article). In Italy, whose economy is in even worse shape than France’s, Matteo Renzi (the hugger on the left) is also talking of change. Both have been in office for barely half a year and have a promising Blairite agenda. But the Vallenzi are also open to the same criticism: that as far as reform goes, they are all mouth and no trousers.France and Italy pose a grave threat to the single currency. They are the euro zone’s second- and third-largest members. Growth in France is flat and unemployment stuck at over 10%. The budget has not been balanced for 40 years, and public spending takes 57% of GDP—far the highest in the euro zone. Italy is no better. It is in recession, and its debt is over 130% of GDP.They are also laggards in reform. Whereas Spain has started to get to grips with its structural problems, France’s...
      PubDate: Thu, 02 October 2014 15:00:54
  • Afghanistan and America: Don’t let history repeat itself
    • Abstract: IT TOOK a while, but Afghanistan has at last got a new president. After a four-month stand-off during which his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, accused him of stealing the election, Ashraf Ghani, a Pushtun technocrat with a notable temper, was inaugurated on September 29th. As part of the settlement, Dr Abdullah comes into the government in the newly created position of chief executive (in effect, prime minister). It remains unclear how the new arrangement will work; what is certain is that the stand-off damaged the economy, threatened to reopen ethnic divisions and, most dangerous of all, allowed the Taliban and other insurgents to regroup.If the country is secure, the rest will followSecurity matters above all else: without it, Afghanistan cannot prosper. That is why the new government’s long-delayed signing of a bilateral security agreement (BSA) with America the day after Mr Ghani’s inauguration is so important. A “status-of-forces” agreement with NATO quickly followed it. They come not a moment too soon. The agreements provide the legal basis for Western troops to stay on in Afghanistan after they cease combat operations at the end of the year.The BSA should have...
      PubDate: Thu, 02 October 2014 15:00:54
  • The world economy: Wealth without workers, workers without wealth
    • Abstract: TECHNOLOGICAL revolutions are best appreciated from a distance. The great inventions of the 19th century, from...
      PubDate: Thu, 02 October 2014 15:00:54
  • Hong Kong protests: The Party v the people
    • Abstract: OF THE ten bloodiest conflicts in world history, two were world wars. Five of the other eight took place or originated in China. The scale of the slaughter within a single country, and the frequency with which the place has been bathed in blood, is hard for other nations to comprehend. The Taiping revolt in the mid-19th century led to the deaths of more than 20m, and a decade later conflict between Han Chinese and Muslims killed another 8m-12m. In the 20th century 20m-30m died under Mao Zedong: some murdered, most as a result of a famine caused by brutality and incompetence.China’s Communist Party leaders are no doubt keen to hold on to power for its own sake. But the country’s grim history also helps explain why they are so determined not to give ground to the demonstrators in Hong Kong who want to replace the territory’s fake democracy with the real thing (see article). Xi Jinping, China’s president, and his colleagues believe that the party’s control over the country is the only way of guaranteeing...
      PubDate: Thu, 02 October 2014 09:03:07
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