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  The Economist - Leaders
  [3 followers]  Follow
   Full-text available via subscription Subscription journal
   ISSN (Online) 1358-274X
   Published by The Economist Group Homepage  [4 journals]
  • Lessons from Colombia
    • Abstract: FOR better and for worse, Colombia is an exception to the rule in Latin America. The third-most-populous country in the region (with 50m people) has seen steady economic growth by eschewing populism, hyperinflation and default. It can claim to be the region’s oldest democracy. Yet its guerrilla wars have lasted half a century, killing more than 220,000 people and displacing 6.5m. Now, at last, the conflict is close to ending (see our special report). That matters not just for Colombia, but also for its neighbours and the world. For the past three years the FARC, the biggest of the illegal armies, has been in peace talks with the government of Juan Manuel Santos. Last month produced a breakthrough: an outline accord on “transitional justice”—or the penalties that guerrilla commanders accused of crimes against humanity should face. Having thus agreed on the trickiest item of the six on the agenda, Mr Santos coaxed the FARC into accepting a six-month deadline to wrap up the talks. The...
      PubDate: Thu, 29 October 2015 15:45:26
  • Sultan at bay
    • Abstract: DO NOT underestimate the importance of Turkey to the West. In the cold war it was a NATO bulwark against the Soviet Union. Then it was a model of a thriving Muslim democracy on the edge of an oppressive and violently chaotic Arab world. More recently Turkey has admirably taken in 2m refugees fleeing fighting across the border in Syria. But these days Turkey’s reputation is tarnished. An election on November 1st takes place at a time of renewed war against Kurdish PKK guerrillas, suicide-bombings at home, assaults on a free media, the sidelining of independent prosecutors and judges, and a sense that Turkey has sometimes been worryingly indulgent towards the jihadists of Islamic State (IS). The blame for much of this lies with the country’s imperious president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The election he has engineered, the second in five months, is an attempt to entrench himself in power. Turks should rebuke him by voting for his opponents, and put him back in the ceremonial box he supposedly stepped into when he became president a year ago. The signs are that many Turks are indeed tiring of the antics of their formidable but...
      PubDate: Thu, 29 October 2015 15:45:26
  • Still the generals’ election
    • Abstract: ON NOVEMBER 8th Myanmar will hold a general election (see article). It will not be completely free and fair, but it will be competitive—the first in 25 years not to be boycotted by the main opposition party, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel peace prize in 1991. For a country that has suffered six decades of military rule, albeit in recent years a mufti and slightly less thuggish form of it, this will be a remarkable step. In 1990 Miss Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won a landslide victory at the ballot box. It should have formed the government, but the generals ignored the result and kept her under house arrest (where she already was) for most of the ensuing two decades. Five years ago they concocted a sham election, which the NLD boycotted. Now the signs are more promising: Miss Suu Kyi is free and the opposition will certainly win again. The army will probably keep its word and accept the result. This is happening because of two important changes. First...
      PubDate: Thu, 29 October 2015 15:45:26
  • Right answer, spoken out of turn
    • Abstract:         RETURNED to power with a surprise majority in May and now facing a weak Labour opposition, Britain’s Conservative government has found everything almost too easy. Sure enough, on October 26th came the banana skin: a flailing defeat in the House of Lords, the drowsy but occasionally deadly upper chamber, which voted to delay a big welfare cut. The slip-up was richly deserved. The scotched plan, to take £4.4 billion ($6.7 billion) in tax credits, mostly from the lowest-paid, would have inflicted hardship on the country’s poorest children and reduced incentives for their parents to work. Britain is better off with the measures on ice. Yet the defeat by the Lords presents a bigger problem. Unelected and unaccountable, the peers tread on dangerous ground when they slap down the plans of an elected government. If the House of Lords is to serve as a check on power—which, as this week showed, is needed—it must undergo a few reforms of its own. Peer pressure ...
      PubDate: Thu, 29 October 2015 15:45:26
  • The trust machine
    • Abstract: BITCOIN has a bad reputation. The decentralised digital cryptocurrency, powered by a vast computer network, is notorious for the wild fluctuations in its value, the zeal of its supporters and its degenerate uses, such as extortion, buying drugs and hiring hitmen in the online bazaars of the “dark net”. This is unfair. The value of a bitcoin has been pretty stable, at around $250, for most of this year. Among regulators and financial institutions, scepticism has given way to enthusiasm (the European Union recently recognised it as a currency). But most unfair of all is that bitcoin’s shady image causes people to overlook the extraordinary potential of the “blockchain”, the technology that underpins it. This innovation carries a significance stretching far beyond cryptocurrency. The blockchain lets people who have no particular confidence in each other collaborate without having to go through a neutral central authority. Simply put, it is a machine for creating trust. The blockchain food chain To understand the power of blockchain systems, and the things they can do, it is important to distinguish between three...
      PubDate: Thu, 29 October 2015 09:33:11
  • Mind stretching
    • Abstract: BELATEDLY, Western politicians are waking up to the grave harm caused by mental illness. Justin Trudeau, Canada’s incoming prime minister, promises to spend more money on treating it (and on many other things besides). Before Britain’s general election in May, every plausible political party pledged to treat the mentally ill more generously. In America politicians look at a rash of mass shootings by deranged young men and draw the second-most-obvious conclusion: that psychological problems must be dealt with better. These are fine sentiments. But there is also a hard-nosed case to be made for spending more money on mental health—and particularly on research into mental illness. The problem is widespread, costly and growing. Looking into mental illness produces decent returns, and holds out the hope of a huge distant pay-off to boot. Shake the collection bucket Mental ill-health costs as much as 4% of GDP in lost productivity, disability benefits and health-care bills, according to the OECD, a think-tank. Many illnesses afflict the old disproportionately, but mental illness tends to strike the young,...
      PubDate: Thu, 22 October 2015 14:50:29
  • Getting boomier
    • Abstract: THE swings in Ireland’s economic fortunes have been wilder than for most. Just look at the labels it has attracted. In 1988 it was dubbed the “poorest of the rich” by this newspaper. By the 1990s it had transformed itself into the Celtic Tiger, Europe’s answer to the fast-growing economies of emerging Asia. In the 2000s it was turbo-charged by the low interest rates that came with membership of the euro (some called it a “euro-bubble” economy). But by the end of 2010 it was a ward of the IMF, as its twin housing and credit booms turned to bust. Now its speedy recovery from the crash has earned Ireland a new title: the Celtic Phoenix (see article). A hyper-globalised economy is one explanation for this whiplashing. Exports are 114% of GDP, and since the late 1980s Ireland has encouraged foreign direct investment, often from American firms. But another factor is the euro area’s one-size-fits-all monetary policy. Ireland is too small to affect the fortunes of the overall euro-zone economy,...
      PubDate: Thu, 19 November 2015 15:57:53
  • Back in court
    • Abstract: AS IF next year’s presidential election were not shaping up to be contentious enough, the Supreme Court has picked 2016 to issue its most consequential ruling on abortion in 20 years. This will add fresh impetus to a cultural battle that has raged, unresolved, on America’s national stage for almost half a century. That is regrettable. It is also necessary. At issue is whether a law passed by the Texas legislature called HB2 is constitutional. The state has piled regulations on abortion clinics with the aim (so far rather successful) of closing them down. The number of such clinics in the state has dropped from 41 in 2012 to 18 at the last count. If the court rules next year that HB2 is constitutional, that number will shrink further. Other states keen to restrict legal access to abortion would follow suit. Already there are four that have only one clinic for the whole state, making the legal termination of a pregnancy a right that exists in theory but not in practice. A clear majority of Americans have, for decades, told pollsters that abortion should be legal in most cases. More recently, a narrower majority has emerged for outlawing...
      PubDate: Thu, 19 November 2015 15:57:53
  • Machine learning
    • Abstract: THE best manufacturers used to be the firms that made the best widgets. No longer. As the “internet of things” spreads to the factory floor, products are being packed with ever more sensors and connected to the internet. That is transforming manufacturing—and the mindset that firms need to succeed. The first shift is from products to services. By one estimate the number of wirelessly connected products in existence (excluding smartphones or computers) will rise from 5 billion today to 21 billion by 2020. The data these products generate are the raw material for new services—from windscreen-wipers whose movement helps produce real-time weather reports, to tennis racquets whose sensors tell you why your backhand isn’t working, or machines that can order a new spare part when it is needed (see article). Such services will often be more profitable than the products they are based on. The second, related change is the race to develop “platforms”, a software foundation upon which...
      PubDate: Thu, 19 November 2015 15:57:53
  • How to fight back
    • Abstract: THE assault on Paris by Islamic State (IS) on November 13th was an attack on life’s innocent pleasures. The terrorists shot anyone who strayed into their gunsights—ordinary mecs out for a gig, sharing a drink, or watching a football friendly. It could have been any big city. It could have been you. The deadly grasp of IS now reaches far from its base in Syria and Iraq. A day before Paris, suicide-bombers killed 43 people in Lebanon. Last month, 224 died when a bomb destroyed a Russian aircraft over Egypt. IS has spread death across the Middle East and north Africa. This week it pledged to kill Crusaders in Washington and beyond. Paris was scarred by jihadist violence only ten months ago. It became a city whose world-class intelligence service was on high alert—and still IS got through to maim and kill (see article). Plainly and tragically, the world needs to build stronger defences. The question is how? First, know thy enemy IS...
      PubDate: Thu, 19 November 2015 10:18:07
  • Hare-grained
    • Abstract: IN MANY Asian countries, painstakingly inscribing individual grains of rice with minuscule letters is a traditional craft. Just imagine, therefore, what bureaucrats in such places can get up to when they have a whole crop to work with. Tariffs, quotas, floor prices, ceiling prices, producer subsidies, consumer subsidies, state monopolies—no measure is too meddlesome (see article). As a result, the market for rice is more distorted than that for any other staple. Rice growers pocketed at least $60 billion in subsidies last year, according to the OECD, twice as much as maize (corn) farmers, the second-most-coddled lot. The bureaucrats’ urge to interfere is understandable. Rice feeds more people than any other crop. Almost half the world’s population eats it every day. It accounts for more than 20% of the calories consumed by the average Asian, and 50% of the intake of the poorest 500m. No Asian government can afford to be cavalier about rice prices. Unfortunately,...
      PubDate: Thu, 12 November 2015 15:59:16
  • The right to fright
    • Abstract: HALLOWEEN is supposed to last for one night only. At Yale University (motto: “Light and Truth”) it has dragged on considerably longer. As happens at many American universities, Yale administrators sent an advisory e-mail to students before the big night, requesting them to refrain from wearing costumes that other students might find offensive. Given that it is legal for 18-year-old Americans to drive, marry and, in most places, own firearms, it might seem reasonable to let students make their own decisions about dressing-up—and to face the consequences when photographs of them disguised as Osama bin Laden can forever be found on Facebook or Instagram. Yet a determination to treat adults as children is becoming a feature of life on campus, and not just in America. Strangely, some of the most enthusiastic supporters of this development are the students themselves. In response to the Yale e-mail, a faculty member wrote a carefully worded reply. In it she suggested that students and faculty ought to ponder whether a university should seek to control the behaviour of students in this way. Yes it should, came the reply, in the form of a letter signed by...
      PubDate: Thu, 12 November 2015 15:59:16
  • How to make the case
    • Abstract: AFTER five months of vague statements of intent, David Cameron has at last set out in concrete terms his demands for changes in Britain’s relations with the European Union. The prime minister wants to make a deal with the EU’s leaders in December or early next year that would allow him to recommend a vote to remain in the union when he holds his planned referendum. Preparing for a fight, he insisted he was deadly serious and even threatened that, if he did not secure what he wanted, he might campaign to leave. In truth his proposals, well trailed in advance, are small stuff, carefully calibrated to be winnable (see article). Some are cosmetic, such as exempting Britain from the goal of “ever closer union”. Others sound big but aren’t: a four-year wait before EU migrants claim welfare benefits is unlikely to cut the numbers drawn by Britain’s booming jobs market. Worthy demands for more trade deals and a bigger single market are already being met. And the main item on his wishlist is...
      PubDate: Thu, 12 November 2015 15:59:16
  • A new era
    • Abstract: FOR once the headline of the Global New Light of Myanmar, the rag that churns out the paranoid delusions of Myanmar’s ruling generals, told the real story: “Dawn of a New Era”. Even before a final result is declared, it is plain that the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace-prize winner, has won by a landslide in Myanmar’s first free, but far from fair, election in 25 years. The NLD seems likely to have won enough seats to secure a majority—even with a quarter of the parliamentary seats reserved for the army. That is a remarkable victory for Miss Suu Kyi, a vindication of her policy of compromise with the generals and a repudiation of decades of military rule (see article). One of Asia’s most isolated and brutal dictatorships may thus be setting a democratic example to an ever more autocratic neighbourhood: in recent years Thailand has suffered a military coup (again), China and Vietnam have been locking up more dissenters and...
      PubDate: Thu, 12 November 2015 15:59:16
  • The never-ending story
    • Abstract: IT IS close to ten years since America’s housing bubble burst. It is six since Greece’s insolvency sparked the euro crisis. Linking these episodes was a rapid build-up of debt, followed by a bust. A third instalment in the chronicles of debt is now unfolding. This time the setting is emerging markets. Investors have already dumped assets in the developing world, but the full agony of the slowdown still lies ahead. Debt crises in poorer countries are nothing new. In some ways this one will be less dramatic than the defaults and broken currency pegs that marked crashes in the 1980s and 1990s. Today’s emerging markets, by and large, have more flexible exchange rates, bigger reserves and a smaller share of their debts in foreign currency. Nonetheless, the bust will hit growth harder than people now expect, weakening the world economy even as the Federal Reserve begins to raise interest rates. Chronicle of a debt foretold In all three volumes of this debt trilogy, the cycle began with capital flooding across borders, driving down interest rates and spurring credit growth. In America a glut of global savings, much of it...
      PubDate: Thu, 12 November 2015 09:33:15
  • How to smack it down
    • Abstract: THE war on drugs is at last subsiding. A growing gang of both rich and poor countries are choosing to tolerate or even legalise drugs that they once tried to suppress with force. And many of the calls for a ceasefire are coming from unexpected places. The main moves to allow people to use cannabis have been in America, which was long the world’s chief cheerleader for prohibition. This week Mexico’s supreme court opened the door to legalising marijuana. Even more surprising is conservative Ireland, a country that still outlaws abortion, which announced plans to permit some consumption of heroin. The Irish plan would establish “medically supervised injecting facilities”—better known as shooting galleries—where heroin addicts can take their drugs, using clean equipment, under doctors’ supervision. This will reduce the dreadful harm done by heroin to its users and to society, which suffers from the crime that always goes hand in hand with such an addictive and expensive drug. But regulating how heroin is consumed ought to be just the first step. Next, Ireland and others should muscle in on the supply of the drug itself. ...
      PubDate: Thu, 05 November 2015 15:50:15
  • Clean-cut radicals
    • Abstract: FOR months the Republican Party has seemed more like a casting agency for pantomime characters than a serious political force. Its presidential primary race has been dominated by two men who have never held elected office. One is a bragadocious bully whose most celebrated idea is the construction of a “a beautiful wall” along the country’s southern border; the other is a Bible-thumping neurosurgeon who believes America is living in a “Gestapo” age and has a “psychopath” for a president. In the House of Representatives a small group of arch-conservatives, for whom compromise is apostasy, defenestrated their Speaker for refusing to shut down the government in order to stop public funding for Planned Parenthood, a health-care organisation that also provides abortions. Yet in the past couple of weeks something has changed. Serious people are on the rise. Paul Ryan, the newly installed Speaker, is both widely admired among conservatives and known for his policy expertise. Marco Rubio, the junior senator from Florida, is climbing up the presidential primary polls, leading the field on prediction markets and picking up endorsements from other politicians...
      PubDate: Thu, 05 November 2015 15:50:15
  • Talk strait
    • Abstract: IN THE dying days of China’s civil war, Mao Zedong’s Communist forces chased the remnants of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s army from their hideouts in south-west China. Mao had declared the founding of a new “people’s republic” a month earlier. He had only some mopping up to do, and the vast mainland would be his. Chiang, however, denied Mao a complete victory: he fled to the island of Taiwan, where he kept up the pretence that he still ruled China. The two sides never declared a ceasefire. Although there is no fighting today, the unfinished business of 1949 remains one of the world’s biggest potential sources of conflict between two nuclear-armed powers: China, and Taiwan’s only military backer, America. On the face of it, then, the surprising news that Ma Ying-jeou, the president of Taiwan, will meet his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, on November 7th, is cause for celebration. It will be the first such meeting between the two sides since Chiang’s flight. Only two decades ago the threat was war, as China fired missiles in the Taiwan Strait and America sailed aircraft-carriers close to the island to ward off China. Today Mr Ma is preparing for...
      PubDate: Thu, 05 November 2015 15:50:15
  • Two little, too late
    • Abstract: FOR more than 35 years, the Chinese Communist Party has governed the world’s most-populous nation by means of a thinly disguised threat: the country could become rich only if most couples limited themselves to having no more than one child. If they disobeyed, women were forced to undergo abortions; parents were subject to fines equivalent to several years’ income and sometimes dismissed from their jobs; in the countryside, the homes of poor peasants who could not afford the penalties were occasionally stripped of anything of value and then knocked down. The “one-child policy”, as the benighted approach to the country’s development was known, became synonymous with some of the most brutal aspects of the party’s rule. The bitter irony is that China’s problem today is too few babies, not too many. On October 29th the party belatedly decided to switch to a two-child policy. It had already been allowing this for some couples—for example, if one of the parents was an only child. Easing up a bit more, it reasoned, would help slow the country’s rapid ageing. More children would (eventually) mean more people to look after the elderly—a looming problem in a...
      PubDate: Thu, 05 November 2015 15:50:15
  • The indispensable European
    • Abstract: LOOK around Europe, and one leader stands above all the rest: Angela Merkel. In France François Hollande has given up the pretence that his country leads the continent (see Charlemagne). David Cameron, triumphantly re-elected, is turning Britain into little England. Matteo Renzi is preoccupied with Italy’s comatose economy.   By contrast, in her ten years in office, Mrs Merkel has grown taller with every upheaval. In the debt crisis, she began as a ditherer but in the end held the euro zone together; over Ukraine, she corralled Europeans into imposing sanctions on Russia (its president, Vladimir Putin, thinks she is the only European leader worth talking to); and over migration she has boldly upheld European values, almost alone in her commitment to welcoming refugees. It has become fashionable to see this as a progression from prudence and predominance to rashness and calamity. Critics assert that, with her welcoming attitude to asylum-seekers, Mrs Merkel has caused a...
      PubDate: Thu, 05 November 2015 10:18:17
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