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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]
  • China and the world: Yuan for all
    • Abstract: THE International Monetary Fund is meant to be the firefighter of the world economy. Recently, though, it is China that has responded to the ringing of alarms. First, it lent Argentina cash to replenish its dwindling foreign-exchange reserves. Next, with the rouble crashing, China offered credit to Russia. Then Venezuela begged for funds to stave off a default. Strategic interests dictate where China points its financial hose: these countries supply it with oil and food. But if a government anywhere goes bust, it now has an alternative to the IMF.In the past six months China has also invaded the development patch of the other great Bretton Woods institution, the World Bank. First, China—along with Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa—established the New Development Bank. Then it unveiled the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Finally it launched the Silk Road Fund, backed by yet another development bank. None has started operating, but China has pledged more than $140 billion to these new institutions.China’s clout should not be exaggerated. The yuan is not yet fully convertible and will not be for several years, which limits its influence. But...
      PubDate: Thu, 29 January 2015 12:57:11
       
  • Thailand’s politics: Moral disorder
    • Abstract: FOR 15 years Thaksin Shinawatra has dominated Thai politics—and for most of that time the country’s generals and their supporters around the ailing king have tried to destroy him. The populist billionaire fled into exile two years after a coup deposed him in 2006, but his sister, Yingluck, still won an election in 2011 and ruled as his proxy, with Mr Thaksin pulling the strings from Dubai. But she was ousted last May in a constitutional wrangle—and soon afterwards the army took over. Now rampant abuses stemming from a rice subsidy programme that was overseen by her government, have led to a sham impeachment of her. Criminal charges will follow.This time, finally, the generals and courtiers may have cornered the Shinawatras (see article). Ms Yingluck is in effect a hostage in negotiations with Mr Thaksin, whose position has weakened. He has lost the backing of Thailand’s crown prince, while a purge in the police force has weakened a key bastion of his support. Mr Thaksin may now sacrifice his political ambitions to safeguard...
      PubDate: Thu, 29 January 2015 12:57:11
       
  • Internet access: Gordian net
    • Abstract: THE idea that certain businesses are so essential that they must not discriminate between customers is as old as ferries. With only one vessel in town, a boatman was generally not allowed to charge a butcher more than a carpenter to move goods. This concept, called “common carriage”, has served the world well, most recently on the internet. The principle of blindly delivering packets of data, regardless of origin, destination or contents, is welded into the network’s technical foundations. This, more than anything else, explains why the internet has become such a fountain of innovation.Yet with the internet becoming more crowded and traffic-management tools improving, this principle—known today as “network neutrality”—is under threat. Telecoms firms would like to create lanes of different speeds, not just to manage their networks better, but to capture more profits. Internet advocates fear this would lead to an online world studded with toll booths and other choke-points. They fret that rent-seeking network operators would abuse their market power. Prices would shoot up for those using the fast lanes; everyone else would get much cheaper, but much...
      PubDate: Thu, 29 January 2015 12:57:11
       
  • The accession of King Salman in Saudi Arabia: An unholy pact
    • Abstract: THE House of Saud has been written off many times: when Arab nationalism swept through the Middle East; when the mullahs dethroned the Shah of Iran; when jihadists turned their suicide-bombs against the kingdom. Yet the sons of Abdel Aziz bin Saud have confounded all challengers. This week they staged a smooth transition from King Abdullah, who died on January 23rd, to his half-brother, Salman. And, for all the kingdom’s harshness at home and fuelling of extremism abroad, the world’s leaders flocked to Riyadh. Barack Obama cut short a trip to India to pay homage to the new king.This is a craven spectacle from democracies that claim to uphold universal human rights. When authoritarians elsewhere point to the Western silence on Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women, and its ruthless suppression of dissent, and cry double standards, they have a point. The West’s relationship with the Al Sauds must change. So must the dynasty itself.The devil they knowThe Al Sauds have kept power through a double Faustian pact: with the West, which has provided security in exchange for oil; and with Wahhabi clerics, who offer religious legitimacy in return for the state’s power to enforce...
      PubDate: Thu, 29 January 2015 12:57:11
       
  • The anti-charm of Rahm
    • Abstract: ALL politicians, when faced with disappointing poll numbers, comfort themselves with the idea that unpopularity is a measure of their boldness. Sometimes it is even true. Chicago’s coolness towards Rahm Emanuel, who is seeking a second term as mayor on February 24th, is partly due to his abrasive personality and fondness for Anglo-Saxon epithets. Yet the bigger reason is that he has confronted vested interests that would normally support his party, the Democrats. This is a rare virtue, and one that national politicians should emulate. America’s third-largest city has no shortage of troubles, from violent crime on the streets to ancient water pipes below. For a long time Chicago’s most efficient public service was the smooth exchange of government jobs and contracts for votes. Mr Emanuel has taken a meat cleaver to such back-scratching mediocrity. He has put two of the city’s tottering pension funds on a path to solvency and promised to tackle two others. He has closed 50 failing schools, incurring the wrath of the city’s teachers’ unions, and opened some publicly funded but privately run charter schools in their place. He is expanding free education...
      PubDate: Thu, 19 February 2015 15:58:57
       
  • Feeling down
    • Abstract: FALLING prices sound like something to cheer. In 1950 talk was not cheap. It cost $3.70 to place a five-minute call between New York and San Francisco—or $36.35 in today’s money. Now that same call costs you nothing. The emergence of the sharing economy is driving down the price of a taxi ride and a bed for the night. More recently tumbling prices for natural resources, especially oil, have boosted the spending power of consumers from Detroit to Delhi. Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, reckons that falling energy prices are “unambiguously good” for the British economy. Mr Carney is not wrong. Nonetheless, the world is grievously underestimating the danger of deflation. The problem is that aggregate prices are dipping in so many places at once. Deflationary pressures are visible far beyond food and energy, and in countries that cannot claim to be leading the charge towards the new economy. In the euro zone, where deflation grips tightest, consumer prices fell by 0.6% in the year to January; Germany, Italy and Spain all saw falls. Prices in Greece have been declining for 23 months. Ultra-low inflation is also widespread....
      PubDate: Thu, 19 February 2015 15:58:57
       
  • The return of Jew-hatred
    • Abstract: TOULOUSE, Brussels, Paris and now Copenhagen. The list of European cities where Jews have lately been murdered for being Jews grows longer. It adds poignancy that this should happen in Denmark, which saved most of its Jews from the Nazis by helping them flee to Sweden. There are many smaller outrages, such as the desecration of Jewish graves. And what to make of Roland Dumas, a former French foreign minister, who claims that Manuel Valls, the prime minister, acts under “Jewish influence” because his wife is Jewish? No wonder Jews in Europe ask themselves questions they hoped had been banished long ago: is it safe to wear a kippah (skullcap), send one’s children to Jewish schools or attend synagogue? And, given the rise of populist and far-right groups, is it time to leave Europe (see article)? Such worries are understandable, but they need to be put in context. The shooting at the Great Synagogue on Krystalgade does not herald another Kristallnacht. Jews...
      PubDate: Thu, 19 February 2015 15:58:57
       
  • Set the Kurds free
    • Abstract: THE Kurds, at least 25m-strong, are one of the world’s most numerous peoples without a state. Other small nations in their region have a home alongside the Arabs, the Persians and the Turks: the Jews created (or, in their book, recreated) Israel after the second world war; Armenia and Georgia re-emerged as independent as the Soviet Union fell apart. The Kurds have twice come close to fulfilling their dream, once after the first world war and the Ottoman empire’s collapse, when they were promised a state by the treaty of Sèvres, and again after the second world war, when for ten brief months the Kurdish republic of Mahabad rose up in what is now north-western Iran. Today the Kurdish Region of Iraq, home to at least 6m people, is independent in all but name (see article). It is that benighted country’s only fully functioning part. Since 1991, when the West began to protect it from Saddam Hussein, it has thrived. In due course, it deserves its place in the community of independent nations....
      PubDate: Thu, 19 February 2015 15:58:57
       
  • The great fracturing
    • Abstract: ALONG with Sherlock Holmes and the rules of football, one of the great legacies of Victorian Britain is the Westminster parliamentary system. If voters want their voices to count, they have to choose between two large, boring parties. Excitable fringe groupings and a smallish third party, spread thinly across the country, struggle to make their mark. In return for putting up with such rank unfairness, Britons are promised strong, stable governments that can get things done. Plenty of countries have thought that trade-off worth copying. But with three months to go until a general election, the mechanism is broken. In 1951 the Conservative and Labour parties together scooped 97% of the vote; in May, opinion polls suggest, they will each win barely a third. Membership of the Tory party has fallen from 3m in the 1950s to about 150,000. Labour, which used to rule Scotland, could be reduced to a handful of seats there. Support for the Liberal Democrats, tarnished by coalition government, has collapsed. Almost all the running has been made by three insurgents: the Scottish National Party (SNP), which wants Scotland out of Britain; the UK Independence Party...
      PubDate: Thu, 19 February 2015 09:03:14
       
  • A chance to fly
    • Abstract: EMERGING markets used to be a beacon of hope in the world economy, but now they are more often a source of gloom. China’s economy is slowing. Brazil is mired in stagflation. Russia is in recession, battered by Western sanctions and the slump in the oil price; South Africa is plagued by inefficiency and corruption. Amid the disappointment one big emerging market stands out: India. If India could only take wing it would become the global economy’s high-flyer—but to do so it must shed the legacy of counter-productive policy. That task falls to Arun Jaitley, the finance minister, who on February 28th will present the first full budget of a government elected with a mandate to slash red tape and boost growth. In July 1991 a landmark budget opened the economy to trade, foreign capital and competition. India today needs something equally momentous. Strap on the engines India possesses untold promise. Its people are entrepreneurial and roughly half of the 1.25 billion population is under 25 years old. It is poor, so has lots of scope for catch-up growth: GDP per person (at purchasing-power parity) was $5,500 in 2013...
      PubDate: Thu, 19 February 2015 09:03:11
       
  • American shopper
    • Abstract: A GLOBAL economy running on a single engine is better than one that needs jump leads. The American economy is motoring again, to the relief of exporters from Hamburg to Hangzhou. Firms added more than 1m net new jobs in the past three months, the best showing since 1997 (see article). Buoyed up by cheap petrol, Americans are spending; in January consumer sentiment jumped to its highest in more than a decade. The IMF reckons that American growth will hit 3.6% in 2015, faster than the world economy as a whole. All this is good. But growing dependence on the American economy—and on consumers in particular—has unwelcome echoes. A decade ago American consumers borrowed heavily and recklessly. They filled their ever-larger houses with goods from China; they fuelled gas-guzzling cars with imported oil. Big exporters recycled their earnings back to America, pushing down interest rates which in turn helped to feed further borrowing. Europe was not that different. There, frugal Germans financed debt binges around...
      PubDate: Thu, 12 February 2015 15:48:36
       
  • Those who can
    • Abstract: IMAGINE a job where excellence does nothing to improve your pay or chances of promotion, and failure carries little risk of being sacked. Your pay is low for your qualifications—but at least the holidays are long, and the pension is gold-plated. Teaching ought to be a profession for hard-working altruists who want to improve children’s life prospects. But all too often school systems seem designed to attract mediocre timeservers. Many Mexican teachers have inherited their jobs; Brazilian ones earn less than other public servants, and retire much earlier. Each school-day a quarter of Indian teachers play truant. In New York it is so hard to sack teachers that even those accused of theft or assault may be parked away from pupils, doing “administrative tasks” on full pay, sometimes for years. You can find outstanding individuals in the worst school systems. But, as lazy and incompetent teachers get away with slacking, the committed ones often lose motivation. In America and Britain surveys find plummeting morale. Jaded British teachers on online forums remind each other that it is just a few months till the long summer break—and just a...
      PubDate: Thu, 12 February 2015 15:48:36
       
  • Hitting the ground running—backwards
    • Abstract: WHEN the far-left Syriza party won the Greek election last month, the hope was that the new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, would moderate his demands so as to compromise with his country’s creditors. After all, he (like the vast majority of Greeks) wants to stay in the single currency. But even as he prepared to meet fellow European Union leaders for the first time this week, he was making a Greek exit from the euro ever more likely. Mr Tsipras has put forward some good arguments against the austerity that has been imposed on Greece as the price of its bail-outs. He has sound ideas on attacking corruption, fighting tax evasion and shaking up Greece’s cosy business elite. His ministers now talk of keeping 70% of the old government’s reforms (see article). But his first moves in office included promises to raise the minimum wage to pre-crisis levels, reverse labour-market reforms, restore pension increases, rehire thousands of public servants and scrap privatisation projects. These would not just breach Greece’s bail...
      PubDate: Thu, 12 February 2015 15:48:36
       
  • Lifting the veil
    • Abstract: SO SECRETIVE is China’s army that it began admitting foreign journalists to its monthly—and highly uninformative—briefings only last year. But in the past few months extraordinary revelations have appeared in the Chinese media about corruption in the highest ranks of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA): a deputy chief of logistics built a mansion for himself modelled on the Forbidden City (among his treasures was a statue of Mao Zedong, in gold); the country’s most senior uniformed officer had a basement stacked high with cash; and in January it emerged that no fewer than 15 generals, including a former deputy chief of the nuclear arsenal, were being investigated for graft (see article). Never before in China’s history have so many high-ranking officers faced such charges at once. The lifting of the veil that normally shrouds the world’s largest military force is evidence of the clout of Xi Jinping, the chief of the Communist Party, state president and, most importantly, commander-in-chief of what Mr Xi insists on reminding...
      PubDate: Thu, 12 February 2015 15:48:36
       
  • Putin’s war on the West
    • Abstract: HE IS ridiculed for his mendacity and ostracised by his peers. He presides over a free-falling currency and a rapidly shrinking economy. International sanctions stop his kleptocratic friends from holidaying in their ill-gotten Mediterranean villas. Judged against the objectives Vladimir Putin purported to set on inheriting Russia’s presidency 15 years ago—prosperity, the rule of law, westward integration—regarding him as a success might seem bleakly comical. But those are no longer his goals, if they ever really were. Look at the world from his perspective, and Mr Putin is winning. For all his enemies’ machinations, he remains the Kremlin’s undisputed master. He has a throttlehold on Ukraine, a grip this week’s brittle agreement in Minsk has not eased. Domesticating Ukraine through his routine tactics of threats and bribery was his first preference, but the invasion has had side benefits. It has demonstrated the costs of insubordination to Russians; and, since he thinks Ukraine’s government is merely a puppet of the West (the supposed will of its people being, to his ultracynical mind, merely a cover for Western intrigues), the conflict has usefully...
      PubDate: Thu, 12 February 2015 10:48:11
       
  • Pollution in India and China: Indian winter
    • Abstract: NATIONAL monuments skulk in the smog. Pedestrians and traffic policemen mask their mouths in a vain attempt to keep out the fetid vapours. Children choke in their schoolrooms. Two years ago such scenes would have been set in Beijing, then suffering an “airpocalypse”—alarming levels of airborne pollution which focused public attention on China’s dismal environmental record and forced the government to do more about it. Today they are more likely to feature in India’s capital, Delhi, the most polluted city on Earth.India’s mission in the next 30 years is to grow as fast as China has in the past 30—but without all the pollution (see article). The global climate could not bear India following China’s path; and the health of Indians could not stand it. Instead India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, needs to improve India’s environmental laws by drawing lessons from China.Modi vivendiIf India were to start belching out as much carbon as China does now, it would be adding an extra America’s-worth of emissions to the atmosphere every...
      PubDate: Thu, 05 February 2015 15:53:06
       
  • Immigration: Let the states decide
    • Abstract: IN A rare lapse of judgment, Benjamin Franklin once complained that German immigrants “swarm into our settlements” and “will never adopt our Language or Customs”. Today, 97% of German-Americans speak only English at home. And although they are perhaps America’s largest single ethnic group—46m claim German ancestry—their neighbours barely notice them, so thoroughly have they assimilated (see article). Agreeable Teutonic customs, such as drinking beer with pretzels and watching sports on Sunday, have spread throughout the land. Tedious ones, such as reading Nietzsche, have not. The success of people who arrived poor and now prosper mightily, is evidence that the melting pot works. It is a rebuke to those who demand ever-higher fences to keep foreigners out.Fixing America’s broken immigration system is as urgent as ever. America is generous in issuing visas for relatives of those already there, but economic migrants face huge barriers. Firms that want to bring in skilled workers find it costly,...
      PubDate: Thu, 05 February 2015 15:53:06
       
  • Nigeria’s election: The least awful
    • Abstract: SOMETIMES there are no good options. Nigeria goes to the polls on February 14th to elect the next president, who will face problems so large—from rampant corruption to a jihadist insurgency—that they could break the country apart, with dire consequences for Nigerians and the world.And yet, as Africa’s biggest economy stages its most important election since the restoration of civilian rule in 1999, and perhaps since the civil war four decades ago, Nigerians must pick between the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, who has proved an utter failure, and the opposition leader, Muhammadu Buhari, a former military dictator with blood on his hands (see article). The candidates stand as symbols of a broken political system that makes all Nigeria’s problems even more intractable.Start with Mr Jonathan, whose People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has run the country since 1999 and who stumbled into the presidency on the death of his predecessor in 2010. The PDP’s reign has been a sorry one. Mr Jonathan has shown little...
      PubDate: Thu, 05 February 2015 15:53:06
       
  • Reproductive technology: Oh, baby
    • Abstract: “PLAYING God” is what medicine is for. Every Caesarean section and cancer treatment is an attempt to interfere with the natural course of events for the benefit of the patient. Not every procedure should be allowed, but a general sense of what is “unnatural” is a poor guide to what to ban. Transplants and transfusions were once considered unnatural, but now save many lives. That insight is why MPs were right to agree, on February 3rd, that Britain should become the first country to allow the creation of children with genetic material from three people instead of the usual two (see article).By doing so, they hope to relieve terrible suffering. Faults with mitochondria—the tiny power sources inside cells—afflict about one child in 6,500, or 100 a year in Britain. The many conditions that result, a lot of them agonising and fatal, have no cure. So scientists hope to prevent them at conception, by transferring the healthy nucleus of an egg cell with damaged mitochondria into the body of an egg with functioning ones...
      PubDate: Thu, 05 February 2015 15:53:06
       
  • Shareholder activism: Capitalism’s unlikely heroes
    • Abstract: AS INVENTIONS go, the public company is one of capitalism’s greatest. Initial public offerings promote innovation, by providing an exit route for entrepreneurs; being listed makes a firm open to scrutiny; and ordinary people have a chance to invest in capitalism’s wealth-creating machines.But the past 15 years have cast a shadow over the public company. There was not much sign of scrutiny or wealth creation in fiascos like Enron and Lehman Brothers. Governance has been weakened by the rise of passive index funds, which means that many firms’ largest shareholders are software programs. Institutional investors prefer to sell at the first sign of trouble rather than manage problems—so chief executives obsess about quarterly earnings and grab pay and power while they can. At the same time, tycoons in Silicon Valley have often turned outside investors into second-class citizens, by creating special voting rights for their own shares.Private-equity barons say their model of concentrated ownership makes more sense. Some governments argue that companies need the steadying hand of the state. But there is a better way. Activist hedge funds take small stakes in firms and act...
      PubDate: Thu, 05 February 2015 09:48:12
       
 
 
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