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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]
  • Not so special
    • Abstract: WHEN the first modern free-trade zone was established at Shannon airport in 1959, few outside Ireland paid much attention. Now everyone seems to be an admirer of “special economic zones” (SEZs) that offer a combination of tax-and-tariff incentives, streamlined customs procedures and less regulation. Three out of every four countries have at least one. The world now counts about 4,300 SEZs, and more are being added all the time. Myanmar and Qatar have recently unveiled new ones; Indian officials call their SEZ ambitions “revolutionary”; Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, announced special strategic zones as part of his reform agenda. Fans of SEZs can point to several success stories, none bigger than China’s zone near Hong Kong, set up in 1980 and since dubbed “the Miracle of Shenzhen”. This was a way to experiment with economic reforms that Chinese leaders were fearful of rolling out nationwide in one go. Shenzhen attracted thousands of foreign investors, and the policies tested there have spread to other cities. But the craze for SEZs suggests that governments too often see them as an easy win: make an announcement, set aside some...
      PubDate: Wed, 01 April 2015 14:50:38 GM
       
  • Three cheers for democracy
    • Abstract: FOR the first time, Nigerians have ejected an incumbent president at the ballot box, in a broadly peaceful election. Muhammadu Buhari, the former military dictator who has defeated Goodluck Jonathan, will now preside over Africa’s most populous country, biggest economy and weightiest global actor. This is joyful news for Nigeria—and Africa (see article). One big reason to cheer is that Mr Jonathan has been such a dismal failure. So has his People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which has run Nigeria ever since the generals gave way to an elected civilian government in 1999. His administration has woefully failed to defeat an insurgency by Boko Haram, an Islamist extremist group that has tormented Nigeria’s north-east over the past few years. Mr Jonathan tried to improve farming and provide electricity to all, but proved unable to rebuild much of Nigeria’s hideously decrepit infrastructure. Above all, he was unwilling to tackle corruption, the country’s greatest scourge and the cause of much of its chaos. When the...
      PubDate: Wed, 01 April 2015 14:50:38 GM
       
  • Punch and duty
    • Abstract: JUST over 20 years ago the foreign secretary, Douglas Hurd, declared that Britain should aim to “punch above its weight in the world”. Today the country seems reluctant even to enter the ring. A recently retired British NATO chief, speaking of Russia and Ukraine, has complained that the prime minister, David Cameron, has become a “foreign-policy irrelevance”. America despairs of Britain’s shrinking armed forces and criticises its “constant accommodation” of China. Allies are worried, opponents scornful. The country’s politicians, who are fighting to win a general election on May 7th, appear unbothered by the world’s sneers. That is a mistake. Britain’s diminishing global clout is a big problem, both for the country and for the world. The uses of abroad As a largish power in relative decline, Britain has a tendency to veer between hubristic intervention abroad and anxious introspection at home. After Tony Blair’s expeditionary misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition was always going to shun grand schemes. But Mr Cameron has been not so much cautious as apathetic,...
      PubDate: Wed, 01 April 2015 14:50:38 GM
       
  • Great expectations
    • Abstract: FROM the compelling (don’t smoke) to the flaky (stay out of saunas), pregnant women hear a lot of advice about what is best for the little creature kicking inside them. Nearly everybody knows that it is bad for the fetus if the mother is starving or sick, and that exposure to toxins during pregnancy can cause a baby to be born ill, early or small. Now the evidence is piling up that subtle or short-term harms suffered by expectant mothers can affect their children several decades later—even when they are born full-term and of normal weight and apparently healthy (see article). Some of the best evidence for this “fetal-origins hypothesis” comes from historical disasters. By looking at what happened to babies who were in the womb during an epidemic, a famine or an environmental calamity, and comparing them with those born a little earlier or later, researchers can disentangle the intertwined influences of genes, upbringing and the prenatal environment. Recent studies have looked at the long shadows...
      PubDate: Wed, 01 April 2015 14:50:38 GM
       
  • Space and the city
    • Abstract:         BUY land, advised Mark Twain; they’re not making it any more. In fact, land is not really scarce: the entire population of America could fit into Texas with more than an acre for each household to enjoy. What drives prices skyward is a collision between rampant demand and limited supply in the great metropolises like London, Mumbai and New York. In the past ten years real prices in Hong Kong have risen by 150%. Residential property in Mayfair, in central London, can go for as much as £55,000 ($82,000) per square metre. A square mile of Manhattan residential property costs $16.5 billion. Even in these great cities the scarcity is artificial. Regulatory limits on the height and density of buildings constrain supply and inflate prices. A recent analysis by academics at the London School of Economics estimates that land-use regulations in the West End of London inflate the price of office space by about 800%; in Milan and Paris the rules push up prices by around 300%. Most of the enormous value captured by landowners exists because it is well-nigh...
      PubDate: Wed, 01 April 2015 08:33:07 GM
       
  • On the Gredge
    • Abstract:         EVENTUALLY every long-running drama, from “Downton Abbey” to “Dr Who”, feels formulaic. So it is with Greece’s debt saga. For five years it has followed a wearily familiar script of unpayable debts, aborted reforms and 11th-hour compromises that let the country stagger on inside the single currency. That history has lulled many into expecting the usual denouement in the latest wrangling between Greece’s Syriza government and its European creditors. But this is looking ever less likely. Unless Syriza suddenly capitulates—and a meeting of euro-zone finance ministers on April 24th is one of its last chances to do so—Greece will fail to pay its creditors. If that happens, its exit from the euro will be just a step away. Greece has already restructured its debts once, in 2012. It now owes money mainly to other European governments, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the IMF. These official creditors have slashed interest rates and stretched out maturities, but not enough. With a debt stock of 175% of GDP, Greece will need more relief. Most European...
      PubDate: Thu, 23 April 2015 14:52:21 GM
       
  • Northern exposure
    • Abstract: THE general election that will be held in Britain on May 7th is so finely balanced that predictions are foolhardy. Save one: the Scottish National Party (SNP) will triumph. And that spells grave danger for the United Kingdom, including—indeed, especially—for Scotland itself. After failing to win last year’s independence referendum, the SNP might have been expected to collapse. Astonishingly, it has roared back. Through relentless campaigning and exemplary use of social media, the SNP has made fervent supporters out of nationalist sympathisers, many of them working-class Scots who always voted Labour. As a result, it now has 100,000 members from among 5m Scots; the Conservative Party, which draws from all 64m Britons, has only about 150,000. Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, has been the star of the campaign’s televised debates. Polls suggest that the “Nats” may win as many as 50 of Scotland’s 59 seats in the House of Commons, up from just six in 2010. If (as seems likely) no clear winner emerges, they could well hold the balance of power. This is a big problem for the Labour Party, and not just because its MPs occupy most of the seats...
      PubDate: Thu, 23 April 2015 14:52:21 GM
       
  • Don’t treat trade as a weapon
    • Abstract: GOOD news out of Washington is rare. Last week congressional leaders agreed on a bipartisan bill which, if passed, would for the first time in years give the president “fast-track” authority when negotiating trade deals. The bill would be a boost for the prospects of a huge trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), binding America with 11 economies (including Japan but not China) around the Pacific rim. Now, as if on cue, come welcome signals about the TPP itself. As Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, prepared to head to Washington for a much-anticipated trip including an invitation to address a joint session of Congress (see article), he claimed that America and Japan were close to agreement over their bilateral terms—on which the whole TPP deal hinges. Yet there are two big caveats. First, fast track, formally known as Trade Promotion Authority, may still fall foul of Congress. Second, Japan may not make any serious cuts to tariffs that protect its farmers. Those outcomes are more likely because...
      PubDate: Thu, 23 April 2015 14:52:21 GM
       
  • Flights of hypocrisy
    • Abstract: IT IS a remarkable piece of detective work. Investigators hired by three big American airlines have scoured the world for the regulatory filings of three fast-growing rivals owned by Gulf states—Emirates, Etihad and Qatar—and stitched together the most detailed picture yet of the ways in which their governments have pampered them. According to the American carriers, which released the supporting documents for their allegations this week, airlines in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar have enjoyed a host of benefits, including handouts, “loans” without interest or any schedule for repayment, free land and below-cost charges at state-owned airports. Over the past decade this was worth a total of $42 billion. Delta, American and United Airlines, the carriers that sponsored the investigation, are shocked—shocked—to find that government aid is being provided to the aviation industry. But by pointing out the motes in the eyes of rivals, they draw attention to the planks in their own. Another American lobby, representing business travellers, has dug out a study undertaken by the Congressional Research Service in 1999. It...
      PubDate: Thu, 23 April 2015 14:52:21 GM
       
  • Europe’s boat people
    • Abstract:         THE European Union likes to boast that it is a force for good. But in the past ten days as many as 1,200 boat people have drowned in the waters of the Mediterranean. An unknown number were refugees from Syria, Eritrea and Somalia fleeing war or persecution. They perished in part because the EU’s policy on asylum is a moral and political failure. In a hastily arranged summit, under way as The Economist went to press, EU leaders set out to do something about the drownings. Before them was a ten-point plan designed to enhance rescues, suppress people-smuggling and spread the burden of taking in refugees. Yet, even if Europe’s leaders embraced the plan in full, it would still fall short. Officials say 1m migrants are camped on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, waiting to embark on a life that is incomparably better than the one they are leaving behind. The Arab world is engulfed in fighting that is likely to last decades and which has set whole nations adrift. Chunks of Africa are prey to sectarian and ethnic...
      PubDate: Thu, 23 April 2015 08:48:08 GM
       
  • Don’t recoil from the coil
    • Abstract: THE teenage pregnancy rate is strikingly higher in America than in many other rich countries (see chart). So are unplanned pregnancies in general: over half of American conceptions are accidental, compared with a third in France. One reason is that Americans have been slow to embrace the use of long-acting contraceptives such as the intrauterine device (IUD) and the hormonal implant. Only 6% of American women of childbearing age use an IUD; more than 20% of Norwegians do (see article). Implants and IUDs have the advantage that, once fitted, they last for years. Unlike the Pill, you don’t need to remember to take one every day. Unlike condoms, you don’t have to summon the willpower to stop and put one on. All modern contraceptives are highly effective, if they are used properly. But in the real world, they often aren’t. In America the IUD is 40 times as effective as the Pill and 90 times as effective as condoms in preventing unwanted pregnancies each year. This matters for several reasons. Four...
      PubDate: Thu, 16 April 2015 14:48:21 GM
       
  • A time to heal
    • Abstract: NOTHING inflames the present like the past. When Pope Francis said on April 12th that the “first genocide” of the 20th century was of the Armenians in 1915, Turkey angrily recalled its ambassador to the Vatican. Far from being resolved, the argument over exactly what to call the death of as many as 1m-1.5m Armenian citizens of the Ottoman empire still spreads hatred. This fight does nothing for Turks and Armenians—nor for the century-old memory of the victims. At issue is not the terrible fate that befell the Armenians of eastern Anatolia, in massacres, forced labour and death marches towards the Syrian desert. It is whether to use the word “genocide”. Historians differ, not just Armenians and Turks, on whether extermination was a side-effect or the intention, as genocide requires. As America’s president, Barack Obama has talked only of the Meds Yeghern (“great crime” in Armenian), despite promising the Armenian lobby as a candidate to call it genocide. Yet, on the face of it, the facts support Pope Francis, not least because Raphael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer who coined the word in 1943, cited the Armenian case. ...
      PubDate: Thu, 16 April 2015 14:48:21 GM
       
  • The quiet revolution
    • Abstract: WITH China, the received wisdom belongs to the pessimists. Figures this week revealed that growth has slowed sharply and deflation set in, as the economy is weighed down by a property slump and factory production is at its weakest since the dark days of the global financial crisis. In the first three months of 2015, GDP grew at “only” 7% year-on-year. Growth for 2015 will probably be the weakest in 25 years. Fears are rising that, after three soaring decades, China is about to crash. That would be a disaster. China is the world’s second-largest economy and Asia’s pre-eminent rising power. Fortunately, the pessimists are missing something. China is not only more economically robust than they allow, it is also putting itself through a quiet—and welcome—financial revolution. The robustness rests on several pillars. Most of China’s debts are domestic, and the government still has enough sway to stop debtors and creditors getting into a panic. The country is shifting the balance away from investment and towards consumption, which will put the economy on more stable ground (see...
      PubDate: Thu, 16 April 2015 14:48:21 GM
       
  • Back to business
    • Abstract: IN ITS 123-year history General Electric has proved itself handy at making things. GE invented the light bulb, the electric fan and the toaster. It is one of a handful of firms that can build nuclear reactors and jet engines. In the past two decades, however, it has created a monster: its own bank. It was America’s fifth-biggest lender at its peak in 2008, just before it stumbled and Wall Street crashed. Now Jeffrey Immelt, GE’s boss, wants to close it down for good. The end of GE’s struggle with big finance is a landmark for American capitalism that holds lessons for firms, banks and regulators. GE’s diversification from electrical to financial engineering began by accident in the 1980s. “We never had a great strategic vision,” recalled Jack Welch, the firm’s then boss, in his memoir, “Straight from the Gut”. GE was enticed by easy profits and started to gorge on Thai car loans, Japanese consumer credit and American debt. The growth in GE’s finance arm “almost seems surreal”, observed Mr Welch when he retired in 2001. By then it made 41% of GE’s profits. Near-suicidal might be a better description. The business model was a...
      PubDate: Thu, 16 April 2015 14:48:21 GM
       
  • Dynasties
    • Abstract: “AS A democracy the United States ought presumably to be able to dispense with dynastic families,” wrote Arthur Schlesinger junior, one of America’s best-known historians, in 1947. Yet almost 70 years on, next year’s presidential election could well become a family affair. A Clinton or a Bush has been on the ticket in seven of the past nine races. Hillary v Jeb may offend against equal opportunity, but not the laws of statistics. How, people wonder, can this happen in a country that went to war to rid itself of a king’s hereditary authority? That is the wrong question. Around the world, in politics and business, power is still concentrated in the family. Power families and dynasties are here to stay. The question is how to ensure that they are a force for good. Double helix, double standards In politics the Clintons and the Bushes hardly count as exceptions. The leaders of Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Bangladesh are all related to former political chiefs. The “Stans” of Central Asia are family fiefs. The Gandhis are struggling in India, as are the Bhuttos in Pakistan, but the Kenyattas are kings in...
      PubDate: Thu, 16 April 2015 08:30:44 GM
       
  • A nuclear test for the Obama doctrine
    • Abstract: BARACK OBAMA came to office with a simple message for his country’s foes: “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” He has done a lot of handshaking—with Myanmar and with Cuba (see article). Can he now unclench the fist that most threatens the world—that of Iran, which most people believe has for years been trying to develop an atom bomb? The talks with Iran to limit its nuclear programme, in return for a lifting of sanctions, are the most important test of the Obama doctrine that diplomatic engagement, with calculated risks, is better than ostracising enemies. Only the “parameters” of a nuclear deal were agreed to on April 2nd. Still, it was a potentially ground-breaking moment. If the outline becomes a final agreement, it would offer much greater assurance that Iran will not get the bomb for at least a decade. But two competing dangers loom. On the one hand, Mr Obama’s political foes could seek to destroy even a good deal. On the other, his team could yet fail to secure the...
      PubDate: Thu, 09 April 2015 14:44:48 GM
       
  • Disconnect
    • Abstract: MALAYSIA’S prime minister, Najib Razak, paints his country as a model of moderate Islam—a multicultural democracy and a beacon of tolerance. He has spoken of scrapping oppressive British-era laws and nurturing a creative economy. Meanwhile, his spin-doctors explain that their liberal master is the man to vanquish the reactionary forces in his political party, UMNO, which has never been out of power and which is prone to cronyism and political thuggery. Barack Obama, for one, buys this story. He is the first American president since 1966 to have visited Malaysia. And late last year in Hawaii he enjoyed a round on the golf links with Mr Najib. The two men are said to click. The White House gushes about a “growing and warming relationship” between America and Malaysia. Race to the bottom Yet it is time to call Mr Najib out on the widening gulf between spin and substance. On the economic front is a growing scandal over dubious connections and misused funds at a national investment fund, 1MDB, that Mr Najib launched and which is now burdened with $12 billion of debts. Malaysia’s human-rights record is of even greater concern...
      PubDate: Thu, 09 April 2015 14:44:48 GM
       
  • No to non-doms
    • Abstract: THE question of how a nation should treat foreign residents dates back at least to Plato. In “Laws”, the philosopher laid down rules for resident aliens (“he must possess an art; he can prolong his visit no longer than 20 years...he will pay no resident alien tax”). But Britain’s approach is the antithesis of lofty philosophy. At its heart is a generous tax exemption for non-domiciled residents, or “non-doms”, who need have only tenuous links to another country. The Labour Party, campaigning for a general election on May 7th, has pledged to abolish non-dom status. Its proposal is welcome. Non-doms can choose whether to pay British taxes on their overseas earnings. If they have lived in Britain for at least seven of the previous nine years, they must pay an annual fee to avoid tax, ranging from £30,000 ($45,000) rising to £90,000, for longer stays. At the last count 47,000 of 111,000 non-doms took advantage of the opt-out, with 5,000 paying fees to the exchequer (see article). The exemption is not needed to avoid...
      PubDate: Thu, 09 April 2015 14:44:48 GM
       
  • Don’t get europhoric
    • Abstract: RECOVERY (noun): restoration to a former or better condition. The euro zone is at last enjoying an upturn. Economists are savouring the unaccustomed pleasure of revising their growth forecasts up, rather than down. Surveys of business activity have reached a four-year high and euro-area consumers are feeling a lot more confident. Investors are excited, too. Money is rushing into the region’s stockmarkets. In March European equity funds notched up record inflows. Alas, the euro zone is still a long way from meeting the dictionary definition of a recovery. Indeed, investors’ swing from gloom to europhoria appears already to have gone too far. To start with, the recovery remains remarkably weak. The euro area has actually been growing for two years since an extended double-dip recession ended in early 2013. Yet the expansion has been so desultory that it barely deserved the name. The excitement generated by growth of just 0.3%, an annualised rate of little more than 1%, in the fourth quarter of 2014 tells its own story of shrunken expectations. So feeble has the recovery been that euro-zone GDP in...
      PubDate: Thu, 09 April 2015 14:44:48 GM
       
  • What does Hillary stand for?
    • Abstract:   ANY day now, Hillary Clinton is expected to declare that she is running for president. For most Americans this will be as surprising as the news that Cinco de Mayo will once again be on May 5th. Mrs Clinton has had her eye on the top job for a long time. She nearly won it in 2008 and is in many ways a stronger candidate now. She and her husband have built a vast campaign machine. The moment Mrs Clinton turns the key, it will begin openly to suck up contributions, spit out sound bites and roll over her rivals. Some think her unstoppable: Paddy Power, an Irish bookmaker, gives her a 91% chance of capturing the White House in 2016. Steady on. The last time she seemed inevitable, she turned out not to be. The month before the Iowa caucuses in 2008, she was 20 points ahead of other Democrats in national polls, yet she still lost to a young senator from Illinois. She is an unsparkling campaigner, albeit disciplined and diligent. This time, no plausible candidate has yet emerged to compete with her for the Democratic nomination, but there is still time. Primary voters want a choice,...
      PubDate: Thu, 09 April 2015 08:48:09 GM
       
 
 
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