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The Economist - Leaders
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   Full-text available via subscription Subscription journal
   ISSN (Online) 1358-274X
   Published by The Economist Group Homepage  [4 journals]
  • Nostrums for rostrums
    • Abstract: IN 1949 Frank McNamara, an executive at a struggling finance company, had the idea of a charge card to settle the tab at high-class eateries. First, he had to solve a tricky problem. Restaurants would not accept a charge card as payment unless customers wanted to use one; and diners would not carry a card unless restaurants accepted it. His solution was to give away his card to a few hundred well-heeled New Yorkers: once the elite of Manhattan’s gourmands were signed up, he could persuade a few upscale restaurants to accept his new charge card and also to pay him a commission. Within a year, the Diners Club card was accepted in hundreds of places and carried by over 40,000 people. The Diners Club may not seem to have much in common with digital giants like Facebook, Google, Uber and Amazon. But such businesses are all examples of “platforms”: they act as matchmakers between various entities and they typically charge different prices to different actors in the market. Google connects websites, consumers and advertisers, who foot the bill. Facebook does something similar for its members. Uber matches passengers and drivers, who pay the ride-hailing...
      PubDate: Thu, 26 May 2016 14:45:31 GMT
  • The ecstasy and the agony
    • Abstract: “PLEASURE is oft a visitant; but pain clings cruelly,” wrote John Keats. Nowadays pain can often be shrugged off: opioids, a class of drugs that includes morphine and other derivatives of the opium poppy, can dramatically ease the agony of broken bones, third-degree burns or terminal cancer. But the mismanagement of these drugs has caused a pain crisis (see article). It has two faces: one in America and a few other rich countries; the other in the developing world. In America for decades doctors prescribed too many opioids for chronic pain in the mistaken belief that the risks were manageable. Millions of patients became hooked. Nearly 20,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2014. A belated crackdown is now forcing prescription-opioid addicts to endure withdrawal symptoms, buy their fix on the black market or turn to heroin—which gives a similar high (and is now popular among middle-aged Americans with back problems). In the developing world, by contrast, even...
      PubDate: Thu, 26 May 2016 14:45:31 GMT
  • Voting wrongs
    • Abstract: IT IS the morning of November 9th, the day after the election, and America is waking up to find out who is the new president. The result turns on the vote in North Carolina, where the ballot papers are being recounted. Even when the tally is in, the result will be in doubt. North Carolina’s new voting laws are subject to a legal challenge, which could take weeks for the courts to resolve. Both sides complain that the election is being stolen; the acrimony, sharpened by allegations of racial discrimination, makes Florida’s hanging chads and the Supreme Court’s ruling in favour of George W. Bush in 2000 seem like a church picnic. This is not as fanciful as it sounds. America organises its democracy differently from other rich countries. Each state writes its own voting laws, there is no national register of eligible voters and no form of ID that is both acceptable in all polling booths and held by everyone. Across the country, 17 states have new voting laws that, in November, will be tested for the first time in a presidential contest. In several states these laws face legal challenges, which allege that they have been designed in order to discourage...
      PubDate: Thu, 26 May 2016 14:45:31 GMT
  • Disaster averted—for now
    • Abstract: AUSTRIA dodged a bullet this week. So did Europe. Norbert Hofer, a talented politician with a winning smile, nearly became the first far-right head of state in western Europe since the end of the second world war—but failed, by a nerve-jangling 0.6% of the vote (see article).   This is scant cause for relief. Mr Hofer has shown that well-packaged extremism is a vote-winner. He sounds so reasonable. Austria must maintain border controls for as long as the European Union cannot enforce its external frontiers, he says. Of course he supports the EU, but only on the basis of subsidiarity (“national where possible, European where necessary”). It is easy to forget that his Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) was partly founded by ex-Nazis, and that its manifesto—much of which Mr Hofer wrote—bangs on about Europe’s Christian culture and the German ethno-linguistic Heimat. Or that his party demonises “fake” asylum-seekers and vows to outlaw the distribution of free copies of the...
      PubDate: Thu, 26 May 2016 14:45:31 GMT
  • A second helping of Raghu
    • Abstract: WHEN Raghuram Rajan was put in charge of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) three years ago he warned that the job of a central banker was not to chase votes or Facebook “likes”. With just weeks until the expiry of his term in September, and with no news on whether he might be kept on, the endorsements have built up anyway. Nearly 60,000 well-wishers have signed an online petition asking Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, to extend his tenure. Various Rajandevoted pages on Facebook have a combined fandom of over 250,000 people. Janet Yellen and Mario Draghi, his all-powerful counterparts in America and Europe respectively, cannot muster 10,000 thumbs-up between them. Such adulation makes many suspicious. Mr Rajan has come under sometimes ugly attack from within Mr Modi’s BJP party. One member of parliament has described him as “mentally not fully Indian” on account of his international career. (Mr Rajan came to global prominence as chief economist of the IMF and is a plausible candidate for the fund’s top job.) The criticism has made a swift reappointment politically tricky. Many guess that a second Rajan term is on the cards: sitting RBI governors...
      PubDate: Thu, 16 June 2016 14:41:51 GMT
  • An agonising choice
    • Abstract: OF ALL the ways in which women and girls are made to suffer because of their sex, infibulation is perhaps the worst. Each year 400,000 are subjected to this atrocity in which the external genitals are excised and the vagina stitched almost completely closed (see article). More than 4m undergo some form of female genital mutilation (FGM) each year—a range of practices, from infibulation at one end, through incisions or pricks that hurt but cause no lasting damage, to the merely symbolic, such as rubbing the genitals with herbs. For three decades campaigners, led by the UN, have tried to end all FGM. They have pushed for bans and prosecutions; trained medical practitioners to refuse requests for it; lobbied religious leaders to oppose it (though FGM is not mentioned in...
      PubDate: Thu, 16 June 2016 14:41:51 GMT
  • Cracking the monolith
    • Abstract: A GOVERNMENT without a serious opposition is a dangerous thing, even in a democracy. Unless voters have a genuine alternative, the ruling party has little incentive to govern well. And if one party has all the power, those who wish to abuse public office to enrich themselves will surely join it. Since democracy came to South Africa with the dismantling of apartheid and the holding of the first all-race elections in 1994, the country has been utterly dominated by one party. South Africans owe a vast debt of gratitude to the African National Congress (ANC) for its long years of struggle against white rule. But that does not give the liberators a right to govern for ever. Like any political party, they should be judged by results. And owing to policy drift, cronyism and corruption, the results are not good. Unemployment stands at 26.7%, by the government’s own reckoning; add in discouraged workers who no longer bother to register and the number is more like 35%. The economy shrank by an annualised 1.2% in the first quarter of this year, after growing by only 0.4% in the quarter before. South African bonds are rated one notch above junk,...
      PubDate: Thu, 16 June 2016 14:41:51 GMT
  • Divided we fall
    • Abstract: THE peevishness of the campaigning has obscured the importance of what is at stake. A vote to quit the European Union on June 23rd, which polls say is a growing possibility, would do grave and lasting harm to the politics and economy of Britain. The loss of one of the EU’s biggest members would gouge a deep wound in the rest of Europe. And, with the likes of Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen fuelling economic nationalism and xenophobia, it would mark a defeat for the liberal order that has underpinned the West’s prosperity. That, clearly, is not the argument of the voices calling to leave. As with Eurosceptics across the EU, their story is about liberation and history. Quitting the sclerotic, undemocratic EU, the Brexiteers say, would set Britain free to reclaim its sovereign destiny as an outward-looking power. Many of these people claim the mantle of liberalism—the creed that this newspaper has long championed. They sign up to the argument that free trade leads to prosperity. They make the right noises about small government and red tape. They say that their rejection of unlimited EU migration stems not from xenophobia so much as a desire to pick...
      PubDate: Thu, 16 June 2016 09:03:17 GMT
  • Aftermath of a tragedy
    • Abstract: WHEN Omar Mateen killed 49 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando on June 12th, did he commit the bloodiest mass shooting in modern American history, the worst ever attack on gay Americans or the deadliest act of Islamist terrorism since 9/11? America’s polarised political culture demands that people choose between these interpretations. For those on the left, Mr Mateen’s killing spree focuses attention on the problem of easy access to guns and on homophobia. For those on the right it shows that America has a problem with homegrown jihadis. For anyone not beholden to either camp the answer seems obvious: the attack was all three of these things. It was also an early test of how a President Trump might handle a crisis if elected in November. One of the finest moments of George W. Bush’s presidency was when he went to an Islamic centre six days after 9/11 and issued a call for tolerance and unity. Mr Trump’s first thought was to exploit the shooting to score a point: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism,” he tweeted. It got worse. The Republican nominee first implied that the president might...
      PubDate: Thu, 16 June 2016 09:03:16 GMT
  • For the colour of their skin
    • Abstract: TO BE born with albinism is hard luck. This genetic condition, in which people lack pigments in their skin, hair and eyes, affects one in 20,000 worldwide and is more common in Africa. Albinos’ pale skin is easily burned by the sun, and is vulnerable to cancer. Because their eyes are sensitive to harsh light, most albinos suffer from poor vision. However, these discomforts are trivial compared with the mistreatment that albinos often suffer at the hands of others. For centuries people have believed that albinos are cursed. In parts of Africa babies born with albinism were once routinely killed. That ghastly tradition has died out, but others persist. In Swahili many people call albinos zeru (ghost) or nguruwe (pig). Children with the condition are often bullied at school and forced to eat separately from their peers. Many drop out. Those who complete school struggle to find work and die younger than their neighbours, not least because many end up taking unskilled jobs in the fields where they are exposed to the sun. Women are at higher risk of rape because of a myth that sex with an albino can cure HIV...
      PubDate: Thu, 09 June 2016 14:40:10 GMT
  • Feeding the ten billion
    • Abstract: ONE of the extraordinary things about the modern world is that so much of it takes food for granted. For most of recorded history, the struggle to eat has been the main focus of human activity, and all but a handful of people were either farmers or farm workers. Starvation was an ever-present threat. Even the best years rarely yielded much of a surplus to carry over as an insurance against leaner times. In the worst, none but the powerful could be sure of a full stomach. Now most people in rich countries never have to worry about where the next meal is coming from. In 1900 two in every five American workers laboured on a farm; now one in 50 does. Even in poor places such as India, where famine still struck until the mid-20th century, the assumption that everyone will have something to eat is increasingly built into the rhythm of life. That assumption, though, leads to complacency. Famine has ended in much of the world, but it still stalks parts of Africa—Ethiopia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, to name three, depend on handouts of food. And millions of people still suffer from famine’s lesser cousin, malnutrition. According to the UN’s Food...
      PubDate: Thu, 09 June 2016 14:40:10 GMT
  • Jeremy Corbyn, saboteur
    • Abstract: IN 1975 a Labour government, split on Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community (as it then was), put the matter to a referendum. Most of its supporters wanted to leave, so it fell to the pro-European Conservatives to trumpet the case for staying. Margaret Thatcher, their leader, campaigned in a hideous sweater bespangled with European flags and railed against “the parochial politics of ‘minding our own business’”. On the day, two-thirds of Britons voted to remain. The intervening decades have reversed the politics. The party of David Cameron, the Tory prime minister, is now deeply divided on Europe, so to win the referendum on June 23rd he needs the pro-Remain Labour Party to beat the drum. Yet with polls narrowing—as we went to press five of the most recent eight had put Leave ahead (see article)—it is failing to do so. Jeremy Corbyn, its leader, is no Thatcher. Hailing from the rump of the old Eurosceptic left, he sees the EU as a capitalist conspiracy. He voted to leave...
      PubDate: Thu, 09 June 2016 14:40:10 GMT
  • Slow-motion revolution
    • Abstract: IN THE past few years, industries including retailing, music and taxis have been spectacularly blown apart by low-cost innovators. Less celebrated is Vanguard, a fund-management group that also fits the disruptive mould. It offers diversified portfolios for retail investors at a fraction of the cost of the industry average, thanks in part to a mutually owned structure that means it cuts fees rather than pays dividends. It now runs more than $3.5 trillion of assets, and takes in another $1 billion or so from investors every working day. This is no overnight success: Vanguard was founded in the 1970s. That such a superior model has taken 40 years to reach today’s position is testament to two failings of finance (see article). One lies in incentives in the industry. Many products are sold by brokers or investment advisers and, for a long time, the salesforce was paid by commission. Vanguard does not pay commission, so the business went elsewhere. The...
      PubDate: Thu, 09 June 2016 14:40:10 GMT
  • How to make a good teacher
    • Abstract: FORGET smart uniforms and small classes. The secret to stellar grades and thriving students is teachers. One American study found that in a single year’s teaching the top 10% of teachers impart three times as much learning to their pupils as the worst 10% do. Another suggests that, if black pupils were taught by the best quarter of teachers, the gap between their achievement and that of white pupils would disappear.  But efforts to ensure that every teacher can teach are hobbled by the tenacious myth that good teachers are born, not made. Classroom heroes like Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society” or Michelle Pfeiffer in “Dangerous Minds” are endowed with exceptional, innate inspirational powers. Government policies, which often start from the same assumption, seek to raise teaching standards by attracting high-flying graduates to join the profession and prodding bad teachers to leave. Teachers’ unions, meanwhile, insist that if only their members were set free from central diktat, excellence would follow. The premise that teaching ability is something you either have or don’t is mistaken. A new breed of teacher-trainers is...
      PubDate: Thu, 09 June 2016 08:03:15 GMT
  • Cleaning up
    • Abstract: A CAR slams into a tree at speed, and is crushed. Inside, the Romanian police find the body of the chief executive of a company that makes detergents for hospitals—one under investigation for watering down its products and leaving patients to die from drug-resistant infections. The Hexi Pharma scandal (see article) sounds like something out of “The Third Man”. For many foreigners, it confirms Romania’s reputation as a kleptocracy riddled with malfeasance and graft. Romania is certainly rotten. But the Hexi Pharma affair is evidence of how much the country is doing to tackle corruption. After investigative journalists exposed the case in late April, it was quickly taken up by the judiciary. This has become much more independent under pressure from the European Union, which Romania joined in 2007. The new general prosecutor, appointed in April by a president elected on an anti-corruption platform, is pursuing Hexi Pharma zealously. Laura Codruta Kovesi, the dauntless head of the country’s anti-...
      PubDate: Thu, 02 June 2016 14:43:37 GMT
  • Between Bentonville and Bezos
    • Abstract: FOR decades a titan has towered over America’s shopping landscape. Walmart is not just the world’s biggest retailer but the biggest private employer and, by sales, the biggest company. Last year its tills rang up takings of $482 billion, about twice Apple’s revenue. But now the beast of Bentonville must cope with an unfamiliar sensation. After ruling as the undisputed disrupter of American retailing, Walmart finds itself being disrupted. The source of the commotion is online shopping, specifically online shopping at Amazon. E-commerce accounted for $1 in every $10 that American shoppers spent last year, up by 15% from 2014. Amazon’s North American sales grew at about twice that rate. Walmart’s share of America’s retail sales, which stands at 10.6%, is still more than twice Amazon’s, but it peaked in 2009 at nearly 12%. In January Walmart said it would close 154 American stores. It may need to shut more. Walmart’s “supercentres” once offered an unmatched combination of squeezed prices and expansive choice, but this formula is losing its magic (see...
      PubDate: Thu, 02 June 2016 14:43:37 GMT
  • Don’t cave in, Mr Hollande
    • Abstract: FRANCE has been looking forward to staging a big spectacle this month. Euro 2016, an international football tournament second in importance only to the World Cup, kicks off in the Stade de France near Paris on June 10th, the first of 51 matches around the country ending with the final on July 10th. But a spectacle of a different sort is attracting attention to France early, and for the wrong reasons: industrial unrest, which threatens to spread chaos and spoil the party.    Last week a blockade of oil refineries led to panic among motorists as petrol stations ran dry. This week the havoc spread to the railways. Pilots at Air France have voted to disrupt flights. A national day of strikes is threatened on June 14th, when the Senate, the upper house, is due to consider the changes to France’s labour laws which are at the centre of the dispute. At issue are modest reforms designed to tackle the country’s high unemployment, which remains stubbornly at 10%. The law would ease rigid collective-bargaining rules and make firing workers slightly less complex. But this is not the direction of change that France’s Socialist president,...
      PubDate: Thu, 02 June 2016 08:48:31 GMT
  • Of banks and bureaucrats
    • Abstract: BANKS are usually reliable barometers of the health of the economies they help finance. So news in recent days that India’s lenders have lost over 200 billion rupees ($3 billion) in the most recent quarter sits oddly with zippy growth in GDP of 7.9%. A revving economy may help the banks overcome their weakness. Far likelier is the opposite outcome: that the Indian economy ends up being damaged by its lenders. Most of the trouble lies in India’s state-owned banks, a network of 27 listed but government-controlled entities that account for 70% of India’s banking system by assets (see article). Their share prices have tumbled ever since the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the central bank and regulator, sensibly forced them to confess to past mistakes. A staggering 17% of the loans they made in a mini credit boom around 2011 have either had to be written off or are likely to be. Corporate lending, particularly to powerful Indian conglomerates, is at the root of the problem. Some of the...
      PubDate: Thu, 02 June 2016 08:48:28 GMT
  • Under attack
    • Abstract: IN A sense, this is a golden age for free speech. Your smartphone can call up newspapers from the other side of world in seconds. More than a billion tweets, Facebook posts and blog updates are published every single day. Anyone with access to the internet can be a publisher, and anyone who can reach Wikipedia enters a digital haven where America’s First Amendment reigns. However, watchdogs report that speaking out is becoming more dangerous—and they are right. As our report shows, curbs on free speech have grown tighter. Without the contest of ideas, the world is timid and ignorant. Free speech is under attack in three ways. First, repression by governments has increased. Several countries have reimposed cold-war controls or introduced new ones. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia enjoyed a free-for-all of vigorous debate. Under Vladimir Putin, the muzzle has tightened again. All the main television-news outlets are now controlled by the state or by Mr Putin’s cronies. Journalists who ask...
      PubDate: Thu, 02 June 2016 08:48:26 GMT
  • Basically flawed
    • Abstract: WORK is one of society’s most important institutions. It is the main mechanism through which spending power is allocated. It provides people with meaning, structure and identity. Yet work is a less generous, and less certain, provider of these benefits than it once was. Since 2000 economic growth across the rich world has failed to generate decent pay increases for most workers. Now there is growing fear of a more fundamental threat to the world of work: the possibility that new technologies, from machine learning to driverless cars, will cause havoc to employment. Such worries have revived interest in an old idea: the payment of a “universal basic income”, an unconditional government payment given to all citizens, as a supplement to or replacement for wages (see article). On June 5th Swiss citizens will decide in a referendum whether to require their government to adopt a basic income. Finland and the Netherlands are planning limited experiments in which some citizens are paid a...
      PubDate: Thu, 02 June 2016 08:48:22 GMT
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