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  The Economist - Leaders
  [2 followers]  Follow
    
   Full-text available via subscription Subscription journal
   ISSN (Online) 1358-274X
   Published by The Economist Group Homepage  [4 journals]
  • An affair to remember
    • Abstract: THE slogan of Ashley Madison, a website that arranges extramarital liaisons, is “Life is short. Have an affair.” Its home page shows a woman holding a finger to her lips. So much for promising to keep secrets. Last month a group of hackers called Impact Team stole the site’s user database and transaction history going back to 2007, and this week they released it online: more than 30m users’ names, addresses and personal details, along with GPS co-ordinates and sexual preferences. This trove of data is fiddly to download and search, but already users of the site are being outed, as journalists and activists comb through the records looking for celebrities, business leaders and politicians. A deluge of revelations seems likely in the coming days, as websites pop up that allow easy searching. The hackers’ motives are unclear. In their statements they denounce the “fraud, deceit and stupidity” of both Ashley Madison’s parent company, Avid Life Media, and the site’s users. Their complaint against Avid Life is supposedly that the site is a scam, because the vast majority of its users are men, who have to buy credits to access its services. But...
      PubDate: Wed, 19 August 2015 14:56:44 G
       
  • A new chapter
    • Abstract: THIS newspaper does not like to dwell on itself. We are proud of our heritage of editorial and commercial independence, serving no master save the liberal credo of open markets and individual freedom. But we publish no masthead listing our staff, no bylines for our journalists—and in our weekly edition no letter from the editor. This week’s issue is an exception, because it is an exceptional moment in The Economist’s history. On August 12th we announced the most important change to our shareholding structure in almost 90 years. Pearson, the owner of the Financial Times, which has had a non-controlling 50% stake in us since 1928, is selling. Three-fifths of those shares will go to an existing shareholder—Exor, the holding company of the Agnelli family. The rest will be bought back by our parent company, The Economist Group. A change in ownership is an important event for any newspaper, even ...
      PubDate: Wed, 12 August 2015 11:49:38 G
       
  • Awaiting its iPhone moment
    • Abstract: IS IT vividly realistic—or is it still just vapid razzmatazz? Virtual reality (VR), a technology that flopped in the 1990s, is making a glitzy comeback. The dream of a headset that can immerse you in a detailed, realistic 3D world is now being pursued in earnest by a gaggle of startups and the giants of technology alike. Last year Facebook bought Oculus, the most prominent VR fledgling, for $2 billion. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s boss, says “immersive 3D content is the obvious next thing after video.” Google supports VR in several of its products and is backing a secretive new company called Magic Leap. Microsoft, having missed the boat on smartphones, has developed an impressive VR system named HoloLens. Tech leaders have decided that VR could be the next big thing after the smartphone (see article). Are they right? The VR devices appearing in the next few months will focus on video-gaming, where VR is a natural fit. But the technology will eventually have many other uses: in data visualisation...
      PubDate: Thu, 27 August 2015 14:43:23 G
       
  • Let them in and let them earn
    • Abstract: ISLAMIC STATE (IS) does not hide its brutality. When it burns men alive or impales their heads on spikes, it posts the videos online. When its fighters enslave and rape infidel girls, they boast that they are doing God’s will. So when fugitives from IS-occupied Syria or Iraq say they are frightened to return home, there is a good chance they are telling the truth. The European Union is one of the richest, most peaceful regions on Earth, and its citizens like to think that they set the standard for compassion. All EU nations accept that they have a legal duty to grant safe harbour to those with a “well-founded” fear of persecution. Yet the recent surge of asylum-seekers has tested Europe’s commitment to its ideals, to put it mildly (see article). Neo-Nazi thugs in Germany have torched asylum-seekers’ hostels. An anti-immigrant group is now the most popular political party in Sweden. Hungary’s prime minister, channelling his inner Donald Trump, warns that illegal migrants,...
      PubDate: Thu, 27 August 2015 14:43:23 G
       
  • Lots of heat but not much light
    • Abstract: THE intensity of the argument in Washington, DC, over the nuclear pact between Iran, America and five other powers is in some ways impressive. Such an important agreement merits close scrutiny. Sadly, much of the talk has been wildly misleading (see article). For example, Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential hopeful, says the deal would make the Obama administration “the leading global financier” of Islamic terrorism, “sending billions to jihadists who will use that money to murder Americans”. Some critics seem motivated more by loathing of Barack Obama than by the flaws of the accord itself. Yet the White House has hardly been blameless, either. Mr Obama’s insistence that rejection of the pact would put America on a path towards war with Iran is cynically calculated to play on voters’ fears. The fate of the deal will be decided over the next five or six weeks. Given Republicans’ hostility, Mr Obama knows that he will probably have to use his presidential veto following a first vote in...
      PubDate: Thu, 27 August 2015 14:43:23 G
       
  • It’ll cost you
    • Abstract: GETTING divorced? Going to the doctor? Flushing a loo? If so, you are increasingly likely to receive a bill from the government. As cash-strapped Western countries try to balance their books without raising unpopular taxes, they are charging higher fees for everyday services. American cities tap their residents for around a quarter more in such charges than they did at the turn of the century. Half the countries in the EU have increased health-care charges since the financial crisis. In Britain, where a severe fiscal squeeze is under way, new fees are popping up in unexpected places, from the criminal courts to municipal pest-control agencies (see article). Pay-as-you-go government has advantages. Charging for services helps allocate resources efficiently, deterring overconsumption, just as parking meters stop people hogging spaces. And far from being uniformly regressive, fees can be fairer than general taxation. Selling water by the litre, as Ireland controversially began to do in...
      PubDate: Thu, 27 August 2015 14:43:23 G
       
  • The Great Fall of China
    • Abstract: ONCE the soundtrack to a financial meltdown was the yelling of traders on the floor of a financial exchange. Now it is more likely to be the wordless hum of servers in data centres, as algorithms try to match buyers with sellers. But every big sell-off is gripped by the same rampant, visceral fear. The urge to sell overwhelms the advice to stand firm.  Stomachs are churning again after China’s stockmarket endured its biggest one-day fall since 2007; even Chinese state media called August 24th “Black Monday”. From the rand to the ringgit, emerging-market currencies slumped. Commodity prices fell into territory not seen since 1999. The contagion infected Western markets, too. Germany’s DAX index fell to more than 20% below its peak. American stocks whipsawed: General Electric was at one point down by more than 20%. Rich-world markets have regained some of their poise. But three fears remain: that China’s economy is in deep trouble; that emerging markets are vulnerable to a full-blown crisis; and that the long rally in rich-world markets is over. Some aspects of these worries are overplayed and others are misplaced. Even so, this...
      PubDate: Thu, 27 August 2015 09:34:19 G
       
  • Pummelling the little platoons
    • Abstract: EARLIER this year the Chinese government arrested five women who were campaigning against sexual harassment on buses. This was not because China’s leaders believe that groping is a good thing, or that it is acceptable if perpetrated on public transport. It was because the Communist Party is wary of any organisation it does not control. The five feminists were entirely peaceful, and they were not advocating anything subversive like democracy. But they were organised and demonstrating in public, and that made them seem dangerous. After a month in detention they were released on bail, but they remain under police surveillance and could still be hauled back to face elastic charges such as “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. Such are the hazards of working for a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in China. Now the party proposes to squeeze NGOs even harder, particularly those with foreign connections. A new draft law bars any Chinese NGO from receiving foreign funding (see article). It also sets...
      PubDate: Thu, 20 August 2015 14:44:15 G
       
  • Better ways to pay for college
    • Abstract: HARD as it may be to believe with Donald Trump hogging the headlines, America’s presidential primary campaigns are proposing serious ideas for how to deal with real economic problems. High among them is how to fix the country’s broken system of university finance. Hillary Clinton has come up with intriguing plans, but the ideas of Marco Rubio are the more radical. And radicalism is what the system badly needs. America is home to the world’s best universities. But taken as a whole, its higher-education system is marred by soaring costs, stratospheric student debt and patchy performance. Tuition fees have doubled in real terms in the past 20 years. Student debt has trebled in the past decade, to $1.2 trillion. A recent study of academic achievement at college found that 45% of America’s students made no discernible academic progress in their first two years. Sorting out this mess demands three things: reforms that bear down on costs, that encourage students to make more informed choices about their future and that match repayments to borrowers’ ability to pay. Mrs Clinton’s plan meets the third of those aims, and nods at...
      PubDate: Thu, 20 August 2015 14:44:15 G
       
  • The resistible rise of Jeremy Corbyn
    • Abstract: THE opposition Labour Party is about to inflict grave damage on Britain. If it picks Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran far-left MP, as leader on September 12th, Labour will consign itself to the wilderness. Worse, by wrecking opposition to the governing Tories, Mr Corbyn will leave Britain open to bad government. The sudden vogue for populist leftists like Mr Corbyn echoes the earlier rise of parties such as Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain. Similar enthused crowds have been greeting another grizzled old socialist, Bernie Sanders, in America (see Lexington). All of them have energised new, mainly young supporters who fret about globalisation and inequality. Yet even in such dubious company Mr Corbyn stands out as a throwback. For him no policy is too dog-eared, no intellectual dead-end too futile. Public spending? Yes, please. Higher taxes? Soak the capitalists and the landlords. State ownership? Nationalise the railways and utilities, get the private sector out of public...
      PubDate: Thu, 20 August 2015 14:44:15 G
       
  • Editing humanity
    • Abstract: THE genome is written in an alphabet of just four letters. Being able to read, study and compare DNA sequences for humans, and thousands of other species, has become routine. A new technology promises to make it possible to edit genetic information quickly and cheaply. This could correct terrible genetic defects that blight lives. It also heralds the distant prospect of parents building their children to order. The technology is known as CRISPR-Cas9, or just CRISPR. It involves a piece of RNA, a chemical messenger, designed to target a section of DNA; and an enzyme, called a nuclease, that can snip unwanted genes out and paste new ones in. Other ways of editing DNA exist, but CRISPR holds the promise of doing so with unprecedented simplicity, speed and precision. A dizzying range of applications has researchers turning to CRISPR to develop therapies for everything from Alzheimer’s to cancer to HIV (see article). By allowing doctors to put just the right cancer-hunting genes into a patient’s...
      PubDate: Thu, 20 August 2015 07:19:11 G
       
  • Rulers of time
    • Abstract: NORTH KOREA will go back in time on August 15th, turning back its clocks by half an hour to establish its own time zone. It seems appropriate for a country that venerates its past: the hermit kingdom already has its own calendar, with years counted from 1912, the birth year of its founder and “eternal president”, Kim Il Sung. Its time-travelling is the latest example of a long tradition of expressing political power by adjusting clocks and calendars. Doing so alters a fundamental aspect of daily life, literally at a stroke. And what better illustration could there be of a ruler’s might than control over time itself? Not all such changes stand the test of time: think of France’s failed attempt to introduce a ten-hour clock and an entirely new calendar after the revolution of 1789, to emphasise the break with its monarchist past, or the Soviet Union’s experiments with five- and six-day weeks during the 1930s. But those changes that do persist can memorialise past rulers more effectively than any physical monument. By order of the Roman Senate, the month of July was so named in honour of Julius Caesar, when he reorganised the calendar starting in 45BC...
      PubDate: Thu, 13 August 2015 14:49:55 G
       
  • Stuck in the middle
    • Abstract: TURMOIL has become a commonplace of financial markets in recent summers. This one is no different. An unexpected devaluation of the yuan this week fuelled fears about the state of China’s economy, setting off falls in commodities and emerging-market currencies. Stockmarkets in Europe and America wobbled. Copper hit a six-year low; oil is below $50 a barrel; Malaysia’s currency is at its lowest level since the Asian crisis in 1998. Even Canada is flirting with recession. No single factor can explain everything that is going on. But two countries, and the relationship between them, provide a framework for understanding these gyrations. America is still the world’s biggest economy and sets the tone for interest rates and currencies globally. China has been the fastest-growing big economy by a distance. These two behemoths are pulling in different directions. America’s recovery is gradually gathering pace, while China’s economy is slowing sharply. This divergence is causing trouble, particularly for those emerging markets which have lived the high life on China’s investment boom and on a flood of cheap credit from America. And there is...
      PubDate: Thu, 13 August 2015 14:49:55 G
       
  • Inverted logic
    • Abstract: IT IS the corporate equivalent of burning the American flag. A “tax inversion” is a manoeuvre in which a (usually American) firm acquires or merges with a foreign rival, then shifts its domicile abroad to reap tax benefits. A spate of such deals last year led Barack Obama to brand inversions as “unpatriotic”. The Treasury formulated rules to stamp out the practice. That stemmed the flow of inversions for a while. Now a flurry of deals has put them back in the spotlight (see article). This month alone, Terex, a cranemaker, has announced a deal with Konecranes that will move its headquarters to Finland; and CF Industries, a fertiliser-maker, and Coca-Cola Enterprises, a bottler, have unveiled transactions in which they will redomicile in Britain. Policymakers are talking about making inversions even harder. The perverse consequence would be to make it more likely that taxes and jobs will leave America. The boardroom case for inversions stems from America’s tax exceptionalism....
      PubDate: Thu, 13 August 2015 14:49:55 G
       
  • Xi’s history lessons
    • Abstract: IN EARLY September President Xi Jinping will take the salute at a huge military parade in Beijing. It will be his most visible assertion of authority since he came to power in 2012: his first public appearance at such a display of missiles, tanks and goose-stepping troops. Officially the event will be all about the past, commemorating the end of the second world war in 1945 and remembering the 15m Chinese people who died in one of its bloodiest chapters: the Japanese invasion and occupation of China of 1937-45. It will be a reminder of the bravery of China’s soldiers and their crucial role in confronting Asia’s monstrously aggressive imperial power. And rightly so: Chinese sacrifices during that hellish period deserve much wider recognition. Between 1937, when total war erupted in China, and late 1941, when the attack on Pearl Harbor brought America into the fray, China fought the Japanese alone. By the end of the war it had lost more people—soldiers and civilians—than any other country bar the Soviet Union. Yet next month’s parade is not just about remembrance; it is about the future, too. This is the first time that China is...
      PubDate: Thu, 13 August 2015 08:19:08 G
       
  • Life, the multiverse and everything
    • Abstract: “I SEEM to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” Those words, ascribed to Sir Isaac Newton, might still be spoken, with the appropriate correction for sex, by any scientist today. The discipline of natural science that Newton helped found in the second half of the 17th century has extended humanity’s horizons to a degree he could scarcely have envisaged. Newton lived in a world that thought itself 6,000 years old, knew nothing of chemical elements or disease-causing microbes, believed living creatures could spring spontaneously from mud, hay or dirty bed-linen, and had only just stopped assuming that the sun (and everything else in the universe) revolved around the Earth. Yet even today, deep problems and deeper mysteries remain. Science cannot yet say how life began or whether the universe is but one of many. Some things people take for granted—that time goes forwards but never backwards, say—are profoundly weird. Other mysteries, no less strange, are not...
      PubDate: Thu, 06 August 2015 15:10:00 G
       
  • The German test
    • Abstract: IT IS one of Europe’s shining successes. Alone in the European Union, Poland did not suffer a recession after the financial crisis. Its economy has grown by 33% since 2007, compared with 2% for the euro zone. Its transport and energy infrastructure has been transformed. Poland has been a dependable partner for policymakers in Berlin, Brussels and Washington, DC. Even the French, ever suspicious of the EU’s eastern members, have started to court the country. As president of the European Council, Poland’s former prime minister, Donald Tusk, has become a central figure in European politics. Yet Poles are fed up. President Bronislaw Komorowski, of the ruling centre-right Civic Platform party, narrowly lost a re-election vote in May. The prime minister, Ewa Kopacz, is heading for a crashing defeat in parliamentary elections in October. The danger for Poles is that, in throwing out a lacklustre government, the country may revert to a narrow, mistrustful populism, forsaking its own impressive gains. Back to the Kaczynski era? The new president, Andrzej Duda (pictured), took office this week and Poland’s allies are asking...
      PubDate: Thu, 06 August 2015 15:10:00 G
       
  • Party on the beach
    • Abstract: SUMMER holidays are always the same for China’s leaders. Every year they decamp from the hot and humid capital and gather in villas by an exclusive stretch of beach in Beidaihe, a resort town of little appeal except to those Chinese who cannot afford glitzier getaways, and to Russians from Siberia who are relieved to be anywhere with sun and sand. Mao Zedong established the Beidaihe-going tradition. He is the only Chinese leader who is known to have felt sufficiently inspired by the place to write a poem about it. It was an anxiety-tinged one, finishing with the words: “The bleak autumn wind whispers and sighs; Nothing has changed, except in the world of man.” President Xi Jinping and his colleagues are now thought to be in Beidaihe, where they have continued Mao’s practice of combining a little relaxation with weighty affairs of state—thrashing out strategy for the year ahead at seaside meetings held in utmost secrecy (see article). How much indeed has changed in China, Mr Xi might reflect, since he came to...
      PubDate: Thu, 06 August 2015 15:10:00 G
       
  • One regulator to rule them all
    • Abstract: THE new masters of the financial universe are neither bank bosses nor hedge-fund titans. They are the regulators whose job it is to make finance safer. Daniel Tarullo, Andrew Bailey and Danièle Nouy, senior regulators in America, Britain and the euro zone respectively, may not have the salaries, egos or profiles of Wall Street superstars, but the decisions they and people like them make are shaping the industry. As John Mack, a former boss of Morgan Stanley, reportedly told his successor: “The government is your number-one client.” Even for those who deeply mistrust finance, that ought to give pause. The global financial crisis made new rules inevitable and necessary. Taxpayers need protection from the risks of failure: hence a series of measures to ensure that banks finance themselves with more equity, have lots of liquid assets and will “bail in” creditors if they collapse. The disaster of 2008 persuaded officials not just to write harsher rules, but also to be more flexible. Risks can materialise in unexpected places—dull old money-market funds, for instance, proved a shocking source of vulnerability. The industry can game static,...
      PubDate: Thu, 06 August 2015 15:10:00 G
       
  • Time to fix patents
    • Abstract: IN 1970 the United States recognised the potential of crop science by broadening the scope of patents in agriculture. Patents are supposed to reward inventiveness, so that should have galvanised progress. Yet, despite providing extra protection, that change and a further broadening of the regime in the 1980s led neither to more private research into wheat nor to an increase in yields. Overall, the productivity of American agriculture continued its gentle upward climb, much as it had before. In other industries, too, stronger patent systems seem not to lead to more innovation (see article). That alone would be disappointing, but the evidence suggests something far worse. Patents are supposed to spread knowledge, by obliging holders to lay out their innovation for all to see; they often fail, because patent-lawyers are masters of obfuscation. Instead, the system has created a parasitic ecology of trolls and defensive patent-holders, who aim to block innovation, or at least to stand in its way unless they can grab a share of the spoils. An early study found that...
      PubDate: Thu, 06 August 2015 08:19:08 G
       
 
 
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