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The Economist - Leaders
  [8 followers]  Follow
   Full-text available via subscription Subscription journal
   ISSN (Online) 1358-274X
   Published by The Economist Group Homepage  [4 journals]
  • Potemkin Euro-armies
    • Abstract: THE idea of a European army is as old as the hope for European unity. After creating the European Coal and Steel Community, the embryo of today’s European Union, the six founding members agreed in 1952 to form a supranational European force. But the plan was voted down by the French parliament; thereafter countries focused on gradual economic integration. Now that the EU is in trouble and Britain has voted to leave, the idea of military integration is being revived (see article). Some countries talk of a “European Defence Union”. Others, evoking the “Schengen” passport-free travel area, envisage a “Schengen for defence”. Eurocrats want to show there is life in the EU after Brexit: with the British gone, they say, the biggest obstacle to defence integration will be gone, too. France, left as the unrivalled EU military power, delights in the chance to reclaim leadership from Germany. The danger is not that such big talk will threaten NATO, as some fear, but that it will come to...
      PubDate: Thu, 22 September 2016 14:44:1
  • Indecision time
    • Abstract: ON SEPTEMBER 26th two candidates will debate against each other on live television during what will probably be the most-watched political broadcast in American history. One of them is a former First Lady, senator and secretary of state. The other has never been elected to any office before and was, until last year, the host of “Celebrity Apprentice”. Yet this is not the most remarkable thing about America’s presidential election. What is truly extraordinary is that the polling currently suggests that these two candidates are, if not quite tied, then far closer than most people expected them to be at this stage of the race. After the Democratic National Convention at the end of July, betting markets gave Donald Trump just a 20% chance of becoming the 45th president. His attacks on the parents of a soldier who was killed in Iraq seemed to have crossed a line. In the intervening weeks, his tone has not been moderated so much as become familiar. When he praises Vladimir Putin (“If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him”), or suggests that Hillary Clinton’s security detail be disarmed, many voters now just shrug. Mrs...
      PubDate: Thu, 22 September 2016 14:44:1
  • The road to surfdom?
    • Abstract: WHOEVER controls the internet’s address book has the power over life and death on the network. Delete a domain name (, for example), and a website can no longer be found and an e-mail no longer delivered. Such authority currently falls under the auspices of America, but not for much longer. On October 1st the federal government is scheduled to let lapse a contract that gives it control over part of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the body that oversees the internet’s address system. Some—notably Ted Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas, who seems willing to risk a shutdown of the government to block the transfer—argue that this amounts to giving away the internet. He says that the handover would allow governments in autocratic countries such as China, Iran and Russia to have greater control over what is available online. In fact, the opposite is true.   It was the American government that helped bring ICANN to life in 1998, to avoid having the internet overseen by a UN-type intergovernmental organisation. Instead, it pushed for a “multi-stakeholder” model, which gives not just governments, but all...
      PubDate: Thu, 22 September 2016 14:44:1
  • Adulterers beware
    • Abstract: FOR decades Malaysia’s Islamist opposition party, PAS, has been agitating for the adoption of bloodthirsty Islamic punishments, such as amputations and stonings. It had seemed a forlorn quest. Malaysia is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic country, with Muslims (most of them ethnic Malays) accounting for only 60% or so of the population. The Indian and Chinese minorities and indigenous people from the Malaysian part of Borneo are largely Buddhist, Christian and Hindu. The governing coalition includes parties representing each group. Successive governments, with the backing of Malaysia’s moderate Muslims, have shrugged off PAS’s demands. Malaysia’s current government, alas, is unlike its predecessors. It lost the popular vote at the most recent election, remaining in power thanks only to assiduous gerrymandering. Since then news has emerged of the looting of hundreds of millions of dollars from a state development agency. Officials in America have indirectly accused Najib Razak (pictured), the prime minister, of pocketing some of the missing money, along with his stepson and others. Mr Najib acknowledges that $681m showed up in his personal bank...
      PubDate: Thu, 22 September 2016 14:44:1
  • The low-rate world
    • Abstract: THEY do not naturally crave the limelight. But for the past decade the attention on central bankers has been unblinking—and increasingly hostile. During the financial crisis the Federal Reserve and other central banks were hailed for their actions: by slashing rates and printing money to buy bonds, they stopped a shock from becoming a depression. Now their signature policy, of keeping interest rates low or even negative, is at the centre of the biggest macroeconomic debate in a generation. The central bankers say that ultra-loose monetary policy remains essential to prop up still-weak economies and hit their inflation targets. The Bank of Japan (BoJ) this week promised to keep ten-year government bond yields around zero. On September 21st the Federal Reserve put off a rate rise yet again. In the wake of the Brexit vote, the Bank of England has cut its main policy rate to 0.25%, the lowest in its 300-year history. Come Yellen and high water But a growing chorus of critics frets about the effects of the low-rate world—a topsy-turvy place where savers are charged a fee, where the yields on a large fraction of rich-...
      PubDate: Thu, 22 September 2016 08:48:2
  • A risky bargain
    • Abstract: AS The Economist went to press a big consignment of aid was poised to arrive in eastern Aleppo, a Syrian city that has been under siege, off and on, for four years. It contained food, medicines, clothes—even toys for toddlers who have lived their whole lives under the shadow of a war that is estimated to have killed more than 400,000 people. This respite is the fruit of a deal between Russia and America on September 10th that imposed a ceasefire across much of the country. It appears to be holding, for now. But as with the previous cessation of hostilities in February, this agreement may be short-lived. And by appearing to tie America to Russia’s game plan, it may even make things worse. Agreement in a vacuum After months of negotiation, John Kerry, the American secretary of state, and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, have put together a deal that is remarkable for what is not in it. None of the combatants on the ground signed the pact. It falls instead to Russia to try to restrain its ally, Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s brutal ruler, and to America to corral a multitude of rebel groups...
      PubDate: Thu, 15 September 2016 14:46:3
  • Lucky Jim
    • Abstract: BACK in 2011 the World Bank’s governors committed themselves to an “open, merit-based and transparent” process to select its president. This week the American incumbent, Jim Yong Kim, was confirmed as the sole candidate for the next five-year term in another closed, patronage-based and opaque process. That falls short of the standards the bank seeks of its borrowers, let alone itself. It also hastens the rise of rival institutions. Mr Kim’s appointment stems from an archaic and now obsolete tradition dating back to the Bretton Woods conference of 1944, by which America chooses the boss of the World Bank and the head of the IMF is a European. That may have reflected the global pecking order as the second world war came to an end. But it does not suit the world today. The failure—due, largely, to America’s Congress—to reform the Bretton Woods institutions has spread cynicism about them. Countries such as India and, especially, China see such recalcitrance as part of a broader reluctance by the West to cede influence. They have set up multilateral banks where they can call the shots: the New Development Bank, owned by the “BRICS” (Brazil...
      PubDate: Thu, 15 September 2016 14:46:3
  • Gene-ocide
    • Abstract: IN A competition to find the world’s least-loved animal, the mosquito would be hard to beat. Only a few species of the insect carry the parasites that cause human diseases such as West Nile virus, dengue and yellow fever, but the harm they cause is enormous. Malaria kills more than 400,000 people, mostly children, every year. Zika has spread to dozens of countries (see article). If species such as Anopheles gambiae and Aedes aegypti could be eradicated, the world would surely be a better place. Genetic engineers have already taken some steps in that direction: male A. aegypti mosquitoes that have been modified to become sterile have been released in Brazil, for example. Such approaches, controversial though they are among some greens, are limited in their impact and geographical range. A nascent technique called a “gene drive”, which could make it far easier to wipe out species, raises harder questions. The term...
      PubDate: Thu, 15 September 2016 14:46:3
  • Britain’s one-party state
    • Abstract: CHEERING crowds flock to his rallies. Youngsters embrace him for selfies and hang on his every tweet. Jeremy Corbyn, improbable, crinkly rockstar of the far left, is on course to be re-elected Labour’s leader on September 24th in a landslide vote among the party’s members, hundreds of thousands of whom have joined up in the past year just to back him. Yet Mr Corbyn’s popularity among Labour’s half-million members and affiliates is not replicated among Britain’s 45m voters, most of whom do not share his desire to overthrow capitalism and unilaterally forsake the country’s nuclear weapons, nor his soft spot for strongmen such as Vladimir Putin and the late Hugo Chávez. The party is polling at its lowest in opposition for 30 years. Among young people, his most sympathetic constituency, Mr Corbyn has an approval rating of -18%. Among the over-65s it is -68%. Labour is on course to lose scores of seats at the next election. And it will not end there. Parties often pick bad candidates—mainstream Republicans recoil at Donald Trump, for instance—but it usually costs them no more than one election. Mr Corbyn, by contrast, is packing Labour with allies and...
      PubDate: Thu, 15 September 2016 08:33:3
  • A giant problem
    • Abstract: DISRUPTION may be the buzzword in boardrooms, but the most striking feature of business today is not the overturning of the established order. It is the entrenchment of a group of superstar companies at the heart of the global economy. Some of these are old firms, like GE, that have reinvented themselves. Some are emerging-market champions, like Samsung, which have seized the opportunities provided by globalisation. The elite of the elite are high-tech wizards—Google, Apple, Facebook and the rest—that have conjured up corporate empires from bits and bytes. As our special report this week makes clear, the superstars are admirable in many ways. They churn out products that improve consumers’ lives, from smarter smartphones to sharper televisions. They provide Americans and Europeans with an estimated $280 billion-worth of “free” services—such as search or directions—a year. But they have two big faults. They are squashing competition, and they are using the darker arts of management to stay ahead. Neither is easy to solve. But failing to do so risks a backlash which will be bad for everyone.  More concentration, less...
      PubDate: Thu, 15 September 2016 08:33:3
  • Bitter pills
    • Abstract: NEARLY everyone born in England after 1948 was delivered into the care of the National Health Service, and most retain an almost filial loyalty to the organisation. The taxpayer-funded service, which provides health care free at the point of use, is so precious in the public imagination that politicians are less likely to talk of improving the NHS than “protecting” it. Yet this national treasure is looking frail (see article). Nine out of ten of the local trusts which run hospitals are spending beyond their budgets; overall the service faces a funding gap of £20 billion ($27 billion) by the end of the decade. Doctors have gone on strike over a new, less generous contract that the government is imposing on them. And everywhere hospitals are struggling to make ends meet. In recent weeks one trust has abruptly shut an emergency department to children because it was found to be unsafe; another said it was considering delaying all surgery on obese patients. The diagnosis is simple: rising demand for...
      PubDate: Thu, 08 September 2016 14:47:4
  • A not-so-local difficulty
    • Abstract: AT LEAST for a few moments, China’s president, Xi Jinping, might have felt like king of the world on September 4th as, one by one, the leaders of the planet’s biggest economies walked into a cavernous room in the centre of which he stood motionless, waiting for each to approach him, shake his hand and then disappear, stage left. It was the first time that China had played host to a summit of the G20 (see article). The Communist Party’s propagandists milked the occasion for every drop of patriotic feel-goodery that it could produce. Mr Xi has promised a “great revival” of the Chinese nation; presiding over such a meeting of global grandees was a perfect opportunity to show the public that he was on target. How awkward, then, that as he was doing so voters in Hong Kong were sending Mr Xi a different—and, for the party, shocking—message. In elections for the territory’s Legislative Council, or Legco, six candidates who want Hong Kong to be more independent from China gained seats in the 70-...
      PubDate: Thu, 08 September 2016 14:47:4
  • Time to sheikh it up
    • Abstract: THE people of Saudi Arabia have for decades enjoyed the munificence of their royal family: no taxes; free education and health care; subsidised water, electricity and fuel; undemanding jobs in the civil service; scholarships to study abroad; and much more. This easy life has been sustained by gushers of petrodollars and an army of foreign workers. The only thing asked of subjects is public observance of Islamic strictures and acquiescence in the absolute power of the sprawling Al Saud dynasty. Similar arrangements hold in the other countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), a six-member club of oil monarchies. But these compacts are breaking down. The price of oil has fallen sharply since 2014, and the number of young Gulf citizens entering the job market is growing fast. The maliks and emirs can no longer afford huge giveaways, or to pay ever more subjects to snooze in air-conditioned government offices. The monarchs know it. They say they are seeking to diversify their economies away from oil rents; they are also whittling away generous subsidies and plan a new value-added tax across the GCC. But reforms have to...
      PubDate: Thu, 08 September 2016 14:47:4
  • Cut-price logic
    • Abstract: THE Kenyan government has a problem. Its banks will not lend cheaply to the private sector. Tired of asking nicely, the government has taken matters into its own hands. This month it will put a cap on commercial banks’ interest rates: charging borrowers more than four percentage points above the central bank’s base rate, which now stands at 10.5%, will be illegal (see article). Shares of the largest Kenyan banks plummeted by 10% in response to news of the cap. This sort of crude meddling in the market may seem antiquated, but it is remarkably common. A review by the World Bank in 2014 found then that at least 76 countries impose a limit on interest rates. Half the countries in sub-Saharan Africa have such caps. Rich countries are also fond of them. In America, 35 states have ceilings on payday-loan rates. Lending at a rate of more than 17% in Arkansas, for example, is forbidden; any higher, and the borrower can claim back double the illegal interest paid. The financial crisis...
      PubDate: Thu, 08 September 2016 14:47:4
  • Art of the lie
    • Abstract: CONSIDER how far Donald Trump is estranged from fact. He inhabits a fantastical realm where Barack Obama’s birth certificate was faked, the president founded Islamic State (IS), the Clintons are killers and the father of a rival was with Lee Harvey Oswald before he shot John F. Kennedy.  Mr Trump is the leading exponent of “post-truth” politics—a reliance on assertions that “feel true” but have no basis in fact. His brazenness is not punished, but taken as evidence of his willingness to stand up to elite power. And he is not alone. Members of Poland’s government assert that a previous president, who died in a plane crash, was assassinated by Russia. Turkish politicians claim the perpetrators of the recent bungled coup were acting on orders issued by the CIA. The successful campaign for Britain to leave the European Union warned of the hordes of immigrants that would result from Turkey’s imminent accession to the union. If, like this newspaper, you believe that politics should be based on evidence, this is worrying. Strong democracies can draw on inbuilt defences against post-truth. Authoritarian countries are more vulnerable....
      PubDate: Thu, 08 September 2016 09:18:2
  • Bruised Apple
    • Abstract: FOR many, there is no question who is the hero and who the villain in this week’s tax confrontation between Brussels and Apple (see article). Gaming of cross-border tax rules has risen inexorably. Apple, with its abundance of intangible assets, which are easier to play around with, has been one of the cleverest at exploiting the gaps. A bill of €13 billion ($14.5 billion) plus interest, the amount that the European Commission says Ireland must recover from the firm for tax avoidance, would pay for all the country’s health-care budget this year and barely dent Apple’s $230 billion cash mountain. But in tilting at Apple the commission is creating uncertainty among businesses, undermining the sovereignty of Europe’s member states and breaking ranks with America, home to the tech giant, at a time when big economies are meant to be co-ordinating their anti-avoidance rules. Curbing tax gymnastics is a laudable aim. But the commission is setting about it in the most counterproductive way...
      PubDate: Thu, 01 September 2016 15:26:5
  • The right kind of budget
    • Abstract: TWO months on from Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, the economy has not plunged. The stockmarket has recovered strongly; retail spending remains solid. Yet it would be foolish to sound the all-clear (see article). Evidence abounds that businesses are holding off on investment as they wait for clarity about Britain’s future relationship with the EU. The fall in the pound will soon put a squeeze on real take-home pay. And, on past form, a burst of export-led growth is unlikely to compensate. Slower growth seems inevitable and the economy could yet fall into recession. The Bank of England has done what it can to prevent this, cutting the base rate of interest to near zero and launching another round of “quantitative easing” (bond-buying), alongside an array of “macroprudential” tools to ensure that lower borrowing costs filter through to firms and individuals. But now the limits of monetary policy are approaching. It is time for fiscal policy to play a bigger role. That task...
      PubDate: Thu, 01 September 2016 15:26:5
  • Scared? Make women disrobe
    • Abstract: A TERRORIST drove a lorry into a crowd on Bastille Day, killing 86 people and injuring hundreds. This atrocity took place near a beach. So a number of French seaside towns decided to ban Islamic swimwear in public (see article). This is an idiotic policy, and a French court was right to overturn it. Yet Nicolas Sarkozy, a former French president who launched his campaign to regain the Elysée last week, wants to change the constitution and impose a nationwide ban on burkinis. Why? As a measure to prevent terrorism, such a ban would be useless. Muslim women who wear modest swimsuits do so because they like swimming but would prefer not to expose lots of flesh. They are not hiding weapons under their burkinis. More important, giving officials the power to order women to disrobe is an affront to human dignity. Does anyone seriously imagine that this power would not be abused? It is as if Mr Sarkozy wants to turn a drunken rugby chant into government policy. A burkini ban would...
      PubDate: Thu, 01 September 2016 15:26:5
  • A chance for a fresh start
    • Abstract: FUTURE generations of Brazilians will not look back on the last day of August as a proud moment in their history. The eviction from office of the hapless president, Dilma Rousseff, by a compromised congress on a flimsy pretext, though perfectly legal, was not the country’s finest democratic hour (see article). But, with luck, tomorrow’s Brazilians may also remember August 31st as the day the country began to deal seriously with the root causes of its economic and political dysfunction. That hope rests with Michel Temer, the former vice-president, who has been acting president since May and was formally sworn in after Ms Rousseff’s ousting. He is no saint. His Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement is as tainted by the Petrobras scandal as is Ms Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT). The scheme to funnel billions of dollars from the state-controlled oil company to governing parties and politicians stoked the political fury that led to Ms Rousseff’s impeachment, though it did not provide the legal grounds for it. But Mr Temer...
      PubDate: Thu, 01 September 2016 09:33:2
  • Uberworld
    • Abstract: “LET’S Uber.” Few companies offer something so popular that their name becomes a verb. But that is one of the many achievements of Uber, a company founded in 2009 which is now the world’s most valuable startup, worth around $70 billion. Its app can summon a car in moments in more than 425 cities around the world, to the fury of taxi drivers everywhere. But Uber’s ambitions, and the expectations underpinning its valuation, extend much further: using self-driving vehicles, it wants to make ride-hailing so cheap and convenient that people forgo car ownership altogether. Not satisfied with shaking up the $100-billion-a-year taxi business, it has its eye on the far bigger market for personal transport, worth as much as $10 trillion a year globally. Uber is not alone in this ambition. Companies big and small have recognised the transformative potential of electric, self-driving cars, summoned on demand. Technology firms including Apple, Google and Tesla are investing heavily in autonomous vehicles; from Ford to Volvo, incumbent carmakers are racing to catch up. An epic struggle looms. It will transform daily life as profoundly as cars did in the 20th...
      PubDate: Thu, 01 September 2016 09:03:2
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