Economist 10/3/16

  1. LONG before the green movement existed, evolution discovered the virtues of recycling.Moreover, in an emergency, even components that are still working may be recycled in this way to provide energy needed to keep a starving cell alive, rather as someone facing extremely cold weather may choose to burn his furniture rather than freeze to death. The process is called autophagy (from the Greek for “self-eating”), and the elucidation of its details has been the life’s work of Yoshinori Ohsumi of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, who is the winner of this year’s Nobel prize for physiology or medicine.Before Dr Ohsumi’s studies, biologists knew that autophagy was a two-step process. First, the cellular components to be recycled are enclosed in a fatty membrane to create another type of vesicle, an autophagosome.In particular, how autophagosomes formed was a mystery. It is for supplying those details that Dr Ohsumi has been awarded the prize.
  2. In the nearly 70 intervening years, the Supreme Court has issued a gaggle of rulings on the meaning of the First Amendment’s “establishment clause”. Prayer in school has been ruled out, as have stand-alone nativity scenes inside government buildings. But crèches, crosses and Hanukkah menorahs in public squares have been deemed acceptable. Meanwhile, monuments to the Ten Commandments have been subjected to a Solomonic split decision: such displays are fine near a capitol building but forbidden outside a courthouse.American courts have resisted putting the brakes on purely ceremonial religious references in government contexts. “In God We Trust” is staying put; nor will the judiciary admonish presidents for asking God to bless America.
  3. But in 2014, the Supreme Court significantly narrowed the scope of the establishment clause in Town of Greece v Galloway, a case asking whether a town board may open its monthly meetings with sectarian prayers delivered by local clergy. By a 5-4 vote, the court decided that the tradition passed constitutional muster. As long as the prayers do not “denigrate” attendees, threaten them with “damnation” or attempt to “proselytise” the audience, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, no harm is done.
  4. Half of an advertiser’s budget is wasted, says the industry’s favourite truism, but no one knows which half. Digital ads were supposed to help. Cookies and other tags would direct the right advertisements to the right people, based on their activity online. Digital tools would track which ads inspire consumers to buy products.But as advertisers have gained greater control in some respects, they have lost it in others. One fear is practical: that they are paying for online ads that consumers don’t see, either because they are shown to robots, or tucked in obscure slots.The first is that Facebook and Google have simply become too dominant. Last year the pair accounted for more than 75% of online-ad growth in America according to KPCB. The second concern is that ad agencies are not acting in their clients’ interests.In America an investigation backed by the ANA found that agencies were buying ad space and reselling it to clients at markups of up to 90%.
  5. Hygge is difficult to pronounce. (Try “hew-geh”.) It is also tricky to describe.Writers have tried “the art of creating intimacy”, “cosiness of the soul” and “cocoa by candlelight”. It is an attitude rather than a recipe, evoking relaxation with close friends or family. Many see it as a quintessential element of Denmark’s national character. There is some evidence for this: the Danes are Europe’s biggest consumers of candles, burning through about 6 kilogrammes (13 pounds) per person every year. Runner-up Austria manages just half that. Denmark often leads (highly subjective) rankings of the happiest countries, andhygge is being marketed as a way for foreigners to imitate the Danes’ balanced, relaxed, egalitarian lifestyle.Danes dislike acknowledging class differences, but his research finds that the habits of hygge vary by income and social status.Denmark’s own natives may rank it top for happiness, but the immigrants in the survey ranked it 60th in terms of friendliness, 64th for being made to feel welcome, and 67th for the ease of finding friends.

Economist 9/30/16

  1. Skytrax releases an annual ranking of the world’s top 100 airports. This year’s list puts five airports in developing countries ahead of the top American airport, Denver International, which lies in 28th place.The top 50 includes 15 airports in developing countries and just four in the United States.New York JFK and Los Angeles LAX come in 59th and 91st, respectively. Newark and LaGuardia don’t even make the top 100.What is it that makes American airports so bad? There are a number of factors, beginning with chronic underinvestment in public infrastructure across the country.But part of the answer can be traced to a related trend: the poor performance of American airlines compared with international rivals.So while both Singapore Changi (the top airport) and Emirates (the top airline) add new amenities to lure international travellers, America’s carriers and hubs are more focused on the dominant domestic market, where there isn’t as much competition or pressure to improve.
  2. HUNGARY will hold a referendum on October 2nd.The question is: “Do you want the European Union to be entitled to prescribe the mandatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the consent of parliament?” (Note the neutral wording.) The referendum was prompted by the EU’s Emergency Response Mechanism, adopted in September 2015, under which 160,000 of the migrants who began surging into Europe last year are to be shared out between member states according to quotas. The decision passed in the EU’s Council of Ministers by majority vote, but four countries voted against it: the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary. Hungary and Slovakia have challenged the system in the European Court of Justice.The referendum is largely a popularity ploy by Viktor Orban ,Hungary’s populist prime minister, and will have no legal effect.
  3. Polls predict a comfortable majority of voters will choose “no”. Outside Budapest and the major cities, Hungary is a conservative and insular country, where many people speak no foreign languages and have little experience of those with different skin colours or faiths. But more than 50% of Hungary’s roughly 8m eligible voters must turn out for the result to be valid, and they may not.Since the start of 2015 Hungary has received 203,898 asylum applications, and granted only 880 people any form of protection, according to the government.It is not clear how anti-migrant the public is.
  4. GOLF clubs abounded in Arnie Palmer’s life.He had won seven majors (the US Open, the British Open twice, the Masters four times) in seven seasons, and 92 professional tournaments worldwide. They made him the most celebrated player in America and his sport, once the preserve of snobs in plus-fours, a popular sensation. He did not play like other people: he was muscular, dramatic, with his flopping hair and working man’s hands.Thanks to him, golf became a TV fixture and a maker of millionaires. He was the first.His style was not subtle.“Go for broke” was his motto, and his speciality was the “Palmer charge”, where he would roar in from behind to clinch a title.From 1959, though, his business manager Mark McCormack taught him the ropes of borrowing, investing, sponsorship and endorsements, and two years later Arnold Palmer Enterprises Inc marked the first transformation of golfing prowess into a business empire.
  5. BARRING any last-minute hiccups, America’s government will let lapse a contract that gives it control over part of ICANN on October 1st.Whoever controls the internet’s address book can also censor the internet: delete a domain name (such as and the website can no longer be found. That is why, as the internet grew up, America decided not to hand control to the United Nations or another international body steered by governments. Instead, in 1998 it helped create ICANN, which is a global organisation that gives a say to everybody with an interest in the smooth running of the network, whether they are officials, engineers, domain-name holders or internet users.Most were happy with the arrangement, at least at first. But American oversight came to seem odd as the internet grew into a vast global resource with much traffic no longer passing over American cables.But America’s Department of Commerce, which oversees ICANN, was provoked to announce in March 2014 that it would relinquish its role if it were convinced that the organisation would be truly independent and able to resist power grabs by other governments and commercial interests.

Economist 9/5/16

  1. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), just over 35,000 people were killed in crashes in 2015. That was 7% more than in 2014, the biggest annual percentage increase since 1965.By most counts America has the worst road-safety record in the rich world. Its rate of 10.9 deaths per 100,000 people per year is almost twice as high as Belgium’s, the next-worst well-off country, and roughly level with that of Mexico. One of the main reasons that the United States sits atop this grim ranking is because Americans drive far more often than the rich-world average. When miles travelled are taken into account, America was actually a bit safer than Japan, Slovenia and Belgium in 2013.In 2000 Slovenia’s death rate per person was higher than America’s; by 2013 it was 40% lower. Sweden, which in 1997 introduced a plan to reduce fatal crashes to zero, now has the safest roads in the world.
  2. Thanks to better anti-lock brakes, airbags and side-impact protections, cars have become far safer, while other road users have not benefited from similar advances. As a result, car users’ share of road deaths in America fell from 42% in 2006 to 36% last year.Mark Rosekind, head of the NHTSA, says 94% of crashes “can be tied back to human choice or error”. Fully 85% of the people who perished on America’s roads last year either were not wearing a seat belt or were in accidents where a driver had been speeding or drinking.
  3. George Akerlof was at the forefront of the effort to to incorporate “asymmetric information” into their thinking.George Akerlof was at the forefront of this effort. In his seminal 1970 paper “The Market for Lemons”, Mr Akerlof asked what would happen to the market for used cars if buyers could not tell between good and bad.Suppose a buyer would pay $1,000 for a good set of wheels (a “peach”) but only $500 for a malfunctioning car (a “lemon”).But if lemons and peaches are hard to distinguish, buyers will cut their offers accordingly. They might be willing to pay, say, $750 for a car they perceive as having an even chance of being a lemon or a peach. The problem is that dealers who know for sure they have a peach will reject such an offer. As a result, the buyers face “adverse selection”: the only sellers who will be prepared to accept $750 will be those offloading lemons.
  4. Subsequent research highlighted two sorts of solutions. Peter Spence, another pioneer of information economics, focused on “signalling”. His example was the labour market. Employers may struggle to tell which job candidates are best. So workers can signal their talents to firms by collecting gongs, like college degrees.Adverse selection is plaguing America’s Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare”. Fewer healthy people than expected have signed up to the government-sponsored insurance exchanges, which limit how much premiums can vary with risk. Insurers are making losses; as a result, they are raising prices substantially (or pulling out altogether). Critics say those price rises will drive away more healthy customers, leading to a “death spiral”.
  5. Americans are furious about the cost of medicines. Over the past week their ire engulfed Mylan, a generic-drug firm, which had raised the price of its EpiPen, an injectable medicine that fends off deadly allergic reactions, to $608, from about $100 in 2007. On August 29th Mylan said it would start selling a generic version for half the price.For pharma firms, this is a worrying prospect. To date the government has done little to lower or cap spending on medicines. Across Europe governments control prices in one way or another, but American drug firms can set whatever official price they like. Their single biggest customer is Medicare, which spent a massive $112 billion on medicines for the elderly in 2014.And it is illegal for Medicare to negotiate with drug companies. Only private health insurers do so on the government’s behalf, but they are sharply constrained. Insurers are obliging patients to pay a greater share of the cost for their treatment, so they notice higher prices.Prices are also rising rapidly. The average launch price of a range of cancer drugs, adjusted for inflation and health benefits, grew by 10% each year between 1995 and 2013

Economist 7/28/16

  1. JUST like cooking a culinary masterpiece, making a hit Broadway show requires the right ingredients.On the whole musicals tend to be more lucrative than plays, especially if they are based on Disney movies. Using data from the Ulmer Scale, an index which rates Hollywood actors on their “bankability”, we found that having a big movie star boosted income tremendously.Factors outside the producer’s control also affect revenues. We found that productions which eventually win major Tony awards, performed better in their first year, though newspaper reviews seemed to matter less.shows tend to do better around Christmas and New Year. Even though its turnover has been artificially suppressed by its producers’ reluctance to raise ticket prices too sharply, “Hamilton” already has a strong claim as the most successful Broadway show of all time, and is on pace to shatter all existing records.
  2. Lawyers and indigenous leaders have long called for government action to cut Australia’s high rate of aboriginal youth imprisonment.The Northern Territory, a federal dependency, has one of the worst records. Indigenous people are almost a third of the territory’s population, compared with 3% for Australia as a whole. But they account for 96% of youngsters aged between 10 and 17 in detention.Nationwide, Amnesty says young indigenous Australians are 26 times more likely to be in detention on an average night than their non-indigenous counterparts. The high detention rates echo broader problems: indigenous Australians are poorer, unhealthier and do worse in school than their compatriots. 
  3. LUFTHANSA lowered its revenue forecast last week amid declining bookings, particularly on long-haul flights to Europe, citing “increasing political and economic uncertainties.” “Luxury Awaits Above the Clouds” is the title of Lufthansa’s Airbnb listing, the first flight to be offered on the site, according to Quartz , which first reported the curious manoeuvre. Simply posting it to Airbnb required some creative contortion on the part of the airline, which had to check all the boxes required for more typical Airbnb hosts.The listing, of course, is little more than a gimmick. Airbnb charges a hefty fee for bookings, and it’s hard to imagine anyone paying that when they can book for free on more traditional platforms.Still, it is not inconceivable that the model could change. As more travellers, and business travellers in particular, look to Airbnb instead of hotels, booking sites like Orbitz and Priceline that can package flights and lodging lose some of their appeal, since they don’t have options for private accommodation.
  4. 1MDB was launched in 2009, the year Mr Najib became prime minister of Malaysia. It was supposed to bring investment to Malaysia by forging partnerships with foreign firms. But by 2014 it was struggling to service debts of more than $11 billion. Questions about it multiplied last year when it was discovered that around $700m had entered Mr Najib’s bank accounts shortly before a close election in 2013. On July 20th America’s Justice Department began proceedings to seize more than $1 billion of assets, which it alleged had been purchased with funds siphoned out of the firm. It is the largest single action the department has ever launched.The goodies concerned include luxury properties, artworks by Van Gogh and Monet, and a jet, according to court filings. Authorities say 1MDB’s money was also spent on gambling and used to make the “Wolf of Wall Street”, a film about a high-living swindler starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It was made by a production company co-founded by Riza Aziz, the stepson of Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak.
  5. Rajinikanth is no preening Bollywood star, but a balding 65-year old doyen of Tamil cinema who has acted in over 200 films, generally playing a lovable rogue. He is paid around $10m-12m a picture for this shtick.Whatever the storyline, Rajini’s movies tend to do well. His recent release ‘Kabali’, raked in $16m on its opening weekend in India and another $12.6m overseas, smashing box-office records. On Friday July 22nd, tickets fetched 1,500-5,000 rupees ($23-$75) on the black market. Indeed, for all his onscreen brio and dash, the bus conductor-turned-superstar is a courtly man off it. He wears a white dhoti, drives his own car, sports no makeup, donates money to charity and pleads with his fans not to treat him like God.

Economist 7/27/16

  1. In Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Nigeria is 31st from the bottom.Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler, wants to change this.Many locals think the problem reached unprecedented heights under the previous administration of Goodluck Jonathan. In March an official audit found that the state-owned oil company withheld over $25 billion from the public purse between 2011 and 2015.Since Mr Buhari came to power in May 2015, dozens of public officials and their cronies have been arrested by a beefed-up Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The most famous of those, the former national security adviser Sambo Dasuki, is charged with dishing out $2 billion worth of fake contracts for helicopters, aeroplanes and ammunition. Under new management, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has grown slightly less opaque: it now publishes monthly financial reports.
  2. His political opponents, who ruled Nigeria for 16 years until 2015, call the campaign a witch-hunt. The EFCC is yet to send down any of its most influential adversaries. Most government agencies, including the one that collects taxes, do not make their budgets public. Nor do most state and local governments, which suck up about half of public revenues.The finance minister, Kemi Adeosun has struck thousands of ghost workers off the public payroll. Her “treasury single account” may be the biggest coup of all. It replaced a labyrinth of government piggy banks, giving Nigeria more control of its earnings. Financiers reckon that it could serve as a lesson to others in West Africa as well.
  3.  In a bid to convince the country that his wife is a caring as well as a clever woman, Mr Bill Clinton combined folksy story-telling with patient exposition.There was politics in Mr Clinton’s decade-old memories, as when he described driving his future wife home to her family in suburban Illinois, and waxed lyrical about its post-war prosperity.Daring the crowd to lose interest, the former president told stories about his wife holding a listening tour of all 75 counties of Arkansas to investigate pre-school education. But all the folksiness was building up to a point. If the country is anxious and unhappy and longing for change: “She’s the best darn change-maker I have ever met in my entire life.”Will this work? Mr Clinton is a fine speaker and explainer of things. But is he tackling the right problem?But critics do not think his wife is lazy, or stupid. They think she is a crooked schemer, and a big-government liberal who wants to tax them, regulate business into ruin and take away Americans’ guns.
  4. Tens of thousands of Palestinians in Salfit and the surrounding villages are suffering through a months-long drought. Most of Israel’s water is artificially produced. About a third comes from desalination plants that are among the world’s most advanced. Farmers rely on reclaimed water for irrigation. Israel recycles 86% of its wastewater, the highest level anywhere; Spain, the next best, reuses around 20%.None of these high-tech solutions helps the Palestinians, though, because they are not connected to Israel’s water grid. They rely on the so-called “mountain aquifer”, which sits beneath land Israel occupied in 1967. The 1995 Oslo Accords stipulated that 80% of the water from the aquifer would go to Israel, with the rest allocated to the Palestinians. The agreement, meant to be a five-year interim measure, will soon celebrate its 21st birthday. During that time the Palestinian population in the West Bank has nearly doubled, to almost 3m. The allocation has not kept pace.On average they get 73 litres per day, less than the 100-liter minimum recommended by the World Health Organisation.Israel’s water authority sells the Palestinians 64m cubic metres of water each year. It says they cause their own shortages, because up to a third of the West Bank’s water supply leaks out of rusting Palestinian pipes.
  5. The American Psychological Association (APA) suggests that, at least in America, the most common causes of Stress  are to do with money, work and family. Women report being more stressed than men and are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders. Men may also be more likely to conceal their distress. Black and Hispanic Americans, as well as poor people and parents, also report higher levels of stress. In 2015 half of Americans starting university reported being stressed most or all of the time.n 1979 Peter Nixon, a consultant at Charing Cross Hospital in London, described a “human function curve”: a moderate amount of stress, such as a deadline or race, was now understood as not just harmless, but beneficial.Recognising that stress can be beneficial seems to help in two main ways. People who have a more positive view of stress are more likely to behave in a constructive way: a study by Alia Crum of Stanford University’s Mind and Body Lab.In less extreme situations, the body and brain should react somewhat differently. When people perceive they are being challenged rather than threatened, the heart still beats faster and adrenalin still surges, but the brain is sharper and the body releases a different mix of stress hormones, which aid in recovery and learning.

Economist 7/26/16

  1. Writing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in response to a column asserting that “terrorism has a lot to do with Islam”, Jonathan Laurence argues (link to English translation) that the present-day pathologies of European Islam are a kind of aftershock from a century-old mistake. In the summer of 1916, the British government and its war allies began fomenting an Arab revolt against the political and above all, spiritual authority of the Ottomans. This brought about the British-led capture of Jerusalem and the collapse of Ottoman dominion over Islam’s holiest places, whether in the Levant or Arabia. As an alternative to Ottoman rule over the Arabs, the British initially backed the Hashemite dynasty which still reigns over Jordan; but the ultimate beneficiary was the royal house of Saud which took over Mecca and Medina in 1924.
  2. This brought to an end a period of several decades in which the caliphate (a spiritual role which the Ottomans combined, until 1922, with the worldly rank of sultan) had a generally benign effect on global Islam. From at least 1870, British diplomacy tried to shift the centre of gravity in global Islam from the Turks to the Arabs. The Dutch tried to stop their Muslim subjects deferring to the caliph in their public prayers.But when Turkey’s new secular nationalist rulers finally abolished the office of caliph in 1924, their job was made easier by the fact that European powers had been sabotaging the sacred office for decades.As Mr Laurence sees things, the abolition of the old caliphate created a vacuum that has been filled, over the subsequent century, by much darker substitutes, up to and including the new caliphate proclaimed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State.It’s naive to imagine that today’s European Islam can be hermetically sealed from the countries where Islam predominates. One way or another, Muslims in Europe are going to be touched by ideas and styles that emanate from countries where their faith predominates.
  3. This year alone, 25 tonnes of “iron harvest” has been exhumed from the erstwhile battlefields. Experts reckon it could take another 500 years to clean up the mess. In Europe, nowhere are the scars of war more visible than in Germany. During the second world war, American and British forces pounded Europe with more than 2.7m tonnes of explosives, half of which were dropped on Germany. Even today, more than 2,000 tonnes of unexploded munitions are dug up annually and all construction sites need to be certified as cleared of unexploded ordnance (UXO).In the same war, Germany responded by pummelling Britain with 24,000 tonnes of materiel, one-tenth of which did not explode. Today they are ticking time-bombs.Defusing any bomb is risky business, but it is harder still when the detonator rusts or is damaged. One method involves pumping a saltwater solution through the fuse, to neutralise the chemicals meant to trigger an explosion. Another technique works much like a pressure cooker’s regulator, leaking controlled quantities of trapped steam.There has been little progress in the development of better ordnance detection. The most common technique is to look for them manually, with metal detectors. The process, although accurate, is tedious and carries a high risk of false positives.
  4. Mr Donald Trump has stood firm on at least one proposal: his wall.The border between the United States and Mexico stretches 1,989 miles (3,200km), but the wall itself needn’t be as long thanks to the preponderance of natural borders such as the Rio Grande. Assuming a length of 1,000 miles and a height of 40 feet (12 metres), Bernstein reckon that the wall would require $711m worth of concrete and $240m worth of cement. Including labour, the total cost of between $15 billion and $25 billion is a bit more than Mr Trump’s suggested $10 billion.As it is not economically feasible to transport cement and concrete across great distances, the biggest business beneficiaries will likely be within 200 miles of the border.
  5. Together with America and France, Britain is now supplying, arming and servicing hundreds of Saudi planes engaged in the aerial bombardment of Yemen.Their presence, including in Riyadh’s operations room, and their precision-guided weaponry, should ensure that the rules of war that protect civilians are upheld, insist Western officials.Air strikes were responsible for more than half the thousands of civilian deaths in the 16-month campaign, Amnesty International reported in May. It found evidence that British cluster bombs had been used.The war in Yemen has certainly been lucrative. Since the bombardment began in March 2015, Saudi Arabia has spent £2.8 billion on British arms.Together with the ground war and the Saudi-led blockade, it has devastated infrastructure in what was already the Arab world’s poorest country, displaced over 2m people and brought a quarter of Yemen’s population of 26m to the brink of famine.Negotiations aimed at ending the war resumed on July 16th in Kuwait.Yemen’s president-in-exile, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who hopes to install his own government, has dismissed the UN envoy’s proposals for a power-sharing administration.The bombardment has dented the fighting strength of Saudi Arabia’s foes—the remnants of the Yemeni Republican Guard under the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the Houthis, a northern Shia militia. But it has failed to break the deadlock or expel them from Yemen’s capital, Sana’a.

Economist 7/25/16

  1. THE decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) not to impose a blanket ban on the Russian Olympic team, as recommended by the World Anti-Doping Agency, was met with disappointment yesterday.Russia is not the only culprit. Thirty-six athletes from 17 nations tested positive for a variety of banned substances including clenbuterol, stanozolol and methylhexaneamine at the 2012 games.Of all the summer Olympics held since 1968 only one has resulted in no drug violations being discovered, Moscow in 1980. Independent analysis since then has suggested that 19 podium placed winners used banned substances.
  2. BACKSTAGE at many of Britain’s summer music festivals, suspicious pills and powders seized from tents are analysed by lab technicians. Usually it is to advise on-site doctors and police on what symptoms to look out for in people who become unwell. But this year, a non-profit organisation called The Loop manned a tent where partygoers could drop off their drugs anonymously, before returning later for the results. As police turned a blind eye, technicians analysed nearly 250 drug samples, mostly of ecstasy, cocaine and ketamine.Or at least, that was what they claimed to be: in reality the bags of “MDMA crystal” being sold for £50 ($66) per gram turned out to be brown sugar; some suspiciously hard, grey pills were made of concrete; and several samples of “cocaine” and “ketamine” were in fact ground-up anti-malaria tablets.But does the testing encourage more drug use? It is too early to say, but there is some evidence that it does the opposite. After getting their results back, only half of those at the Secret Garden Party said they would take the drugs.
  3. Last week an Afghan refugee stabbed and axed four train passengers and another on a platform. Then a depressed German teenager of Iranian descent went on a shooting rampage in Munich, wounding more than 30 and killing nine, then himself.Later, another Syrian refugee, fearing deportation, swore allegiance to Islamic State and blew himself up outside a concert, injuring 15 others. Naturally, there is panic every time. But Germans catch themselves quickly after each disaster. Embodying this stoicism is Marcus da Gloria Martins, Munich’s police spokesman, who has resisted a tsunami of disinformation on social media, calmly sorting fact from fiction.Some of this is terrorism, some of it violence even more senseless; Germany’s sober and measured responses are becoming a model for dealing with all of it.
  4. HOW do you measure the well-being of a country’s citizens? Looking at wealth alone is clearly not enough.Boston Consulting Group (BCG) attempts to answer this question with its “Sustainable Economic Development Assessment” (SEDA). This year’s report, published on July 21st, encompasses 163 countries or territories and looks at each country’s performance across three measures: economics, investment and sustainability.The usual suspects occupy the top spots, with Norway reaching the maximum of 100 in the normalised scoring system, as it has every year since SEDA was launched in 2012. It is followed by northern European states and other developed countries. Petro-states such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, two of the wealthiest countries in the world, come in at 25th and 26th respectively. The United States’ relatively poor standing at 19th reflects its high income inequality as well as its low health and education scores.BCG also compared financial inclusion (the percentage of individuals aged 15 or over with a bank account) against each country’s SEDA score, revealing a clear relationship.The report’s authors found that countries with higher financial inclusion generally had higher well-being than their peers at a similar income level.
  5. As recently as the mid-2000s, Mr Xi was still little-known. His glamorous folk-singing wife was far more famous. The somewhat liberal leanings (by the party’s highly illiberal standards) of Mr Xi’s late father, a party grandee, provided one of the few available clues. It has proved highly misleading. Mr Xi has presided over the toughest crackdown on dissent in years.His wish to purge the party of the egregious corruption that has permeated it at every level seems evident: his campaign against graft has been the most sustained and wide-ranging of any waged by a Chinese leader since the party seized power in 1949.Mr Xi may in the end turn out to be more of a reformer than his frequent hardline rhetoric, his hammering of civil society and his tiptoeing round all-powerful state firms may suggest.A dwindling band of optimists pin their hopes on a crucial party congress late next year, at which Mr Xi will preside over sweeping leadership changes and set out the party’s goals for the remaining five years of his rule (assuming he accepts the norm of a ten-year limit on the general-secretaryship).