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The Economist - Leaders
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   Full-text available via subscription Subscription journal
   ISSN (Online) 1358-274X
   Published by The Economist Group Homepage  [4 journals]
  • Malaysians underestimate the damage caused by the 1MDB scandal
    • Abstract: FORTY thousand people wearing yellow shirts gathered in Malaysia’s capital on November 19th, to protest against corruption and impunity in government. The rally was orderly and restrained; the response of the authorities was not. On the eve of the protest, police arrested Maria Chin Abdullah, leader of a coalition of human-rights groups that organised the event. She was placed in solitary confinement, and can be held there for 28 days. Even by Malaysia’s dismal recent standards this marked a fresh low. Ordinary Malaysians should not stand by while their leaders undermine the rule of law so casually.Ms Chin Abdullah’s detention was justified by an anti-terrorism law which the government had promised would never be used against political opponents. The true motivation was to stifle outrage over 1MDB, a state-owned investment firm from which billions have gone missing. In July American government investigators said they thought that $3.5bn had been taken from the firm and that hundreds of millions of dollars went to the prime minister, Najib Razak (who says he has never taken public funds for personal gain). The investigators’ findings corroborated...
      PubDate: Thu, 24 November 2016 15:49:16
  • Limited ambition
    • Abstract: OVER the past five months Theresa May has shown a fondness for bold words and grand promises. On the steps of Downing Street on her first day in office, the prime minister promised to “make Britain a country that works for everyone”. At the Conservative Party conference in October she excoriated those who consider themselves “citizens of the world”, arguing that “a change has got to come”. Earlier this month she recast herself as a champion of globalisation, but pledged a “new approach” to managing its forces.November 23rd marked the first big opportunity to turn this fighting grandiloquence into action, as Philip Hammond, the chancellor of the exchequer, made his Autumn Statement, an annual mini-budget. Yet the first big fiscal event since the referendum was modest and boring, the mirror image of the prime minister’s fierce rhetoric.Some of that blandness was welcome. Mr Hammond sensibly steered clear of the fiscal gimmicks and surprises so beloved of his predecessor, George Osborne. He slowed the pace of fiscal tightening and said lots of reasonable things about boosting productivity by increasing public investment in...
      PubDate: Thu, 24 November 2016 15:49:16
  • Why Italy should vote no in its referendum
    • Abstract: ITALY has long been the biggest threat to the survival of the euro, and the European Union. Its GDP per head is stuck at the level of the late 1990s. Its labour market is sclerotic. Its banks are stuffed with non-performing loans. The state is burdened with the second-highest debt load in the euro zone, at 133% of GDP. If Italy veers towards default, it will be too big to rescue.That is why so much hope has rested with Matteo Renzi, the young prime minister. He thinks Italy’s biggest underlying problem is institutional paralysis, and has called a referendum for December 4th on constitutional changes that would take back powers from the regions and make the Senate subordinate to parliament’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies. This, together with a new electoral law that seeks to guarantee the biggest party a majority, will give him the power to pass the reforms Italy desperately needs, or so he claims.If the referendum fails, Mr Renzi says he will step down. Investors, and many European governments, fear a No vote will turn Italy into the “third domino” in a toppling international order, after Brexit and the election of...
      PubDate: Thu, 24 November 2016 15:49:16
  • How Donald Trump should handle conflicts of interest
    • Abstract: WHEN Americans elected a businessman as president they created a problem: the risk of conflicts between his business interests and his political role. Already, red lights are flashing. China has just resolved a long-standing legal dispute in Mr Trump’s favour. A developer in India has been marketing a new Trump-branded 75-storey skyscraper under the slogan: “Congratulations Mr President-Elect”.The danger of the White House becoming a subsidiary of the Trump Organisation is real. Some are demanding that Mr Trump liquidate his business. Mr Trump’s allies say he can do what he likes under the law. Both sides want to shred the conventions governing the Oval Office. Instead, Mr Trump should be treated like every American president. He must ring-fence his private interests and put them under independent supervision. It is the only fix that is both principled and practical. If Mr Trump wants to govern without being dogged by second-guessing about how his businesses are contaminating his policies, it is in his own interests, too.America is not about to become Ukraine or Russia, where politicians own the commanding heights of the economy....
      PubDate: Thu, 24 November 2016 15:49:16
  • Climate change in the era of Trump
    • Abstract: BLOWING hot and cold doesn’t begin to cover it. In 2009 Donald Trump signed a public letter calling for cuts to America’s greenhouse-gas emissions. In 2012 he dismissed climate change as a hoax cooked up by the Chinese. On the campaign trail he promised to withdraw from an international accord, struck last year in Paris, to fight global warming. This week, as president-elect, Mr Trump said he has an “open mind” on the Paris deal and that there is “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change. Such fickleness gives succour to pessimists and optimists alike. Those who are gloomy about the climate still expect America to ignore or withdraw from the Paris agreement, or to abandon the 1992 UN framework that underpins it. Sunnier folk hope that Mr Trump will govern differently from how he campaigned, enabling the fight against climate change to continue unabated. The reality is more complex. Mr Trump’s brand of “America First” populism will do nothing to help the planet, but neither need it be the catastrophe many fear.Hot airFirst, the bad news. Even if Mr Trump honours America’s...
      PubDate: Thu, 24 November 2016 09:48:19
  • Europe’s biggest populist danger
    • Abstract: ONE by one, liberal democracies are waking up to find their certainties trampled by the march of close-the-borders populism. First came the vote for Brexit, then Donald Trump’s election as America’s next president. Now France is bracing itself for a momentous presidential vote in 2017 in which the stakes could not be higher—not just for the well-being of France, but for the future of Europe itself.Of the two spots in the run-off next May, one will almost certainly go to Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front (FN). That is turning the French primaries campaign into a nerve-racking contest: a race for the candidate best placed to defeat Ms Le Pen (see article). She has vowed to pull France out of the euro and to hold a “Frexit” referendum on the country’s membership of the European Union. The EU can survive, however creakily, the loss of Britain. But were France to abandon the club, it would spell the chaotic end of a project that, with its single market and its day-to-day political engagement,...
      PubDate: Thu, 17 November 2016 15:48:37
  • Ratantrum
    • Abstract: WHEN the management of a giant company engages in a civil war, everyone gets hurt. That is the sorry situation at Tata Group. It is India’s most important firm, with $100bn of sales, tens of millions of customers and products that range from salt to software. Tata is also one of the emerging world’s largest multinationals, spanning technology services, steel in Europe and carmaking in China. And until a few months ago it was a rare beacon of good governance in Asia.That reputation has now been shredded owing to a brutal fight for control between Ratan Tata, the group’s 78-year-old patriarch, and Cyrus Mistry, his successor. The battle is bad for Tata, rotten for its outside investors who have tens of billions of dollars at risk, and damaging to India. Mr Tata needs to get a grip before his legacy and the company are destroyed.Origins of the MistryThe seeds of the crisis were sown in 2012 when Mr Tata, who has no children, stood down after decades at the helm and handed over to Mr Mistry, whose family has long-standing links to the Tatas and is also a big investor in the group.Since then Mr Mistry...
      PubDate: Thu, 17 November 2016 15:48:37
  • Try, Persist, Persevere!
    • Abstract: ONE of the first casualties of Donald Trump’s victory on November 8th has been the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free-trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim countries that Barack Obama saw as central to one of his defining foreign policies—the “pivot”, or “rebalance”, to Asia. White House officials this week made clear that they will now not try to push TPP through the lame-duck session of Congress before the inauguration of president-elect Trump in January.On the face of it, that also kills TPP for the 11 other Pacific Rim countries that signed it in February (see article). Yet, as the leaders of the TPP countries gather in Lima on November 19th to join their colleagues at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) chat-fest, instead of burying TPP, they should try to salvage what they can from the wreckage. One job is to pursue TPP even without American participation; the other, complementary, task is for seven of the TPP countries to conclude another trade agreement they are negotiating, the so-called...
      PubDate: Thu, 17 November 2016 15:48:37
  • And a pony for everyone
    • Abstract: WHEN trying to answer a big question without much information, it is tempting to assign great significance to the few facts that can be found. So it is with Donald Trump and the Republican Congress that will be sworn in next year. Mr Trump’s proposed cabinet is being scrutinised for signs of how he will govern, but no one yet knows whether the president-elect will let his team run their fiefs or take all the decisions himself. No one knows what will be the balance of power between the White House, the vice-president, the Senate and the House. Nor does anyone know if Mr Trump will stick to the promises he made while campaigning or whether he will abandon them. It is probable that he himself does not know.One available fact is that Mr Trump has announced he would like to keep the parts of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, that are popular and ditch the bits that are not (see article). This has been taken as evidence of a newfound moderation. It is not. Instead it is a...
      PubDate: Thu, 17 November 2016 15:48:37
  • The new nationalism
    • Abstract: WHEN Donald Trump vowed to “Make America Great Again!” he was echoing the campaign of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Back then voters sought renewal after the failures of the Carter presidency. This month they elected Mr Trump because he, too, promised them a “historic once-in-a-lifetime” change.But there is a difference. On the eve of the vote, Reagan described America as a shining “city on a hill”. Listing all that America could contribute to keep the world safe, he dreamed of a country that “is not turned inward, but outward—toward others”. Mr Trump, by contrast, has sworn to put America First. Demanding respect from a freeloading world that takes leaders in Washington for fools, he says he will “no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism”. Reagan’s America was optimistic: Mr Trump’s is angry.Welcome to the new nationalism. For the first time since the second world war, the great and rising powers are simultaneously in thrall to various sorts of chauvinism. Like Mr Trump, leaders of countries such as Russia, China and Turkey embrace a pessimistic view that foreign affairs are often a zero-sum game in...
      PubDate: Thu, 17 November 2016 09:33:11
  • Two cheers for the general
    • Abstract: WHEN you have no other options left, you may as well bow to the inevitable. That is what Egypt’s president did last week. With a budget deficit running at over 12% of GDP and a dollar shortage driving the black-market value of the Egyptian pound to barely half its official price, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi had no choice. Back in August the IMF had offered the former general a $12bn lifeline, but it came with tough conditions attached. At long last he has fulfilled them, and the IMF money will soon start to flow. But this must be the beginning, not the end, of his reforms.So far Mr Sisi has attempted three difficult but necessary things, as demanded by the IMF. On November 3rd he allowed the Egyptian pound to float. It is now trading at a market rate of 18 or so to the dollar; previously it had been propped up at a crazily overvalued rate of about 8.8. However, it is still not clear whether this float is genuine. The pound could easily come under renewed pressure, and there is no guarantee that the government will not suspend the float and see the black market return. External credit-card transactions are still restricted, so the market is not free even now.Similarly, the other two main IMF conditions have been fulfilled only up to a point. In August parliament passed a long-promised law introducing a value-added tax. It is subject to many exemptions; but...
      PubDate: Thu, 10 November 2016 15:51:47
  • The way forward
    • Abstract: THE rallying cry of the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union was that it was time for the country’s own national institutions to seize power from the unaccountable courts and parliaments across the Channel. So there is some irony in the fact that, on November 3rd, Brexiteers spluttered with indignation when three British judges, sitting in the High Court in London, ruled that under English law the business of triggering Brexit should fall to Britain’s sovereign Parliament, rather than the government alone.The haziness of Britain’s unwritten constitution contributes to the confusion around the ruling (see article). In fact, the High Court’s judgment may delay Brexit by a few weeks, but it does not imperil it. If the government loses its appeal in the Supreme Court next month it will have to seek Parliament’s approval before triggering Article 50 of the EU treaty, the legal route to Brexit. Theoretically, MPs could vote it down, but they won’t: although most would prefer to remain, they will not ignore...
      PubDate: Thu, 10 November 2016 15:51:47
  • Hong Kong faces new political turmoil
    • Abstract: HONG KONG’S Legislative Council, or Legco, has descended into chaos over how members should take their oaths of office after elections in September. Pro-establishment lawmakers dominate the 70-member chamber, thanks to a voting system skewed towards those who support the government and the Communist Party in Beijing. Despite that, voters elected half a dozen candidates who want Hong Kong to be more independent—some even favour outright separation from China. At their oath-taking two members of a new party, Youngspiration, pledged allegiance to “the Hong Kong nation”, used the imperial Japanese pronunciation of “China”, and displayed a banner declaring that “Hong Kong is not China”. The theatrics by Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching at times seemed puerile. On November 7th the central government made clear that it was in no mood for farce. Its rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), issued a ruling aimed at barring Mr Leung and Ms Yau from Legco (see article). Few doubt that the...
      PubDate: Thu, 10 November 2016 15:51:47
  • The Trump era
    • Abstract: THE fall of the Berlin Wall, on November 9th 1989, was when history was said to have ended. The fight between communism and capitalism was over. After a titanic ideological struggle encompassing the decades after the second world war, open markets and Western liberal democracy reigned supreme. In the early morning of November 9th 2016, when Donald Trump crossed the threshold of 270 electoral-college votes to become America’s president-elect, that illusion was shattered. History is back—with a vengeance.The fact of Mr Trump’s victory and the way it came about are hammer blows both to the norms that underpin politics in the United States and also to America’s role as the world’s pre-eminent power. At home, an apparently amateurish and chaotic campaign has humiliated an industry of consultants, pundits and pollsters. If, as he has threatened, President Trump goes on to test the institutions that regulate political life, nobody can be sure how they will bear up. Abroad, he has taken aim at the belief, embraced by every post-war president, that America gains from the often thankless task of being the global hegemon. If Mr Trump now disengages from the...
      PubDate: Thu, 10 November 2016 09:48:11
  • Take it easy
    • Abstract: NOTHING in India is ever simple. It is too vast, too diverse, too argumentative and too democratic for any of its problems to lend themselves to easy answers. So an idea as revolutionary in its simplicity as a single, nationwide goods-and-services tax (GST) was never likely to go smoothly. Even so, it is disappointing that negotiations under way this week seem likely to result in a tax so complicated and multi-tiered that many of the benefits it offers will be bickered away before it is launched (page 72). One of its architects has lamented that, on present plans, it will reap only one-quarter of the extra economic growth that it could have stimulated.Introducing a nationwide tax to subsume India’s bewildering profusion of central, state and lower-level indirect taxes has been a decades-long effort. Passage of the legislation in August was seen as a triumph for Narendra Modi, the prime minister, and the biggest proof of his reformist credentials. The tax’s precise mechanics are being determined by a new body, the GST Council, combining the federal government and representatives of India’s 29 states. The hope is to reach agreement in time for the...
      PubDate: Thu, 03 November 2016 10:03:20
  • The transition to a better Cuba will not be easy
    • Abstract: FIDEL CASTRO was many things to many people (see article). As Cuba mourns him, his fans offer praise for how he stood up to the United States in the name of Cuban independence and provided world-class health care and education to poorer Cubans. But his achievements were outweighed by his drab legacy. Much of that human capital was wasted by his one-party system, police state and the stagnant, centrally planned economy. Cubans say Mr Castro was “like a father “ to them. They are right: he infantilised a nation. Anyone with initiative found ways to leave for exile abroad.This is the baleful legacy that Raúl Castro, Fidel’s younger brother and successor as president since 2008, must deal with. He has been trying to reform the economy, allowing small businesses, promoting private farming and welcoming some foreign investment. But he has been as determined as his brother to keep Cuba’s one-party system intact. And his cautious economic progress has now almost ground to a halt. That coincided with the thawing of the cold war...
      PubDate: Thu, 01 December 2016 15:42:35
  • Why Park Geun-hye should resign
    • Abstract: MANY members of the party of South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye, want it. So does the opposition, which controls South Korea’s parliament. So do most ordinary Koreans: they have been marching for it by the millions. Even Ms Park says she is ready to do it. So why has she not yet resigned?Ms Park is hopelessly mired in an ever-deepening influence-peddling scandal (see article). She admits that she shared too much information about affairs of state with a close confidante, Choi Soon-sil, including advance drafts of many of her speeches. Ms Choi, prosecutors say, went on to use her clout with the president to extort money and favours from big companies and other organisations. Ms Park, the prosecutors allege, was an active participant in this racket, ordering her aides to help Ms Choi extract her payouts.The response of Ms Park to the allegations has been muddled. She says the notion that she took part in influence-peddling is a politically motivated fabrication—even though the prosecutors behind...
      PubDate: Thu, 01 December 2016 15:42:35
  • Donald Trump’s education secretary deserves a cautious welcome
    • Abstract: FOR those looking for encouraging signs about what a Trump administration might accomplish, the nomination of Betsy DeVos as education secretary deserves a cautious welcome. The welcome is because giving parents choice over where their children are educated is a good thing. The caution because there have been enough failures in school reform to suggest that promising ideas can be discredited if done badly.Both Republicans and Democrats suffer from blind spots on education reform. On the left there is a tendency to ignore bad public schools, pander to unions and indulge underperforming teachers. On the right the assumption is often that private is always better and that, once a voucher scheme has been set up, the work of school reform is done. The evidence suggests that what happens in the classroom is at least as important as the structure of the school system. This means recruiting and training teachers who give rigorous lessons and have high expectations of their pupils (see article).Mrs DeVos has...
      PubDate: Thu, 01 December 2016 15:42:35
  • Why a strengthening dollar is bad for the world economy
    • Abstract: THE world’s most important currency is flexing its muscles. In the three weeks following Donald Trump’s victory in America’s presidential elections, the dollar had one of its sharpest rises ever against a basket of rich-country peers. It is now 40% above its lows in 2011. It has strengthened relative to emerging-market currencies, too. The yuan has fallen to its lowest level against the dollar since 2008; anxious Chinese officials are said to be pondering tighter restrictions on foreign takeovers by domestic firms to stem the downward pressure. India, which has troubles of its own making (see article), has seen its currency reach an all-time low against the greenback. Other Asian currencies have plunged to depths not seen since the financial crisis of 1997-98.The dollar has been gradually gaining strength for years. But the prompt for this latest surge is the prospect of a shift in the economic-policy mix in America. The weight of investors’ money has bet that Mr Trump will cut taxes and...
      PubDate: Thu, 01 December 2016 10:03:19
  • India’s currency reform was botched in execution
    • Abstract: INDIA is not the first country to introduce abrupt, drastic reform of its currency. But the precedents—including Burma in 1987, the former Soviet Union in 1991 and North Korea in 2009—are not encouraging. Burma erupted in revolt, the Soviet Union disintegrated and North Koreans went hungry. All the more reason for Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, to prepare the ground before the surprise announcement on November 8th that he would withdraw the two highest-denomination banknotes (the 500-rupee and 1,000-rupee, worth about $7.30 and $14.60). Yet he did not and the result is a bungle that, even if it does achieve its stated aims, will cause unnecessary harm.Shops stopped accepting the old notes at once. Holders have until the end of the year to deposit them in banks or swap them, either for smaller-denomination notes or for new 500- and 2,000-rupee ones. That 86.4% by value of the cash in circulation is suddenly no longer legal tender has...
      PubDate: Thu, 01 December 2016 10:03:18
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