Economist 12/28/15

  1. ON THE face of things, the worst is over for Ukraine. A ceasefire seems to be holding in the war that has left forces backed by Russia in control of much of the east of the country. The IMF has found a way to keep providing Ukraine with a financial lifeline, side-stepping a dispute with Russia that had threatened to sever it.Yet the hryvnia, Ukraine’s currency, which has lost 70% of its value over the past two years, is sliding again; government-bond yields are rising. Politicians in Kiev are busier brawling (at times physically) than fixing the country’s problems.The government’s finances also look much more healthy. That is largely thanks to Ukraine’s creditors. In August most of them agreed to a restructuring that wiped 20% off its foreign debt. That paved the way for an IMF rescue. It has lent $11 billion to Ukraine since the beginning of 2014, and plans to lend another $11 billion by 2019.Dramatic spending cuts have also helped right the government’s finances. The budget is in surplus so far for 2015.Investment is needed to spur exports. In the past three years capital spending has fallen by 40%. It shrank yet again in the third quarter.Efforts to tackle corruption are going less well. No prominent figures from prior regimes have been jailed.Even senior officials are paid a measly $300 a month, making corruption especially hard to resist ($50,000 a month is said to be the going rate for a pliable one).
  2. Germany is straining to cope with the 1m refugees who have arrived in the country this year, and for the most part it is managing. But in Germany’s federal system, the 16 regional states must integrate refugees once federal officials have fingerprinted them. Berlin, with an estimated 90,000 refugees this year in a population of 3.5m, is the least competent. It is deep in debt and receives subsidies from other states.
  3. In 2015 several of the big democracies that chose new leaders or returned old ones to power would have seen different outcomes had the same votes been counted using a different electoral method.In a winner-take-all district-based method, like that of America, such lopsided provincial victories “waste” votes. Had Argentina used an American-style electoral college, where senators and congressmen cast their votes for the candidate who comes first in their state, Mr Scioli would have won comfortably despite losing the popular vote.Both Britain and Canada, the world’s two biggest “Westminster-style” democracies, also held elections this year. Advocates of this system—a parliament with single-member, winner-take-all districts—argue that it produces stable majority governments; critics argue that it unfairly shuts out smaller parties.
  4. Turkey has tried to balance the goals of inclusion and governmental stability by using a proportional-representation system that denies seats to parties that win less than 10% of the national vote. That threshold, the highest in the world, has helped Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development party (AK) win successive majorities since 2002, and brought them tantalisingly close to the “super-majority” of 367 seats.Frustrated by their inability to change the constitution at will, AK leaders have blamed Turkey’s electoral system and suggested shrinking its districts or moving to a Westminster method.espite the differences in their voting systems, the four countries’ elections all shared a common desirable outcome: undisputed control of executive authority by the winners, and an opposition with meaningful power to resist overreach.
  5. HARDLY had the group of two dozen winsome North Korean musicians arrived in Beijing, than they were on a flight back home. Their first ever overseas concert, set for December 12th at the National Centre for the Performing Arts.North Korea’s state news agency removed its gushing coverage of the all-female band’s tour from its website. Chinese censors swiftly erased news of the cancellation from their country’s social media.Moranbong is a favourite of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, who is said to have set it up himself three years ago as a “standard-bearer on the ideological and cultural front”. Its five lead singers, who expose an unusual amount of leg for such a puritanical country.Xinhua, a Chinese state-run news agency, said that the band’s tour had been called off because of “communication issues”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s