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The Economist - Leaders
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   Full-text available via subscription Subscription journal
   ISSN (Online) 1358-274X
   Published by The Economist Group Homepage  [4 journals]
  • Lessons of the debate
    • Abstract: MUCH analysis of the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton focused on Mr Trump’s boorishness. Mrs Clinton accused him of having called a beauty queen “Miss Piggy”. Mr Trump explained the next day that the lady in question had “gained a massive amount of weight”. No one in the audience, which included 85m Americans and many others around the world, was reminded of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.The evening did underline, however, vast differences of substance between the two candidates. On policy, Mrs Clinton is solidly within the mainstream of the Democratic Party and not much different from her predecessor. Mr Trump represents something completely new for the Republican Party, as a comparison of his performance on September 26th with the arguments made by Mitt Romney in the debates four years ago makes clear.In 2012 the Republican nominee chided Barack Obama for his naive attempts to reset relations with Russia, suggesting that Mr Obama had been conned by an ex-KGB spy. In 2016 the Republican nominee praises Vladimir Putin, even as Russian planes rain death on Syria, and reckons that the FBI is mistaken...
      PubDate: Thu, 29 September 2016 14:42:4
  • A messy but necessary peace
    • Abstract: FOR longer than most Latin Americans have been alive, Colombia has been at war. The conflict has claimed perhaps 220,000 lives, displaced millions and made Latin America’s third-most-populous country far poorer than it would otherwise have been (see article). Its main belligerent was the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Stalinist rural army that outlived the cold war by turning to drug-dealing and extortion. Now, at last, Colombians have a chance to make peace. In doing so, they could offer an example to other war-racked countries.The agreement between the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC, signed in the presence of a dozen heads of state in a moving ceremony in Cartagena on September 26th, carries an unavoidable tension: between justice and peace. If Colombia had insisted that the guerrillas who maimed and murdered be properly punished for their crimes, they would have no incentive to lay down their arms. That is why in Northern Ireland, South Africa and...
      PubDate: Thu, 29 September 2016 14:42:4
  • Grozny rules in Aleppo
    • Abstract: JUST when it seems that the war in Syria cannot get any worse, it does. On September 19th Syrian and Russian planes struck a convoy about to deliver aid to besieged parts of Aleppo. The attack wrecked the ceasefire brokered by America and Russia, and was followed by the worst bombardment that the ancient city has yet seen. Reports speak of bunker-buster, incendiary and white phosphorus bombs raining down.Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, is destroying his country to cling to power. And Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is exporting the scorched-earth methods that he once used to terrify the Chechen capital, Grozny, into submission. Such savagery will not halt jihadism, but stoke it. And American inaction makes it all worse. The agony of Syria is the biggest moral stain on Barack Obama’s presidency. And the chaos rippling from Syria—where many now turn to al-Qaeda, not the West, for salvation—is his greatest geopolitical failure.Mr Obama thinks that resolutely keeping out of the Syrian quagmire is cold, rational statesmanship. He may be “haunted” by the atrocities, but is convinced there is nothing he can usefully do. “Was...
      PubDate: Thu, 29 September 2016 14:42:4
  • For life, not for an afterlife
    • Abstract: MARS has been much possessed by death. In the late 19th century Percival Lowell, an American astronomer, persuaded much of the public that the red planet was dying of desertification. H.G. Wells, in “The War of the Worlds”, imagined Martian invaders bringing death to Earth; in “The Martian Chronicles” Ray Bradbury pictured humans living among Martian ghosts seeing Earth destroyed in a nuclear spasm. Science was not much cheerier than science fiction: space probes revealed that having once been warmer and wetter, Mars is now cold, cratered and all-but-airless.Perhaps that is why the dream of taking new life to Mars is such a stirring one. Elon Musk, an entrepreneur, has built a rocket company, SpaceX, from scratch in order to make this dream come true. On September 27th he outlined new plans for rockets that dwarf the Apollo programme’s Saturn V, and for spaceships with room for around 100 passengers that can be refuelled both in orbit and on Mars. Such infrastructure, he says, would eventually allow thousands of settlers to get there for $200,000 each—roughly the median cost of an American house. To deliver such marvels in a decade or so is an...
      PubDate: Thu, 29 September 2016 14:42:4
  • Why they’re wrong
    • Abstract: IN SEPTEMBER 1843 the Liverpool Mercury reported on a large free-trade rally in the city. The Royal Amphitheatre was overflowing. John Bright, a newly elected MP, spoke eloquently on the merits of abolishing duties on imported food, echoing arguments made in The Economist, a fledgling newspaper. Mr Bright told his audience that when canvassing, he had explained “how stonemasons, shoemakers, carpenters and every kind of artisan suffered if the trade of the country was restricted.” His speech in Liverpool was roundly cheered. It is hard to imagine, 173 years later, a leading Western politician being lauded for a defence of free trade. Neither candidate in America’s presidential election is a champion. Donald Trump, incoherent on so many fronts, is clear in this area: unfair competition from foreigners has destroyed jobs at home. He threatens to dismantle the North American Free Trade Agreement, withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and start a trade war with China. To her discredit, Hillary Clinton now denounces the TPP, a pact she helped negotiate. In Germany, one of the world’s...
      PubDate: Thu, 29 September 2016 08:48:1
  • Crushing the caliphate
    • Abstract: TWO years after he vowed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State (IS), Barack Obama is at last close to honouring his commitment. In the early hours of October 17th a long-planned military operation was launched to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second city. The battle will involve the Iraqi army, Kurdish soldiers, Shia militias, American special forces and the air power of a Western-led coalition. Mosul matters: it is the place from which the IS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared his “caliphate”. The jihadists’ motto is “remain and expand”, but their state is fast retreating and shrinking.There is little doubt that Mosul will fall (see article). But how it is taken will determine whether the battle marks a lasting victory against jihadism or another chapter in the unending agony of the Arab world. If Iraq is ever to attain stability, its leaders must find ways of assuaging the resentment of its once-dominant Sunni Arab minority, and giving it a political voice.The meaning of MosulDone properly, the recapture of Mosul would not just liberate the million or more people living under the brutal rule of IS; in a sense, it would relieve the world. Unlike other jihadist...
      PubDate: Thu, 20 October 2016 14:42:36
  • Float like a butterfly
    • Abstract: MOST people know Elon Musk for his electric vehicles and desire to colonise Mars. He inspired the portrayal of the playboy and engineering genius who is the hero of the Hollywood blockbuster, “Iron Man”.Mr Musk is also one of the last entrepreneurs in America who seems to think that the publicly listed company can be useful. Two of his companies are listed: Tesla, a carmaker, and SolarCity, an energy firm. They have towering ambitions and valuations, and burn up cash as fast as his third company, SpaceX, burns up rocket fuel. Governance at Mr Musk’s firms is patchy and they may well fail (see article), but they are exactly the kind of exhilarating gamble that stockmarkets are meant to be good at funding.However, such octane-rich affairs have become rare. Listed giants such as Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson are more profitable than ever. Beneath these plump incumbents, though, public firms are fading. Their number has fallen from over 7,000 in 1996 to 4,000....
      PubDate: Thu, 20 October 2016 14:42:36
  • A royal mess
    • Abstract: IT IS hard not to be moved by the sight of Thailand in mourning for Bhumibol Adulyadej, its late king. A week after his death, huge crowds continue to gather outside the royal palace in Bangkok and across the country. Some hold pictures of him; others light candles; others simply stand and weep. The demand for black clothes is so great that impromptu dyeing shops have sprung up, offering to turn brighter garments into something suitably sombre.Respect for the Thai monarchy may be reinforced through the education system and bolstered by strict laws against insulting the king, but it is genuine nonetheless. King Bhumibol reigned for over 70 years with diligence and dignity. Many Thais are distraught at his death.Yet it is hard not to feel that an opportunity is being missed, both to reassure ordinary Thais at an unsettling juncture and to set a new tone for the next reign. The emotion around the king’s death is heightened by anxiety over the upheaval it may bring. Thai politics has been unstable for the past decade, bedevilled by popular protests and upended by two coups. Even before the instability there were worries about whether...
      PubDate: Thu, 20 October 2016 14:42:36
  • Asterix in Belgium
    • Abstract: PLUCKY little Wallonia! On October 14th the parliament of this rust-belt region of Belgium voted against the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a proposed trade deal between the EU and Canada. To its admirers, this French-speaking corner of ancient Gaul, with a population of just 3.6m out of the EU’s 508m, has taken an Asterix-like stand against the implacable forces of globalisation. Free-traders may seethe that such a tiny minority can threaten a proposed treaty seven years in the making. But they cannot disregard it. Failure to secure a deal with Canada would undermine much of the EU’s trade-negotiating policy, and raise troubling questions for Britain about trade with the union after Brexit.Politix v economixWallonia, once Belgium’s steel-and-coal heartland, is the sort of place where a bleak view of globalisation flourishes. Industrial plants are shutting down. Unemployment is high. In such poverty traps it is easy to misconstrue free-trade deals as giving supranational capital the right to trample over local legal systems, as well as environmental and labour standards. Yet political leaders,...
      PubDate: Thu, 20 October 2016 14:42:36
  • The threat from Russia
    • Abstract: FOUR years ago Mitt Romney, then a Republican candidate, said that Russia was America’s “number-one geopolitical foe”. Barack Obama, among others, mocked this hilarious gaffe: “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back, because the cold war’s been over for 20 years,” scoffed the president. How times change. With Russia hacking the American election, presiding over mass slaughter in Syria, annexing Crimea and talking casually about using nuclear weapons, Mr Romney’s view has become conventional wisdom. Almost the only American to dissent from it is today’s Republican nominee, Donald Trump.Every week Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, finds new ways to scare the world. Recently he moved nuclear-capable missiles close to Poland and Lithuania. This week he sent an aircraft-carrier group down the North Sea and the English Channel. He has threatened to shoot down any American plane that attacks the forces of Syria’s despot, Bashar al-Assad. Russia’s UN envoy has said that relations with America are at their tensest in 40 years. Russian television news is full of ballistic missiles and bomb shelters. “Impudent behaviour” might have “...
      PubDate: Thu, 20 October 2016 09:03:30
  • The rotten foundations of China’s real-estate market
    • Abstract: JUST over a year ago, policymakers were having conniptions about China’s tumbling stockmarkets. Now it is China’s frothy property market that is causing worries at home and abroad. Because the property sector accounts for about a quarter of demand in the world’s second-largest economy, a market collapse would have far more than a local impact. In fact, for now, China can probably avoid a disastrous crash (see article). But it shows little sign of being able to implement the fundamental reforms needed to fix the distortions that make the market so volatile and, in the long run, dangerous.One reason for optimism that a crisis can be averted is that the risk has been identified. With property prices in many big cities soaring—by more than 30% a year in Shanghai, Shenzhen and Nanjing—even the central bank’s chief economist has warned of a “bubble”. Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man (and a property developer), last month went further, calling it “the biggest bubble in history”. Foreign-bank...
      PubDate: Thu, 13 October 2016 14:47:07
  • Bad medicine
    • Abstract: DUCHENNE muscular dystrophy is a horrible disease. Afflicting mainly boys, it weakens their muscles and eventually confines them to wheelchairs. In the end, typically when they are in their 20s, it kills them. Patients and parents are understandably elated, therefore, at the decision taken last month by America’s drug agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to approve the first treatment for Duchenne. No one could fail to be moved by their campaign to win approval. At an FDA meeting this year one sufferer pleaded: “please don’t let me die early.”Nonetheless, the decision bodes ill for drug discovery in America. Sarepta Therapeutics, the firm behind the drug, did not meet the usual standards for approval to market it. Staff at the FDA’s drug-evaluation division are sceptical about the efficacy of Exondys 51 (also known as eteplirsen). They argue that the clinical evidence before them involved a flawed experiment on only 12 patients. But Janet Woodcock, the division’s director, overruled them. The FDA has asked Sarepta to conduct further trials to confirm that its drug works.Shareholders in Sarepta do not have to...
      PubDate: Thu, 13 October 2016 14:47:07
  • The West should help Saudi Arabia limit its war in Yemen
    • Abstract: THE air strike that blasted a funeral in Sana’a on October 8th did more than kill around 140 civilians and wound 500: it drew rare attention to Saudi Arabia’s 20-month war in Yemen and strained its alliance with America, which is now reconsidering its military support for the campaign (see article).Critics say it is time for the West to abandon its embarrassing alliance with the Saudis. How, they ask, can the West denounce the carnage in Syria when its own ally is bombing civilians in Yemen? If the Saudis, with Western support, can intervene to defend the government of Yemen, why should Russia not defend Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria? Morally and perhaps legally, America and Britain are implicated in Saudi actions: they sell warplanes and munitions to the Saudi regime; they also provide air-refuelling and help with targeting. What is more, critics say, Saudi Arabia is a woeful ally against jihadism. Indeed, it inflames global extremism through its export of intolerant Wahhabi...
      PubDate: Thu, 13 October 2016 14:47:07
  • Taking a pounding
    • Abstract: RARELY do people compare the British pound to the Nigerian naira, Azerbaijani manat or Malawian kwacha. But on a measure of year-to-date change against the American dollar, sterling is near the bottom of the 154 currencies tracked by Bloomberg. The pound is down by 15% on a trade-weighted basis since the Brexit vote, and is plumbing the depths it reached in the 2008-09 financial crisis (see Buttonwood).The cause of sterling’s fall is the realisation that Theresa May’s government is moving towards a “hard” Brexit, which involves Britain leaving the European Union’s customs union and its single market. It is also driven by the fear that Britain is turning into a xenophobic, interventionist and unpredictable place, with calls to clamp down on foreign workers...
      PubDate: Thu, 13 October 2016 10:48:18
  • The debasing of American politics
    • Abstract: HOW do people learn to accept what they once found unacceptable? In 1927 Frederic Thrasher published a “natural history” of 1,313 gangs in Chicago. Each of them lived by a set of unwritten rules that had come to make sense to gang members but were still repellent to everyone else. So it is with Donald Trump and many of his supporters. By normalising attitudes that, before he came along, were publicly taboo, Mr Trump has taken a knuckle-duster to American political culture.The recording of him boasting about grabbing women “by the pussy”, long before he was a candidate, was unpleasant enough. More worrying still has been the insistence by many Trump supporters that his behaviour was normal. So too his threat, issued in the second presidential debate, to have Hillary Clinton thrown into jail if he wins. In a more fragile democracy that sort of talk would foreshadow post-election violence. Mercifully, America is not about to riot on November 9th. But the reasons have less to do with the state’s power to enforce the letter of the law than with the unwritten rules that American democracy thrives on. It is these that Mr Trump is trampling over—and which...
      PubDate: Thu, 13 October 2016 10:48:11
  • The chronic continent
    • Abstract: IT MUST have been an exquisite moment. On September 30th the central bank in Athens issued a statement reassuring investors that the Greek banking system was safe—from a crisis engulfing Germany’s flagship bank. Any Schadenfreude felt in Europe’s periphery at Deutsche Bank’s tumbling shares should be stifled, however. Deutsche is not about to fail: it can survive a harsh funding squeeze, its solvency is not in doubt and if push came to shove, the German government would surely support it. But many of its woes are symptomatic of problems that bedevil the whole continent.Plenty would deny that. Deutsche is more leveraged than its peers; it is unusual in lacking a crown jewel around which it can base a business model; and it has a stack of derivatives whose prices are hard to observe in the market. More positively, it is light on the non-performing loans that clog the balance-sheets of banks in places like Italy. But in other ways its problems have a very familiar ring. Deutsche is struggling to make a decent return. It has taken too long to face up to its problems. And the market it operates in is...
      PubDate: Thu, 06 October 2016 14:45:18
  • From Aleppo to Mosul
    • Abstract: SURVEY the rubble of the Fertile Crescent, and a disturbing pattern emerges: from the Mediterranean to the Gulf, those bearing the brunt of war are for the most part Sunni Arabs. Though they form the largest ethnic group and are heirs of fabled empires, many of their great cities are in the hands of others: the Jews in Jerusalem; the Christians and Shias in Beirut; the Alawites in Damascus; and, latterly, the Shias in Baghdad. Sunnis make up most of the region’s refugees. Where Sunnis hold on to power, as in the Gulf states, they feel encircled by a hostile Iran and abandoned by an indifferent America.The malaise goes beyond sectarianism. The Arab state is in crisis almost everywhere, aggravated by decades of misrule, not least by Sunni leaders. Think only of Iraq’s appalling ex-president, Saddam Hussein, the quintessential Sunni Arab strongman; or of Egypt’s flawed leader, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. The Sunnis’ sense that they are assailed from all sides helps to explain how the jihadists of Islamic State (IS), offering to restore the ancient caliphate, were able to take over vast Sunni-populated areas in Syria and Iraq. No battlefield victory...
      PubDate: Thu, 06 October 2016 14:45:18
  • Saving Colombia’s peace
    • Abstract: ASK the people a question, and you may not get the answer you expected. That happened to David Cameron with the Brexit referendum, and now it has happened to Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s president. In a plebiscite on October 2nd Colombians made fools of the opinion pollsters and voted to reject his government’s peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas by the narrowest of margins—less than 0.5%.For Mr Santos that was an embarrassment. He had lined up an array of international support for the deal. For Colombia it is dangerous. The agreement came after four years of hard talking, and almost certainly represented the best available compromise between peace and justice. FARC leaders who confessed to war crimes would not go to jail, but they would be judged and punished under a strict legal framework.Several factors explain the voters’ rejection (see article). The weather didn’t help: Hurricane Matthew struck a glancing blow to Colombia’s Yes-leaning Caribbean coast, where turnout was...
      PubDate: Thu, 06 October 2016 14:45:18
  • A thoughtful to-do list
    • Abstract: ONE of the many unfortunate consequences of America’s presidential election turning into a reality TV show is the near-total absence of serious debate about economic policy. The vitriol on both sides of the partisan divide has made it all but impossible to have a minimal agreement even on the facts. Mendacity and insults have left no room for any substantive discussion about what the next president’s economic priorities ought to be. Whatever you think of Donald Trump, his populist, protectionist prescriptions are woefully short on policy detail; the few areas where concrete plans exist are internally inconsistent (slash taxes, increase spending and eliminate government debt). Hillary Clinton has reams of wonkish proposals, but she has trouble articulating an overall economic agenda and, amid the rhetorical mud-wrestling, her fiddly ideas have received little scrutiny.That is the background against which we publish an essay this week by Barack Obama, in which America’s president lays out what he sees as the biggest economic challenges his successor will have to tackle (see...
      PubDate: Thu, 06 October 2016 09:18:17
  • The road to Brexit
    • Abstract: THE destination was decided in June, by simple majority: Britain is leaving the European Union. The journey, however, will be complex and perilous, beset by wrong turnings, chicanes and elephant traps.With 64m Britons in the back seat, perhaps that is why Theresa May has avoided talking about the road ahead. But at the Conservative Party conference this week the new prime minister could delay no longer. In a speech that thrilled party activists, she declared that she will invoke Article 50 of the EU treaty by the end of March, triggering a two-year countdown that should see Britain leave the union in early 2019. She also hinted that she would be prepared to steer Britain towards a harder sort of Brexit, involving a wide separation of labour, product and financial markets.Mrs May is at risk of putting her party before her country—with grave consequences. Brexit will determine Britain’s fortunes in the decades to come. If it is to be done at all, it must be done right.Hard, soft or half-baked?Mrs May faces an inevitable tension. Domestically, if she is not to be overwhelmed by the politics of Europe, as...
      PubDate: Thu, 06 October 2016 09:03:26
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