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  The Economist - Leaders
  [2 followers]  Follow
   Full-text available via subscription Subscription journal
   ISSN (Online) 1358-274X
   Published by The Economist Group Homepage  [4 journals]
  • What laws in the jungle?
    • Abstract: SPYING typically involves stealing secrets by lying and cheating. How then should law-governed states deal with this lawless branch of government? Technology is making old rules increasingly inadequate (see article). Modern life leaves abundant electronic clues, which businesses already exploit for profit. Intelligence agencies can and should use such data to monitor terrorists, criminals and spies, as well as hostile states. But the advent of big data is blurring old definitions. Simply collecting and analysing the “metadata”—the outward details of communications, but not their content—reveals much about an individual. It is ever-harder to distinguish information involving foreigners (usually fair game) and a country’s own people (whose privacy should usually be protected). A lack of public trust compounds the problem. Spooks may shrug at the naivety and suspicion displayed in the reaction to revelations by Edward Snowden, who worked at America’s National Security Agency (NSA). But the public...
      PubDate: Thu, 30 July 2015 15:08:56 GMT
  • Puffs of hope
    • Abstract: ON THE afternoon of July 25th renewable generators fulfilled about 78% of Germany’s domestic demand. Such a remarkable figure, combined with news of booming wind industries in America (see article) and China (article), might lead you to think that the renewables revolution is more or less victorious, with the world moving forward into the broad, sunlit—and windy—uplands of copious clean energy. Alas, this is not the case. In some places wind turbines and solar cells are now a cheaper way of generating electricity than fossil fuels are. And in a lot of others subsidies and regulatory requirements encourage their use regardless. But despite this progress, bought at great expense, renewables other than hydropower still provide less than 3% of the world’s energy. The impressive growth of wind power lags behind the rate that the...
      PubDate: Thu, 30 July 2015 15:08:56 GMT
  • Erdogan’s dangerous gambit
    • Abstract: TURKEY’S allies in the West have felt increasingly queasy about its wayward president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. At home he has become authoritarian and wants to change the constitution to give himself more power. Abroad he has been indulgent towards militants passing through his country to fight in Syria. In the year since the jihadists of Islamic State (IS) declared their caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, and America gathered a coalition to “degrade and ultimately destroy” them, Mr Erdogan has refused to let NATO allies use Turkish bases. Perhaps he feared that the jihadists would target Turkey. Or perhaps he thought they were useful pawns in the violent geopolitics of the Middle East. Such illusions should have been blown away on July 20th, when a suicide-bomber killed 32 people in Suruc, a Turkish town on the border with Syria. Within days Turkey said it would allow America to use its base at Incirlik, and its own jets bombed IS. There is now talk of creating a buffer zone in Syria to cut off IS’s last supply lines. Many hope Mr Erdogan has at last had a moment of clarity about the IS menace. So far, though, he has only added to...
      PubDate: Thu, 30 July 2015 15:08:56 GMT
  • Fatal distraction
    • Abstract: THEY are sometimes portrayed as invincible, with enough cunning to outfox financial markets and enough clout to outgun governments. But hedge funds have been bested by an unassuming rival: exchange-traded funds (ETFs). These claim no special expertise, just the ability to make average returns at minimal cost. In 1999 ETFs controlled a mere tenth of the assets of hedge funds; today they have more money under management. The rise of ETFs is welcome, but hedge funds, which frequently charge both a 2% annual fee and 20% of performance, are still raking in money. For the pension schemes that are the hedgies’ latest target, handing over cash makes no sense. Delta blow For one thing, the hedge funds’ performance does not justify a large inflow of new money. Since the golden years of the 1990s, their average return has been disappointing (see article). The industry used to promote itself as being able to make profits whether the underlying markets were...
      PubDate: Thu, 30 July 2015 15:08:56 GMT
  • The $1-a-week school
    • Abstract: ACROSS the highway from the lawns of Nairobi’s Muthaiga Country Club is Mathare, a slum that stretches as far as the eye can see. Although Mathare has virtually no services like paved streets or sanitation, it has a sizeable and growing number of classrooms. Not because of the state—the slum’s half-million people have just four public schools—but because the private sector has moved in. Mathare boasts 120 private schools. This pattern is repeated across Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. The failure of the state to provide children with a decent education is leading to a burgeoning of private places, which can cost as little as $1 a week (see article). The parents who send their children to these schools in their millions welcome this. But governments, teachers’ unions and NGOs tend to take the view that private education should be discouraged or heavily regulated. That must change. Chalk and fees Education in most of the developing world is...
      PubDate: Thu, 30 July 2015 08:34:14 GMT
  • Baby love
    • Abstract: A FEW years ago Singaporeans were treated to a song urging them to get busy for the sake of the nation. “I’m a patriotic husband, you my patriotic wife, lemme book into ya camp and manufacture life,” went the ditty, accompanied by a video depicting a thrusting cartoon heart. This being Singapore, a stern caveat was appended: “Only financially secure adults in stable, committed, long-term relationships should participate.” Some poor countries fret about excessive fertility. A typical woman in Niger, for example, will have seven babies. But birth rates have fallen so fast as the world has grown richer that many places now have the opposite problem (see article). The fertility rate is 1.1 in Hong Kong, implying that each generation its population will fall by roughly half. In Japan, Italy and Germany it is 1.4 or less. As populations age and shrink, governments wonder: who will pay taxes or look after the elderly? The cheapest and best way for rich countries to rejuvenate their populations...
      PubDate: Thu, 23 July 2015 14:47:51 GMT
  • Neglected
    • Abstract: HE HAS taken more than six years, but on July 24th Barack Obama is to arrive in Kenya on his first trip to his father’s home country since he became president in 2009 (see article). This less-than-hasty filial visit has fed the long-running criticism that America’s first black president has neglected Africa. That is not entirely fair. Last month Mr Obama overcame gridlock in Washington, DC, to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a Bill Clinton-era law that lets Africans sell many goods tariff-free to America. That will benefit millions of Africans in the next ten years. And Mr Obama has some schemes to his name. One of the most promising is Power Africa, a public-private partnership to tackle one of Africa’s greatest constraints by building electricity plants. Even so, the critics have a point. In a continent of 1.1 billion souls that includes five of the ten fastest-growing economies in the world, China is making more of a splash than America. During his...
      PubDate: Thu, 23 July 2015 14:47:51 GMT
  • A reckless wager
    • Abstract: WHEN prices rise, demand falls. Exceptions to the most basic rule of markets are curiosities—the kind of thing an economist might bore you with at a dinner party. Set carefully, minimum wages can provide such an example. But policymakers must not assume this is a cast-iron law. Big rises in minimum wages are a gamble with people’s futures. Modest minimum wages do not seem to sap demand for labour. Truckloads of studies, from both America and Europe, show that at low levels—below 50% of median full-time income, with a lower rate for young people—minimum wages do not destroy many jobs. When Britain set a new minimum wage in 1998 doom-mongers forecast that jobs would vanish. Employment proved resilient. Minimum wages help offset firms’ bargaining power over employees reluctant to risk moving elsewhere. They may even boost productivity and reduce staff turnover by making workers value their jobs. Encouraged by this evidence, many are clamouring to make minimum wages far more generous. In America campaigners want the federal minimum wage more than doubled from today’s stingy $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour, or 77% of median...
      PubDate: Thu, 23 July 2015 14:47:50 GMT
  • Trials and errors
    • Abstract: WHEN patients are prescribed a drug, they might assume it had been subject to the closest scrutiny. They would be wrong. The results of about half of all clinical trials are never published. Companies are allowed to run many tests and publish only the ones with results they like. Unsurprisingly, negative results are far less likely to appear in public. Regulators can see the results of every trial. But that provides only so much comfort. Officials may well be convinced that a particular drug has enough value for a few patients to pass the bar for approval, but that does not tell doctors whether the drug is better to prescribe than other treatments. And the regulators have limited resources. They cannot match the sort of scrutiny that comes from making all trial results public. Independent evaluations were important in raising concerns about the heart-attack risks associated with Vioxx, a painkiller that was recalled in 2004. At best, this bias in published results has produced a polluted evidence base. Patients have been prescribed antidepressants that look much less effective when unpublished data are taken into account. The British...
      PubDate: Thu, 23 July 2015 14:47:50 GMT
  • Empire of the geeks
    • Abstract: THE English have Silicon Fen and Silicon Roundabout, the Scots have Silicon Glen. Berlin boasts Silicon Allee, New York Silicon Alley. But the brain of the tech world is the ecosystem in and around San Francisco. Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs and innovators, technologists and moneymen are busy revolutionising nearly every aspect of the global economy. A place named for its skill in making silicon-packed semiconductors is transforming how firms make decisions, people make friends and protesters make a fuss. Startups touch more people, more quickly than ever before. Airbnb, a seven-year-old firm that helps people turn their homes into hotels, operates in 34,000 towns and cities around the world. “On-demand” firms like Uber are changing what it means to be an employee. Just as the big platforms like Google, Facebook and Apple benefit from “network effects”, because each new user makes the service more valuable for all the others, so the Valley’s success as a venue to launch, fund, staff and sell a technology firm is feeding on itself (see...
      PubDate: Thu, 23 July 2015 09:19:25 GMT
  • Happy 50th birthday, Singapore
    • Abstract: NEXT month Singapore will be throwing the biggest party in its short history, to mark the 50th anniversary of its independence. The tiny island-state has every reason to celebrate. In 1965, when it was expelled from a federation with Malaysia, its very survival seemed uncertain. Now it is one of the world’s richest countries, admired for its clean government, orderliness and efficiency. It combines low taxes with good public services, and regularly leads global rankings of the ease of doing business. Yet it also faces problems, such as a rapidly ageing population that is insufficiently creative and startlingly reluctant to have babies (see our special report in this issue). To address them, it will need fresh thinking. Singapore’s success came despite long odds. This month an interviewer reminded the prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, that his father, Singapore’s founding leader, Lee Kuan Yew, had once called the notion of an independent Singapore “a political, economic and geographic...
      PubDate: Thu, 16 July 2015 14:48:34 GMT
  • Hacking the planet
    • Abstract: COMPUTER security is tricky. Just ask America’s Office of Personnel Management: on July 9th it admitted that hackers had purloined the sensitive personal information of 22m government employees. Or Anthem, a big insurance firm which reported in January that 80m customer records had been stolen. Or the National Security Agency, which in 2013 suffered the biggest leak in its history when Edward Snowden, a contractor, walked out with a vast trove of secret documents. Unfortunately, computer security is about to get trickier. Computers have already spread from people’s desktops into their pockets. Now they are embedding themselves in all sorts of gadgets, from cars and televisions to children’s toys, refrigerators and industrial kit. Cisco, a maker of networking equipment, reckons that there are 15 billion connected devices out there today. By 2020, it thinks, that number could climb to 50 billion. Boosters promise that a world of networked computers and sensors will be a place of unparalleled convenience and efficiency. They call it the “internet of things”. Computer-security people call it a disaster in the making. They worry that...
      PubDate: Thu, 16 July 2015 14:48:34 GMT
  • Pain without end
    • Abstract: “WE HAVE an a-Greek-ment,” declared Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, on the morning of July 13th. Mr Tusk’s little joke seemed forgivable at the time: after talking through the night, euro-zone leaders had thrashed out a deal that averted Greece’s imminent exit from the single currency. The reality is grimmer. A decent deal would have put Greece on the path to sustainable growth and taken the prospect of Grexit off the table. Instead, Europe has cooked up the same old recipe of austerity and implausible assumptions. The IMF is supposed to be financing part of the bail-out. Even it thinks the deal makes no sense. True, some ideas are useful. In exchange for talks on a package estimated at €82 billion-86 billion ($90 billion-94 billion), the creditors have put structural reforms higher up the agenda than in the two previous bail-outs. That is welcome: opening closed-shop industries to competition is a surer path to growth than austerity is. But even if they are carried out, structural reforms take a long time to pay off. In the meantime, the Greek economy is suffocating because of bank closures and capital controls. The...
      PubDate: Thu, 16 July 2015 14:48:29 GMT
  • Of prisons and petroleum
    • Abstract: RARELY has a moment of glory been so cruelly sabotaged. On July 15th Mexico flung open its long-closed energy sector with an auction of oil-exploration rights that ends the 77-year monopoly of Pemex, the state-owned oil company (see article). It is part of a reform package that will add more than two percentage points to economic growth, the government hopes. As the bidding took place, the country’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, was on a state visit to France with much of his government in tow. No doubt, he was hoping to be toasted as the man behind today’s thoroughly modern Mexico. The toasts must have left a bitter taste. The first round of energy auctions was a flop. Just two of the 14 blocks on offer were sold, to a Mexican-British-American consortium; eight received no bids at all. The government may blame low oil prices for the weak demand. The odds are that badly written rules and the finance ministry’s inflated idea of the revenue it could collect also played their part. ...
      PubDate: Thu, 16 July 2015 14:48:29 GMT
  • Hiyatollah!
    • Abstract: IT WAS historic: everyone can agree on that. But whereas some say the deal done in Vienna this week between Iran and six world powers plus the European Union was a breakthrough that keeps nuclear proliferation at bay and begins to mend a 36-year feud with America, others are convinced it was, as Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, says, a “stunning historic mistake” that sets up Iran as a nuclear power and finances its aggression abroad. Which of those is closer to the truth depends on two things: the quality of the agreement and its effect on Iran’s behaviour. With Iran, backers as well as critics—especially in America’s Congress, which now has 60 days to scrutinise the deal—both tend to lapse into magical thinking. The critics argue that, if only the world tried hard enough, Iran would give up the guts of its nuclear programme. But the regime sees mastery of the nuclear-fuel cycle as both a badge of national power and insurance against American military attack, so the critics risk holding out for a bargain that never comes. Backers play down the Iranian regime’s antagonism towards America and Israel, its determination to exert...
      PubDate: Thu, 16 July 2015 08:34:11 GMT
  • Quitting is so hard
    • Abstract: SOLVING some of the world’s great health problems, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, remains beyond the wit of science. Not smoking. For over a decade, it has been clear what countries need to do to get people to quit. Yet although rates continue to fall in some countries—such as America and Britain—elsewhere they are rising. That’s true not just in the poor world, where people are getting prosperous enough to take up the habit, but also in bits of the rich world: on some measures rates are plateauing in Germany, France, Belgium and Portugal after decades of decline. It is time to push them down. How to stub it out Banning smoking would be wrong. It would be not only illiberal—people should be allowed to indulge in their pleasures, even lethal ones—but also ineffective. As the decades-long “war on drugs” shows, when people really want to get hold of a mind-altering substance, be it heroin or tobacco, they will. Bans on legal sales fuel illegal ones. But discouraging smoking is entirely legitimate: smokers pollute the air other people breathe, they damage their families when they die prematurely, and...
      PubDate: Thu, 09 July 2015 14:47:21 GMT
  • Stop genocide early
    • Abstract: IN FOOTAGE of the fall of Srebrenica on July 11th 1995, Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander, strides past the nervous Dutch peacekeepers whose UN “safe area” he has just overrun. He hands out sweets to Muslim children, even as his soldiers prepare to round up their fathers and older brothers—all the men of fighting age. About 8,000 were slaughtered, the worst atrocity in Europe since the second world war. Twenty years later in the dock in The Hague Mr Mladic wears the same stubborn glare. He denounces the court; in his own eyes he is not a war criminal but a defender of his people and the victim of a Western conspiracy. Many of his compatriots sympathise: a recent poll in Serbia showed that, while 54% of people accept that a brutal crime took place in Srebrenica, 70% deny that it was genocide (see article). More depressing is the fact that Russia, at Serbia’s behest, vetoed a British-backed UN resolution deploring the genocide. The lessons of the massacre seemed clear...
      PubDate: Thu, 09 July 2015 14:47:21 GMT
  • Beyond aid
    • Abstract: LATER this year governments around the world will make sweeping commitments in two of the most important areas of global public policy, development and the environment. They will do so by signing up to two compacts: the first a vast wishlist of sustainable-development goals at a meeting in New York in September; the second a global treaty to rein in climate change in Paris in December. These promises will mean practically nothing without money. Hence the significance of a third, far less-heralded conference, on financing development, that is due to be held in Addis Ababa on July 13th-16th. The Addis event provides a platinum opportunity to move development financing away from a sterile debate about aid. For decades, the test of whether rich countries are serious about improving global welfare has been how much money they are willing to hand over. But aid has long provided a small share of development finance, compared with money raised via taxation or from private investors (see ...
      PubDate: Thu, 09 July 2015 14:47:21 GMT
  • China embraces the markets
    • Abstract: FOR nearly two years, hopes of economic reform in China have rested on the faintest of rhetorical shifts. At a conclave in late 2013 the Communist Party declared that it would let market forces play a “decisive role” in allocating resources; previously, their influence had been just “basic”. A slender reed perhaps, but it supported a great expectation: that the state would ease its grip on business, trade and finance. These hopes have been dealt a blow this week by China’s stockmarket crash. By the end of July 7th trading in over 90% of the 2,774 shares listed on Chinese exchanges was suspended or halted. Shares have fallen by a third in less than a month, wiping out some $3.5 trillion in wealth, more than the total value of India’s stockmarket. It is not the plunge in share prices, however, nor the implications for the Chinese economy that are worrying, so much as the government’s frenzied attempts to bring the sell-off to a stop. The market mayhem is the first grave economic blemish on Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, China’s leaders. Officials’ botched attempts to repair the damage have only made a bad situation worse. The danger now is...
      PubDate: Thu, 09 July 2015 09:34:15 GMT
  • The way ahead
    • Abstract: IN A crisis studded with missed deadlines, Sunday July 12th really could mark the denouement of the Greek debt drama. The leaders of the euro zone along with those of all the EU’s 28 member countries will gather for a set of meetings in Brussels. If Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s prime minister, can strike a deal with his creditors that day, his country will stay afloat inside the euro. If there is no such deal, Greece is heading inexorably towards the whirlpool of Grexit. Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council—a Pole not prone to hyperbole—calls it “the most critical moment in the history of the EU”. All sides insist that their aim is not to eject Greece from the euro, but rather to find a way to keep it in. But the more honest European politicians admit that the likelihood of Grexit has never been higher. Betting now puts it at around 50%. Shockingly, for something so imminent, probable and with such dramatic consequences, there has been remarkably little public debate about how Greece would leave the euro. The best outcome for Europe would still be a deal on July 12th that keeps Greece in. But it is also time to make contingency plans for...
      PubDate: Thu, 09 July 2015 09:34:14 GMT
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