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The Economist - Leaders
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     ISSN (Online) 1358-274X
     Published by The Economist Group Homepage  [4 journals]
  • The British constitution: Now for the English question
    • Abstract: THE national rejoicing did not last long. Shortly after six o’clock on the morning of September 19th, the BBC announced that Scotland had voted to stay in the United Kingdom. At seven o’clock, with unionists still hugging each other, David Cameron, the prime minister, triggered a new constitutional crisis—this time concerning England.The country is hard done by, he argued (see article). Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have their own assemblies, which control much domestic policy. But England—with 84% of the union’s population—is still run from Westminster. And, since Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales continue to send MPs to Parliament, they can sway decisions on English schools, health care and the like, without English MPs having reciprocal rights. This must change, Mr Cameron said.It is an old anomaly. Tam Dalyell, a Scottish Labour MP, pointed it out so often in the 1970s and 1980s that it has been dubbed the West Lothian Question after his constituency. But it grows...
      PubDate: Thu, 25 September 2014 15:03:2
  • Corporate saving in Asia: A $2.5 trillion problem
    • Abstract: THE odd thing about prudence is that too much of it can be deadly. Timid drivers crawling along a motorway create more risk than they avoid. Children who are over-protected from germs end up with weaker immune systems. Economies are the same: too much saving can lead to a loss of vigour or, as Keynes put it, to a “paradox of thrift”. That is why Japanese and South Korean firms, two of the world’s biggest hoarders, need to be cajoled into parting with their cash.Corporate saving has risen across the rich world in recent years. Bosses have felt a greater need to protect themselves against financial turmoil. There have also been fewer opportunities for investment in ageing economies. But East Asia is an extreme case. Japanese firms hold ¥229 trillion ($2.1 trillion) in cash, a massive 44% of GDP. Their South Korean counterparts hold 459 trillion won ($440 billion) or 34% of GDP. That compares with cash holdings of 11% of GDP, or $1.9 trillion, in American firms. If East Asia’s firms spent even half of their huge cash hoards, they could boost global GDP by some 2%.Sadly, that kind of largesse is unlikely. Bosses in East Asia are still scarred by bitter...
      PubDate: Thu, 25 September 2014 15:03:2
  • China’s water crisis: Grand new canals
    • Abstract: SOON the centrepiece of one of China’s most spectacular engineering projects will be completed, with the opening of sluicegates into a canal stretching over 1,200km (750 miles) from the Yangzi river north to the capital, Beijing. The new channel is only part of the world’s biggest water-diversion scheme. More than 300,000 people have been kicked out to make way for the channel and the expansion of a reservoir in central China that will feed it. But the government is in a hurry, and has paid their complaints little heed.China’s leaders see the so-called South-North Water Diversion Project, which has already cost tens of billions of dollars, as crucial to solving a water problem that threatens the country’s development and stability (see article). Grain-growing areas around Beijing have about as much water per person as such arid countries as Niger and Eritrea. Overuse has caused thousands of rivers to disappear. The amount of water available is diminishing fast as the water...
      PubDate: Thu, 25 September 2014 15:03:2
  • The future of banking: You’re boring. Get used to it
    • Abstract: SINCE the financial crisis, it has become commonplace to argue that banks should be run as utilities, not casinos. At least in terms of their financial performance, that seems to be happening. In 2006, the eight American banks that regulators have since labelled “globally systemically important” generated casino-like profits, with returns on equity of 30% on average, according to Oliver Wyman, a consultancy. They are currently managing less than 11%, and there is worse to come: the Federal Reserve recently announced plans to oblige them to raise extra capital. By one calculation that would reduce their return on equity to little over 8%, other things being equal—a lower return than America’s water companies make.And other things are unlikely to be equal. American regulators continue to biff big banks with blistering fines. Then there is the requirement that banks produce “living wills”, explaining how they could be wound down if disaster strikes: the regulators have rejected every single “will” they have received so far as too flimsy. Making banks easier to close down will probably leave them even less profitable.Nor are American officials the only ones still...
      PubDate: Thu, 25 September 2014 15:03:2
  • America and Islamic State: Mission relaunched
    • Abstract: FOR more than three years, Barack Obama has been trying to avoid getting into a fight in Syria. But this week, with great tracts of the Middle East under the jihadist’s knife, he at last faced up to the inevitable. On September 23rd America led air strikes in Syria against both the warriors of Islamic State (IS) and a little-known al-Qaeda cell, called the Khorasan group, which it claimed was about to attack the West. A president who has always seen his main mission as nation-building at home is now using military force in six countries—Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.The Syrian operation is an essential counterpart to America’s attacks against IS in Iraq. Preventing the group from carving out a caliphate means, at the very least, ensuring that neither of these two countries affords it a haven (see article). But more than the future of IS is at stake in the streets of Raqqa and Mosul. Mr Obama’s attempt to deal with the jihadists is also a test of America’s commitment to...
      PubDate: Thu, 25 September 2014 08:03:1
  • Greenhouse gases: Paris via Montreal
    • Abstract: IN 1974 two chemistry professors, Frank Rowland and Mario Molina, predicted that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a set of chemicals used in refrigeration, would gradually decompose, release chlorine into the stratosphere and break down the ozone layer which protects Earth from ultraviolet radiation. The chairman of DuPont, a chemical company, called their idea “a load of rubbish”.Eleven years later, scientists discovered a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica, and two years after that governments negotiated an agreement, the Montreal protocol, to phase out CFCs. Messrs Rowland and Molina now share a Nobel prize; the ozone layer has been preserved and, as a happy consequence, the climate as a whole has benefited. CFCs are powerful greenhouse gases and the Montreal protocol has reduced them by the equivalent of 135 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (compared with doing nothing), making it by far the world’s most effective action to tackle climate change. We have reviewed the carbon-cutting records of 20 policies which rein in greenhouse-gas emissions (see...
      PubDate: Thu, 18 September 2014 15:01:0
  • Ebola: Chasing a rolling snowball
    • Abstract: FOR months the world has sat largely idle as an Ebola epidemic has marched steadily from the remote jungles of Guinea to the slums of Liberia, and beyond. On September 16th that changed. Barack Obama announced the largest humanitarian deployment by America’s armed forces to fight an infectious disease. Saying that the epidemic “is not just a threat to regional security—it’s a potential threat to global security if these countries break down”, the president began the process of sending some 3,000 American troops to set up treatment centres with 1,700 beds and to train local health workers.The dispatch of troops to west Africa may seem an odd priority when American forces are preparing to confront jihadists in Iraq and Syria and are stretched thin elsewhere. Ebola is a disease that is usually absent from human populations, has been quickly stamped out in the past and in its worst recorded outbreak has thus far caused 3,000 known deaths (see article). Moreover it is unlikely to spread widely in rich...
      PubDate: Thu, 18 September 2014 15:01:0
  • Inequality and the narrowing tax base: Too reliant on the few
    • Abstract: “I LIKE to pay taxes,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes. “With them I buy civilisation.” Most people recognise that taxes pay for public services, but few are as keen to stump up for them as Justice Holmes was. High income taxes tend to discourage effort and entrepreneurship, while encouraging all manner of activity to avoid them. That is why a basic principle of good tax policy has long been to charge a low rate over a broad base.It is a target which many countries miss, and the gap is growing. Income taxes—one of the main sources of tax revenue across the rich world—are increasingly paid by a small minority of the most affluent. In Britain, employment has risen by 1.3m in the past five years, but the number of taxpayers has fallen by 2.2m. More than 40% of American households pay no income tax. In contrast, the most highly paid 1% of workers in Britain pay 28% of all income tax, while in America it is 46%. In 1979 those shares were 11% and 18% respectively. Corporate income taxes show the same concentration. In Britain just 830 firms pay almost half of all corporation tax. Five American industries account for 81% of the country’s corporate tax revenue,...
      PubDate: Thu, 18 September 2014 15:01:0
  • Health care in America: How to fix Obamacare
    • Abstract: IT IS now nearly a year since the roll-out of Obamacare. The launch was a shambles, and Obamacare is a totem for every American who hates big government. Republicans will deride it, yet again, in the mid-term elections.Obamacare is indeed costly and overcomplicated. Yet it is not to blame for America’s health mess, and it could just contain the beginnings of a partial solution to it. But that will only happen if politicians treat health care like a patient: first, diagnose the disease, then examine whether Barack Obama’s treatment helped, and then ask what will make the patient better.A quick check-upBegin with the disease. At the core of America’s problems with health care is a great delusion: it likes to think it has a vibrant private marketplace. In fact the country has long had a subsidy-laden system that is the most expensive and complicated in the world, with much of the government cash going to the rich, millions of people left out and little individual responsibility.America devotes 17% of GDP to health care, compared with 9% in Britain, yet nearly 50m Americans were uninsured in 2012 and life expectancy is slightly below average for a rich country. And...
      PubDate: Thu, 18 September 2014 15:01:0
  • The rise and rise of Xi Jinping: Xi who must be obeyed
    • Abstract: THE madness unleashed by the rule of a charismatic despot, Mao Zedong, left China so traumatised that the late chairman’s successors vowed never to let a single person hold such sway again. Deng Xiaoping, who rose to power in the late 1970s, extolled the notion of “collective leadership”. Responsibilities would be shared out among leaders by the Communist Party’s general secretary; big decisions would be made by consensus. This has sometimes been ignored: Deng himself acted the despot in times of crisis. But the collective approach helped restore stability to China after Mao’s turbulent dictatorship.Xi Jinping, China’s current leader, is now dismantling it. He has become the most powerful Chinese ruler certainly since Deng, and possibly since Mao. Whether this is good or bad for China depends on how Mr Xi uses his power. Mao pushed China to the brink of social and economic collapse, and Deng steered it on the right economic path but squandered a chance to reform it politically. If Mr Xi used his power to reform the way power works in China, he could do his country great good. So far, the signs are mixed.Taking on the partyIt may well be that the decision to...
      PubDate: Thu, 18 September 2014 08:03:0
  • Advertising and technology: Stalkers, Inc.
    • Abstract: THE potent combination of three-martini lunches and creative genius in “Mad Men”, a television show about...
      PubDate: Thu, 11 September 2014 14:54:2
  • Fighting Islamic State: The long haul
    • Abstract: WHEN Barack Obama spoke to the American public on September 10th, his words had a bearing on more than just Islamic State (IS). His scheme to deal with the “cancer” of IS, the gravest terrorist threat since al-Qaeda, will work only if the Middle East can begin to overcome the chaos that has engulfed it. Equally, America can act as the leader of an enduring coalition against IS only if it can recover some of the status it has lost during years of retrenchment in foreign policy. What the president called “American leadership at its best” is thus both a fight against terrorism and a riposte to those who doubt American power.Mr Obama’s scheme calls for a coalition of Western and Arab countries to “degrade and ultimately destroy” IS militarily, financially and ideologically. Even if there is no UN approval, the coalition will gain legitimacy by virtue of its Arab and Muslim backing. America will attack IS from the air in Iraq and, when necessary, in Syria. America will help the Kurds and restore Iraq’s army, weakened by its pro-Shia bias and battered by defeats at the hands of IS. It will also build up the forces of moderate rebels in Syria. There will be no marines, but American trainers...
      PubDate: Thu, 11 September 2014 14:54:2
  • Foreign funding of NGOs: Uncivil societies
    • Abstract: THE International Committee of the Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières, Human Rights Watch, Transparency International: to most people these and thousands of other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) sound like outfits whose work should be welcomed and encouraged. But that is not how it looks to plenty of governments. In the last few years, around 20 countries have planned or passed laws restricting the freedom of NGOs to raise funds abroad (see article). Some echo the language of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, and now require foreign-funded NGOs to register as “foreign agents”—a phrase that since the cold war has carried the connotation of espionage and treachery.Many of the new laws grant officials wide discretion in applying them. Russian NGOs face surprise inspections seeking evidence of foreign influence; Hungary’s president, Viktor Orban, is “auditing” groups that receive foreign money as part of his self-declared mission to turn his country into an “illiberal state”....
      PubDate: Thu, 11 September 2014 14:54:2
  • Emerging economies: Hold the catch-up
    • Abstract: THE financial crisis was grim, but the most important global economic development in the early 21st century was a positive one: the dramatic acceleration of growth in the emerging world. Between 2000 and 2009 output per person in poor countries excluding China grew an average of 3.2 percentage points a year faster than rich ones—an unprecedented pace of catch-up. Global poverty rates tumbled. Were that pace of convergence to be sustained, average income in those countries would reach America’s in about 44 years.Unfortunately, the era of rapid catch-up already seems to be over (see article). Growth has fallen sharply in many emerging economies. Despite the rich world’s feeble recovery in the wake of the financial crisis, emerging economies excluding China are now catching up more slowly, if at all. In 2013 their output per person, on average, grew just 1.1% faster than that in America. At that pace convergence would take more than a century. And the growth outlook is darkening further....
      PubDate: Thu, 11 September 2014 14:54:2
  • Share buy-backs: Corporate cocaine
    • Abstract: FINANCIAL excess is more commonly associated with banks than with blue-chip companies. While the rich world’s finance industry—supposedly the brain of the economy—went berserk in the run-up to the 2007-08 crash, other big firms behaved sensibly, avoiding too much debt, keeping their costs under control and their eyes on long-term opportunities in emerging markets. But in the era of weak growth and low interest rates that has characterised the aftermath of that crash, there is growing evidence that the blue chips are engaged in their own kind of financial excess: a dangerous addiction to share buy-backs.Over the past 12 months American firms have bought more than $500 billion of their own shares, close to a record amount. From Apple to Walmart, the most profitable and prominent companies have big buy-back schemes (see article). IBM spends twice as much on share repurchases as on research and development. Exxon has spent over $200 billion buying back its shares, enough to...
      PubDate: Thu, 11 September 2014 14:54:2
  • Scottish independence: UK RIP?
    • Abstract: SCHOOLCHILDREN once imagined their place in the world, with its complex networks and allegiances, by writing elaborate postal addresses. British youngsters began with their street and town (London or Manchester, Edinburgh or Cardiff), followed by England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland; then came the United Kingdom (and after that Europe, the World, the Universe…). They understood that the UK, and all its collective trials and achievements—the industrial revolution, the Empire, victory over the Nazis, the welfare state—were as much a part of their patrimony as the Scottish Highlands or English cricket. They knew, instinctively, that these concentric rings of identity were complementary, not opposed.At least, they used to. After the referendum on Scottish independence on September 18th, one of those layers—the UK—may cease to exist, at least in the form recognisable since the Act of Union three centuries ago. As the vote nears, Scotland’s nationalists have caught up with the unionist No camp in the opinion polls, and even edged ahead (see...
      PubDate: Thu, 11 September 2014 09:03:1
  • Germany’s digital future: Googlephobia
    • Abstract: VERBOTEN! This seems to be Germany’s default reaction to digital disrupters. A court in Frankfurt has just imposed a temporary injunction on Uber, the popular ride-sharing service founded in Silicon Valley. The case was brought by the German taxi industry, which argues that the service poses safety risks and flouts the country’s passenger-transport laws.By itself, the ban of Uber would be no big deal. The company is enraging incumbent taxi drivers in plenty of other countries. But it is another sign of Germany’s growing hostility to American technology firms. Google (whose executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, is a member of the board of The Economist’s parent company) has been a particular focus for increasingly hysterical criticism. Mathias Döpfner, the head of Axel Springer, Germany’s biggest newspaper publisher, has compared Google to the giant Fafner in Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelungen”. Newspaper articles refer to it as an “octopus” that keeps adding tentacles. When it emerged late last year that Google was operating a fleet of barges mounted with containers, speculation abounded over whether it was building a floating empire beyond the...
      PubDate: Thu, 04 September 2014 15:08:0
  • Brazil’s presidential election: The measure of Marina
    • Abstract: LESS than a month ago, Marina Silva was a vice-presidential candidate on a campaign heading for defeat in the first round of Brazil’s election on October 5th. It now looks increasingly possible that she will end up as the country’s leader. The tragic death in a plane crash of Eduardo Campos, the first choice of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), sprang his running-mate to the top of the ticket. She is running neck-and-neck in the polls with Dilma Rousseff, the incumbent, and stealing support away from Aécio Neves, a centrist candidate who had looked like Ms Rousseff’s biggest rival (see article). Even if Ms Silva’s surge falters, she is poised to make it to the second round of voting, which she is predicted to win.Ms Silva is no novice. She was a founder of the Workers’ Party (PT) that Ms Rousseff now heads, an environment minister in the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and came third in the 2010 presidential race. She appeals to the poor, from whose ranks she came; to the markets, which like...
      PubDate: Thu, 04 September 2014 15:08:0
  • The future of cars: Wireless wheels
    • Abstract: SINCE Henry Ford turned it into a mass-market product a century ago, the car has delivered many benefits. It has boosted economic growth, increased social mobility and given people a lot of fun. No wonder mankind has taken to the vehicle with such enthusiasm that there are now a billion automobiles on the world’s roads.But the car has also brought many problems. It pollutes the air, creates congestion and kills people. An astonishing 1.24m people die, and as many as 50m are hurt, in road accidents each year. Drivers and passengers waste around 90 billion hours in traffic jams each year. In some car-choked cities as much as a third of the petrol used is burned by people looking for a space to park.Fortunately, an emerging technology promises to make motoring safer, less polluting and less prone to hold-ups (see Technology Quarterly). “Connected cars”—which may eventually evolve into driverless cars but for the foreseeable future will still have a human at the wheel—can communicate wirelessly with each other and with...
      PubDate: Thu, 04 September 2014 15:08:0
  • Democracy in China: The struggle for Hong Kong
    • Abstract: CHINESE officials have called it a “leap forward” for democracy in Hong Kong. Yet their announcement on August 31st of plans to allow, for the first time, every Hong Kong citizen to vote for the territory’s leader has met only anger and indifference. Joy was conspicuously absent. This is not because Hong Kong’s citizens care little for the right to vote, but because China has made it abundantly clear that the next election for Hong Kong’s chief executive, due in 2017, will be rigged. The only candidates allowed to stand will be those approved by the Communist Party in Beijing, half a continent away.At its worst, this risks provoking a disaster which even China cannot want. Democrats are planning protests. It is unclear how many people will join in, but the fear is that the territory’s long history of peaceful campaigning for political reform will give way to skirmishes with police, mass arrests and possibly even intervention by the People’s Liberation Army. That would disrupt one of Asia’s wealthiest and most orderly economies, and set China against the West. But even if, as is likely, such a calamity is avoided, this leap sideways is a huge missed opportunity not...
      PubDate: Thu, 04 September 2014 08:03:1
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