Economist 10/23/15

  1. Across western Europe, once-populous hamlets like Nâves are challenging policymakers to find a way to keep services going and villages viable. Rural areas in most of Europe’s poorer regions, including the former east but also Spain, Portugal and Greece, are emptying out as younger generations head for the cities.Yet after decades of decline, France’s villages have been growing again—even in unfashionable parts that tourists seldom reach.The reasons are a mix of public policy and changing aspirations. France’s strong transport links and public services help to make village life workable.The difficulty is how to make such a fragile uptick sustainable.Alpine villages are sheltered from the worst cuts by the relative vibrancy of regional cities like Lyon and Grenoble. Other rural parts are under more strain, notably the Massif Central in the country’s hollow middle. There is a general sense that rural needs are not a national policy concern.
  2. POLAND’S once boringly stable politics are now over. In parliamentary elections on October 25th the governing coalition is heading for defeat by Law and Justice (PiS in Polish), a socially conservative and mildly Eurosceptic opposition party. Poland matters: with 39m people and a $750 billion GDP, it is the biggest of the ex-communist countries which joined the European Union in 2004.The first big question is whether PiS will win strongly enough to form a government.The second big question is whether it will prioritise score-settling or build on Civic Platform’s tainted but still substantial legacy of stability and prosperity.It also appeals to socially conservative Poles on issues such as gay marriage and “gender”.This approach helped its presidential candidate Andrzej Duda trounce the Civic Platform incumbent, the lacklustre Bronislaw Komorowski in May.
  3. FOR RushCard customers, October 12th was the day the money stopped. Many of them tried that day to use the popular pre-paid card, billed as a substitute for a bank account for those too poor to afford (or qualify for) one, only to be told their balance was zero, thanks to a spectacular IT failure. The firm’s flamboyant founder, hip-hop magnate Russell Simmons, also known as Uncle Rush, issued a public apology.Prepaid cards like RushCard are increasingly popular with American consumers. They can be loaded with cash at shops that act as agents, or via an electronic transfer, often from an employer. Like a debit card, they can be used to make payments or withdrawals at a cash machine.But they are not a bank account.
  4. Some don’t qualify for Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) protection though RushCard users are insured by dint of an alliance with an underlying bank.In 2013 the FDIC found that two-thirds of the households that had used prepaid cards in the previous 30 days were unbanked or underbanked.Yet two-thirds did not compare fees and terms before choosing a card.They blame new rules that limit how much banks can charge retailers for processing debit-card transactions. Unable to pass costs onto consumers this way, banks have raised the minimum balances necessary to qualify for free current accounts. That has pushed more people into the hands of the prepaid-card companies (which were exempt from the rule change).
  5. Britain is not the only Western country to court China. Mr Xi was welcomed in Washington, DC, last month. The leaders of France and Germany will soon travel to Beijing.For Britain, and all Western democracies, the dilemma is over how to deal cordially and profitably with China, as they must, while encouraging it to develop in a way that neither oppresses its own people nor destabilises the world.This week Mr Xi was asked to address both houses of Parliament, an honour normally accorded only to leaders of democracies. He was to be hosted at Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence—again a first for a visiting Chinese president. Organised pro-Xi crowds were allowed to drown out protesters.

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