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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]
  • Computer spying: Attack of the cybermen
    • Abstract: IF ASKED why they spied on the computers of their rivals (and allies), the authors of Regin, a sophisticated computer virus that seems to have been designed by a Western government, would presumably echo the proverbial bank robber, and reply “because that’s where the secrets are”.As the world has gone digital, spying has, too. Regin is just the latest in a trend that first came to public notice in 2010, when a piece of American and Israeli software called Stuxnet was revealed to have been responsible for sabotaging part of Iran’s nuclear programme. Since then have come Flame, Red October, DarkHotel and others (see article); more surely lurk undiscovered in the world’s networks. But unlike the indiscriminate surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden, these chunks of malware seem, like traditional spying, to be targeted at specific governments or even individuals.For spies, such digital espionage has advantages over the shoe-leather sort. Computers are stuffed with data that can be copied and beamed...
      PubDate: Thu, 27 November 2014 13:05:18
  • The European Commission’s investment plan: Fiddling while Europe
    • Abstract: EUROPE is in dire economic straits. Growth in the euro zone is stuck below 1%, unemployment is above 11% and inflation is hovering around 0.4%, far from the European Central Bank’s 2% goal and dangerously near outright deflation. This week the Paris-based OECD rich-country club warned that the euro zone was mired in stagnation, and added that it was dragging down the world economy. Even the pope has joined in, calling the European Union “elderly and haggard”.Such a situation surely calls for an urgent and decisive response. On November 26th the European Commission’s new boss, Jean-Claude Juncker, duly unveiled what he sees as the centrepiece of his presidency: a grand investment plan worth €315 billion ($392 billion) that officials are claiming is the best way to create extra demand in Europe. Yet although Mr Juncker’s headline number sounds impressive, the sums behind it are puny. And the chances that it will kick-start growth, as Brussels is suggesting, are minimal (see article).For a start,...
      PubDate: Thu, 27 November 2014 13:05:18
  • Britain’s public finances: Check your sums, guys
    • Abstract: “TODAY, we take decisive action to deal with the debts we have inherited.” So declared George Osborne, Britain’s chancellor, in 2010 when announcing his plans to close Britain’s structural budget deficit by 2015. He did indeed take decisive action, but it did not deal with the debts. When Mr Osborne delivers his final Autumn Statement of this parliament on December 3rd, he will be less than half way to achieving his goal.The problem is no longer growth, which is roaring ahead at an annual rate of around 3%, nor spending cuts, which have largely gone to plan, but income-tax receipts. They were meant to grow by £11 billion this financial year, but have managed only an eighth of that. That’s mostly because many higher-paying jobs have been replaced with lower-paying ones, and tax cuts for low earners have therefore left the Treasury short. As a result borrowing, which was meant to fall in 2014-15 from £108 billion to £96 billion, has risen by £4 billion and debt will grow as a percentage of GDP this year. At 5.3% of GDP, Britain’s deficit is bigger than those of France, Italy and even Greece.It doesn’t add upThe Conservatives’ latest plan is to deliver a...
      PubDate: Thu, 27 November 2014 13:05:18
  • Race in America: The fury of Ferguson
    • Abstract: RIOTS are rarely so widely anticipated. By 8pm on November 24th, when the prosecutor in Ferguson, Missouri, announced the grand jury’s decision not to charge a police officer with a crime for shooting an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, cops in riot gear were already in place and barriers surrounded municipal buildings. Mr Brown’s parents and Barack Obama called for calm. Yet soon America’s TV screens were full of burning police cars, crowds coughing on tear gas, and young black men throwing bricks and smashing shops. America’s history of racial injustice looked as potent as ever.That would be the wrong conclusion to draw. Looking back at the riots in Los Angeles in 1992 that followed the acquittal of four white police officers who had savagely beaten a black motorist, Rodney King, a lot has changed. America has a black president. The LA riots, which left 53 dead, happened in one of America’s great cities, and sparked violence in others. This time the focus was a struggling suburb; in Los Angeles black teenagers protested peacefully alongside white ones.Blacks plainly still suffer prejudice across America: they account for 86% of the vehicle stops made by...
      PubDate: Thu, 27 November 2014 09:48:14
  • Trustbusting in the internet age: Should digital monopolies be broken
    • Abstract: ALTHOUGH no company is mentioned by name, it is very clear which American internet giant the European Parliament has in mind in a resolution that has been doing the rounds in the run-up to a vote on November 27th. One draft calls for “unbundling search engines from other commercial services” to ensure a level playing field for European companies and consumers. This is the latest and most dramatic outbreak of Googlephobia in Europe.Europe’s former competition commissioner, Joaquín Almunia, brokered a series of settlements this year requiring Google to give more prominence to rivals’ shopping and map services alongside its own in search results. But MEPs want his successor, Margrethe Vestager, to take a firmer line. Hence the calls to dismember the company.The parliament does not actually have the power to carry out this threat. But it touches on a question that has been raised by politicians from Washington to Seoul and brings together all sorts of issues from privacy to industrial policy (see...
      PubDate: Thu, 27 November 2014 09:03:09
  • Murders in Jerusalem: Keep God out of it
    • Abstract: THE sight of Jews lying dead in a Jerusalem synagogue, their prayer-shawls and holy books drenched in pools of blood, might be drawn from the age of pogroms in Europe. Sadly, it is an appallingly modern episode, the latest in the interminable tragedy of Jew and Arab in the promised land. The slaughter at the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue—four worshippers and a policeman were killed by two Palestinian men wielding knives and guns, who were in turn shot dead—is hardly the deadliest event in the annals of Israeli-Palestinian violence. And it pales in comparison to the mass slaughter taking place across the border in Syria and in other parts of the Middle East.Yet the synagogue murders matter, for several reasons. First, to judge from the scenes of some Gazans handing out celebratory sweets and cartoons on social media glorifying the bloodletting, the lust for butchery that impels jihadists elsewhere is gripping Palestinians. Second, Palestinian Jerusalemites who largely stood aside in past battles have taken up the fight. Third, the deaths in a house of prayer come at a time when Jerusalem is already astir over the status of holy sites. The conflict is thus being...
      PubDate: Thu, 20 November 2014 13:38:13
  • China’s monetary policy: The People’s Blank of China
    • Abstract: ALAN GREENSPAN was a master of abstruse language as chairman of the Federal Reserve. “If you understood what I said, I must have misspoken,” he once joked. At least Mr Greenspan spoke. In China the central bank has made a habit of silence. Policy announcements are rare and, if they are offered, come at unpredictable hours, often over the weekend. Sudden shifts in the value of the yuan always bear the central bank’s fingerprints, but are infrequently explained. The motto for the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) should be: “If you know what we did, we must have done it wrong”.This taciturn tendency has long bemused people trying to understand the direction of China’s monetary policy (see article). But recently it has reached new and dangerous extremes. Since June the central bank is widely reported to have injected as much as 1.8 trillion yuan ($294 billion) to prop up the slowing economy through a mix of targeted liquidity facilities. That is a lot of money, equivalent to more than three months of...
      PubDate: Thu, 20 November 2014 13:38:13
  • Japanese elections: Same race, same horse
    • Abstract: WHEN Shinzo Abe made the case, in late 2012, that he was the man to save the economy and revive Japan, voters handed him a landslide general-election win. This week, just two years on, the prime minister dissolved the Diet’s lower house and declared a snap election for December 14th. “We cannot”, he thundered, “let this chance go.” Not surprisingly, many Japanese think they are being asked to buy the same horse twice.The political calculations are clear. Mr Abe’s popularity has tumbled from the gravity-defying levels he enjoyed until this autumn. Better to seek another four-year term now before fights next year over defence policy and restarting Japan’s closed nuclear plants—and before mutterings against Mr Abe grow inside his own Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The opposition is in disarray, unable even to field enough candidates for the vote. Observers expect the ruling coalition to lose 30-40 seats but still keep a handsome majority (see article). Some of Mr Abe’s people hope that the LDP might...
      PubDate: Thu, 20 November 2014 13:38:13
  • Nuclear talks: Iran’s choice
    • Abstract: AFTER eight years of double crossing and frustration a deadline looms. November 24th is the cut-off for a deal to ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme is peaceful. Much work remains. Is agreement possible and what would it encompass?Iran is looking for three things from a deal. First, it wants nuclear-related sanctions to be eased. Second, because it would be a national humiliation to dismantle its programme entirely, it insists on preserving the enrichment capacity to meet what it calls its “practical needs”. Third, it wants the prospect of being treated as a “normal” signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, with the right to a decent civil nuclear programme.For the rest of the world the goal is simply to increase the time it would take for Iran to produce enough fissile material to fuel a bomb. Today that could be as little as two months; it should be at least a year, so that any attempt at “breakout” or “sneakout” (in, say, a secret uranium-enrichment plant) would be caught in good time. Only then would there be an opportunity to deter Iran through more sanctions or the credible threat of military action. A deal also needs to have a long...
      PubDate: Thu, 20 November 2014 13:38:13
  • Russia: A wounded economy
    • Abstract: VLADIMIR PUTIN is not short of problems, many of his own creation. There is the carnage in eastern Ukraine, where he is continuing to stir things up. There are his fraught relations with the West, with even Germany turning against him now. There is an Islamist insurgency on his borders and at home there is grumbling among the growing numbers who doubt the wisdom of his Ukraine policy. But one problem could yet eclipse all these: Russia’s wounded economy could fall into a crisis (see article).Some of Russia’s ailments are well known. Its oil-fired economy surged upward on rising energy prices; now that oil has tumbled, from an average of almost $110 a barrel in the first half of the year to below $80, Russia is hurting. More than two-thirds of exports come from energy. The rouble has fallen by 23% in three months. Western sanctions have also caused pain, as bankers have applied the restrictions not just to Mr Putin’s cronies, but to a much longer tally of Russian businesses. More generally,...
      PubDate: Thu, 20 November 2014 10:03:11
  • Greece and the euro: Crisis revisited
    • Abstract: IT WAS almost exactly five years ago that the euro crisis erupted, starting in Greece. Investors who had complacently let all euro-zone countries borrow at uniformly low levels abruptly woke up to the riskiness of an incompetent government borrowing money in a currency which it could not depreciate. There is thus a dismal symmetry in seeing the euro crisis flare up again in the place where it began.The proximate cause of the latest outbreak of nerves was the decision by the Greek government, now headed by the generally competent Antonis Samaras, to advance the presidential election to later this month. The presidency is largely ceremonial, but if Mr Samaras cannot win enough votes in parliament for his candidate, Stavros Dimas, a general election will follow. Polls suggest the winner would be Syriza, a populist party led by Alexis Tsipras. Although Mr Tsipras professes that he does not want to leave the euro, he is making promises to voters on public spending and taxes that may make it hard for Greece to stay. Hence the markets’ sudden pessimism.As it happens, there is a good chance that Mr Dimas, a former EU commissioner, will win the presidential...
      PubDate: Thu, 11 December 2014 14:15:01
  • World Health Organisation: Heal thyself
    • Abstract: IN MARCH investigators from the World Health Organisation (WHO) arrived in Guinea to examine several cases of haemorrhagic fever. Smocks were donned, blood was taken and samples were sent away. The results, as feared, showed an outbreak of Ebola. The doctors at Médecins Sans Frontières sounded the alarm, but the WHO downplayed the situation. It would take nearly five months, and hundreds more deaths, before the organisation supposed to take the global lead on health declared Ebola an international emergency.The WHO has faced wide criticism for its role in allowing Ebola, which has now killed over 6,300 people (see article), to rage out of control in west Africa. Some of it is unfair. The WHO’s experts were not alone in relaxing their guard in May, when the outbreak appeared to recede. And although the world seemed to expect it to send an army of health workers to the African bush, the WHO has only experts and supplies at its disposal, and it sent both quickly. But the world’s “directing and co-ordinating” health authority did little of either during the crisis. As Ebola spread, it dawdled, leaving overstretched aid groups to pick up the slack.This is symptomatic....
      PubDate: Thu, 11 December 2014 14:15:01
  • Climate change and geoengineering: Fears of a bright planet
    • Abstract: SHINY things absorb less heat when left in the sun. This means that if the Earth could be made a little shinier it would be less susceptible to global warming. Ways to brighten it, such as adding nanoscale specks of salt to low clouds, making them whiter, or putting a thin haze of particles into the stratosphere, are the province of “geoengineering”. The small band of scientists which has been studying this subject over the past decade or so has mostly been using computer models. Some of them are now proposing outdoor experiments—using seawater-fed sprayers to churn out particles of the exact size needed to brighten clouds, or spewing sulphur particles from underneath a large balloon 20km up in the sky (see article).The aims are modest. The scientists hope to understand some of the processes on which these technologies depend, as a way of both gauging their feasibility (can you reliably make tiny puffs of sea salt brighten clouds?) and assessing their risks (how much damage to the ozone layer...
      PubDate: Thu, 11 December 2014 14:15:01
  • CIA torture: Shock therapy
    • Abstract: ALL countries fail to live up to the ethical standards they set themselves; only a few have the moral purpose to examine their lapses in the public square. After the attacks of September 11th 2001 the waterboarding, sleep-deprivation, insult-slapping and “rectal feeding” used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to interrogate prisoners were a betrayal of America’s values. By criticising the CIA’s programme in a report this week, the Senate intelligence committee has enraged the agency’s defenders and comforted America’s rivals. Yet, for all its flaws, this airing of the CIA’s tactics is vital, because it is a necessary step towards redemption.The report accuses the CIA of mismanaging the programme and of concealing its extent and its severity. The methods were dreamed up by two psychologists who were neither practised interrogators nor experts in al-Qaeda. And contrary to what the CIA told Congress, the White House and the public, interrogations produced hardly any useful intelligence.The rebuttal has been furious (see...
      PubDate: Thu, 11 December 2014 11:18:10
  • Criminal justice: America’s police on trial
    • Abstract: THE store camera tells a harrowing tale. John Crawford was standing in a Walmart in Ohio holding an air rifle—a toy he had picked off a shelf and was presumably planning to buy. He was pointing it at the floor while talking on his phone and browsing other goods. The children playing near him did not consider him a threat; nor did their mother, who was standing a few feet away. The police, responding to a 911 caller who said that a black man with a gun was threatening people, burst in and shot him dead. The children’s mother died of a heart attack in the ensuing panic. In September a grand jury declined to indict the officers who shot Mr Crawford.Most people have probably never heard this story, for such tragedies are disturbingly common: America’s police shoot dead more than one person a day (nobody knows the exact number as not all deaths are reported). But two recent cases have sparked nationwide protests. First Michael Brown, a black teenager, was shot dead in murky circumstances in Ferguson, Missouri, just after he robbed a shop, and then Eric Garner, a harmless middle-aged black man guilty only of selling single cigarettes on the streets of New York, was...
      PubDate: Thu, 11 December 2014 09:18:09
  • Nuclear power in China: Make haste slowly
    • Abstract: COAL kills, especially in China. Up to half a million people die prematurely each year as a result of the country’s infamously foul air. Coal, from which China gets roughly four-fifths of its electricity, is the main contributor to that deadly pollution. And since the country’s power-generation may need to double by 2030 to keep pace with economic growth and more affluent lifestyles, the damage from coal will get worse before it gets better. Given that grim picture, it is understandable that the government wants to diversify its energy sources.Nuclear power is central to this ambition. Even as doubts about it grow in the rest of the world, China has made its expansion a priority. With over two dozen reactors under construction, it wants to more than triple nuclear capacity by 2020. On December 10th China General Nuclear Power (CGN), the country’s biggest builder and operator of nuclear plants, plans to float shares on the Hong Kong stock exchange (see article). Since the government has no need for outside investors to fund its...
      PubDate: Thu, 04 December 2014 13:34:37
  • The transformation of cities: A suburban world
    • Abstract: IN THE West, suburbs could hardly be less fashionable. Singers and film-makers lampoon them as the haunts of bored teenagers and desperate housewives. Ferguson, Missouri, torched by its residents following the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, epitomises the failure of many American suburbs. Mayors like boasting about their downtown trams or metrosexual loft dwellers not their suburbs.But the planet as a whole is fast becoming suburban. In the emerging world almost every metropolis is growing in size faster than in population. Having bought their Gucci handbags and Volkswagens, the new Asian middle class is buying living space, resulting in colossal sprawl. Many of the new suburbs are high-rise, though still car-oriented; others are straight clones of American suburbs (take a look at Orange County, outside Beijing). What should governments do about it?The space raceUntil a decade or two ago, the centres of many Western cities were emptying while their edges were spreading. This was not for the reasons normally cited. Neither the car nor the motorway caused suburban sprawl, although they sped it up: cities were spreading before either came along. Nor...
      PubDate: Thu, 04 December 2014 13:34:37
  • Regulating robotic aircraft: Free the drones
    • Abstract: ONE of this year’s top-selling Christmas presents is a drone. For $50 you can buy a tiny quadcopter with a video camera, perfect for snapping a bird’s-eye view of your garden; for $700, one equipped with a gyroscopically stabilised camera which, when paired with a wireless tracking device on your wrist, will film you while you ski, cycle or kite-surf. More significantly still, as our Technology Quarterly outlines this week, drones could revolutionise all sorts of businesses.Initially developed for military use, drones are taking off in civilian life largely thanks to the falling costs of commodity electronics. A smartphone contains a raft of devices that can be deployed in drones, including gyroscopes, accelerometers, wireless transmitters, signal processors and GPS units.One immediate commercial use is surveying land cheaply and effectively. A drone can photograph a road to a resolution of 2cm, compared with the 30cm that a satellite offers—and it can do so at a third of the cost. Already farmers are...
      PubDate: Thu, 04 December 2014 13:34:37
  • Japan’s election: Abe’s last chance
    • Abstract: TWO years ago Shinzo Abe ran for office vowing to end Japan’s long economic malaise by banishing deflation and smashing the old habits that impeded growth. He promised to make a country suffering a collapse in confidence once again stand tall. Mr Abe won the election in a landslide, yet barely two years later he has called another.One reason for this is painfully obvious: Mr Abe has failed to deliver on those promises. Japan is once more flirting with recession and deflation. Households feel no better off. Promised structural reforms have not happened. “Abenomics”, the prime minister’s slickly marketed programme, is looking to many Japanese like a prescription that is benefiting only the rich and big business. Mr Abe’s decision to hold a fresh election on December 14th is in part a cynical move to consolidate his power before his popularity falls further.In political terms that gamble seems likely to pay off. Given a weak opposition, it would be a shock if his Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner, Komeito, did not win again. But does Mr Abe actually deserve a second term? Our answer is yes—but only if he does what, in an interview with this newspaper (...
      PubDate: Thu, 04 December 2014 13:34:37
  • The new economics of oil: Sheikhs v shale
    • Abstract: THE official charter of OPEC states that the group’s goal is “the stabilisation of prices in international oil markets”. It has not been doing a very good job. In June the price of a barrel of oil, then almost $115, began to slide; it now stands close to $70.This near-40% plunge is thanks partly to the sluggish world economy, which is consuming less oil than markets had anticipated, and partly to OPEC itself, which has produced more than markets expected. But the main culprits are the oilmen of North Dakota and Texas. Over the past four years, as the price hovered around $110 a barrel, they have set about extracting oil from shale formations previously considered unviable. Their manic drilling—they have completed perhaps 20,000 new wells since 2010, more than ten times Saudi Arabia’s tally—has boosted America’s oil production by a third, to nearly 9m barrels a day (b/d). That is just 1m b/d short of Saudi Arabia’s output. The contest between the shalemen and the sheikhs has tipped the world from a shortage of oil to a surplus.Fuel injectionCheaper oil should act like a shot of adrenalin to global growth. A $40 price cut shifts some $1.3 trillion from producers to...
      PubDate: Thu, 04 December 2014 09:48:08
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