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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]
  • From dotcom hero to zero
    • Abstract: IT WAS one of Silicon Valley’s most riveting success stories. Now it stands as a warning to others. Yahoo began in 1994 as a lark in Stanford’s dormitories, when two students, David Filo and Jerry Yang, assembled their favourite links on a page called “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web”. The site, which they renamed Yahoo, quickly became the “portal” through which millions first encountered the internet. At its peak in 2000, Yahoo had a market value of $128 billion. In the dotcom version of Monopoly, Yahoo got the prime slot. This week its history as an independent firm came to an end. On July 25th Verizon, a telecoms giant, announced that it would pay around $4.8 billion to acquire Yahoo’s core business (see article). The sale will come as a blessed relief to shareholders. Yahoo churned through four chief executives in the three years before the hiring of Marissa Mayer in 2012. Her efforts to turn the company round may have failed, but the seeds of this week’s sale were sown long before...
      PubDate: Thu, 28 July 2016 14:43:06 GMT
  • Cleaning up the data
    • Abstract: WHAT if all Londoners, no matter how young or frail, smoked for at least six years? In effect, they already do. The city’s air pollution exacts an equivalent toll on each resident, cutting short the lives of nearly 10,000 people each year and damaging the lungs, hearts and brains of children. Yet few Londoners realise that things are this bad. Citizens of other big cities in the rich world are equally complacent (those in the developing world are unlikely to be in any doubt about the scale of their pollution problem). Official air-quality indices do exist. They alert people when to stay at home, particularly those with asthma and other medical troubles. But these indices focus on the immediate risks to health, which for most people are serious only when the air is almost unbreathable. No equivalent source of information exists to warn residents about the dangers that accumulate from much lower amounts of pollution. It is all too easy for people to take the short-term index, which says “low pollution” most of the time, as a proxy for their lifelong risks. Easy, and wrong. Analysis of one year’s worth of pollution data from...
      PubDate: Thu, 28 July 2016 14:43:06 GMT
  • Doping and hacking
    • Abstract: IT HAS been a good few days for Russia’s dirty-tricks squad. On July 24th the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced it would not ban the Russian team as a whole from next month’s games in Rio de Janeiro, even though an investigation concluded that the country’s government had been running an extensive doping programme for athletes. Two days earlier WikiLeaks, a whistleblowing website, had published embarrassing e-mails from officials of the Democratic National Committee, which is meant to be neutral between Democrats, disparaging Bernie Sanders. Security experts determined the e-mails had been stolen by Russian government hackers. Compared with the other misdeeds of Vladimir Putin’s regime, these ones may seem tame. Russia is, after all, a country that stripped the markings from its soldiers’ uniforms in order to invade Ukraine while lying about it, and assassinated a defector in London by putting polonium in his tea. But cheating at sport and hacking e-mails to sway an American election are serious offences too. More important, they reflect a broader pattern of behaviour. In arena after arena, Russia is not only violating the rules; it is...
      PubDate: Thu, 28 July 2016 14:43:06 GMT
  • Overhyped, underappreciated
    • Abstract: IN THE 1980s Japan was a closely studied example of economic dynamism. In the decades since, it has commanded attention largely for its economic stagnation. After years of falling prices and fitful growth, Japan’s nominal GDP was roughly the same in 2015 as it was 20 years earlier. America’s grew by 134% in the same time period; even Italy’s went up by two-thirds. Now Japan is in the spotlight for a different reason: its attempts at economic resuscitation. To reflate Japan and reform it, Shinzo Abe, prime minister since December 2012, proposed the three “arrows” of what has become known as Abenomics: monetary stimulus, fiscal “flexibility” and structural reform. The first arrow would mobilise Japan’s productive powers and the third would expand them, allowing the second arrow to hit an ambitious fiscal target. The prevailing view is that none has hit home. Headline inflation was negative in the year to May. Japan’s public debt looks as bad as ever. In areas such as labour-market reform, nowhere near enough has been done. Compared with its own grand promises, Abenomics has indeed been a disappointment. But compared with what preceded...
      PubDate: Thu, 28 July 2016 08:33:31 GMT
  • The new political divide
    • Abstract: AS POLITICAL theatre, America’s party conventions have no parallel. Activists from right and left converge to choose their nominees and celebrate conservatism (Republicans) and progressivism (Democrats). But this year was different, and not just because Hillary Clinton became the first woman to be nominated for president by a major party. The conventions highlighted a new political faultline: not between left and right, but between open and closed (see article). Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, summed up one side of this divide with his usual pithiness. “Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,” he declared. His anti-trade tirades were echoed by the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party. America is not alone. Across Europe, the politicians with momentum are those who argue that the world is a nasty, threatening place, and that wise nations should build walls to keep it out. Such arguments have helped elect an ultranationalist government in Hungary and a Polish one that offers a Trumpian...
      PubDate: Thu, 28 July 2016 08:33:21 GMT
  • A patchy record at 20
    • Abstract: WHAT duty does a rich society have to its poorest members? The answer in America’s welfare reform of 1996, the 20th anniversary of which falls on August 22nd, was that it has an obligation to help the poorest into work. The new law changed the lives of millions of Americans. Its effects were also felt beyond America’s borders, as European countries copied “workfare” and middle-income countries like Mexico and Brazil attached strings to cash payments for the poorest. One aim of the reform was, in President Bill Clinton’s words, “to end welfare as we know it.” Judged by that standard, it succeeded. Welfare rolls fell by half and then fell by half again. That is both because the reform prompted welfare recipients to seek work, and because cash payments are eventually cut off to those who are not working (see article). This success came at a price. Mr Clinton’s original proposal coupled the work requirement with a guarantee that the government would act as employer of last...
      PubDate: Thu, 18 August 2016 14:48:22 G
  • Beach rules
    • Abstract: FEW beach resorts would boast of promoting “core socialist values”. The seaside town of Beidaihe, the nearest sandy getaway to the Chinese capital, Beijing, is not so bashful. Local media laud its barrage of propaganda designed to boost values such as harmony and friendship. The fanfare is because Beidaihe is home to a walled, heavily guarded compound where China’s rulers usually take a working holiday in early August (see article). Yet it is likely that this year, amid the orange-roofed villas, harmony and friendship were in short supply. Communist Party rules require that a cohort of leaders retires at the party congress in the autumn of 2017. There is speculation that the looming changes to China’s leadership are causing a struggle that reaches right to the top. Such reports are everyone’s business. Not just because China may be about to witness big changes, but mainly because nobody knows if the rumours are true—since nobody knows what goes on inside China’s senior echelons. China is...
      PubDate: Thu, 18 August 2016 14:48:22 G
  • The power of learning
    • Abstract: IN “Minority Report”, a policeman, played by Tom Cruise, gleans tip-offs from three psychics and nabs future criminals before they break the law. In the real world, prediction is more difficult. But it may no longer be science fiction, thanks to the growing prognosticatory power of computers. That prospect scares some, but it could be a force for good—if it is done right. Machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence, can generate remarkably accurate predictions. It works by crunching vast quantities of data in search of patterns. Take, for example, restaurant hygiene. The system learns which combinations of sometimes obscure factors are most suggestive of a problem. Once trained, it can assess the risk that a restaurant is dirty. The Boston mayor’s office is testing just such an approach, using data from Yelp reviews. This has led to a 25% rise in the number of spot inspections that uncover violations. Governments are taking notice. A London borough is developing an algorithm to predict who might become homeless. In India Microsoft is helping schools predict which students are at risk of dropping out. Machine-learning...
      PubDate: Thu, 18 August 2016 14:48:22 G
  • Africa’s fragile democracies
    • Abstract: SOME call it Africa’s second liberation. After freedom from European colonisers came freedom from African despots. Since the end of the cold war multi-party democracy has spread far and wide across the continent, often with impressive and moving intensity. Remember 1994, when South Africans queued for hours to bury apartheid and elect Nelson Mandela as president in their country’s first all-race vote. Many of Africa’s worst Big Men were swept away. Mengistu Haile Mariam fled Ethiopia in 1991; Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) decamped in 1997; a year later Sani Abacha of Nigeria died in office (or, as rumour has it, in the arms of prostitutes). In parts of Africa autocrats are still in power and wars still rage. But most leaders now seek at least a veneer of respectability; elections have become more frequent and more regular; economies have opened up. And yet, as our reporting makes clear (see article), African democracy has stalled—or even gone...
      PubDate: Thu, 18 August 2016 08:33:21 G
  • Nightmare on Main Street
    • Abstract: WHAT are the most dysfunctional parts of the global financial system? China’s banking industry, you might say, with its great wall of bad debts and state-sponsored cronyism. Or the euro zone’s taped-together single currency, which stretches across 19 different countries, each with its own debts and frail financial firms. Both are worrying. But if sheer size is your yardstick, nothing beats America’s housing market. It is the world’s largest asset class, worth $26 trillion, more than America’s stockmarket. The slab of mortgage debt lurking beneath it is the planet’s biggest concentration of financial risk. When house prices started tumbling in the summer of 2006, a chain reaction led to a global crisis in 2008-09. A decade on, the presumption is that the mortgage-debt monster has been tamed. In fact, vast, nationalised, unprofitable and undercapitalised, it remains a menace to the world’s biggest economy. Unreal estate The reason the danger passes almost unnoticed is that, at first sight, the housing market has been improving. Prices in America have crept back up towards their all-time high. As a result, the...
      PubDate: Thu, 18 August 2016 08:18:22 G
  • Time to govern
    • Abstract: EVER since Nelson Mandela led South Africa into the democratic era in 1994, the country has been ruled by the African National Congress (ANC), the main movement that opposed apartheid. In every election since, it has secured about 60-70% of the vote. But in local ballots this month the party’s share fell to 54%. The mighty ANC now looks mortal. This is a humiliation for its leader, Jacob Zuma, whose tenure in office has been marked by corruption and misrule. His legacy may be the loss of the ANC’s majority in the election of 2019. By contrast, the outcome is a triumph for Mmusi Maimane, the impressive young leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA). But before Mr Maimane can become South Africa’s giant-slayer he must resolve the dilemma of power: should his party seek to govern some of South Africa’s leading cities by forming an alliance with the radical, dangerous Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) or should it keep clean and stand aloof? We think that, for the right sort of deal, he should dare. The prizes on offer are glittering. In Johannesburg, the commercial capital, the ANC got only 44% of the vote, losing its majority even...
      PubDate: Thu, 11 August 2016 14:47:45 G
  • Scrimping on sense
    • Abstract: FOR Donald Trump, details are not a strong suit. His policies typically fit in a tweet: build a wall, reduce Muslim immigration, make NATO allies pay for protection. That makes them easy to list but hard to fathom. His speech on August 8th, on economic policy, was an opportunity to explain at greater length how he hopes to achieve the economic boom that he promises American workers. Alas, the extra detail did not bring greater clarity. Even when sticking to a script, Mr Trump seems incapable of producing ideas of depth and rigour. His plan is more wild brainstorm than policy memo. Mr Trump paints a picture of the economy that is irreconcilable with the facts. He says jobs are scarce, poverty is rising and incomes are stagnant. But in reality America’s economy is the strongest in the rich world. Unemployment is only 4.9%. The poverty rate, though high, has been falling since 2012. And median earnings have risen by 5% in real terms in the past two years. It is normal for opposition politicians to exaggerate economic problems, and the image of an economic wasteland is based on the genuine problems of areas that relied on low-value manufacturing,...
      PubDate: Thu, 11 August 2016 14:47:45 G
  • A harvest of lead
    • Abstract: THE Philippines’ kill-list of suspected drug-pushers shot by the police or unknown gunmen gets longer by the day. By one count more than 600 people have died since Rodrigo Duterte was elected president on May 9th; another puts the total at nearly 1,000. Inaugurated on June 30th, Mr Duterte has taken to naming senior officials publicly as suspected narcos: generals, policemen and judges have been told to resign and submit to investigation. Or else? The kill list speaks for itself. Mr Duterte is unabashed at international criticism, boasting that he does not care about human rights or due process. He was elected on a promise to eradicate crime, even by killing 100,000 gangsters and dumping their bodies in Manila Bay. More worrying still is that the bloodletting is popular with Filipinos, many of whose lives are blighted by poverty and crime. That satisfaction will not last. Wholesale extrajudicial killing is no solution to the Philippines’ many problems. Instead, it will lead only to more misery. From Davao with bullets Mr Duterte has been schooled in the violent politics of Mindanao, the southern and most lawless...
      PubDate: Thu, 11 August 2016 14:47:45 G
  • First, save the children
    • Abstract: THE sexual abuse of children wrecks lives. Survivors can suffer severe harm to their mental and physical health. That is one reason why no crime provokes greater revulsion. Another is that a shamed society has only recently begun to acknowledge how common abuse really is. And yet, precisely because abuse has been covered up for so long, no crime is more widely misunderstood. The result is that the need to punish abusers is sometimes being pursued at the expense of prevention. That means children are not being protected as they should be. The duty of care Typical of the confusion about child-abuse is that those who commit it are widely thought all to be paedophiles—that is, adults whose main sexual attraction is to pre-pubescent children. In fact paedophiles are a minority (see article). Some abusers’ victims are sexually mature, though below the age of consent. Others abuse because younger children are defenceless or because of a sense of entitlement or social...
      PubDate: Thu, 11 August 2016 14:47:45 G
  • Cheating death
    • Abstract: IMAGINE a world in which getting fitted with a new heart, liver or set of kidneys, all grown from your own body cells, was as commonplace as knee and hip replacements are now. Or one in which you celebrated your 94th birthday by running a marathon with your school friends. Imagine, in other words, a world in which ageing had been abolished. That world is not yet on offer. But a semblance of it might be one day. Senescence, the general dwindling of prowess experienced by all as time takes its toll, is coming under scrutiny from doctors and biologists (see article). Suspending it is not yet on the cards. But slowing it probably is. Average lifespans have risen a lot over the past century, but that was thanks to better food, housing, public health and some medicines. The new increase would be brought about by specific anti-senescence drugs, some of which may already exist. This, optimists claim, will extend life for many people to today’s ceiling of 120 or so. But it may be just the beginning. In the next phase not just...
      PubDate: Thu, 11 August 2016 08:18:21 G
  • Babies without borders
    • Abstract: OF THE 2 billion children in the world, about 15m are parentless. Millions more have been abandoned. Most of these unlucky kids are cared for by other relatives. Others live temporarily with foster parents. But hundreds of thousands languish in state institutions of varying degrees of grimness. The youngest and healthiest will probably find local adoptive parents. For older or disabled children, however, willing adopters from abroad are often the best and only option. Yet the total number of overseas adoptions is dwindling (see article). There is a reason for this. For decades cross-border adoptions were often a racket. In Romania after the fall of the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, thousands of orphans were adopted illegally. In post-civil-war Guatemala middlemen paid poor women a pittance to get pregnant repeatedly—or simply stole babies and sold them. When one country tightened the rules, the trade in babies moved somewhere laxer. That trend has stopped. As countries have implemented the...
      PubDate: Thu, 04 August 2016 14:44:26 G
  • The other Asian tiger
    • Abstract: WHICH Asian country has roared ahead over the past quarter-century, with millions of its people escaping poverty? And which Asian economy, still mainly rural, will be the continent’s next dynamo? Most would probably respond “China” to the first question and “India” to the second. But these answers would overlook a country that, in any other part of the world, would stand out for its past success and future promise. Vietnam, with a population of more than 90m, has notched up the world’s second-fastest growth rate per person since 1990, behind only China. If it can maintain a 7% pace over the next decade, it will follow the same trajectory as erstwhile Asian tigers such as South Korea and Taiwan. Quite an achievement for a country that in the 1980s was emerging from decades of war and was as poor as Ethiopia (see article). Unlike either China or India, Vietnam lacks the advantages of being a continent-sized economy, so the lessons of its rise are more...
      PubDate: Thu, 04 August 2016 14:44:26 G
  • Hinkley Pointless
    • Abstract: THE “golden decade” of co-operation between Britain and China, launched last year as Xi Jinping banqueted at Buckingham Palace, seems to have lasted all of nine months. The centrepiece of the new partnership was a deal in which China would invest £6 billion ($8 billion) in a new French-built nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in south-west England, before building one of its own in the south-east (see page 21). Yet on July 28th, as the Hinkley project was due to receive final approval, Britain’s new government announced ominously that it was under review. Putting the brakes on Hinkley has tarnished the golden era with China, whose state-owned news agency complained about Britain’s “suspicious approach” (see article). It risks annoying France, which can complicate Britain’s exit from the EU. And Britain badly needs new sources of energy. Even so, scrapping the deal would be the right decision. Regardless of security worries about China, which are probably overblown, the...
      PubDate: Thu, 04 August 2016 14:44:26 G
  • The ruining of Egypt
    • Abstract: IN EGYPT they are the shabab al-ahawe, “coffee-shop guys”; in Algeria they are the hittistes, “those who lean with their backs to the wall”; in Morocco they go by the French term, diplômés chômeurs, “graduate-jobless”. Across the Arab world the ranks of the young and embittered are swelling. In most countries a youth bulge leads to an economic boom. But Arab autocrats regard young people as a threat—and with reason. Better educated than their parents, wired to the world and sceptical of political and religious authority, the young were at the forefront of the uprisings of 2011. They toppled rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and alarmed the kings and presidents of many other states. Now, with the exception of Tunisia, those countries have either slid into civil war or seen their revolutions rolled back. The lot of young Arabs is worsening: it has become harder to find a job and easier to end up in a cell. Their options are typically poverty, emigration or, for a minority, jihad. This is creating the conditions for the next...
      PubDate: Thu, 04 August 2016 08:33:24 G
  • China’s tech trailblazers
    • Abstract: GOOGLE left. Facebook is blocked. Amazon is struggling to make headway. And if further proof were needed that China’s tech market is a world apart, this week seemed to provide conclusive evidence. Uber, a ride-hailing service that is the world’s most valuable startup, decided to sell its local unit to Didi Chuxing, a Chinese rival (see article). Its China dream, like those of so many before, is dead. For many, the lessons of this latest capitulation are clear. China is a sort of technological Galapagos island, a distinct and isolated environment in which local firms flourish. Chinese firms are protected from external competition by government regulation and the Great Firewall. And that protection means that they need not innovate but can thrive by copying business models developed in the West. In short, China is closed, its firms are cosseted and their talent is for mimicry. At first sight, Uber’s retreat appears to fit this damning profile. The startup has ceded China...
      PubDate: Thu, 04 August 2016 08:33:17 G
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