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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]
  • Going negative
    • Abstract: GERMANY and the Netherlands are usually great supporters of central-bank independence. In the 1990s Germany blocked France’s push for a political say over monetary policy in the new European Central Bank (ECB). The Dutchman who first headed that bank, Wim Duisenberg, said that it might be normal for politicians to express views on monetary policy, but it would be abnormal for central bankers to listen to them. That was then. Now German and Dutch politicians are trying to browbeat Mario Draghi, the ECB’s current president, into ending the bank’s policy of negative interest rates (see article). The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, accused Mr Draghi of causing “extraordinary problems” for his country’s financial sector; wilder yet, he also pinned on the ECB half of the blame for the rise of the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Both countries’ politicians attack low rates as a conspiracy to punish northern European savers and let southern European...
      PubDate: Thu, 28 April 2016 14:42:18 GM
  • Sweet little lies
    • Abstract: AMERICA’S corporate-earnings season is always a spectacle worth watching. Every quarter, in the space of a few weeks, 500-odd big firms report their results. Together, they are a barometer of the world economy: they account for a third of global market value and make half of their sales abroad. It matters that investors can easily decipher how these companies are doing. Instead, the quarterly reporting season has become a carnival of confusion, obfuscation and fibbing that would make even a presidential candidate blush. For a time after the financial crisis of 2007-08, firms were on best behaviour, keen to look investors in the eye and tell the truth and nothing but. Now, after a long bull market, investors have got lazy again and managers are taking the mickey.   In the cycle that is now under way, earnings-per-share are expected to drop by 9% for the first quarter, compared with the previous year, or by 4% once losses at energy firms are excluded. Some technology firms are also losing their shine: Apple, the world’s most valuable public company, this week reported its first drop in revenue since 2003 (see...
      PubDate: Thu, 28 April 2016 14:42:18 GM
  • Fatal distraction
    • Abstract: FOR too long the Philippines was the sick man of Asia—cheerful, democratic but a chronic underperformer. In recent years, though, its fortunes have begun to turn. Much of the credit should go to the outgoing president, Benigno Aquino. The economy is booming and investors are flocking in. The country has gained in geopolitical importance, too, thanks to its resistance to China’s expansionism. But Mr Aquino’s achievements risk being squandered by an old weakness at the heart of Filipino politics: its love of showmanship and personality over policy and administrative ability. Boxers and film stars project themselves into public jobs while the diligent and competent too often languish. This year’s presidential campaign is no exception (see article). The foundling and the beast Ahead of the ballot on May 9th, the field is narrowing to two leading candidates. One is Grace Poe, a foundling, adopted daughter of an action-man actor (the late Fernando Poe junior, a failed presidential...
      PubDate: Thu, 28 April 2016 14:42:18 GM
  • Little London
    • Abstract: THERE are many ways to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. London’s economy makes Britain rich. If Britons were to vote on June 23rd to leave the European Union, London would suffer. But another problem is just as threatening. Soaring property prices are constraining London’s ability to foster new businesses and create jobs. The great city must overcome that problem if it intends to remain great. The past two decades have been kind to the capital. It is growing by more than 100,000 new residents a year. Like other booming cities, including New York, London thrives amid globalisation and technological change, which boost both demand for its financial services and the market for its startups. Yet if London has given striving people and firms plenty of reason to come, it has done a poor job housing them. Building is maddeningly difficult. London has been adding only 25,000 or so new homes a year (New York City approved nearly that much in half the land area). The median price of a London home has tripled over the past two decades as a result. Office construction lags, too. Commercial property in London’s West End is twice as...
      PubDate: Thu, 28 April 2016 14:42:18 GM
  • How to measure prosperity
    • Abstract: WHICH would you prefer to be: a medieval monarch or a modern office-worker? The king has armies of servants. He wears the finest silks and eats the richest foods. But he is also a martyr to toothache. He is prone to fatal infections. It takes him a week by carriage to travel between palaces. And he is tired of listening to the same jesters. Life as a 21st-century office drone looks more appealing once you think about modern dentistry, antibiotics, air travel, smartphones and YouTube. The question is more than just a parlour game. It shows how tricky it is to compare living standards over time. Yet such comparisons are not just routinely made, but rely heavily on a single metric: gross domestic product (GDP). This one number has become shorthand for material well-being, even though it is a deeply flawed gauge of prosperity, and getting worse all the time (see article). That may in turn be distorting levels of anxiety in the rich world about everything from stagnant incomes to disappointing...
      PubDate: Thu, 28 April 2016 09:03:17 GM
  • Tie breaker
    • Abstract: TECH moguls look upon the European Commission with as much enthusiasm as does the average Tory MP from the English shires. Europe has no successful technology companies of its own, they whisper, which is why Eurocrats spend their time hassling American tech giants instead. Not for the first time Google finds itself in the commission’s crosshairs. This week, the head of the EU’s trustbusting division, Margrethe Vestager, issued charges against the internet-search firm (see article). Its “preliminary view” is that Google is guilty of unfairly using its control of Android, the operating system that powers over 80% of the world’s smartphones, as a means to get its apps and services preferred over those offered by rivals. Europe trying to protect its own? Perhaps. Nevertheless, Google has a case to answer. The commission’s claim has echoes of antitrust battles against Microsoft, which was found guilty on both sides of the Atlantic of trying to extend a monopoly in one area, the...
      PubDate: Thu, 21 April 2016 14:41:44 GM
  • Burundian time-bomb
    • Abstract: WHEN a Hutu politician says it is time to “pulverise and exterminate” rebels who are “good only for dying”, outsiders should sit up. When he talks of spraying “cockroaches” or urges people to “start work”, it is hard to miss the old codewords for massacring Tutsis. When the politician is not some obscure backbencher but the president of the Burundian Senate, the world should be alarmed. History does not always repeat itself in central Africa, but it rhymes cacophonously. Rwanda and Burundi, two small countries with Hutu majorities and Tutsi minorities, have seen large-scale ethnic massacres in 1959, 1963, 1972, 1988, 1993 and 1994. These were not, as some outsiders imagine, spontaneous outbursts of tribal hatred. They happened because those in power deliberately inflamed ethnic divisions. The Rwandan genocide of 1994, in which perhaps half a million Tutsis were hacked to death, was meticulously planned by Hutu army officers and politicians. They did it to avoid sharing power with Tutsi rebels after a peace accord to end a civil war. They raised a militia, cranked up the genocidal propaganda and imported hundreds of thousands of machetes...
      PubDate: Thu, 21 April 2016 14:41:44 GM
  • The new oil order
    • Abstract: FOR generations, oil and stability have gone hand in hand in Saudi Arabia. The puritanically conservative kingdom has used its oil wealth to buy loyalty at home and friends abroad. But since King Salman came to the throne last year, his 30-year-old son, Muhammad, has injected unpredictability into the Middle East. Critics consider the deputy crown prince a hothead, whose dangerous obsession with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s rival, is feeding sectarianism and fraying relations with America. At home, though, the impetuousness of Muhammad bin Salman may be just what Saudi Arabia needs to start weaning itself off oil, the price of which has fallen sharply over the past 18 months. A big test comes on April 25th, when the prince is due to unveil the kingdom’s long-delayed “Vision” reform plan. Under the prince, Saudi Arabia has certainly seemed rash. A year ago it went to war in Yemen, and is now bogged down. In January it executed a prominent Shia cleric, inflaming relations with Iran. Days later the prince revealed to this newspaper plans to float shares in Saudi Aramco, thought to be the world’s biggest company, surprising executives and...
      PubDate: Thu, 21 April 2016 14:41:44 GM
  • The great betrayal
    • Abstract: BRAZIL’S Congress has witnessed some bizarre scenes in its time. In 1963 a senator aimed a gun at his arch-enemy and killed another senator by mistake. In 1998 a crucial government bill failed when a congressman pushed the wrong button on his electronic voting device. But the spectacle in the lower house on April 17th surely counts among the oddest. One by one, 511 deputies filed towards a crowded microphone and, in ten-second bursts broadcast to a rapt nation, voted on the impeachment of the president, Dilma Rousseff. Some were draped in Brazilian flags. One launched a confetti rocket. Many gushed dedications to their home towns, religions, pet causes—and even Brazil’s insurance brokers. The motion to forward charges against Ms Rousseff to the Senate for trial passed by 367 votes to 137, with seven abstentions. The vote comes at a desperate time. Brazil is struggling with its worst recession since the 1930s. GDP is expected to shrink by 9% from the second quarter of 2014, when the recession started, to the end of this year. Inflation and the unemployment rate are both around 10%. The failure is not only of Ms Rousseff’s making. The...
      PubDate: Thu, 21 April 2016 09:03:21 GM
  • Can she fix it?
    • Abstract: SOMETIMES relief makes triumph all the sweeter. That is how Hillary Clinton must feel after this week’s Democratic primary in New York, when she broke a losing streak by beating Bernie Sanders handily. She is now almost certain to be her party’s presidential candidate in November. After a 50-year slog through American politics, even the cautious Mrs Clinton was emboldened to declare that “Victory is in sight!” Mrs Clinton is experienced. In an age of extremes she has remained resolutely centrist. Yet, rather than thrilling to the promise of taking the White House or of electing America’s first woman president, many Democrats seem joyless. And America as a whole is seething with discontent. It may dodge putting a populist, an ideological extremist or a socialist in the White House in 2017. But, if voters’ anger remains unabated, it will not do so for much longer. Mrs Clinton needs a bold plan to counter this popular frustration. Alas, judging by her economic policies so far, she is more inclined to tinker. The not-a-fan belt To gauge Mrs Clinton’s programme, start with the Clintonomics that her husband...
      PubDate: Thu, 21 April 2016 09:03:15 GM
  • Two rights, wrong policy
    • Abstract: THE “Panama papers”, a vast data leak on the use of offshore tax havens by the rich and powerful, have already claimed the scalp of Iceland’s prime minister. Now they are seriously embarrassing Britain’s leader. David Cameron will not—and should not—lose his job over revelations that his family has made use of offshore tax arrangements. But the Panama papers have led to clamorous demands that politicians should be required to make their tax returns public. Mr Cameron revealed six years of tax data on April 10th (see article), the first time a British prime minister has done such a thing. Questions about how much information should be made available on people’s tax affairs stretch beyond Britain. In America, where presidential candidates are used to public scrutiny of their returns, Donald Trump has been batting away requests that he release his tax records. The debate also extends beyond politicians: in Norway, Sweden and Finland, everyone’s tax returns are available online. Working out where the line should be drawn on...
      PubDate: Thu, 14 April 2016 14:38:58 GM
  • Liberty, equality, seniority
    • Abstract: CANADA boasts 44-year-old Justin Trudeau; Italy has Matteo Renzi; even America’s Barack Obama became president in his 40s, promising change. When a dynamic 38-year-old launches a new political movement in France, however, he is dismissed as an upstart. This, at least, is the reaction of many party barons to the launch last week by Emmanuel Macron, the economy minister, of “En Marche!” (On the Move!), a cross-party movement designed to “unblock” France. They are right to judge him an untested outsider—and will try to keep him one. But Mr Macron has captured the broader French imagination, and his ideas deserve a hearing. In many respects, Mr Macron’s effort to reboot France by creating a consensus for change that reaches from the centre-left to centre-right looks doomed. He has never been elected, and is not a member of President François Hollande’s Socialist Party. He thus has no party base, no political machine and no grassroots network. Much of the French left considers his past as an investment banker unforgivable. He is (probably) too loyal to run against Mr Hollande, if the unpopular president defies reason and seeks re-election next year. Were...
      PubDate: Thu, 14 April 2016 14:38:58 GM
  • The new sunbathers
    • Abstract: THE sun is the world’s battery pack. Photosynthesis captured the energy that is burned in fossil fuels. The sun drives the wind and ocean currents. And in an hour and a quarter the amount of sunlight that threads through the clouds to the Earth’s surface could power all the world’s electricity, vehicles, boilers, furnaces and cooking stoves for a year. Yet solar power produces less than 1% of the world’s commercial energy. For a long time it was dismissed as a luxury only the rich could afford; it spoke volumes that Germany, a place where the sun shines for less than five hours on an average day, used to lead the world in installed solar capacity. Now, however, solar is coming of age (see article). Solar power garnered $161 billion in new investment in 2015, more than natural gas and coal combined. A trend that began in northern Europe, where electricity demand is stagnant and clouds proliferate, is taking root in countries where power needs are growing fast and the sun shines...
      PubDate: Thu, 14 April 2016 14:38:58 GM
  • Beautiful minds, wasted
    • Abstract: IN AMERICA in 1970 one child in 14,000 was reckoned to be autistic. The current estimate is one in 68—or one in 42 among boys. Similarly high numbers can be found in other rich countries: a study in South Korea found that one in 38 children was affected. Autism is a brain condition associated with poor social skills. It has a wide spectrum of symptoms, from obsessive behaviour to hypersensitivity to sound, light or other sensory stimulation, the severity of which ranges from mild to life-blighting. The range of consequences is also wide. At one end, the autism of a computer scientist may be barely noticeable; at the other, a quarter of autistic children do not speak. Autism is a condition that defies simple generalisations. Except one: the potential of far too many autistic people is being squandered. Although around half of those with autism are of average intelligence or above, they do far worse than they should at school and at work. In France, almost 90% of autistic children attend primary school, but only 1% make it to high school. Figures from America, which works harder to include autistic pupils, suggest that less than half graduate from...
      PubDate: Thu, 14 April 2016 09:03:24 GM
  • Making Africa work
    • Abstract: “IS ANYONE here actually hoping to make any money, or are you all just trying to minimise your losses?” The question, asked at a dinner in London for investors who specialise in Africa, showed how the mood has changed in the past year. The financiers around the table—mostly holders of African bonds—all said they were simply trying not to lose money. Only a few years ago people were queuing up to invest in Africa. As recently as 2012 Zambia paid less than Spain to borrow dollars. Private-equity funds dedicated to Africa raised record sums to invest in shopping malls and firms making everything from nappies to fruit juice. Businessfolk salivated at the prospect of selling to the fast-growing African middle class, which by one measure numbered 350m people. Miners sank billions into African soil to feed China’s appetite for minerals. Now investors are glum. In the short run, they are right to worry. In the long run, as our special report on African business shows this week, the potential rewards from a market of 1.2 billion people are too juicy to ignore, despite the risks. From oil in the gears to sand in the wheels...
      PubDate: Thu, 14 April 2016 08:33:18 GM
  • A dangerous farce
    • Abstract: FOOTBALL fans are familiar with the occasional match in which the referee changes the course of the game by mistakenly sending off players and awarding a dubious penalty or two. Peruvians are discovering, to their bemusement, that the referee can determine who wins in politics, too. On April 10th they will go to the polls to choose a new president. Two names, those of Julio Guzmán and César Acuña, will not be on the ballot, although polls promised them almost a quarter of the vote between them. However, barely a month before the election and after weeks of legal gyrations, the electoral authority disqualified them. Mr Guzmán, who had a good chance of reaching and winning the probable run-off ballot and thus becoming president, was thrown out because the small party which had adopted him changed its procedure for choosing its candidate without informing the electoral authorities beforehand. Mr Acuña was expelled for handing out a total of around $4,400 during a couple of campaign stops. “The law is the law,” parroted many of the two men’s rivals and Peru’s media establishment. Fine, except that in this case the law is an ass, is being...
      PubDate: Thu, 07 April 2016 14:42:24 GM
  • Cast-iron arguments
    • Abstract: ON THE rich world’s long march away from heavy industry, Britain once again finds itself to the fore. Unless Tata Steel UK is sold in the next few weeks, its Indian owner will close it down. Some 15,000 jobs are at stake—and thousands more in the local economy of the largest works, at Port Talbot, in south Wales. Because the glut is global, Britain is grappling with questions that are bearing down upon steelmakers around the world. Unfortunately, if Britain is any guide, governments are likely to come up with the wrong answers. Cold-rolled gloom The world’s steel industry is buckling under low prices (see chart). Global crude steel output was about 1.6 billion tonnes in 2015 (Britain’s share was only 11m tonnes). The OECD puts total overcapacity at a devastating 600m tonnes. Politicians and campaigners are falling over themselves to say why the business must be saved (see...
      PubDate: Thu, 07 April 2016 14:42:24 GM
  • Another chance
    • Abstract: SINCE the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi nearly five years ago, good news from Libya has been in short supply. But on March 30th some came at last. Fayez al-Serraj, the prime minister of a new Government of National Accord (GNA) nominated by a UN-backed negotiation process, entered Tripoli with six ministerial colleagues. They had travelled by boat from Tunisia after the rival National Salvation Government, supported by mainly Islamist militias, had closed down Tripoli’s airspace. Despite fears that he would be killed on the way to his office, Mr Serraj was warmly received. Within days, key institutions of the state, including the central bank and the national oil company, had pledged loyalty to the GNA.   Mr Serraj will have his work cut out if he is to have any hope of uniting this extraordinarily fractious country. Libya has been in chaos since the revolution of 2011. Things went from bad to worse in 2014, when Islamists responded to electoral defeat by seizing Tripoli and setting up a rival assembly to the internationally recognised parliament, known as the House of Representatives, which was forced to decamp to the eastern city of...
      PubDate: Thu, 07 April 2016 14:42:24 GM
  • The lesson of the Panama papers
    • Abstract: THREE years ago a watchdog published a series of reports on tax havens based on leaks of confidential documents. Some nervous clients of Mossack Fonseca, a law firm in Panama that specialises in setting up offshore companies, asked if their secrets were safe. The law firm told them not to fret; its data centre was “state of the art” and its encryption algorithm was “world class”. Whoops. This week the same watchdog, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), published the first stories based on a trove of leaked data on Mossack Fonseca’s clients (see article). The leaker (whose identity has not been revealed) provided the ICIJ with 11.5m files covering nearly 40 years. The “Panama papers”, as they have been dubbed, unveil the offshore holdings of 140 politicians and officials, including 12 current and former presidents, monarchs and prime ministers. They show how money was moved around and hidden by at least 33 people and companies blacklisted by the United States for...
      PubDate: Thu, 07 April 2016 14:42:24 GM
  • Imperial ambitions
    • Abstract: NOT since the era of imperial Rome has the “thumbs-up” sign been such a potent and public symbol of power. A mere 12 years after it was founded, Facebook is a great empire with a vast population, immense wealth, a charismatic leader, and mind-boggling reach and influence. The world’s largest social network has 1.6 billion users, a billion of whom use it every day for an average of over 20 minutes each. In the Western world, Facebook accounts for the largest share of the most popular activity (social networking) on the most widely used computing devices (smartphones); its various apps account for 30% of mobile internet use by Americans. And it is the sixth-most-valuable public company on Earth, worth some $325 billion. Even so, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s 31-year-old founder and chief executive, has even greater ambitions (see article). He has plans to connect the digitally unconnected in poor countries by beaming internet signals from solar-powered drones, and is making big bets on artificial...
      PubDate: Thu, 07 April 2016 09:03:14 GM
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