Economist 10/1/15

  1. Japan’s biggest organised-crime (yakuza) group, the Yamaguchi-gumi, with 23,400 members, split last month. On September 5th more than a dozen of its factions gelled into a new, rival outfit.The police are bracing themselves for violence up and down Japan.At the time of the last yakuzasplit, in 1984, two dozen gang members died in territorial battles—an orgy of bloodshed by the country’s ultra-safe standards.For all that, the yakuza remain largely legal. Membership is no crime. Mobsters commute to official headquarters, proffer business cards and enjoy pension plans. The Yamaguchi-gumi recently launched an in-house newspaper with articles on board games and fishing. Its boss, Shinobu Tsukasa, portrays the group as a refuge for the weak and marginalised; it helps keep order at the bottom rungs of society.wo decades of Japan’s flirting with deflation has made it harder to extort money from businesses, yet the Yamaguchi-gumi kept its membership dues high (the new gang has promised to lower them).
  2. A FAULTLINE has opened up between America‘s economic clout and its financial and technological muscle. The United States now accounts for only 23% of world GDP and 12% of world merchandise trade. But America dominates the brainiest and most complex parts of the global economy. Silicon Valley remains preeminent, with American firms maintaining the lion’s share of the worldwide social media, cloud computing and venture capital industries. And in finance America is still top dog. Its investment banks and asset managers have increased their share of global activity in recent years.
  3.  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 fact that his government is running out of the money it needs to pay the public servants, especially policemen and soldiers, who keep it in power and whose wages gobble up more than 80% of public spending.In previous crises Mr Mugabe could usually pull a rabbit out of the hat. When his popularity fell, he seized land from white farmers and gave it to his supporters. And when, as a result, the money ran out, he printed more. Now Mr Mugabe’s hat is out of rabbits.And because Zimbabwe imports more than it exports, its supply of currency is shrinking, driving it into deflation.
  4. This year’s Latinobarómetro poll, an annual survey of public opinion produced since 1995 and published exclusively by The Economist, reflects this broad souring of the regional mood. Latin Americans are fed up with their leaders: government approval ratings across the 17 countries in the study have fallen from 60% in 2009 to 47% today.They are losing faith in civic institutions: 34% of the public say they trust the state, down from 42% in 2013.Despite the region’s economic slowdown, respondents in only three countries—Colombia, Costa Rica and Nicaragua—list unemployment as their nation’s biggest problem. Instead, the most common worry is crime, cited in 12 of the 17 countries.The only country where corruption is seen as the biggest problem is Brazil.The only three groups that at least half of those surveyed say they trust are their families, neighbours and churches.
  5. In recent years the specialty tea industry in North America has exploded. DavidsTea, a Canadian retailer founded in 2008, now has 130 stores across North America. Earlier this year Capital Teas, a regional chain based in Annapolis, Maryland, received a $5m investment to double the number of its store locations.  And Starbucks, which acquired Teavana in 2012 for $620m, operates 366 Teavana outlets and plans to open 1,000 more within the next five years.America and its northern neighbour now boast levels of tea consumption usually associated with the tea-drinking cultures of Britain, China, and India.Much of the growth in sales is expected to come from coffee retailers that are willing to expand their offerings to meet changing consumer demands. Tea is conspicuously marketed as the healthier alternative to coffee.At the same time, brands are encouraging consumers to become connoisseurs of fine teas, just as they are of fine wines or coffees. Specialty teas are marketed as complex beverages steeped in history and ritual.
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