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The Economist - Leaders
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   Full-text available via subscription Subscription journal  (Not entitled to full-text)
   ISSN (Online) 1358-274X
   Published by The Economist Group Homepage  [4 journals]
  • Too many parties can spoil politics
    • Abstract: TO ENTER parliament, a Dutch political party need only win enough votes for one seat. With no minimum threshold, there are lots of parties. Eleven succeeded in 2012, including two liberal parties, three Christian ones and one that cares about animal rights. In the next election, this March, polls suggest the total could rise to 13, with the addition of a pro-immigrant party and an anti-immigrant one (the country’s second). As small parties multiply, the large ones are shrinking. In the 1980s governing parties often held 50 seats in the 150-seat parliament; today they are lucky to reach 40.As with the Netherlands, so with Europe. The ideologies that held together the big political groupings of the 20th century are fraying, and the internet has lowered the barriers to forming new groups. So parties are multiplying (see article). Some see this as cause for celebration. A longer menu means that citizens can vote for parties that more closely match their beliefs. This is good...
      PubDate: Thu, 12 January 2017 15:54:41
  • China’s embrace of a new electricity-transmission technology holds
           lessons for others
    • Abstract: YOU cannot negotiate with nature. From the offshore wind farms of the North Sea to the solar panels glittering in the Atacama desert, renewable energy is often generated in places far from the cities and industrial centres that consume it. To boost renewables and drive down carbon-dioxide emissions, a way must be found to send energy over long distances efficiently.The technology already exists (see article). Most electricity is transmitted today as alternating current (AC), which works well over short and medium distances. But transmission over long distances requires very high voltages, which can be tricky for AC systems. Ultra-high-voltage direct-current (UHVDC) connectors are better suited to such spans. These high-capacity links not only make the grid greener, but also make it more stable by balancing supply. The same UHVDC links that send power from distant hydroelectric plants, say, can be run in reverse when their output is not needed, pumping water back above the...
      PubDate: Thu, 12 January 2017 15:54:41
  • Trump bashes the spooks
    • Abstract: DONALD TRUMP doesn’t give many press conferences. But when he does, as on January 11th—for the first time since July—they are utterly unlike the press conferences of any other American president-to-be. Speaking without notes, Mr Trump threatened and cajoled Mexico and the pharma industry (its shares tumbled). He boasted about his genius for business (and went some way to reduce his own conflicts of interest—see article). He poured scorn on a shocking report that Russian intelligence had dirt on him and had worked with his people during the election (he shouted down a reporter from the news channel that revealed the report’s existence). And that was just the highlights. It was such a spectacle (see article) and pointed in so many directions at once that you could fail to catch a drumbeat which, for the safety and security of the United States, Mr...
      PubDate: Thu, 12 January 2017 15:54:40
  • How Mexico should handle Trump
    • Abstract: AMERICA’S allies and trading partners await Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House on January 20th with trepidation. None is more anxious than Mexico. Mr Trump began his election campaign by damning Mexicans as rapists and killers of American jobs. He has repeatedly threatened carmakers that invest in Mexico with import tariffs. Ford cancelled plans to build a $1.6bn plant there. He renewed his vow to make Mexico pay for his border wall at a press conference on January 11th. “Mexico has taken advantage of the United States,” he declared.If Mr Trump matches his aggressive words with actions, the consequences will be grave. Mexico’s economy is closely entwined with that of the United States and Canada under the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The value of bilateral trade with its northern neighbour is equivalent to nearly half of its GDP. America buys three-quarters of Mexico’s exports. The 35m people of Mexican origin living in the United States send back $25bn a year in remittances. Mr Trump puts all that in jeopardy.Already, Mexico is feeling the effects (see...
      PubDate: Thu, 12 January 2017 15:54:40
  • Equipping people to stay ahead of technological change
    • Abstract: WHEN education fails to keep pace with technology, the result is inequality. Without the skills to stay useful as innovations arrive, workers suffer—and if enough of them fall behind, society starts to fall apart. That fundamental insight seized reformers in the Industrial Revolution, heralding state-funded universal schooling. Later, automation in factories and offices called forth a surge in college graduates. The combination of education and innovation, spread over decades, led to a remarkable flowering of prosperity.Today robotics and artificial intelligence call for another education revolution. This time, however, working lives are so lengthy and so fast-changing that simply cramming more schooling in at the start is not enough. People must also be able to acquire new skills throughout their careers.Unfortunately, as our special report in this issue sets out, the lifelong learning that exists today mainly benefits high achievers—and is therefore more likely to exacerbate inequality than diminish it. If 21st-century economies are not to create a massive underclass, policymakers urgently need to work out how to help all their...
      PubDate: Thu, 12 January 2017 09:48:12
  • The president-elect’s perilous trade policy
    • Abstract: IT MUST seem to Donald Trump that reversing globalisation is easy-peasy. With a couple of weeks still to go before he is even inaugurated, contrite firms are queuing up to invest in America. This week Ford cancelled a $1.6 billion new plant for small cars in Mexico and pledged to create 700 new jobs building electric and hybrid cars at Flat Rock in Michigan—while praising Mr Trump for improving the business climate in America. Other manufacturers, such as Carrier, have changed their plans, too. All it has taken is some harsh words, the odd tax handout and a few casual threats.Mr Trump has consistently argued that globalisation gives America a poor deal. He reportedly wants to impose a tariff of 5% or more on all imports. To help him, he has assembled advisers with experience in the steel industry, which has a rich history of trade battles. Robert Lighthizer, his proposed trade negotiator, has spent much of his career as a lawyer protecting American steelmakers from foreign competition. Wilbur Ross, would-be commerce secretary, bought loss-making American steel mills just before George W. Bush increased tariffs on imported steel. Daniel DiMicco, an...
      PubDate: Thu, 05 January 2017 15:42:46
  • How to fix failed states
    • Abstract: EIGHT years ago Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart wrote a book called “Fixing Failed States”. Now Mr Ghani is in a position to follow his own advice. He is the president of Afghanistan, a state that failed in the 1990s and could fail again. State failure causes untold misery (see article). Broadly defined, it is the main reason poor countries are poor. Its chief cause is not geography, climate or culture, but politics. Some countries build benign, efficient institutions that foster economic growth; others build predatory ones that retard it. South Sudan is an extreme example of predation. Its politics consist of warlords fighting over oil money. The warlords also stir up tribal animosity as a tool to recruit more militiamen. The state makes Big Men rich while ordinary folk subsist on food aid. Ashes to assetsAfghanistan must overcome several hurdles to avoid the same fate. Since Barack Obama pulled out...
      PubDate: Thu, 05 January 2017 15:42:46
  • The strong dollar has given Abenomics another chance
    • Abstract: JAPAN’S prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was the first foreign leader to meet Donald Trump after his improbable election victory. The photographs show him smiling almost as broadly as the new president-elect. But not even Mr Abe could have guessed how much he would have to smile about.The prospect of stronger spending in America, which has raised bond yields and strengthened the dollar against the yen, has rekindled some optimism about Abenomics, Mr Abe’s campaign to lift the economy out of its decades-long stagnation. At the Bank of Japan’s most recent meeting, one policymaker said that the prospects for growth and reflation stand at a “critical juncture”. They likened conditions to those of 2013 and early 2014, when the currency was cheap, the stockmarket was buoyant and inflation was rising. That momentum was not sustained. On its fourth anniversary, Abenomics has found a second wind. But this time Mr Abe must tackle the weak link in his programme: corporate Japan.The golden hoardThe ability of Abenomics to lower borrowing costs, weaken the yen and lift share prices was never much in doubt. The...
      PubDate: Thu, 05 January 2017 15:42:46
  • Theresa Maybe, Britain’s indecisive premier
    • Abstract: WITHIN hours of the Brexit referendum last summer David Cameron had resigned, and within three weeks Theresa May had succeeded him as prime minister. The speed of her ascent to power, on July 13th 2016, without a general election or a full-blown Tory leadership contest, meant that Mayism was never spelt out in any manifesto or endorsed by the electorate. Yet the new prime minister soon made clear the scale of her ambitions for Britain. Not only would she make a success of Brexit, she would also set in motion a sea-change in social mobility to correct the “burning injustices” faced by the downtrodden, and reshape “the forces of liberalism and globalisation which have held sway...across the Western world.” Her allies talked of an epochal moment, comparable to Margaret Thatcher’s break with the past in 1979. The feeble condition of the Labour opposition gave Mrs May control of a one-party state. As for her mandate, she cited the referendum: a “quiet revolution” by people “not prepared to be ignored any more”. Yet after half a year in office there is strikingly little to show for this May revolution (see...
      PubDate: Thu, 05 January 2017 09:18:21
  • How voice technology is transforming computing
    • Abstract: ANY sufficiently advanced technology, noted Arthur C. Clarke, a British science-fiction writer, is indistinguishable from magic. The fast-emerging technology of voice computing proves his point. Using it is just like casting a spell: say a few words into the air, and a nearby device can grant your wish.The Amazon Echo, a voice-driven cylindrical computer that sits on a table top and answers to the name Alexa, can call up music tracks and radio stations, tell jokes, answer trivia questions and control smart appliances; even before Christmas it was already resident in about 4% of American households. Voice assistants are proliferating in smartphones, too: Apple’s Siri handles over 2bn commands a week, and 20% of Google searches on Android-powered handsets in America are input by voice. Dictating e-mails and text messages now works reliably enough to be useful. Why type when you can talk?This is a huge shift. Simple though it may seem, voice has the power to transform computing, by providing a natural means of interaction. Windows, icons and menus, and then touchscreens, were welcomed as more intuitive ways to deal with computers than...
      PubDate: Thu, 05 January 2017 09:18:13
  • Poor countries need to allow more immigration, too
    • Abstract: A POLITICAL brain teaser: which party in which country has promised “punitive measures” against illegal immigration, has threatened to disenfranchise people who arrived half a century ago and has told migrants to “be prepared with their bags packed”?The answer is not the National Front of France, the United Kingdom Independence Party, Jobbik of Hungary or indeed any other insurgent political party in the West. It is the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of India. The BJP and its leader, Narendra Modi, rail against immigrants from Bangladesh, of whom there might well be more in India than there are Mexicans in America (see article). This nativist ranting is evidence of a nasty strain of developing-world demagoguery.Pakistan is currently trying to evict hundreds of thousands of Afghan immigrants, some of whom have lived in the country for decades. Gabon and Equatorial Guinea are expelling migrants from central Africa. Mexico, which complains bitterly (and rightly) about the treatment...
      PubDate: Tue, 20 December 2016 15:47:37
  • Incentives need to change for firms to take cyber-security more seriously
    • Abstract: IT HAS been a cracking year for hacking. Barack Obama and the CIA accused Russia of electronic meddling in an attempt to help Donald Trump win the presidency. Details emerged of two enormous data breaches at Yahoo, one of the world’s biggest internet companies; one, in 2013, affected more than a billion people. Other highlights include the hack of the World Anti-Doping Agency; the theft of $81m from the central bank of Bangladesh (only a typo prevented the hackers from making off with much more); and the release of personal details of around 20,000 employees of the FBI. The more closely you look at the darker corners of the internet, the more the phrase “computer security” looks like a contradiction in terms.Why, two decades after the internet began to move out of universities and into people’s homes, are things still so bad? History is one reason: the internet started life as a network for the convenient sharing of academic data. Security was an afterthought. Economics matters, too. Software developers and computer-makers do not necessarily suffer when their products go wrong or are subverted. That weakens the incentives to get security right....
      PubDate: Tue, 20 December 2016 15:47:37
  • An obsession with stable growth leads to vulnerabilities in China
    • Abstract: WHEN 2016 dawned the economy that investors fretted about most was China’s. Memories of a huge stockmarket crash were still fresh. Capital was pouring out of the country as savers anticipated a devaluation of the yuan. In the event, other countries provided the year’s big upsets. And in some respects, the Chinese economy is stronger today than it has been for a couple of years. Producer prices, mired in deflation for 54 straight months, are rising at last. Corporate profits are turning up. Promises to cut overcapacity in coal and steel, and to reduce the overhang of unsold housing, have borne fruit. After three straight quarters of 6.7% annual growth, economists are converging around—you guessed it—6.7% in their forecasts for the final quarter of 2016.However, this outward stability is misleading. Risks lurk both outside China’s borders and within them. If it does not change its attitude to reform, the Middle Kingdom could soon be atop investors’ minds once again.One obvious source of anxiety is the potential for a trade war. Much depends on what Donald Trump does when he takes office in January. But tensions are...
      PubDate: Tue, 20 December 2016 15:47:37
  • Our country of the year
    • Abstract: TO WIN The Economist’s country of the year award, it is not enough to be peaceful and rich. We aim to reward improvement. Previous winners include Myanmar and Tunisia, for escaping tyranny and building something resembling democracy. Switzerland, Japan and New Zealand, which were just as lovely a decade ago, need not apply.This year’s contenders include plucky Estonia. Threatened by Vladimir Putin, it is one of the few NATO members to meet its obligation to spend 2% of GDP on defence. One of the poorer countries in Europe, its schoolchildren were nonetheless the continent’s star performers in the most recent PISA science tests. Estonian head teachers have the autonomy to hire and fire and are held accountable for results. It is only a single generation since Estonia was a wretched colony of the Soviet Union; now it looks almost Nordic. Another small country on the shortlist is Iceland (population: 330,000), which was the fastest-growing rich country in 2016. Also, its footballers knocked England (population: 53m) out of a European tournament. Wags noted that the...
      PubDate: Tue, 20 December 2016 09:48:26
  • How to make sense of 2016
    • Abstract: FOR a certain kind of liberal, 2016 stands as a rebuke. If you believe, as The Economist does, in open economies and open societies, where the free exchange of goods, capital, people and ideas is encouraged and where universal freedoms are protected from state abuse by the rule of law, then this has been a year of setbacks. Not just over Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, but also the tragedy of Syria, abandoned to its suffering, and widespread support—in Hungary, Poland and beyond—for “illiberal democracy”. As globalisation has become a slur, nationalism, and even authoritarianism, have flourished. In Turkey relief at the failure of a coup was overtaken by savage (and popular) reprisals. In the Philippines voters chose a president who not only deployed death squads but bragged about pulling the trigger. All the while Russia, which hacked Western democracy, and China, which just last week set out to taunt America by seizing one of its maritime drones, insist liberalism is merely a cover for Western expansion. Faced with this litany, many liberals (of the free-market sort) have lost their nerve. Some have written...
      PubDate: Tue, 20 December 2016 09:33:15
  • In defence of hate speech
    • Abstract: GEERT WILDERS, a Dutch politician, says some horrible, inflammatory things. He has called Islam a “fascist ideology” and referred to Muhammad, Islam’s prophet, as “a devil”. He is no friend of free speech, either: he wants to ban not only the Koran but also preaching in any language other than Dutch. The Economist deplores his views; but he should be allowed to express them.Wild thing, you make my heart sinkProsecutors in the Netherlands have reached a different conclusion. On December 9th a court found him guilty of insulting and inciting racial discrimination against Dutch Moroccans. At issue was a nasty line from a speech in 2014. “Do you want more or fewer Moroccans?” Mr Wilders asked supporters of his anti-immigrant Party for Freedom (PVV). The crowd replied: “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” Mr Wilders smiled and said, softly: “We’ll take care of that.” The audience chuckled.The court decided not to impose a fine, arguing that the conviction itself was punishment enough. Some punishment. Three months before an election, Mr Wilders can pose as a victim of an illiberal law and a...
      PubDate: Thu, 15 December 2016 15:48:48
  • The agenda after the impeachment
    • Abstract: FOR South Korea, a democracy not yet three decades old, the impeachment on December 9th of its unloved president, Park Geun-hye, was the culmination of a remarkable few weeks of participatory politics. As Ms Park sank ever deeper into an influence-peddling scandal involving a former confidante, millions joined protests and called on their MPs to oust her. Four-fifths of South Koreans demanded her eviction; four-fifths of parliamentarians gave them what they wanted.The result suspends Ms Park’s powers, over a year before her term ends (see Banyan). But already the consensus that produced it is cracking. The verdict has riven Ms Park’s Saenuri party—half of whose MPs were among the 234 who voted to impeach her. Saenuri’s floor leader abruptly resigned this week; the party may split as it tries to reinvent itself. The opposition, which controls parliament, wants to ditch deals made by Ms Park’s conservative administration, and threatens to hobble the unpopular prime minister and acting...
      PubDate: Thu, 15 December 2016 15:48:48
  • The Federal Reserve has economic and political headaches
    • Abstract: WHEN, a year ago, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the first time since the financial crisis, it did not intend to dilly-dally. Rate-setters pencilled in four more rises for 2016. In the end it took until this week for the Fed to lift rates again, to a target range of 0.5-0.75%. The delay reflected both a wobbly world economy and the Fed’s realisation that the structural forces keeping rates low, such as slow productivity growth, are more powerful than it had previously thought.The Fed was right to sit on its hands for a year. After a few soggy quarters of growth, America’s economy is now much the stronger for the pause. It grew at an annualised rate of 3.2% in the third quarter of the year. Unemployment has fallen to 4.6%, the lowest since August 2007. The labour-force participation rate for 25- to 54-year-olds, which tumbled after the recession, has recovered about a third of its decline, after...
      PubDate: Thu, 15 December 2016 10:33:14
  • China’s digital dictatorship
    • Abstract: WHEN communism crumbled in the Soviet Union, 25 years ago this week, the Chinese Communist Party seemed to many to be heading irreversibly downwards. Yes, the tanks had left Tiananmen Square after crushing a revolt in 1989, but the war appeared lost. Even China’s breakneck growth, which took off a year after the Soviet collapse, looked likely only to tear the party further from its ideological bedrock. In 1998 President Bill Clinton intimated that he foresaw an inevitable democratic trajectory. He told his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin, that China was “on the wrong side of history”.Yet, while the West has suffered from the financial crisis and the fallout after a failed attempt to implant democracy in the Middle East, China’s Communist Party has clung on to its monopoly of power. Its leaders behave as if China will never have to undergo the democratic transformation that every rich country has passed through on the way to prosperity. Instead they seem to believe that the party can keep control—and some officials are betting that the way to do so lies in a new form of digital dictatorship.A party apartUnder...
      PubDate: Thu, 15 December 2016 10:03:25
  • The lessons from Aleppo’s tragic fate
    • Abstract: GROZNY, Dresden, Guernica: some cities have made history by being destroyed. Aleppo, once Syria’s largest metropolis, will soon join their ranks. Its 1,000-year-old Muslim heritage has turned to dust; Russian aircraft have targeted its hospitals and schools; its citizens have been shelled, bombed, starved and gassed (see article). Nobody knows how many of the tens of thousands who remain in the last Sunni Arab enclave will die crammed inside the ruins where they are sheltering. But even if they receive the safe passage they have been promised, their four-year ordeal in Aleppo has blown apart the principle that innocent people should be spared the worst ravages of war. Instead, a nasty, brutish reality has taken hold—and it threatens a more dangerous and unstable world.To gauge the depth of Aleppo’s tragedy, remember that the first protests against Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, in 2011 saw Sunnis marching cheerfully alongside Shias, Christians and Kurds. From the start, with extensive help...
      PubDate: Thu, 15 December 2016 10:03:14
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