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The Economist - Leaders
  [4 followers]  Follow
   Full-text available via subscription Subscription journal
   ISSN (Online) 1358-274X
   Published by The Economist Group Homepage  [4 journals]
  • Hope the naira falls
    • Abstract: “GIVE me lucky generals,” Napoleon is supposed to have said, preferring them to talented ones. Muhammadu Buhari, a former general, has not had much luck when it comes to the oil price. Between 1983 and 1985 he was Nigeria’s military ruler. Just before he took over, oil prices began a lengthy collapse; the country’s export earnings fell by more than half. The economy went into a deep recession and Mr Buhari, unable to cope, was overthrown in a coup.   Now he is president again. (He won a fair election last year against a woeful opponent; The Economist endorsed him.) And once again, oil prices have slumped, from $64 a barrel on the day he was sworn in to $32 eight months later. Growth probably fell by half in 2015, from 6.3% to little more than 3% (see article). Oil accounts for 70% of the government’s revenues and 95% of export earnings. The government deficit will widen this year to about 3.5% of GDP. The currency, the naira, is under pressure. The central bank...
      PubDate: Thu, 28 January 2016 15:43:04
  • Let us spray
    • Abstract: PANDEMICS make for good horror films. Few things are scarier than a dangerous, incurable new disease that spreads quickly. And globalisation means that plagues can travel far, wide and terrifyingly fast. Diseases such as HIV/AIDS, SARS, West Nile virus and Ebola fever were born in places as varied as African jungles and Chinese poultry markets. Then they broke out to spread panic around the world. The newest horror is Zika (see article). This mosquito-borne virus, which originated in Africa, was spotted in Brazil last year. It is now moving across Latin America and the Caribbean, with cases in more than 20 countries. Originally, it was thought to cause little worse than a rash and fever. Now, propelling the disease into the realm of nightmares, doctors suspect that when pregnant women catch it, their babies may be permanently damaged. Zika is the prime suspect for a sharp increase in the number of babies with microcephaly in Brazil. Children are born with abnormally small heads and are likely to...
      PubDate: Thu, 28 January 2016 15:43:04
  • Going after Google
    • Abstract: IT WAS meant to win plaudits for clawing more money out of cunning, tax-shy multinationals. Instead, a deal between Google and the British government, in which the tech giant will pay £130m ($185m) in back taxes covering a ten-year period, has attracted only opprobrium. Critics at home and abroad argue that Google has got off lightly. On the European mainland, for example, suspected corporate tax-dodgers face raids and whopping demands: France wants €500m ($550m) or more from Google. Apple could be on the hook for $8 billion if the European Commission, which is investigating its Irish operations, concludes that it got a cushy deal from the Emerald Isle. Britain may well have been too generous to Google. But the bigger problem with the deal is what it says about international efforts to crack down on corporate-tax avoidance. Nineteen for me, one for you Corporate taxes are a poor way to raise revenue. Since the burden is ultimately borne by people, whether investors, workers or consumers, it would, in theory, be more efficient to tax them directly. But abolishing corporate levies would create its own problems (see...
      PubDate: Thu, 28 January 2016 15:43:04
  • Train ’em up. Kick ’em out
    • Abstract: YOUNGSTERS have long crossed borders in search of an education. More than 2,000 years ago the Roman poet Horace went to Athens to join Plato’s Academy. Oxford University admitted its first known international student, Emo of Friesland, in 1190. Today more than 4.5m students are enrolled in colleges and universities outside their own countries (see article). Their fees subsidise local students. Their ideas broaden and enliven classroom debate. Most go home with happy memories and valuable contacts, making them more likely in later life to do business with the country where they studied. Those who stay on use what they have learned to make themselves and their hosts wealthier, by finding work as doctors, engineers or in some other skilled career. Immigration policy is hard: Europe is tying itself in knots over how many Syrian refugees to admit. But the question of whether to welcome foreign students ought to be much easier. They more than pay their way. They add to the host...
      PubDate: Thu, 28 January 2016 09:18:21
  • The brawl begins
    • Abstract: THE muscle-bound rivals have entered the ring. The verbals are at fever pitch. On February 1st Iowans will caucus in the opening round of America’s presidential tussle. Just over a week later, voters will gather in New Hampshire. From there the contest will move on towards Super Tuesday on March 1st, and beyond that to the conventions in July. It is the world’s greatest electoral tournament. It is not going to plan. Across America, political elites and moderate voters are in a state of disbelief. Hillary Clinton, as much part of the establishment as the Washington Monument, is under pressure from Bernie Sanders, a crotchety senator from Vermont who calls himself a democratic socialist. The sensible squad on the right—“Jeb!” Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich et al—have been impaled by the gimlet gibes of Ted Cruz and swamped by the sprawling, tumultuous diatribes of Donald Trump. The choice was supposed to be between a Bush and a Clinton—more a coronation than an election. Instead, the race for the world’s most powerful office has been more dramatically upended by outsiders than any presidential campaign in the past half-century. America...
      PubDate: Thu, 28 January 2016 09:18:20
  • Dear prudence
    • Abstract: IT HAD been widely predicted, yet the landslide victory for Tsai Ing-wen in Taiwan’s presidential race on January 16th, along with the emphatic performance of her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the legislative election, is nevertheless remarkable (see article). The vibrancy of the campaigning; the engagement of young voters; a smooth expected transfer of power; Asia’s first female leader not to come from a political dynasty: there is much to celebrate. A dictatorship has budded amazingly into a mature democracy, a country with stable institutions and impressive prosperity, ranking 33rd in the world by income per person, richer than Portugal or Greece. Rightly, neighbours have been quick to congratulate Ms Tsai. All, that is, except powerful China, which deems Taiwan to be a renegade province that must return to the motherland, and if necessary be forced to. For all that Taiwanese resent being dictated to, and Ms Tsai’s own party leans towards formal independence, the new president must...
      PubDate: Thu, 21 January 2016 15:44:53
  • Futile repression
    • Abstract: FOR many years Turkey’s recipe for combating Kurdish nationalism was to pretend that Kurds did not exist. Even as Turkish troops battled the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), government propaganda maintained that Kurds were a subgroup of Turks and that their language, banned from official use, was a dialect of Turkish. To his credit, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, has never indulged in such fantasies. His Justice and Development (AK) party pursued peace negotiations with Abdullah Ocalan, the founder of the PKK, and moderate Kurds. Alas, in recent months, as the world has focused on the tragedy taking place in Iraq and Syria, Mr Erdogan has thrown those achievements away, relaunching Turkey’s war on Kurdish militants with a deadly new ferocity. Hundreds are dead, many of them civilians. About 200,000 people have been displaced, adding to Turkey’s burden of millions of Syrian refugees (see article). Districts across the south-east are under curfew. The army is using tanks and artillery against...
      PubDate: Thu, 21 January 2016 15:44:52
  • Snoopers and scrutiny
    • Abstract: FEW balances are harder to strike than those involved in running a spy agency. After a terrorist attack, voters demand action and politicians respond by granting their spies greater powers to bug and snoop, as with America’s Patriot Act in 2001 and the wide-ranging surveillance law passed after the attacks in France last year. Yet these very powers can, if abused, distort the political system, chill freedom of expression and tilt the scales of justice. When the full extent of clandestine activities come to light, as with Edward Snowden’s revelations about America’s National Security Agency, many feel queasy and demand that the spooks are reined in again. The better part of valour So a lot is riding on Britain’s attempt to update the law governing the domestic activities of its spy agencies (see article). The draft bill will make explicit how the electronic-intelligence agency, GCHQ, may (with a warrant) plant bugs on computers and other devices, collect and analyse...
      PubDate: Thu, 21 January 2016 15:44:52
  • Young, gifted and held back
    • Abstract: IN THE world of “The Hunger Games” youngsters are forced to fight to the death for the amusement of their white-haired rulers. Today’s teen fiction is relentlessly dystopian, but the gap between fantasy and reality is often narrower than you might think. The older generation may not resort to outright murder but, as our special report this week on millennials describes (see article), in important ways they hold their juniors down. Roughly a quarter of the world’s people—some 1.8 billion—have turned 15 but not yet reached 30. In many ways, they are the luckiest group of young adults ever to have existed. They are richer than any previous generation, and live in a world without smallpox or Mao Zedong. They are the best-educated generation ever—Haitians today spend longer in school than Italians did in 1960. Thanks to all that extra learning and to better nutrition, they are also more intelligent than their elders. If they are female or gay, they enjoy greater freedom in more countries than their...
      PubDate: Thu, 21 January 2016 15:44:19
  • Who’s afraid of cheap oil?
    • Abstract: ALONG with bank runs and market crashes, oil shocks have rare power to set monsters loose. Starting with the Arab oil embargo of 1973, people have learnt that sudden surges in the price of oil cause economic havoc. Conversely, when the price slumps because of a glut, as in 1986, it has done the world a power of good. The rule of thumb is that a 10% fall in oil prices boosts growth by 0.1-0.5 percentage points. In the past 18 months the price has fallen by 75%, from $110 a barrel to below $27. Yet this time the benefits are less certain. Although consumers have gained, producers are suffering grievously. The effects are spilling into financial markets, and could yet depress consumer confidence. Perhaps the benefits of such ultra-cheap oil still outweigh the costs, but markets have fallen so far so fast that even this is no longer clear. The new economics of oil The world is drowning in oil. Saudi Arabia is pumping at almost full tilt. It is widely thought that the Saudis want to drive out higher-cost producers from the industry, including some of the fracking firms that have boosted oil output in the United States...
      PubDate: Thu, 21 January 2016 09:18:17
  • Damned if you do
    • Abstract: THE greatest of all South-East Asia’s waterways and the world’s 12th-longest river, the Mekong, is a natural wonder that ties together the destinies of half a dozen countries. Born from snowmelt at over 17,000 feet (5,200 metres), it bolts off the Tibetan plateau like a runaway horse; by the time it leaves China it is starting to slow and spread. When it reaches Cambodia, via Laos, it is tropical and ample and, with the monsoon rains, parts of it curiously change the direction of their flow. Farther down, it reaches the South China Sea through a filigree delta. The Mekong watershed nurtures extraordinary biodiversity, with new species of plants and animals discovered every year. It has also nurtured humans. Tens of millions of people—much of the population of Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam—depend on the Mekong. Its fish are their protein and its delta is the world’s rice basket. No wonder its name, in Thai or Lao, means “mother of rivers”. Planners think the mother has one more gift to give: hydropower. China has 14 dams planned or under construction on its stretch of the Mekong in Yunnan province, joining six already built. Today the river is...
      PubDate: Thu, 11 February 2016 15:44:35
  • Borrowed time
    • Abstract: FOR those who worry that a repeat of the crisis of 2007-08 is imminent, this week brought fresh omens. Shares of big banks tumbled; despite a mid-week rally, American lenders are down by 19% this year, European ones by 24% (see article). The cost of insuring banks’ debts against default rose sharply, especially in Europe. The boss of Deutsche Bank felt obliged to declare that the institution he runs is “absolutely rock solid”; Germany’s finance minister professed to have no concerns (thereby adding to the concerns). This is not 2008: big banks are not about to topple. But there are reasons to worry, and many of them converge on one country. Start with the better news. Banks are more strongly capitalised than they were. Even in Europe, where lenders have been slower than their American counterparts to raise capital, banks have plumped up their core equity cushions from an average of 9% in 2009 to 12.5% in 2015. Managers at European banks are making a renewed effort to adjust to the post-crisis landscape....
      PubDate: Thu, 11 February 2016 15:44:35
  • Let Africans fly
    • Abstract: FEW places still capture the romance (and frustration) of the early days of flight quite as Africa does. Although air travel in the continent is safer and more common than ever before (see page 53), it still has some charming anachronisms. In Nigeria everyone applauds when the plane touches down. On tiny propeller-driven planes in Botswana the cabin attendants hand you a little bag of biltong, the dried meat that once fed people on long overland treks. In Tanzania, where on some flights almost half the passengers are taking to the skies for the first time, many of the faces in the cabin betray a sense of wonder tinged with fear. Yet African airlines feel like a prop-blast from the past in regrettable ways, too. In most places, schedules are about as reliable as they were when planes could take off or land only in clear weather. Tickets are costly. Routes are convoluted: a passenger wanting to fly from Algiers to Lagos may have to go via Europe, turning a four-and-a-half-hour journey into one that takes at least nine hours. Most airlines are state-owned and protected from competition. Like a lot of national...
      PubDate: Thu, 11 February 2016 15:44:35
  • The right way to do drugs
    • Abstract: IT IS like a hash-induced hallucination: row upon row of lush, budding plants, tended by white-coated technicians who are bothered by the authorities only when it is time to pay their taxes. Cannabis once grew in secret, traded by murderous cartels and smoked by consumers who risked jail. Now, countries all over the world have licensed the drug for medical purposes, and a few are going still further (see article). Four American states have so far legalised its recreational use; little Uruguay will soon be joined by big, G7-member Canada in the legal-weed club. Parliaments from Mexico to South Africa are debating reforms of their own. Those (including this newspaper) who have argued that legalisation is better than prohibition will welcome the beginning of the end of the futile war on weed. Cannabis accounts for nearly half the $300 billion illegal narcotics market, and is the drug of choice for most of the world’s 250m illicit-drug users. Legalising it deprives organised crime of its single biggest...
      PubDate: Thu, 11 February 2016 10:18:18
  • Wounded society
    • Abstract: ON SOCIAL media the rioting that erupted in Hong Kong on February 8th has been dressed up as a righteous political protest: “#FishballRevolution” is the hashtag used to discuss the violence that racked a working-class district of the city for ten hours, resulting in injuries to 124 people, including 90 police officers (see article). The mayhem was triggered by reports that officials were trying to clear away illegal food stalls selling fishballs, a local delicacy. In no sense was the violence righteous. Most Hong Kong residents were appalled. Their city is renowned for the peacefulness of its many protests. In an unusually prolonged outbreak of unrest late in 2014, known as the Umbrella Movement, pro-democracy protesters mostly remained on good terms with police. Not since the 1960s, during the madness of Mao’s Cultural Revolution in mainland China, have the territory’s streets seen such bloodshed. Nonetheless, #FishballRevolution was undeniably political. Activists from a group called Hong Kong Indigenous, which stresses Hong Kong’...
      PubDate: Thu, 11 February 2016 10:18:17
  • The accidental Europhile
    • Abstract: BY CONTINENTAL and even recent British standards David Cameron has long had a Eurosceptic bent. In 2013 this outlook was combined with a growing anti-EU clamour in the Conservative Party, leading him to promise a grand “new settlement” that would put Britons’ Euro-cavils to rest. Three years later, on February 2nd, after an election victory and several months spent bustling about Europe, Mr Cameron sealed a draft offer with the European Council (see article). In a speech the next day he declared it a triumph. The press and Eurosceptic MPs, on the other hand, branded it a joke (“The great delusion!” bellowed one headline). Who is right? Both, to some extent. The deal, it is true, was more of a throat-clearing exercise than a roar of reinvention. Mr Cameron did not fulfil his ambition to overturn Europractice on immigration limits, treaty changes and repatriated powers. His “emergency brake” on migration is a graduated restriction of newcomers’ benefits; the “red card” that lets national parliaments...
      PubDate: Thu, 04 February 2016 15:43:38
  • Negative creep
    • Abstract: IMAGINE a world in which tax offices harry people who file their returns promptly; where big supermarket chains pay their suppliers before the goods fly off the shelves and not months afterwards; and where a pre-paid annual gym membership is more costly than paying month by month. It sounds fanciful, absurd even. Yet such a world came a step closer on January 29th, when Japan’s central bank cut the interest rate on bank reserves to -0.1% (see article). Like its peers in Denmark, the euro area, Sweden and Switzerland, the Bank of Japan will charge commercial banks for holding deposits with it. Almost a quarter of the world’s GDP now comes from countries with negative rates. Though they defy convention, they have proved a useful addition to the central-banking toolkit. The lowest deposit rate set by the central bank acts as a floor for short-term interest rates in money markets and for borrowing rates generally. Borrowing costs across Europe have tumbled, helping the fight against...
      PubDate: Thu, 04 February 2016 15:43:38
  • Asian dissuasion
    • Abstract: LIKE many firms with roots in Hong Kong, HSBC has traditionally consulted a feng shui master on the design of its headquarters’ buildings. The bank’s dilemma today is more serious: in which country should its headquarters be? For the past year HSBC has debated moving its domicile, which in turn determines its tax base, lead regulator and lender of last resort. One option is to stay in Britain, with its bank-bashers, latent hostility towards the City of London and ambivalence about Europe. The alternative is to move back to vibrant-but-riskier Hong Kong, where HSBC was founded 151 years ago and was based until the 1990s. It is not an easy choice, but in the end pub grub and stability trump dim sum and political uncertainty. HSBC matters. Regulators judge it to be the world’s most important bank, alongside JPMorgan Chase. A tenth of global trade passes through its systems and it has deep links with Asia. (Simon Robertson, a director of the bank, is also on the board of The Economist Group.) Its record has blemishes—most notably, weak money-laundering controls in Mexico. But it has never been bailed out; indeed, it supplied liquidity to...
      PubDate: Thu, 04 February 2016 15:43:38
  • The third front
    • Abstract: BARACK OBAMA is far from achieving his declared aim to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State (IS), the self-styled caliphate that straddles parts of Iraq and Syria. But at least it is being rolled back in some places. Ramadi in Iraq was retaken in December. Oil installations controlled by IS have been bombed, sapping the economic and the fighting power of the jihadists. In Libya, though, the picture is more alarming: the caliphate is building a sprawling new “province” on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, just a few hundred miles from Europe. This is the new front in the war against jihadism. Unchallenged by Western forces, and exploiting the absence of a functioning state as rival national governments in Tripoli and Tobruk bicker and skirmish, IS has taken control of the city of Sirte and controls roughly 180 miles (290km) of coastline. It already counts 5,000 or so fighters, threatens not just Libya’s duelling governments but also neighbours such as Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt. It has attacked Libyan oil terminals and ports, and raided towns ever closer to Tripoli. The expansion of IS could prompt another flood of...
      PubDate: Thu, 04 February 2016 15:43:38
  • How to manage the migrant crisis
    • Abstract: REFUGEES are reasonable people in desperate circumstances. Life for many of the 1m-odd asylum-seekers who have fled Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other war-torn countries for Europe in the past year has become intolerable. Europe is peaceful, rich and accessible. Most people would rather not abandon their homes and start again among strangers. But when the alternative is the threat of death from barrel-bombs and sabre-wielding fanatics, they make the only rational choice. The flow of refugees would have been manageable if European Union countries had worked together, as Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, has always wished (and The Economist urged). Instead Germany and Sweden have been left to cope alone. Today their willingness to do so is exhausted. Unless Europe soon restores order, political pressure will force Mrs Merkel to clamp down unilaterally, starting a wave of border closures (see article). More worrying, the migrant crisis is feeding xenophobia and...
      PubDate: Thu, 04 February 2016 09:48:16
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