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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]
  • Be more libre
    • Abstract: IT HAS been five months since Cuba and the United States announced that they would end their long cold war, but Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro, is still basking in the afterglow. On his way home from Russia this week he stopped off at the Vatican to see the pope, and said he might return to the Catholic faith. Later François Hollande paid the first-ever visit to Cuba by a French president; he was granted an audience with Fidel Castro, Raúl’s ailing brother, who led the revolution in 1959 and ruled until 2008. But beneath the bonhomie lies unease. Cuba’s creaky revolutionaries spent half a century blaming the American embargo for all the island’s woes. Now they resist American capitalism for fear of being overrun. The result for most ordinary Cubans is not too much change but too little (see article). The island is poorer than many of its neighbours. Doctors earn just $60 a month—after a 150% pay rise. Food and other basics are in short supply. Boat people still flee to Florida’s shores. Cuba...
      PubDate: Thu, 14 May 2015 09:03:20 GMT
  • More hands to rock the cradle
    • Abstract: “IN AMERICA there is nothing we wouldn’t do for moms—apart from one major thing,” said John Oliver, a British-born comedian, in his television show, “Last Week Tonight”, on May 10th (Mother’s Day). The “major thing” he was speaking of is paid maternity leave, which, as he pointed out, is standard in all but two of 185 countries surveyed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO): America and Papua New Guinea. In America some women who work for the federal government or larger firms can take 12 weeks’ leave unpaid after giving birth. In a handful of states new mothers get a few weeks at a low wage, funded by a payroll tax. By contrast, in Britain new mothers can take a year off, and during much of it part of their salary is replaced by the government. Sweden grants more than a year’s paid maternity leave—even to women who were not previously employed. America would do well to take note. Many countries are proud of their maternity leave, and rightly so: the social and economic benefits of making it possible for working mothers to spend time with their newborn children are clear. But many of those countries have failed to follow the...
      PubDate: Thu, 14 May 2015 09:03:19 GMT
  • Sweat the big stuff
    • Abstract: ALMOST two and a half years ago Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, sought to pacify Tory Eurosceptics and keep the insurgent UK Independence Party at bay by promising an in-out referendum by the end of 2017 on membership of the European Union. It worked. The election on May 7th barely featured Britain’s vexed relations with the EU. UKIP won a single seat; Mr Cameron an astonishing (if small) majority. Now the bill falls due. The referendum is winnable. Over the next year or so Mr Cameron and his chancellor, George Osborne, can probably extract enough from their partners to persuade Britons to vote to stay in. Yet that victory must be just a first step. The real agenda—the one that matters to Britain’s prosperity and to the EU as a whole—will take longer to bear fruit. It will also demand a more sustained effort than Mr Cameron has so far shown. As the economy and Scottish secession threatened to wreck Mr Cameron’s first term, so Europe looms over his second. No issue riles his party like the EU, on which opinions range from sceptical to head-bangingly furious. If Britain votes to leave the union, it will also end up outside the...
      PubDate: Thu, 14 May 2015 09:03:18 GMT
  • The great distortion
    • Abstract: THE way that black holes bend light’s path through space cannot be smoothed out by human ingenuity. By contrast, a vast distortion in the world economy is wholly man-made. It is the subsidy that governments give to debt. Half the rich world’s governments allow their citizens to deduct the interest payments on mortgages from their taxable income; almost all countries allow firms to write off payments on their borrowing against taxable earnings. It sounds prosaic, but the cost—and the harm—is immense. In 2007, before the financial crisis led to the slashing of interest rates, the annual value of the forgone tax revenues in Europe was around 3% of GDP—or $510 billion—and in America almost 5% of GDP—or $725 billion (see Briefing). That means governments on both sides of the Atlantic were spending more on cheapening the cost of debt than on defence. Even today, with interest rates close to zero, America’s debt subsidies cost the federal government over 2% of GDP—as much as it spends on all its...
      PubDate: Thu, 14 May 2015 09:03:17 GMT
  • The hard journey
    • Abstract: THE gulf between sentiment and action is as wide as the Mediterranean itself. On May 13th the European Commission issued its plan for dealing with immigration, including the multitude who take to boats on the shores of north Africa in the hope of reaching asylum on European Union soil—or, more likely, of being plucked from the waves by a passing vessel. The report’s authors clearly lament the shameful drowning of thousands of migrants, left to their fate because of cuts in marine patrols that were deemed to be picking up too many people. Nevertheless, the commission’s ideas on what to do fall lamentably short. A nut to crush a sledgehammer War in the Middle East, oppression in Africa and the ubiquitous human desire for a better life: all have played their part in causing a surge of migration into the EU. The fighting in Syria alone has crammed 4m fugitives into refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. The tide is hardly about to dry up. Not all of these people can find a new life in Europe. The UN convention is clear that refugees automatically qualify once they reach the EU, because they need protection. By contrast, economic migrants do not. A country picks its economic migrants and deports those it does not want. That is the theory. The reality is a tide of human misery. Traffickers charge thousands of dollars, and...
      PubDate: Thu, 14 May 2015 09:03:10 GMT
  • Cam again
    • Abstract:         FEW people even in Conservative HQ thought that their party could possibly come out of Britain’s general election with a clearer mandate than it had going in. Governing parties tend to lose votes as gripes are laid at their door. And Britain has been through a grinding economic slump, which has crushed real wages. Yet the impossible seems to have happened. As The Economist went to press, with most of the votes counted, it seemed that the Conservative Party would win more seats than it had done in 2010. It will certainly be much the largest party. Labour fell even further behind, mostly because the Scottish National Party (SNP) bulldozed it north of the border. The Liberal Democrats, who entered government with the Tories in 2010, looked set to lose most of their MPs, an even worse outcome than had been expected. So it was a night that far exceeded Tory expectations. But such is the ragged state of British politics that David Cameron looks condemned to preside over a government that will be weaker than the...
      PubDate: Fri, 08 May 2015 05:03:09 GMT
  • The fintech revolution
    • Abstract: IN THE years since the crash of 2007-08, policymakers have concentrated on making finance safer. Regulators have stuffed the banks with capital and turned compliance from a back-office job into a corner-office one. Away from the regulatory spotlight, another revolution is under way—one that promises not just to make finance more secure for taxpayers, but also better for another neglected constituency: its customers. The magical combination of geeks in T-shirts and venture capital that has disrupted other industries has put financial services in its sights. From payments to wealth management, from peer-to-peer lending to crowdfunding, a new generation of startups is taking aim at the heart of the industry—and a pot of revenues that Goldman Sachs estimates is worth $4.7 trillion. Like other disrupters from Silicon Valley, “fintech” firms are growing fast. They attracted $12 billion of investment in 2014, up from $4 billion the year before. Many of these businesses are long past the experimental phase, as our special report this week explains. Lending Club and OnDeck, two new lenders, have gone public; users of Venmo, a payments app,...
      PubDate: Thu, 07 May 2015 15:07:00 GMT
  • Daft on graft
    • Abstract: IN 2008 Siemens, a German conglomerate, was fingered for handing out bribes in emerging markets. It has since spent a staggering $3 billion on fines and internal investigations to atone for its sins. Half of that has gone to advisers of one sort or another. Walmart, an American retailer, will soon have spent $800m on fees and compliance stemming from a bribery investigation in Mexico. The most complex bribery probes used to take three years. Now they last an average of seven. In recent years lots of big economies, from Britain to Brazil, have followed America’s lead in tightening anti-bribery enforcement (see article). Offences that once drew a slap on the wrist now attract fines in the hundreds of millions of dollars as well as prison terms for palm-greasing managers. It is right that bribery should be punished. The economic effects of graft are insidious. Bribery distorts competition and diverts national resources into crooked officials’ offshore accounts. But the cost and complexity of...
      PubDate: Thu, 07 May 2015 15:07:00 GMT
  • Fixing America’s inner cities
    • Abstract: AS BALTIMOREANS sweep up broken glass and haggle with insurers over fire-gutted shops, many are wondering why the city exploded into riots last month, and how to stop it happening again. The proximate cause of the mayhem is clear: it erupted after Freddie Gray, an African-American man, died in police custody. Young black men in Baltimore, as in many other American cities, are fed up with being manhandled by cops. Most demonstrated peacefully, but some seized the opportunity to steal, smash and burn. Such destruction solves nothing—cities like Detroit and Newark have never truly recovered from the riots of the 1960s. But people in the poorest parts of Baltimore have good cause to be upset. In Sandtown-Winchester, the centre of the riots, less than half of adults have jobs and the murder rate, at 129 per 100,000, is worse than that of Honduras, the most homicidal nation on Earth. If Sandtown were a country, the State Department would advise you not to go there. What is striking about Baltimore’s slums is that they are islands of dystopia in a sea of middle-class comfort. A few minutes’ drive from a world-class university and posh...
      PubDate: Thu, 07 May 2015 15:07:00 GMT
  • Jokowi’s to-do list
    • Abstract: HE SAYS it himself: expectations have been high since he became president in October, after a gripping election showed how Indonesia’s democratic politics are impressively robust. Joko Widodo, or Jokowi as he is known, promises growth of 7% a year by 2018. Yet for all his fine aspirations, the country underwhelms. The economy is stumbling, growing by 4.7% in the first quarter compared with a year ago, the slowest pace since 2009. But most worrying is Jokowi’s rhetoric of economic nationalism. Rather than an agent of change, he is sounding more like his tub-thumping predecessors. For the sake of 250m Indonesians, he needs to change his tune, and fast. Promises, promises A typical Indonesian earns half as much as his Chinese counterpart and a 20th as much as a citizen of nearby Singapore. The farthest-flung parts of the vast archipelago-state suffer from a tyranny of distance, shut off not only from world markets but also from the thriving Javanese economy around the capital, Jakarta. The country has relied too much on mining for coal and gold, and on stripping forests to make way for palm-oil plantations. Cronyism and...
      PubDate: Thu, 07 May 2015 15:07:00 GMT
  • The dawn of artificial intelligence
    • Abstract:         “THE development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” Stephen Hawking warns. Elon Musk fears that the development of artificial intelligence, or AI, may be the biggest existential threat humanity faces. Bill Gates urges people to beware of it. Dread that the abominations people create will become their masters, or their executioners, is hardly new. But voiced by a renowned cosmologist, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and the founder of Microsoft—hardly Luddites—and set against the vast investment in AI by big firms like Google and Microsoft, such fears have taken on new weight. With supercomputers in every pocket and robots looking down on every battlefield, just dismissing them as science fiction seems like self-deception. The question is how to worry wisely. You taught me language and... The first step is to understand what computers can now do and what they are likely to be able to do in the future. Thanks to the rise in processing power and the growing abundance of digitally...
      PubDate: Thu, 07 May 2015 09:03:09 GMT
  • The wars don’t work
    • Abstract:         IN 1971 Richard Nixon fired the first shot in what became known as the “war on drugs” by declaring them “public enemy number one”. In America and the other rich countries that fought by its side, the campaign meant strict laws and harsh sentences for small-time dealers and addicts. In the poor, chaotic countries that supplied their cocaine and heroin, it meant uprooting and spraying coca and poppy crops, and arming and training security forces. Billions of wasted dollars and many destroyed lives later, illegal drugs are still available, and the anti-drug warriors are wearying. In America and western Europe addiction is increasingly seen as an illness. Marijuana has been legalised in a few places. Several countries may follow Portugal, which no longer treats drug use as a crime. But even as one drug war begins to wind down, another is cranking up across Asia, Russia and the Middle East (see article)....
      PubDate: Thu, 30 April 2015 15:13:18 GM
  • Bless it
    • Abstract: APRIL DEBOER and Jayne Rowse have lived together for ten years and want to get hitched. However, the state of Michigan, where they live, won’t let them. So they cannot formally adopt each other’s children and there is no guarantee, if one of them dies, that the rest of the family will be allowed to stay together. Another gay couple, Ijpe DeKoe and Thomas Kostura, were married in New York. But after Mr DeKoe, a soldier, finished serving in Afghanistan, the couple moved to Tennessee, which does not recognise their union. Both couples are suing to have their states’ bans on same-sex marriage struck down. The case, named Obergefell v Hodges, reached America’s Supreme Court on April 28th (see article). Many expect the justices to make gay marriage legal throughout America. That would be a slap in the face of democracy, some say. Marriage has long been a matter for the states to regulate, not the federal government. In several liberal states lawmakers have given the go-ahead...
      PubDate: Thu, 30 April 2015 15:13:18 GM
  • Sea of troubles
    • Abstract: AMERICA and its friends in Asia have long worried about the South China Sea becoming a Chinese lake—a vast stretch of water, through which half the world’s commercial shipping passes, falling under the control of China’s fast-expanding navy and coastguard. In the past few months these fears have been amplified by satellite pictures showing Chinese barges pouring sand onto disputed reefs, in order to turn them into islands. On several of these remote outcrops, unsuited to civilian habitation, China appears to be building airstrips and harbours to accommodate jets and warships. With this show of military force, China is asserting a long-standing, if outrageous, claim to ownership of virtually the entire sea. This is a dramatic change of tack (see article). China still claims to believe in settling territorial disputes by diplomacy. Yet, by going ahead and planting its flags, it is ignoring the protests of its neighbours, not to mention America. This change is even more unsettling, given that for years...
      PubDate: Thu, 30 April 2015 15:13:18 GM
  • Double trouble
    • Abstract: FRANCE has always been proud of its corporate champions. But these are worrying times. Only one French firm is in the global top 50 by market value. The country’s stockmarket is just 3% of the world’s total, down from 5% a decade ago. An American activist fund, PSAM, has just mauled Vivendi, a media firm. Flagging Gallic contenders, among them Alstom (engineering), Alcatel (telecoms) and Lafarge (cement), are being bought by foreigners. The Chinese are coming. Peugeot has sold a stake to Dongfeng, a carmaker from Wuhan that doubtless hopes to take control eventually. Club Med, a holiday firm managed by the son of a French president, is now in the hands of a billionaire who began by selling bread in Shanghai. Enter, stage left, the French government, which has legislated to strong-arm firms to give souped-up voting rights to loyal shareholders. It reckons this will protect firms from speculators and raiders, and allow them to punch above their weight. The idea has plenty of support across Europe. In reality, it will do more harm than good. A revolutionary idea The “Florange law” was passed in 2014 and will...
      PubDate: Thu, 30 April 2015 15:13:18 GM
  • Who should govern Britain?
    • Abstract: BRITAIN is a midsized island with outsized influence. Its parliamentary tradition, the City’s global...
      PubDate: Thu, 30 April 2015 08:48:14 GM
  • On the Gredge
    • Abstract:         EVENTUALLY every long-running drama, from “Downton Abbey” to “Dr Who”, feels formulaic. So it is with Greece’s debt saga. For five years it has followed a wearily familiar script of unpayable debts, aborted reforms and 11th-hour compromises that let the country stagger on inside the single currency. That history has lulled many into expecting the usual denouement in the latest wrangling between Greece’s Syriza government and its European creditors. But this is looking ever less likely. Unless Syriza suddenly capitulates—and a meeting of euro-zone finance ministers on April 24th is one of its last chances to do so—Greece will fail to pay its creditors. If that happens, its exit from the euro will be just a step away. Greece has already restructured its debts once, in 2012. It now owes money mainly to other European governments, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the IMF. These official creditors have slashed interest rates and stretched out maturities, but not enough. With a debt stock of 175% of GDP, Greece will need more relief. Most European...
      PubDate: Thu, 23 April 2015 14:52:21 GM
  • Northern exposure
    • Abstract: THE general election that will be held in Britain on May 7th is so finely balanced that predictions are foolhardy. Save one: the Scottish National Party (SNP) will triumph. And that spells grave danger for the United Kingdom, including—indeed, especially—for Scotland itself. After failing to win last year’s independence referendum, the SNP might have been expected to collapse. Astonishingly, it has roared back. Through relentless campaigning and exemplary use of social media, the SNP has made fervent supporters out of nationalist sympathisers, many of them working-class Scots who always voted Labour. As a result, it now has 100,000 members from among 5m Scots; the Conservative Party, which draws from all 64m Britons, has only about 150,000. Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, has been the star of the campaign’s televised debates. Polls suggest that the “Nats” may win as many as 50 of Scotland’s 59 seats in the House of Commons, up from just six in 2010. If (as seems likely) no clear winner emerges, they could well hold the balance of power. This is a big problem for the Labour Party, and not just because its MPs occupy most of the seats...
      PubDate: Thu, 23 April 2015 14:52:21 GM
  • Don’t treat trade as a weapon
    • Abstract: GOOD news out of Washington is rare. Last week congressional leaders agreed on a bipartisan bill which, if passed, would for the first time in years give the president “fast-track” authority when negotiating trade deals. The bill would be a boost for the prospects of a huge trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), binding America with 11 economies (including Japan but not China) around the Pacific rim. Now, as if on cue, come welcome signals about the TPP itself. As Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, prepared to head to Washington for a much-anticipated trip including an invitation to address a joint session of Congress (see article), he claimed that America and Japan were close to agreement over their bilateral terms—on which the whole TPP deal hinges. Yet there are two big caveats. First, fast track, formally known as Trade Promotion Authority, may still fall foul of Congress. Second, Japan may not make any serious cuts to tariffs that protect its farmers. Those outcomes are more likely because...
      PubDate: Thu, 23 April 2015 14:52:21 GM
  • Flights of hypocrisy
    • Abstract: IT IS a remarkable piece of detective work. Investigators hired by three big American airlines have scoured the world for the regulatory filings of three fast-growing rivals owned by Gulf states—Emirates, Etihad and Qatar—and stitched together the most detailed picture yet of the ways in which their governments have pampered them. According to the American carriers, which released the supporting documents for their allegations this week, airlines in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar have enjoyed a host of benefits, including handouts, “loans” without interest or any schedule for repayment, free land and below-cost charges at state-owned airports. Over the past decade this was worth a total of $42 billion. Delta, American and United Airlines, the carriers that sponsored the investigation, are shocked—shocked—to find that government aid is being provided to the aviation industry. But by pointing out the motes in the eyes of rivals, they draw attention to the planks in their own. Another American lobby, representing business travellers, has dug out a study undertaken by the Congressional Research Service in 1999. It...
      PubDate: Thu, 23 April 2015 14:52:21 GM
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