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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]
  • Generation XXX
    • Abstract: IN THE 1990s, when the internet was for nerds, as many as half of all web searches were for sexually explicit material. That share has fallen—but only because everything from home-buying to job-hunting has moved online. Pornography still accounts for more than a tenth of all searches. The number of porn pages is estimated at 700m-800m; one of the biggest sites claims to get 80 billion video views a year. Whenever pornography becomes more available, it sparks a moral panic. After the advent of girlie magazines in the 1950s, and X-rated rental films in the 1980s, campaigners claimed that porn would dent women’s status, stoke sexual violence and lead men to abandon the search for a mate in favour of private pleasures. Disquiet about the effects of online pornography is once more rising (see article). Most of it is now free. As commercial producers fight over scarce revenue, their wares are becoming more extreme. Because of smartphones, tablets and laptops, hardcore material can be accessed...
      PubDate: Thu, 24 September 2015 14:47:3
  • The cost of inaction
    • Abstract: TO WITNESS the mass of humanity flowing from the Middle East into Europe leads to only one conclusion: no matter what Europe does on its borders, the crisis will not end until the Syrian civil war stops. This newspaper has long held the view that peace is impossible as long as Bashar al-Assad remains in power. That is as true today as when he first started killing unarmed pro-democracy protesters in 2011. So the West should not fall for the dangerously seductive idea, put forward by Russia, that it should embrace Mr Assad the better to fight the jihadists of Islamic State (IS). This would be not just morally wrong but also a strategic blunder. Most civilians are being killed by Mr Assad’s forces, and most refugees are fleeing his bombs. In any case Mr Assad’s depleted army has been losing ground, which is one reason why Russia has had to deploy fighter jets, bombers and armoured vehicles to Syria in recent weeks (see article). Backing Mr Assad, or acquiescing in the survival of his...
      PubDate: Thu, 24 September 2015 14:47:3
  • Look west, Maidan
    • Abstract: YOU would be forgiven for thinking that the crisis in Ukraine is past its worst. Although the Minsk agreements are honoured in the breach and artillery fire still echoes across the Donbass, there has been little real combat for months. The separatists have given up extending their territory, Russia has given up sending them heavy reinforcements, and Ukraine has given up trying to defeat them. A chance to resolve lingering disagreements will come on October 2nd when the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany meet in Paris. Although Western powers are surely tempted to turn their attention elsewhere, that would be a mistake. The shooting war was never the only conflict in Ukraine—nor even the most vital one. The Maidan revolution was an attempt to replace a corrupt post-Soviet government with a modern European-style one based on the rule of law. Ordinary people challenged Vladimir Putin’s vision of a distinct “Russian World” unsuited to liberal democracy. What is at stake in Ukraine is thus the future of the entire post-Soviet region. Get clean, Ukraine As yet, Mr Putin does not have much to worry about....
      PubDate: Thu, 24 September 2015 14:47:3
  • After the hold, be bold
    • Abstract: SOMETIMES doing nothing really is better than doing something. On September 17th the Federal Reserve made the right decision to leave its benchmark interest rate, unchanged since 2008, near zero. With inflation sitting well below the Fed’s 2% target and doubts about China’s economy prevalent (see article), a rise would have been an unnecessary risk. Yet Janet Yellen, chair of the Fed, will face a similarly tough choice in October—and possibly for many months thereafter. And whenever “lift-off” occurs, financial markets expect rates to stay historically low for years to come. The era of unconventional monetary conditions shows no sign of ending. If the rich world’s central banks are to get back to the normality they crave, their standard toolkit may not suffice. It is time to think more boldly, especially about the idea of inflation targeting. That is because the usual relationship between inflation and unemployment appears to have broken down. In...
      PubDate: Thu, 24 September 2015 14:47:3
  • Dirty secrets
    • Abstract: EMISSIONS of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and other nasties from cars’ and lorries’ exhausts cause large numbers of early deaths—perhaps 58,000 a year in America alone, one study suggests. So the scandal that has engulfed Volkswagen (VW) this week is no minor misdemeanour or victimless crime (see article). The German carmaker has admitted that it installed software on 11m of its diesel cars worldwide, which allowed them to pass America’s stringent NOx-emissions tests. But once the cars were out of the laboratory the software deactivated their emission controls, and they began to spew out fumes at up to 40 times the permitted level. The damage to VW itself is immense. But the events of this week will affect other carmakers, other countries and the future of diesel itself.   Winterkorn is going VW first. Its chief executive, Martin Winterkorn, has resigned, and the company is setting aside €6.5 billion ($7.3 billion) to cover the coming financial hit. But investors...
      PubDate: Thu, 24 September 2015 08:48:1
  • One door closes, another opens
    • Abstract: SHOULD doctors be allowed to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients who ask for it? For this newspaper the answer is simple: the state should no more intrude on personal decisions at the close of life than at any point during it. But doctor-assisted dying is legal in only a few European countries, Colombia and four sparsely populated American states. Last week, for the first time since both places said “no” in the 1990s, lawmakers in Britain and California voted on this question—and came to different conclusions. By 330 to 118, British MPs rejected a bill modelled on Oregon’s 1997 Death with Dignity Act; by narrower margins, California’s state assembly and senate passed a similar measure. If its governor, Jerry Brown, does not veto the bill within 30 days, doctor-assisted dying will soon be legal in America’s most populous state. California’s bill had seemed stalled; it was revived in a special legislative session. The British bill, by contrast, had momentum. In 2010 the director of public prosecutions had said that those accompanying loved ones to clinics in Switzerland, where doctor-assisted dying is legal,...
      PubDate: Thu, 17 September 2015 14:55:1
  • Shooting Schengen
    • Abstract: WHAT happens at Europe’s borders often telegraphs momentous change. The Soviet blockade of Berlin in 1948 foreshadowed the cold war. The scrapping of a Hungarian fence on the frontier with Austria in May 1989 doomed Soviet rule in eastern Europe months before protests toppled its leaders. Now the reimposition of some border controls by Germany and Austria, to stanch the flow of refugees and migrants, is the harbinger of something dramatic: the erosion and possible demise of the Schengen free-travel area, one of the European Union’s most striking achievements. For the past two decades anyone in the 26 European countries of the Schengen area, including some outside the EU (but excluding Britain and Ireland), could travel within this zone without being troubled by customs or passport controls. Named after the town in Luxembourg where the agreement was signed, Schengen makes trade and travel easier, and is a tangible manifestation of the EU’s “ever closer union”. But as with that other grand project, the euro, Schengen is only a partial act of integration: external borders, migration policies and policing remain in the hands...
      PubDate: Thu, 17 September 2015 14:55:1
  • Stabbed in the front
    • Abstract: THAT Australia now has its fourth prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, in little more than two years should be a worry—especially when you consider the manner in which all his predecessors were turfed out. Tony Abbott came to power in a general election in 2013, ending six years of Labor Party dominance, in part by claiming that his (conservative) Liberal-National coalition was above the kind of fratricide that had seen Labor’s prime minister, Kevin Rudd, ousted by his rival, Julia Gillard, only for him to get his revenge by re-ousting Ms Gillard when opinion polls turned against Labor. Now Mr Turnbull has done to Mr Abbott what Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard did to each other—only with exceptional cold-bloodedness and guile (see article). The good news is that Mr Turnbull could prove the most competent leader since John Howard, who served 11 years before his coalition’s defeat in an election in 2007. Had Mr Turnbull led the Liberals into the latest general election (he lost the Liberal Party leadership to Mr...
      PubDate: Thu, 17 September 2015 14:55:1
  • Backwards, comrades!
    • Abstract: BEFORE he had finished belting out his first celebratory rendition of “The Red Flag”, a hymn to class struggle, some of Jeremy Corbyn’s colleagues in Labour’s shadow cabinet had already handed in their resignations. A 66-year-old socialist, Mr Corbyn has spent 32 years as one of the hardest of hardline left-wingers in the House of Commons and a serial rebel on the Labour backbenches. On September 12th he flattened three moderate rivals (see article) to become leader of Britain’s main opposition party. Labour MPs are stunned—and perhaps none more so than Mr Corbyn himself. Two views are emerging of Labour’s new leader. The more sympathetic is that, whatever you think of his ideology, Mr Corbyn will at least enrich Britain by injecting fresh ideas into a stale debate. Voters who previously felt uninspired by the say-anything, spin-everything candidates who dominate modern politics have been energised by Mr Corbyn’s willingness to speak his mind and condemn the sterile compromises of the...
      PubDate: Thu, 17 September 2015 09:48:1
  • The two Mexicos
    • Abstract: “IN ESTABLISHING the rule of law, the first five centuries are always the hardest.” For much of the past two decades, that quip by Gordon Brown, a former British prime minister, has seemed not just dour, but wrong. Buoyed by China, by trade growth and capital inflows, by talk of new middle classes and the bottom billion, it was easy to forget old truths about how hard it is for poor countries to become rich. A breezy assumption took hold: that emerging markets would surely follow the likes of South Korea and Taiwan on the path to wealth. That view of development has crumbled of late, along with emerging markets’ growth rates. China, the locomotive to which many are still hitched, is slowing. Russia, South Africa and Brazil (see article) are in reverse gear. Their currencies drop with every fall in commodity prices; they will no doubt weaken further if the Federal Reserve raises American interest rates in a meeting due to end after we went to press. Trade is growing more slowly than global GDP, a trend that seems...
      PubDate: Thu, 17 September 2015 09:48:1
  • Growing pains
    • Abstract: FARMING is more efficient than ever. But the search for high yields has also made it more concentrated. From the wheat in steaming noodles to the maize of fresh tortillas, just 30 crops now sate almost all of humanity’s nutritional needs. But monoculture carries great risks. A single disease or pest can wipe out swathes of the world’s food production, an alarming prospect given that its growing and wealthier population will eat 70% more by 2050 (see article). The risks are magnified by the changing climate. As the planet warms and monsoon rains intensify, farmlands in Asia will flood. North America will suffer more intense droughts, and crop diseases will spread to new latitudes. Pests are on the move, too. Since the 1960s, unwanted beasties, spared harsh winter frosts, have moved polewards at an average of around 3km (2 miles) a year. The solutions to some of these problems lie in the genes of wild relatives of food crops. Botanists can screen them for valuable traits, and use the...
      PubDate: Thu, 10 September 2015 14:48:2
  • The China that works
    • Abstract: AFTER a summer of tumbling stockmarkets and gloomy data, the Chinese economy has the rest of the world on edge. The value of imports sank by 14.3% in August year on year, reinforcing worries that a sharp slowdown is under way. Those years of double-digit growth are firmly in the past. The question many ask is whether China can find a new model of growth to replace the old one. The good news is that it already exists. It is called the private sector. In our special report in this week’s issue we show how the private sector has created almost all new urban jobs in the past decade, and now employs about four-fifths of urban workers. Average growth in output at private industrial firms since 2008 has been double that seen at state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The returns on assets at private firms are higher than those at SOEs, where they are below the cost of capital. The country’s manufacturing sector, which is almost entirely controlled by private firms, remains the world’s most formidable: China’s share of global exports rose from 11.5% in 2011 to 14.3% in June. Important as private firms already are, the onus on them to...
      PubDate: Thu, 10 September 2015 14:48:2
  • Some martyr
    • Abstract: JAILING Kim Davis for five nights has made her a misleading martyr to a misguided cause. Ms Davis is a clerk in Kentucky who adamantly refused to dispense marriage licences to same-sex couples. Her offence—to break the law in order to preserve her conscience—was even more wrongheaded than her punishment. Though she is now free again, her supporters, including several Republican presidential candidates who ought to know better, see her brief incarceration as the brutal triumph of secular tyranny. They exaggerate both Ms Davis’s nobility and the threat faced by Christian America. After the Supreme Court in effect legalised same-sex marriage throughout the country in June, several local officials—among them Ms Davis, the clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky—stopped supplying marriage licences to any couples, gay or straight. She was sued; she lost, predictably and repeatedly. When, after a convoluted legal process, she still refused to comply, she was judged to be in contempt of court and locked up. For all the adulation it has garnered, her stance is deeply confused, not least because issuing licences to pairs of men or women who want to get hitched would...
      PubDate: Thu, 10 September 2015 14:48:2
  • False start
    • Abstract: THE last time the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate, there was no one to tweet about it. That rise, in June 2006, predated Twitter’s public release by a month. Nine years on, as the Fed readies itself to raise rates again, the public debate between hawks and doves is much noisier. Markets reckon that the Fed will raise its benchmark rate at least once this year, from the 0-0.25% range it has targeted since December 2008—and perhaps do so as soon as its next rate-setting meeting on September 16th-17th. But here, it does not pay to go early: a rise now would needlessly risk America’s recovery. On the face of it, the case for a rise looks perfectly respectable. The American economy is at its fittest in more than a decade. It grew at a 3.7% annualised pace in the second quarter of 2015; after a brutal period of post-recession deleveraging, consumers are spending again. Firms have been hoovering up workers, creating jobs at a rate of about 3m a year, the best performance since 1999 (see...
      PubDate: Thu, 10 September 2015 14:48:2
  • Exodus
    • Abstract: FOR too long Europe has closed its eyes to Syria’s foul and bloody civil war, and tried to keep the suffering multitudes out. Suddenly the continent’s gates have been pushed open by two political forces. One is moral conscience, belatedly wakened by the image of a drowned Syrian child on a Turkish beach. The other is the political courage of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who told her people to set aside their fear of immigrants and show compassion to the needy. Tens of thousands of asylum-seekers flowed towards Germany by rail, bus and on foot, chanting “Germany! Germany!”, to be welcomed by cheering crowds. Germany is showing that old Europe, too, can take in the tired, the poor and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. It says it can absorb not thousands, but hundreds of thousands of refugees. Such numbers will inevitably raise many worries: that cultures will be swamped by aliens, economies will be overburdened, social benefits will have to be curbed and even that terrorists will creep in. Anti-immigrant parties have been on the rise across Europe. In America, too, some politicians want to build walls to keep...
      PubDate: Thu, 10 September 2015 09:19:1
  • Museum pieces
    • Abstract: A SLAVE-TRADER before the civil war and a luminary of the Ku Klux Klan after it, Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate officer (pictured), reputedly oversaw a massacre of black Union soldiers. Unsurprisingly, many black (and other) Americans resent his veneration in public statues and school names—just one of many rows over the commemoration of Confederate leaders and post-war segregationists roiling American towns and states. Among the monuments that the mayor of New Orleans wants to move, for example, is one to the Battle of Liberty Place, an insurrection by white supremacists nine years after the war ended. The guiding principle in these stand-offs should be that, when public land and resources are used in a way that causes widespread offence, as preserving these state-sponsored tributes does, the authorities should have a good reason for doing so. In this case, they don’t. After June’s racist massacre at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, by a gunman who posed with the Confederate colours, the flag was tactfully lowered at the state capitol and elsewhere. Yet for devotees of these relics—as in South Carolina, where a statue of Ben...
      PubDate: Thu, 01 October 2015 09:18:15
  • Welcome to New London
    • Abstract: GIVEN a choice between London and New York, many would plump for a melange of Mayfair and Manhattan: parks and palaces mixed in with delis and dynamism. For policymakers, combining the best of both cities need not be a pipe dream. In the (admittedly technical) area of residential-property taxes, the pair have much to learn from each other. Each has a couple of strengths over the other. New York’s first advantage lies in the amount of money it raises. Overall, homeowners in New York pay 40% more, as a proportion of their residences’ value, than Londoners do. Economists argue that a good tax should focus on revenue streams that cannot avoid payment by moving away, and that a levy should change behaviour as little as possible. Land taxes are particularly attractive for this reason. Property taxes are second-best, because the investment in a plot of land can vary, but unlike land taxes they have the political advantage of already being in place. Here New York beats London because the more revenue that can be raised on an immobile home, the less the government needs to tax other activity, whether that is work, investment or consumption....
      PubDate: Thu, 01 October 2015 09:18:14
  • Putin dares, Obama dithers
    • Abstract: TO HEAR Vladimir Putin, Russia has become the leader of a new global war on terrorism. By contrast Barack Obama seems wearier by the day with the wars in the Muslim world that America has been fighting for more than a decade. On September 30th Russian jets went into action to support Bashar al-Assad’s beleaguered troops. It is setting up an intelligence-sharing network with Iraq and Iran. The Russian Orthodox church talks of holy war. Mr Putin’s claim to be fighting Islamic State (IS) is questionable at best. The evidence of Russia’s first day of bombing is that it attacked other Sunni rebels, including some supported by America. Even if this is little more than political theatre, Russia is making its biggest move in the Middle East, hitherto America’s domain, since the Soviet Union was evicted in the 1970s. In Afghanistan, meanwhile, America’s campaign against the Taliban has suffered a blow. On September 28th Taliban rebels captured the northern town of Kunduz—the first provincial capital to fall to them since they were evicted from power in 2001. Afghan troops retook the centre three days later. But even if they establish full control, the attack...
      PubDate: Thu, 01 October 2015 09:18:10
  • Act before the tyrant dies
    • Abstract: IN ZIMBABWE they are waiting for rain. The region’s worst drought in a decade has withered the maize (or corn) crop, which came in at only about half the size of last year’s. The poor harvest has left at least 1.5m people—more than one in every eight—in desperate need of food aid. For Zimbabwe’s long-suffering people, waiting has become a national vocation. For 15 years since he rigged a general election in 2000, Zimbabweans have waited for the chance to be shot of Robert Mugabe. He has ruled the country since its independence in 1980, and so gravely wrecked its economy that people are poorer today than they were 25 years ago. Of late, despairing of democratic change, they have simply waited for the 91-year-old to succumb to mortality. The parched harvest and weak economy mean that their patience may soon be rewarded: if Mr Mugabe does not die first, it looks increasingly possible that he may be pushed out by his party, Zanu-PF, over which his ruthless control is slipping. To be sure, he has weathered economic and political crises before. But this time things are different. One reason is that Mr Mugabe’s mental powers seem at...
      PubDate: Thu, 01 October 2015 09:18:09
  • Dominant and dangerous
    • Abstract: IF HEGEMONS are good for anything, it is for conferring stability on the systems they dominate. For 70 years the dollar has been the superpower of the financial and monetary system. Despite talk of the yuan’s rise, the primacy of the greenback is unchallenged. As a means of payment, a store of value and a reserve asset, nothing can touch it. Yet the dollar’s rule has brittle foundations, and the system it underpins is unstable. Worse, the alternative reserve currencies are flawed. A transition to a more secure order will be devilishly hard. When the buck stops For decades, America’s economic might legitimised the dollar’s claims to reign supreme. But, as our special report this week explains, a faultline has opened between America’s economic clout and its financial muscle. The United States accounts for 23% of global GDP and 12% of merchandise trade. Yet about 60% of the world’s output, and a similar share of the planet’s people, lie within a de facto dollar zone, in which currencies are pegged to the dollar or move in some sympathy with it. American firms’ share of the stock of international corporate investment has fallen from...
      PubDate: Thu, 01 October 2015 08:03:07
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