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The Economist - Leaders
   [4 followers]  Follow    
   Full-text available via subscription Subscription journal
     ISSN (Online) 1358-274X
     Published by The Economist Group Homepage  [4 journals]
  • Urbanisation: Where China’s future will happen
    • Abstract: City covered in smog “A GREAT city”, said Benjamin Disraeli, “…is the type of some great idea. Rome represents conquest; faith hovers over the towers of Jerusalem; and Athens embodies the pre-eminent quality of the antique world, art.” In building its cities, China’s officials have had only one great idea in mind: growth. That has brought huge benefits, and problems too.In the three decades since economic liberalisation began, China’s urban population has risen by more than 500m, the equivalent of America plus three Britains. China’s cities, already home to more than half the country’s people, are growing by roughly the population of Pennsylvania every year. By 2030 they will contain around a billion people—about 70% of China’s population, and perhaps an eighth of humanity. China’s fate, and that of the Communist Party, will be determined by the stability of its cities (see special report).Much of what has happened is breathtakingly exciting. Shanghai, a drab communist-era sprawl with a few 19th-century relics until the 1990s...
      PubDate: Wed, 16 April 2014 14:55:18 GM
  • Arab democracy: The lesson of Algeria
    • Abstract: MANY people argue that it would have been better if the Arab spring had never happened. Think of the mayhem that would have been avoided in Egypt and Syria, not to mention Libya, Yemen and Bahrain, where the angry and the aggrieved have created chaos in the name of democracy. How foolish of Western governments, especially in America and Britain, to betray allies like Hosni Mubarak and to pander to the Muslim Brotherhood and assorted narrow-minded Islamists. Thank heavens that Egypt is back in safe hands under a field-marshal and that most of the Gulf is ruled by moderate Westernised princes. After all, people mutter privately, the Arab culture simply is not suited to modern democracy.Some of this is justified. Nobody would claim that bloodstained Syria is anything but a tragedy (see article). In Egypt liberals were naive to expect democracy to blossom overnight. But too much of today’s criticism of the Arab spring is itself naive, because it forgets that the dictatorial alternative is corrupt, repressive...
      PubDate: Wed, 16 April 2014 14:55:18 GM
  • Europe’s bond bubble: Don’t go potty on the periphery
    • Abstract: INVESTORS have developed a remarkable enthusiasm for the European debt they once shunned. On April 10th, only two years after Greece imposed the biggest debt-restructuring in history on its private creditors, it raised €3 billion ($4.1 billion) in five-year bonds at a yield of less than 5%; the issue was seven times oversubscribed. On April 15th yields on ten-year Italian-government bonds fell to 3.11%, the lowest on record. From Portugal to Ireland, investors are piling into the bonds of the euro zone’s peripheral economies, pushing nominal yields down to levels not seen since the single currency began.It is tempting to say that this is proof that the euro crisis is over: that years of tough reform are paying off, and that lower bond yields should soon lead to greater investment and faster growth. Tempting, but largely wrong. The outlook is far less rosy than the plunge in bond yields suggests. First, there is the cruel arithmetic of deflation. With prices falling in several of the peripheral economies, the real burden of their debts is rising. Second, much of the fall in bond yields reflects investors’ hopes that the European Central Bank (ECB) will...
      PubDate: Wed, 16 April 2014 14:55:18 GM
  • The pope as a turnaround CEO: The Francis effect
    • Abstract: BUSINESS schools regularly teach their students about great “turnaround CEOs” who breathe new life into dying organisations: figures such as IBM’s Lou Gerstner, Fiat’s Sergio Marchionne and Apple’s Steve Jobs. Now Harvard Business School needs to add another case study: Jorge Bergoglio, the man who has rebranded RC Global in barely a year.When Pope Francis celebrated his first Easter as CEO, just after being appointed, the world’s oldest multinational was in crisis. Pentecostal competitors were stealing market share in the emerging world, including in Latin America, where Francis ran the Argentine office. In its traditional markets, scandals were scaring off customers and demoralising the salesforce. Recruitment was difficult, despite the offer of lifetime employment in a tough economy. The firm’s finances were also a mess. Leaked documents revealed the Vatican bank as a vortex of corruption and incompetence. The board was divided and weak. Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, was the first pope to resign for 600 years, amid dark rumours that the founder and chairman, a rarely seen elderly bearded figure whose portrait adorns the Sistine boardroom, had intervened....
      PubDate: Wed, 16 April 2014 14:55:18 GM
  • Russia and Ukraine: Insatiable
    • Abstract: FIRST Vladimir Putin mauled Georgia, but the world forgave him—because Russia was too important to be cut adrift. Then he gobbled up Crimea, but the world accepted it—because Crimea should have been Russian all along. Now he has infiltrated eastern Ukraine, but the world is hesitating—because infiltration is not quite invasion. But if the West does not face up to Mr Putin now, it may find him at its door.The storming of police stations in eastern Ukraine over the weekend by pro-Russian protesters (see article) is a clever move, for it has put the interim government in Kiev in an impossible position. Mr Putin has warned that Ukraine is on the brink of civil war. If the country’s government fails to take control, it will open itself to charges that it cannot keep order within its own borders. But its soldiers are poorly trained, so in using force (operations were under way as The Economist went to press) it risks escalation and bloodshed. Either way, it loses.The West has seen Russia...
      PubDate: Wed, 16 April 2014 14:55:18 GM
  • Capital punishment in America: Dismantling the machinery of death
    • Abstract: NEW HAMPSHIRE has just failed to abolish the death penalty—by one vote. Given that the Granite State has not actually executed anyone since 1939, you might think this doesn’t matter much. But, obviously, it matters to the one man on death row in New Hampshire, a cop-killer called Michael Addison. It matters, also, to the broader campaign to scrap capital punishment in America. And despite the setback in New Hampshire, the abolitionists are slowly winning.America is unusual among rich countries in that it still executes people. It does so because its politicians are highly responsive to voters, who mostly favour the death penalty. However, that majority is shrinking, from 80% in 1994 to 60% last year. Young Americans are less likely to support it than their elders. Non-whites, who will one day be a majority, are solidly opposed. Six states have abolished it since 2007, bringing the total to 18 out of 50. The number of executions each year has fallen from a peak of 98 in 1999 to 39 last year (see article).Many people...
      PubDate: Thu, 24 April 2014 15:01:05 GM
  • The sharing economy: Remove the roadblocks
    • Abstract: IT IS not hard to find evidence of the success of the “sharing economy”, in which people rent beds, cars and other underused assets directly from each other, co-ordinated via the internet. One pointer is the burgeoning of demand and supply. Airbnb, founded in San Francisco in 2008, claims that 11m people have used its website to find a place to stay. Lyft, a company that matches people needing rides and drivers wanting a few dollars, has spread from San Francisco to 30-odd American cities. Another sign is the frothy values bestowed on sharing-economy companies: Airbnb is reckoned to be worth $10 billion, more than hotel chains such as Hyatt and Wyndham, and Lyft recently raised $250m from venture capitalists. But perhaps the most flattering—and least welcome—indicator of the sharing economy’s rise is the energy being devoted by governments, courts and competitors to thwarting it (see article).The main battlegrounds are the taxi and room-rental businesses. A court in Brussels has told Uber, another San...
      PubDate: Thu, 24 April 2014 15:01:05 GM
  • Reform in Germany: Going backwards
    • Abstract: ANGELA MERKEL has a favourite mantra to offer troubled euro-zone countries: they should copy Germany. As she put it last autumn: “What we have done, everyone else can do.” Fifteen years ago, the chancellor’s analysis goes, her country was widely regarded as the sick man of Europe. Then it opted for fiscal austerity, cut labour costs and embraced structural reforms, turning it into an economic powerhouse.The gap between Germany and southern countries in the euro zone is indeed wide. Its economy is growing faster than most of theirs; youth unemployment in Germany is at a 20-year low, whereas it remains at record highs in Spain and Greece; and the German budget is in surplus, even as France, Italy and Spain struggle to hit deficit targets fixed in Brussels.When it comes to fiscal prudence, Mrs Merkel is a paragon. Indeed, this newspaper wishes she were a little less austere, and spent more to boost Europe’s demand. But on structural reform, her record is weak. The credit for Germany’s rebound should really go to the “Agenda 2010” reforms started by her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, in 2003. Since then Mrs Merkel has had the odd flourish—she bravely...
      PubDate: Thu, 24 April 2014 15:01:05 GM
  • Berkshire Hathaway: Life after Warren
    • Abstract: AN INVESTOR who bought one Berkshire Hathaway share at just over $11 when Warren Buffett took control of the firm 50 years ago, and kept it, would have seen its value hit an all-time peak above $190,000 in recent days, an annual return of 21%. As shareholders count their blessings and head to Omaha, Nebraska, for Berkshire’s annual jamboree on May 3rd, it is only right to pay tribute to Mr Buffett’s outstanding success.Berkshire is into all manner of business, from insurance to ice-cream parlours. Normally, such diverse groups suffer a “conglomerate discount”; but Berkshire’s shares trade at a 40% premium to the book value of its holdings. Mr Buffett’s proven formula has been to seek solid firms with good defences against competitors, leave their managers to run them as before, and hang on to them for the long term. His success over the past half-century makes him living disproof of the “efficient-markets hypothesis”, which argues that even the shrewdest investor cannot, over the long term, buck the collective wisdom of the market and consistently outperform it.It would seem logical to conclude that the last thing Berkshire needs is to change. But Mr Buffett is 83...
      PubDate: Thu, 24 April 2014 15:01:05 GM
  • Global ageing: A billion shades of grey
    • Abstract: WARREN BUFFETT, who on May 3rd hosts the folksy extravaganza that is Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholders’ meeting, is an icon of American capitalism (see article). At 83, he also epitomises a striking demographic trend: for highly skilled people to go on working well into what was once thought to be old age. Across the rich world, well-educated people increasingly work longer than the less-skilled. Some 65% of American men aged 62-74 with a professional degree are in the workforce, compared with 32% of men with only a high-school certificate. In the European Union the pattern is similar.This gap is part of a deepening divide between the well-educated well-off and the unskilled poor that is slicing through all age groups. Rapid innovation has raised the incomes of the highly skilled while squeezing those of the unskilled. Those at the top are working longer hours each year than those at the bottom. And the well-qualified are extending their working lives, compared with those of less-educated people (see...
      PubDate: Thu, 24 April 2014 15:01:05 GM
  • The World Bank: Right cause, wrong battle
    • Abstract: JIM KIM, the president of the World Bank, wants it to promote gay rights. He has declared the “fight to eliminate all institutionalised discrimination” to be an “urgent task”. He recently put on hold a $90m loan to Uganda’s health sector after its government introduced one of Africa’s most draconian anti-gay laws. He has ordered an overhaul of the bank’s lending policies to make sure that no loan assists discrimination. At this week’s Spring Meetings in Washington, DC, he is convening discussions with gay activists on how best to do so.As an early proponent of gay marriage, this newspaper shares Mr Kim’s sentiments. Bigotry is abhorrent and laws that entrench it should be condemned. Uganda’s new law, which allows a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for anyone convicted of homosexuality and requires citizens to report anyone suspected of being gay, is particularly awful. Nonetheless, Mr Kim’s initiative is misguided. The World Bank is a technocratic development organisation, not a place for political advocacy. Setting up gay rights as a test of its lending decisions is likely to make the bank less effective at what Mr Kim himself has emphasised is its core job...
      PubDate: Thu, 10 April 2014 14:59:07 GM
  • Israel and Palestine: Take a break
    • Abstract: IT IS a cliché: every time a worthy mediator, in this case John Kerry, America’s secretary of state, sets about ending the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, people say the clock-hand has reached “a minute to midnight”; disaster will follow if the parties fail to agree. By Mr Kerry’s timetable, the chimes will ring out dolefully at the end of this month (see article). He may find a last-minute rewinding ploy to keep both sides burbling a bit longer. But there is scant chance, even with that extension, of a two-state deal being done. Mr Kerry has tried his heroic best, but this round of peacemaking is fizzling out.Jewish and democratic?Disaster will not immediately follow. As things stand, Israel is not under threat, despite its understandable aversion to the prospect of other states in the Middle East, such as Iran, matching it with nuclear weapons. Israel is a prosperous democracy in a region of chaos and bloodshed. Binyamin Netanyahu, its prime minister (pictured left), is unchallenged. The...
      PubDate: Thu, 10 April 2014 14:59:07 GM
  • China’s future: Enter the Chinese NGO
    • Abstract: THE rulers of China have always seen its history as binary. Long divided, the empire will unite, goes a famous saying; long united, it will divide. Today, under the Communist Party, fear of division is strong. Determined to avoid the fate of the Soviet Union, party leaders strive to hold China together.But the country is no longer a socialist paradise where the party dictates and the masses toil. A bourgeois class of perhaps 300m people has emerged—and they have their own views on the sort of place China should become. At the same time, the party has retreated from most people’s daily lives, no longer even pretending to provide cradle-to-grave benefits. Many weaker, poorer members of society are suffering.Enter the Chinese NGO. A vast array of new non-governmental organisations are trying to meet both middle-class aspirations to participate and also society’s need for services (see article). Some 500,000 NGOs have registered over the past 25 years, a figure that some think will double over the next...
      PubDate: Thu, 10 April 2014 14:59:07 GM
  • Nigeria: Africa’s new Number One
    • Abstract: HEY PRESTO: as if by magic, Nigeria has declared itself the biggest economy in Africa. Overnight, with the wave of a statistical wand, it has added 89% to its GDP, now worth $510 billion, and soared past the previous leader, South Africa, worth $370 billion. Nothing has changed in Nigeria’s real economy, except the way it is measured. Yet the magic matters.The GDP revision is not mere trickery. It provides a truer picture of Nigeria’s size by giving due weight to the bits of the economy, such as telecoms, banking and the Nollywood film industry, that have been growing fast in recent years (see article). Other countries perform similar statistical magic—Ghana, for example, added 60% to its economy in 2010—though few wait two decades, as Nigeria inexcusably did, to update the national accounts. In Nigeria’s case, the new numbers confirm that it really is the colossus of the continent.Its economy has been growing at an average rate of around 7% a year over the past decade. It is rich in resources, especially oil. It has...
      PubDate: Thu, 10 April 2014 14:59:07 GM
  • The future of finance: Leviathan of last resort
    • Abstract: EVER since Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in 2008 a common assumption has been that the crisis happened because the state surrendered control of finance to the market. The answer, it follows, must be more rules. The latest target is American housing, the source of the dodgy loans that brought down Lehman. Plans are afoot to set up a permanent public backstop to mortgage markets (see article), with the government insuring 90% of losses in a crisis. Which might be comforting, except for two things. First, it is hard to see how entrenching state support will prevent excessive risk-taking. And, second, whatever was wrong with the American housing market, it was not lack of government: far from a free market, it was one of the most regulated industries in the world, funded by taxpayer subsidies and with lending decisions taken by the state.Back in 1856 one of this newspaper’s editors, Walter Bagehot, blamed crashes on what he called “blind capital”—periods when credulous cash, ignoring risk, flooded into unwise...
      PubDate: Thu, 10 April 2014 14:59:07 GM
  • Democracy and lethargy: Britain’s idle Parliament
    • Abstract: HYPERACTIVITY is not a virtue in a legislature. Winston Churchill thought Parliament should meet for no more than five months a year. Texas enjoys relative freedom from red tape partly because its state legislature meets only every other year. If the European Parliament sat only once every two years, the continent’s regulation-infested economy might well be healthier. But Britain’s current parliament is taking indolence to rarely explored levels.In its youth, the coalition government was vigorous and uncouth. Beginning in May 2010, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties set about reforming schools, universities, the police, welfare and health care. This newspaper called it “Radical Britain”, and depicted David Cameron as a punk rocker. Now the government has gone into a middle-aged slump. It has almost run out of bills to pass. The 2012-13 parliamentary session nearly broke a record for inactivity: in only one year since the second world war that was not interrupted for a general election did the House of Commons sit for fewer days. Parliament churned out 1,768 pages of government legislation. The 2013-14 session is going to be even less productive: with...
      PubDate: Thu, 03 April 2014 14:57:37 GM
  • Higher education: Making college cost less
    • Abstract: YOU cannot place a value on education. Knowledge is the food of the soul, Plato supposedly remarked. Great literature “irrigates the deserts” of our lives, as C.S. Lewis put it. But a college education comes with a price tag—up to $60,000 a year for a four-year residential degree at an American university.A report by PayScale, a research firm, tries to measure the returns on higher education in America (see article). They vary enormously. A graduate in computer science from Stanford can expect to make $1.7m more over 20 years than someone who never went to college, after the cost of that education is taken into account. A degree in humanities and English at Florida International University leaves you $132,000 worse off. Arts degrees (broadly defined) at 12% of the colleges in the study offered negative returns; 30% offered worse financial rewards than putting the cash in 20-year Treasury bills.None of this matters if you are rich and studying fine art to enhance your appreciation...
      PubDate: Thu, 03 April 2014 14:57:37 GM
  • The Cuban embargo: If not now, when'
    • Abstract: THE United States first placed an embargo on Cuba in 1960, one year after Fidel Castro seized power and one year before Barack Obama was born. It has since become part of the furniture of American foreign policy. Five decades of use will wear anything thin, and the logic behind the embargo looks ever weaker. It has failed to dislodge the Castro regime of either Fidel or, since 2006, his brother Raúl. Indeed, by enabling the island’s rulers to present themselves as the victims of hegemonic bullying, it has shored up support for Cuba abroad and given an excuse for totalitarianism at home. America’s allies think the embargo is counter-productive at best, vindictive at worst.Why has America continued with it? Politics. For decades Cuban exiles in the swing state of Florida have supported it, and have made sure that the (mainly Republican) politicians who represent them enforce it strictly. And even if others in Congress privately think the embargo is loopy, few, especially on the right, want to look as if they are soft on the “communist” Castros. Besides, they usually add, Fidel will die soon.Whatever logic there was in this is being undermined in four ways. First,...
      PubDate: Thu, 03 April 2014 14:57:37 GM
  • Turkey’s elections: Be merciful, great Sultan
    • Abstract: IT WAS a triumph by any standards. In Turkey’s local elections on March 30th, the ruling Justice and Development (AK) party took over 45% of the vote. Although the results are contested in 41 cities including Ankara, the capital, AK held on easily to Istanbul. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, had turned these elections into a referendum on himself and his government. The past 12 months have seen a veritable maelstrom of protests and corruption scandals, a controversial clampdown on judges, prosecutors and the media, and a ban on YouTube as well as one on Twitter that the constitutional court has ruled illegal. For Mr Erdogan to do even better than pollsters expected has confounded his opponents.Yet although Mr Erdogan’s voter base may still be strong, his democratic credentials are looking weaker, for his behaviour has become increasingly autocratic. Faced with demonstrations and allegations of corruption, he has undermined freedoms of assembly and speech. In a centralised country with few checks and balances, he has vastly increased the government’s control over the judiciary, the security services and the police. He is fiercely pursuing people or firms...
      PubDate: Thu, 03 April 2014 14:57:37 GM
  • India’s election: Can anyone stop Narendra Modi'
    • Abstract: WHO does not marvel at the prospect of India going to the polls? Starting on April 7th, illiterate villagers and destitute slum-dwellers will have an equal say alongside Mumbai’s millionaires in picking their government. Almost 815m citizens are eligible to cast their ballots in nine phases of voting over five weeks—the largest collective democratic act in history.But who does not also deplore the fecklessness and venality of India’s politicians? The country is teeming with problems, but a decade under a coalition led by the Congress party has left it rudderless. Growth has fallen by half, to about 5%—too low to provide work for the millions of young Indians joining the job market each year. Reforms go undone, roads and electricity remain unavailable, children are left uneducated. Meanwhile politicians and officials are reckoned to have taken bribes worth between $4 billion and $12 billion during Congress’s tenure. The business of politics, Indians conclude, is corruption.No wonder that the overwhelming favourite to become India’s next prime minister is the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi. He could not be more different from Rahul Gandhi, his Congress party...
      PubDate: Thu, 03 April 2014 14:57:37 GM
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